I like simple. I like a short phrase that sticks in my mind. If my husband would allow me to put bumper stickers on our cars, I would likely have a couple of pithy phrases pasted to the bumper of my SUV. Boiling something down to its essence appeals to me. While I understand that life is generally a bit messier and more complicated than a single descriptive phrase might allow, I still have a tendency to want to synthesize and summarize.
Because of this aspect of my personality, I really love it when scripture gives us those power phrases...especially when it is red letter "straight from the mouth of Jesus." If Jesus answers a question in the definitive, it seems like that would be a sentence or two to remember.
Such is the case when Jesus is asked to reveal what He believes to be the "greatest commandment" in the Law. Only recently did I discover, after telling that story numerous times in bible study discussions, that scripture actually tells this story 3 different times in the Gospels; in Matthew, Mark and Luke. When I started digging around in these 3 different accounts, I gained an even deeper appreciation for the power of these words. Simple, powerful, life-changing. Over the next few days, I want to talk a little bit about what these verses mean to me.
The first account is found in Matthew 22:34-40. (Those different colored letters and numbers mean for you to click on it and go read it...go ahead, I'll wait :-) This account is fairly straight foward, although I did find it interesting that the questioner really wasn't concerned with the answer to the question, so much as he wanted to trick Jesus into making an error. Lucky for us, God can even use evil motives to achieve great teaching moments. Jesus says his favorite commandment is simply this: love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. I primarily want to address the first commandment today because the account in Luke really emphasizes the second commandment...stay tuned!
Having been raised in the church, I probably got the point about loving God early on...we're supposed to love God, I get it...sounds easy enough, right? That neighbor part might get a little tough sometimes, but I definitely got that first one down, no problem. I love God, check! It has only been in recent years that I started thinking more about the "all your heart, all your soul and all your mind" part. The part of the Law from which Jesus was quoting says it even better:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 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. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Message translation of this verse says to "love Him with all that's in you, love Him with all you've got!" As I pondered THAT sort of love...all that's in me, all that I've got...this idea of loving God doesn't seem as simple. Yes, I love Him, but do I love Him enough? And what is enough?
When I got back into really reading and studying God's Word several years ago, a bible teacher shared something with us that changed my life. She said "every time you think of God, it is because He thought of you first." She reminded us of the verse in 1 John that tells us that we love because He first loved us. All my life, I had felt that I was chasing after God; pursuing Him, seeking Him, hoping He would "notice" me and think I was good enough. In reality, all those years, God was actually pursuing me, seeking to be in relationship with me, hoping I would notice Him at work in my life and finally believe and accept the "height and depth" of His transforming love for me. As I began to read the Bible with fresh eyes, I saw it as the account of His love for me...a love letter to me and to all His people, the story of the ways that He woos us and forgives us and never gives up on bringing us back to Himself. Gradually, as I nestled into this new understanding of how much He loves me, I knew that teaching me to love Him "enough" was what He wanted most in the world...and He is a God who gets His way! Now, my prayer each day is "God, I love You so much, but help me to love You even more." It is a prayer that I believe He always answers in the affirmative. As He transforms my heart, I don't have to "try" to love Him with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. I just ask that He make it so and offer my heart, soul and mind to Him for reconstructive surgery. And all that other stuff on which I had worked so hard before, that just falls into place when I focus on loving God first. If I can't remember one other thing in the bible, this one commandment will start the ball rolling in the right direction. It is all about relationship first...just ask Jesus!
Speaking of relationship, we can't just keep all that transformational love to ourselves. The nature of this kind of love is overflowing. Tomorrow, I want to talk about the account in Luke where Jesus talks about these two commandments.