February 9, 2020
All Scripture from NIV unless otherwise indicated.
“28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”32“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” Mark 12: 28 – 34
Reading through the gospels we find that this particular teaching of Jesus was taught on at least two recorded occasions during His ministry, here in Mark 12 and the corresponding passage in Matthew 22. It was also taught at an earlier time in Jesus ministry as recorded in Luke10:27.
I don’t think that it would be unusual for Jesus to teach the same thing more than once in His three year ministry, any more than it would be for an Evangelist or preacher today who, preaching to different audiences and might present the same message that he had previously preached. I know that I have preached some of the same sermons to you that I preached when I was the minister at Walnut Grove and Springfield.
In both occasions, Jesus was asked by a teacher of the law a direct and specific question. In Luke 10, He was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” To this teacher of the law, Jesus responded by asking him what He thought was required of the law and he responded with the love God and love your neighbor requirements from the Old Testament. As a teacher of the law he was very familiar with where these were found in Deuteronomy 6: 5 and Leviticus 19: 18. To this answer Jesus said, “Yes”! Finally, I have found someone who gets it! And then He told him, do this and you have it made!
In the passages in Matthew and Mark, we find Jesus in His last week of ministry and the last week of His life. It’s Wednesday of the Passion Week. All week long the Religious leaders were attempting to trip Jesus up with their little stunts. They asked Him about paying taxes to Caesar to which He responded, give to Caesar what is his and to give God what belonged to Him. They argued with Him about marriage in the resurrection. Instead of tripping Jesus up, they ended up stumbling all over themselves and unable to find any accusation against Him. Then in verse 28 it says that “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.” I think the reality of their debate was that they were getting schooled by Jesus on the nature of the resurrection, for you see the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection while the Pharisees did. Anyway, Matthew 22: 35 tells us that this teacher was an expert in the law, probably a Scribe who was training to be a Pharisee. He decided that he too would ask Jesus a question. Was he also trying to trick Him, or was he truly curious to know if Jesus knew what he already believed, that to Love God and to love neighbor was the essence of the law?
I read that the word translated “tested” in this passage means to trap. So, it appears that this question was another attempt to trap Jesus and turn the people against Him, allowing the Sanhedrin to have Him arrested. How did Jesus respond? Like any proper Jew would have responded. Jesus said: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Verses 29 – 31
Jesus responded to question by quoting from the Old Testament, from a passage that came to be known as the Shema. Quoting from a website called “My Jewish Learning” we read concerning the Shema, “The first verse of the Shema, from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, is among the best-known in all of Jewish liturgy. It is recited at the climactic moment of the final prayer of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and traditionally as the last words before death.”
It goes on to say: “The first verse of the Shema is considered the most essential declaration of the Jewish faith — the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. The passage that follows details the particular ways in which that faith should be lived: Love God with all of your being, teach it to your children, recite it when you wake and lie down, bind it as a symbol on your body. By reciting the Shema, Jesus affirmed to this Scribe that He was in one accord with the teaching of the law, that God is one, and that the greatest thing a person can do is love God with all His being.
If this was the most important commandment in the Jewish faith, and if Jesus said that it is the most important commandment in all the Old Testament, then should it not also be the most important commandment for followers of Jesus to observe?
Shouldn’t we seek to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?
Let’s break this first commandment down just a little and see if we can determine just what it means to do so? What does it mean to love God with all your heart? MacArthur states that “in the Hebrew understanding the heart is the core of your identity, the source of all your thoughts, words, actions.”
To love God with all your heart is to love Him from the depths of who you are, from the very core of your being. When you tell someone that you are giving them your whole heart, you are saying to them that you are giving them all of yourself, you are giving them your very being.
I wanted to research the meaning of these words in more depth, and in the process I found a website titled “thebibleproject.com”. It focused on the Old Testament, or the Hebrew understanding of these words, as Jesus would have used them. That, I believe is what we need to understand, what Jesus meant by loving God with all your heart, soul and strength. The only word not used here was mind.
As I said before, Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6: 4 & 5 and in that passage, it said to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The word love used here has a broad usage in the Old Testament. It can be used to express affection that one person shows for another. It can be used in relation to physical affection. It can be used in reference to parental love, brotherly love, national love and even love toward allies. It refers to God’s love for Israel when He chose them to be His people. It expresses God’s eternal love for mankind. It is one of the strongest of loves and can express both feeling and action. Israel is called to respond to God’s love by loving Him in return, not just in word, but through their actions. 1 John 4: 19 indicates that we have the capacity to love because God first loved us.
We are to devote our whole body and life, loving God with all our heart. The word heart as expressed in the Old Testament, referred to more than the physical organ that pumps blood through the body. In the Hebrew, there was no concept and thus no word for the brain. All the intellectual
activity was said to take place in the heart. It was where understanding made connection, and so you were said to know with your heart. The heart was what you used to discern between truth and error. It was the seat of the emotions, where you experienced fear, pain, depression, joy, etc. It was the center of both the intellect and emotion. It was the place that one made choices that were motivated by desire. To love God with all your heart was to love Him with all your being.
The Hebrew word translated soul literally means throat. It also was used to refer to the whole person. It referred to the whole human as a living physical body. The Greek word translated soul has somewhat of a different meaning and has confused, if you will, what was written in the Old Testament, by its translation in the New Testament. The Greek word means breath, and refers to the identity of the individual, not the physical aspect of a person, while the Hebrew word encompasses both the whole human as a living, physical being. It referred to the life and body, and you were to devote your whole physical existence to God. One problem with the Geek word is that it led to dualism, which separates the body from the soul. In dualism, the soul or the spirit is good while the body, or things physical were evil. But the Hebrew word for soul encompasses both the body and the spirit and demands you to love God
with the whole, with both your physical body and your inner being.
The third way it tells us in the Old Testament that we are to love God is with all our strength. Literally the word means very, or extremely. In the Shema it is translated “very, very”, meaning muchness and intensifies that which comes before it. Love the Lord your God very, very, or with muchness or in reality, love God with everything you are. The Greek word used in the New Testament means power and is the word from which we get the English word dynamite. The Aramaic word is wealth or money. When taken together it means that you are to love God with every ounce of your being, with all of who you are, including all of what you have. To love God like this requires all your strength or power.
The other word used by Jesus is the word mind. The Greek word means deep thought or imagination. It means to love God with thorough reasoning. When we are first introduced to God, we come to know him with minds that have been corrupted by sin. We need to search across, to think deeply, and to reason within ourselves about who God is, what He has done for us through Christ, why we are to believe in Him, and how we are to accept Him. Once we come to that understanding, we are to have our minds renewed by His Spirit, and then and only then can we love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and yes, our mind, with all of our understanding and reasoning.
Looking back to the passage from which this comes from in the Old Testament has shed new light on this passage for me. What I really see Jesus saying as He quoted from the Old Testament is that we are to love God with everything we have, with all of our being. And even though Jesus used different words to describe how we are to love Him, in the Old Testament they all point to the same concept, that we are to love Him with every fiber of who we are, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and more.
How are you to love God? With all that you are. You are to be all in when it comes to loving God.