This study is on “the greatest commandment of all.” Once a scribe approached Jesus and asked Him, “What is the greatest commandment?” Here is Christ’s answer in Mark 12:29-31, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Here it is: the greatest of all commandments God has given. That is not one man’s opinion, but the indisputable statement of the Son of God.
For a moment, compare the demands of this passage with the religion practiced by many today. For some, religion is primarily conscience-soothing and status-building. In certain areas, church membership is at an all-time high – so are crime and juvenile delinquency. In those locations, church membership is going up while moral and ethics are going down. In too many lives, religion and life have been divorced. Some do not let the right hand of business know what the left hand of religion is doing. This is far from Christ’s teaching in Mark 12:29, 30.
In Jesus’ reply to the scribe, we find the hub of true Christianity, loving God with all:
“With all your heart” – the seat of emotion.
“With all your soul” – the seat of life.
“With all your mind” – the seat of intellect.
“With all your strength” – the seat of energy.
Here is the total response of your personality to the personality of God, the service of the whole person. God wants all of an individual or none of him.
Someone may ask, “Does God have the right to make such a demand on us?” God asks nothing of us that He is unwilling to give. God has loved us “with all”:
In John 3:16 we learn this all: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
In Romans 8:5 we learn this all: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
In 1 John 4:9, 10 we learn this all “By this love of god was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
As we think about the cross of Christ and everything that God has done for us, we can only say with the poet, “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Loving God with All Our Minds
To help each of us “love God with all,” let us consider the various aspects of the greatest commandment. Let us begin with the mind: “You shall love the Lord your God…with all your mind.” The mind refers to the intellect, the thinking part of an individual. It is with the mind that people figure their income tax. It is with the mind that people make important discoveries. It is primarily the mind that is trained when we send our children to school. God wants this part of men and women devoted to Him.
We can love God with all our minds in several ways. One way is through the diligent study of His Word. When Luke wrote concerning Paul’s missionary activities in Macedonia, he included this passage in Acts 17:11 about the Bereans, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” When Paul wrote Titus in Titus 1:9 regarding the qualifications of elders, he said that an elder must be a man “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” One who loves God with all his mind will spend some time each day with an open Bible. Also, he will attend the worship services and classes of the Lord’s church so that he can learn God’s will.
Furthermore – and this is very important – he will arrange a time for his family to read together, study together, and pray together in the privacy of their own home. How much strength it would give our world if every family found time in its busy schedule for spiritual study and meditation!
We also love with all our minds when we plan intelligently and make right decisions. Here are two pertinent passages (1) Ephesians 5:15-16, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (2) Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” One who loves God will make time for those activities that are most important, such as private devotions, helping others, and working for the Lord. His mind will be a keen tool deciding not “what is best for me,” but rather “what is best for the plans and purposes of God.”
As we consider loving God with all our minds, let me pause to sound a warning: This is only one-fourth of the commandment. Stressing only the intellect can result in cold, rationalistic religion. There are those who enjoy intellectual gymnastics, sitting up all night arguing about how many angels can sit comfortably on the head of a pin. Too often, however, the religious debater thinks a topic through and does nothing about it. Let us determine to give God the best of our minds, but let us remember that this part of the commandment does not stand alone. Jesus wove it into the picture of a man completely committed to his Lord.
Loving God with All Our Hearts
Next, we want to consider this part of the commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart….” The term “heart” is used in the Bible in many different ways. It can refer to a person’s intellect or to his will. In this context, however, it refers to the seat of emotion, the center of feeling.
Sometimes we underestimate the importance of emotion in religion. Perhaps we have reacted to the emotionalism prevalent in many religions today. While we do not wish to overemphasize the place of emptions, we must understand that no one would be moved without them. Consider the kinship between these words: emotion, motive, and motor. The motor in a car makes it go. Motive in a life does the same thing, and behind motive is emotion.
The English word “enthusiasm,” which indicates fervent feeling, comes from two Greek words which literally mean “in God” or “God in [us].” If we are in God and God is in us (1 John 4:16), we should be enthusiastic; we should be filled with fervent feeling. Those who know Gerald Fleming well can say we’ve seen him weep once. It occurred on a Sunday morning when he was leading our minds at the Lord’s Table. He made a brief talk concerning the significance of the Lord’s Supper and then, in the midst of his talk, he broke down, almost unable to finish. Brother Fleming shed those tears not with his mind, but with his heart.
What does it mean to love God with all our hearts? We love God with all our hearts…
When we obey Him not just because we must, but because we want to.
When we love nothing in comparison to Him and nothing except in relationship to Him.
When we love Him above all else.
Further, we love God with all our hearts when we are willing to give up anything, if need be, to serve Him. We must be…
Willing to give up loved ones, as was Abraham.
Willing to give up possessions, as was Job.
Willing to give up pleasure, as was Moses.
Again, we love God with all our hearts when we are willing to do anything for God:
Willing to repent like David.
Willing to be baptized like the Jews on the Day of Pentecost.
Willing to buffet the body like Paul.
Willing to render service like Dorcas.
Willing to give like Zaccheus.
The church needs more feeling and more heart service. However, once more, a warning must be sounded. Some have allowed feelings and emotions to crowd out everything else in religion. Those who go strictly by feelings are like the shallow soil on which the seeds fell. Because there was no depth of earth, the plants sprang up and quickly withered away (Matt. 13:6). Today, many believe that as long as something stirs them deeply, as long as they have strong feelings about it, it must be acceptable to God. Such is not the case. The denominational world is often fervent in spirit but careless about adhering to the commands of God (Rom. 10:2).
In the greatest of all commandments, Jesus implied that there must be a blending of heart and mind, emotion and intellect. We compared emotions to the motor of a car, but the intellect might be compared to the steering apparatus. It takes both for the car to reach a desired destination. A car with a good motor but no steering wheel might go a great distance, but who knows where it would end up? On the other hand, a car with a steering wheel and no motor will go no place at all. A car needs both. Even so, both mind and heart are needed to have the kind of religion that God desires. The mind learns the will of the Father and keeps us within the bounds set by Him. Then the heart warms and intensifies the feelings with which we, within God’s limits, worship and serve the Almighty. Let us strive to love God with all our minds and all our hearts.
Loving God with All Our Strength
Jesus also said, “You shall love the Lord your God…with all your strength.” An individual’s strength consists of his talents and his energy. Thus far, we have discussed loving God with the mind (the center of intellect) and the heart (the center of emotions), but both of these are inside an individual. If we truly love the Lord, that love will be expressed: expressed in action, expressed in obedience.
Christianity is a doing religion. Christ said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” James wrote in James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” A person who is unwilling to use his strength in the service of God is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.
How do we love God with all our strength? First, we love God with all our strength when we use what we have for Him. Ability plus opportunity equals responsibility. Determine how you can best use your talents and energies in the service of the Lord. It has been said that each of us has ten times more ability than we will ever develop. Do your best to develop your talents for Christ.
As already suggested, we love God with all our strength when the love in our hearts is expressed in concrete action. To put it plainly, we must work for the Master (1 Cor. 15:58). A noted evangelist of a past generation once said that he did not intend to grow old, that he wanted to wear himself out in service to Christ. While all of us need rest from time to time, it is better to wear out than to rust out.
In addition, we love God with all our strength when we give God our best. Too often, we treat the Lord like some might treat an old dog: they give Him the leftovers. God does not want the time, money, talent, and energy we have left over after making a living and engaging in other activities. He wants the best that is in us (Matt. 6:33). We will give Him our best if we love Him with all our strength.
Loving God with all our strength must be a part of our total response to Him. Samson loved God with his strength, but he failed to love with his mind and his heart. The love expressed with our strength must be guided by the intellect and motivated by the emotions. Do not forget, however, that working for Christ indicates the genuineness of our love.
Loving God with All Our Souls
Finally, we note that Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God…with all your soul.” The soul was second on Christ’s list, but we have left it for last because it can serve as a summary of our response to the Father.
The Greek word translated “Soul” is (psuche), also written psyche, the word from which we get words like “psychology.” Sometimes the word is used in the New Testament as the equivalent of “mind” or “heart” – the thinking or feeling part of a person. To many of us, the word “soul” is synonymous with the spirit, or the eternal part of man. However, in Mark 12:29-30, the word is contrasted with the intellect and the mind and is treated as being parallel with them. The two definitions given thus far do not seem to fit. We may find a clue in the fact that psyche is often translated by the word “life.” Note the familiar passages that follow. In each of them the word “life” is translated from psyche:
In Matthew 6:25 we read, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
In John 15:13 we read, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
In Matthew 20:27-28 we read, “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
In these passages, the word psyche refers to the life within a man, To me, to love God “with all one’s soul” is to love Him with all of one’s being – to love him with all one has, all one is, and all one can be.
Taking our cue from the passages just noted, to love God with our lives includes putting God above the material things of this earthly life. It implies a willingness to sacrifice our lives for Him if necessary – and a willingness to use our lives in service to Him and to all mankind. To Love God with all our souls is to give ourselves completely to Him – heart, body, and soul. As T.B. Larimore, a great pioneer preacher, used to put it, “Mind muscle, and money; time, tongue, and talent; head, hand, and heart; body, soul and spirit” – all needs to be devoted to our Lord.
Here is the religion of the whole person as Jesus puts it in Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength….” A laborer uses his hands. A craftsman uses his hands and his head. An artist uses his hands, his head, and his heart. A Christian uses his hands, his head, his heart, and his life for God. Mark 12:30 is a portrait of one wholly dedicated to the Lord.