Love God, Love Your Neighbor

One 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?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To 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.”

When 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)

Hearing the debate, and noticing Jesus giving a good answer, one of the teachers of the law–meaning a scribe or someone who was knowledgeable of the law–approached Jesus with this question: What is the most important commandment? And Jesus’ very simple answer? The Lord our God is one, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And, He adds, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Nothing is greater. With this answer, Jesus referred to what the Jews consider to be one of the most important texts in the Old Testament–the Shema–found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Literally the Hebrew word Shema means to heed, listen, and obey. The passage is beautiful:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

God understands we are but dust. Throughout His Word we are compared to sheep numerous times. Typically, sheep are thought to be dumb animals, possibly because they always follow each other around in the flock! God knows we need to be led¸ and we need to be reminded of certain truths lest we forget. This is for our good. He wants us to love Him and listen to Him, because He has the heart of a shepherd! God is asking for whole hearted love, which includes our desires, feelings, affections, passions, understanding, and intellectual capacity. God is not asking something of us that He has not already shown to us. He placed such a value on man–showed such love for him that though we deserved rejection, God, the Father sacrificed Jesus Christ, his only Son for our salvation. Paul tells us in Romans:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

In addition to our love for God, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The word neighbor literally means anyone within close proximity–the parable of the Good Samaritan is a perfect illustration of this (Luke 10:37). Loving a neighbor requires that we treating someone as we would want them to treat us–showing mercy and kindness and love even when it is undeserved. Again, this is how God treats us–with undeserved mercy and unmerited favor.

Take It to Heart

God desires our love … as expressed in our obedience to Him. Does your life reflect the love you have for God?

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)