Loving God with all our heart: what does it mean?
Pharisees and scribes tried many times to tempt Jesus with various questions. Others again were asking genuinely, seeking for answers. There is one question which was tried 2 times from 2 different people, one who wanted to learn and one who wanted to tempt. It is the question of which commandment is the biggest of all. Let’s read the related passages:
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'”
1. Loving God: what does it mean?
As we read, loving God with all our heart is the most important commandment. But what does it mean? Unfortunately we are living in an age where the word love has ended up meaning just a feeling. Loving somebody is confused to mean “feeling good about them”. However “feeling good about” somebody does not necessarily constitute love in biblical terms. For in biblical terms love is tightly connected to doing, and specifically of loving God to doing what God wants i.e. His commandments, His will. Jesus made this very plain when He said:
“If you love me, keep my commandments.”
And John 14:21-24
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
Also in Deuteronomy 5:8-10 (see also Exodus 20:5-6) we read:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Loving God and keeping His commandments, the Word of God, are things inseparable to each other. Jesus made it absolutely clear. The one who loves Him keeps the Word of God and the one who does not keep the Word of God does not love Him. Loving God then, the top commandment, does not mean I feel nice sitting in my pew on a Sunday morning. What it rather means is I try to do what pleases God, what makes God happy. And this is a daily matter.
1 John contains further passages that hammer out what it means to love God.
1 John 4:19-21
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
1 John 5:2-3
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
1 John 3:22-23
“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
There are various fallacies going around in today’s Christianity. One very serious is the false idea that God does not care about whether we will be doing or not His commandments, His will. According to this fallacy, all that matters for God is that one moment when we started in the “faith”. “Faith” and “loving God” have been separated from practical matters and are considered sort of theoretical notions, mind states, which can exist separately of how one lives. But faith means to be faithful. You have to BE something, if you have faith. And what you have to be is faithful. And the faithful one cares to please the one to whom He is faithful i.e. he cares to do His will, His commandments.
Something else that becomes apparent from the above is that the favor and love of God are not really unconditional, as some would have us believe. This we see in the above passages too. So in John 14:23 we read:
“Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Also in 1 John 3:22
“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
And in Deuteronomy 5:9-10
“You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
In John 14:23 there is an “if” and there is an “and”. If anyone loves Jesus, he will keep His Word, AND, as a result, the Father will love him and He together with His Son will come and make their home in him. Also in 1 John, we receive whatever we ask from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. Also in Deuteronomy, the steadfast love of God is shown to the ones who love Him and keep His commandments. There is a clear link then between the love and favor of God and the doing of the will of God. To say it differently let us not think that disobeying God, neglecting His Word and His commandments, does not really matter, because God loves us anyway. Also let us not think that because we say we love God we actually love Him. I think whether we love God or not is shown by the answer to the following simple question: Do we do what pleases Him, His Word, His commandments? If the answer is yes, then we love God. If the answer is no, then we do not love Him. It is as simple as that.
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, ….. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
2. “But I don’t feel doing the will of God”: The case of the two brothers
Another area of confusion, when it comes to doing the will of God, is the idea that we should do the will of God only if we feel doing it. But if we don’t feel doing it then we are excused, for, supposedly, God wouldn’t want us to do something if we don’t feel doing it. But tell me something: do you go to work always because you feel it? Do you get up in the morning and think whether you feel going to work and depending on whether you feel it or not you pull yourself out of bed or deeper under the blankets? Is this how you are doing it? I don’t think so. You DO your work regardless of how you feel about it! But when it comes to doing the will of God we have given to feelings too much of a place. Of course God wants us to do His will AND feel doing it, but even if we don’t feel doing it, it is far better to do it anyway than not doing it at all! And to use an example from what the Lord told us, He said: “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…” (Matthew 18:9). He did not say: „if your eye causes you to sin, and you feel tearing it out then do it. But if you don’t feel tearing it out then you are - since you don’t feel it – excused. You can leave it there, to continue causing you to sin“. The rotten eye has to be plugged out, either we feel it or not feel it. So also with the will of God: it is the best to do it and feel doing it, but if you don’t feel doing it, do it anyway, instead of disobeying to Him.
But let’s see another example from Matthew. In Matthew 21, Jesus was questioned once again by the chief priests and the elders of the people. To answer one of their questions He gave them the following parable:
"What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first."
Their answer was correct. The first son did not feel doing the will of his father. He plainly said to him: I will not go to the vineyard today. But then he thought about it and changed his mind. Who knows what caused this change. My guess: his care for his father. He heard his father calling him to do his will, but he didn’t feel doing it. He wanted to sleep more, drink coffee slowly and perhaps go out with his friends. So his first reaction, perhaps out of bed, was to scream “I will not go”. But then he thought of his father and because he loved the father, he changed his mind, pulled himself out of bed and went and did what his father wanted him to do!
The second son on the other hand, he told his father – perhaps also out of bed - “I will go dad”. But then he didn’t! Perhaps he went back to sleep, then called a friend and disappeared doing what he wanted. He may have „felt” doing the will of his father for a moment but feelings come and go. So this “feeling” of doing the will of God was replaced by another “feeling” of something different and then he didn’t go!
Which of these two sons did the will of the father? The one who didn’t feel it in the beginning but he did it anyway, or the one who felt doing it in the beginning but actually didn’t do it? The answer is obvious. Now, we saw previously that loving the Father means doing His will. We could therefore also ask the following: “Which of the two loved the Father?” or “with which of the two was the Father pleased? With the one that told Him that will do His will but didn’t do it or with the one that actually did it?” The answer is obviously the same: with the one who did the His will. Conclusion then: do the will of God, regardless of feelings! Even if the first response is “I will not do it”, “I don’t feel doing it!”, change your mind and go ahead and do it. Yes it is far better to do the will of God and feel doing it, but between not doing the will of the Father and doing it without strongly wanting to do it, the option to be chosen is: I’ll do the will of my Father anyway, because I love my Father and want to please Him.
3. The night in Gethsemane
Now the above does not mean that we cannot or should not speak to the Father and ask Him for other possible options. Our relationship with the Father is a real RELATIONSHIP. The Lord wants the channels of communications with His children-servants always open. What happened in Gethsemane the night Jesus was delivered to be crucified is characteristic. Jesus was in the garden with his disciples and Judas the traitor was coming, together with the servants of the chief priests and of the elders, to arrest Him and crucify Him. Jesus was in agony. He would rather have this cup removed from him. And He asked the Father about it:
“And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
There is nothing wrong in asking the Father if there is a way out. There is nothing wrong in asking the Father whether you can stay home today and not go to the vineyard! What is wrong is to stay at home anyway without asking Him! This is disobedience. But it is not wrong to ask Him for an exception or another way. In fact if there is no other way, you may get a special encouragement in moving forward and doing His will. Jesus got such an encouragement: “And there appeared to Him and angel strengthening Him”.
Jesus would rather have the cup removed from Him, BUT only if this was the will of God. And in that case it was not. And Jesus accepted this. As He said to Peter after Judas with his company of guards arrived:
“So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Jesus always did what pleased the Father, even if He didn’t feel doing it. And because of this, because He always did what pleased the Father, the Father never left Him alone. As He said:
“And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
He is our example. As apostle Paul also tells us in Philippians:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus humbled Himself. He said “not my will but yours be done”. Jesus OBEYED! And the same we should do too. The same mind, the mind of obedience, the mind that says not my will but your will be done, may be in us too. As Paul continues:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
“Therefore my beloved” i.e. because we have such a great example of obedience, Jesus Christ our Lord, let us obey too, working out our salvation with fear and trembling for God is working in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. And as James says:
“Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Loving God with all our heart is the most important commandment. But loving God is not a state of the mind, where we “feel nice” about God. Loving God is the same as doing what God wills. There is no such thing as loving God, while at the same time I’m disobedient to Him! There is no such thing as I have faith but I’m not faithful to God! Faith is not a state of mind. Faith in God and His Word equals being faithful to God and His Word. Let’s not believe the fallacy which tries to separate the one from the other. Also the love of God and His favor do come back to those that love Him i.e. to those that do what pleases Him, His will. Furthermore we also saw that it is better to go ahead and do the will of God even if you don’t feel doing, than to disobey God. This does not make us robots without feelings. We can (should) always speak to the Lord and ask Him for another way if we feel that His will is too difficult for us to do and we should take His reply as it is. If there is another way He will provide it. He is the most wonderful Master and Father of all, gracious and good to all His children. And if there is no other way He will encourage us in doing what may seem too difficult to us, exactly as He did to Jesus that night.