Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love God: The First Great Command

In Light of the Gospels

The first great commandment is very simply a call to love God with a full heart. It seems fitting to start with the gospel of John, so often called the “love gospel.” Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment is. According to Mark 12:29 (ESV) “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.’” The four synoptic gospels are full of calls to love God, in accordance with the first great commandment. What does it mean to love God? The gospels, especially the gospel of John make it clear that to love God is an action, not simply a feeling (John 14:15). The gospel of John makes it clear that Christians express their love for God by obeying his commandments (John 15:12-14). Put another way, Christians who love God take the action of obeying the word of God (John 14:23-24). John 14:21 (ESV) says “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.” To love God is to love Christ (John 14:7). No one may come to the Father aside from through the Son (John 14:6). God himself expressed his love for the world in an action, not just a feeling (John 3:16). The first great commandment appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and partially in John (Matthew 22:37-39, Luke 10:27, Mark 12:29, John 13:34-35). In the book of Matthew, the order of love is clearly established when Jesus Christ said,”Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Jesus Christ must be loved above all else. That is the greatest command: love for God. Yet the command does not stop at a feeling, but remains an action. Just as Jesus taught later in Matthew chapter 25:31-40 regarding those who serve the poor, visit those in jail, feed the hungry, and care for the widow. Jesus said in Matthew 25 that whoever serves the least of the world in those desperate situations is actually serving him. Very truly, the poor are all Jesus Christ in disguise. This means that the second great command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is inexorably linked to the first great command to “love the Lord your God” (Matthew 22:36-40).

According to John 15:12-14 (ESV) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus Christ taught a radical, extreme reliance upon himself and a radical extreme love for God, displayed through works. Jesus said in Luke 14:33 (ESV) “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” To be saved one must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). But to abide, in Greek “meno” one must obey the two great commands of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 15:10). The scriptures say that anyone who obeys His commands abides forever (1 John 2:17). The great command is the means by which conditional security is maintained, remaining in love with God the Father through his son Jesus Christ, by serving the poor and feeding the hungry (John 15:4-6). 

Loving God in Practice

The first great commandment to “love God” is inexorably linked to the second great command “to love your neighbor as yourself.” The first great commandment to love God is at it's core a commitment to love God when times are good and when times are difficult (Wright. 2001, p. 581). The first time in scripture when it's stated that man must “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind” its in Deuteronomy 6:5 (Wright, 2001, p. 582). Within the context of Deuteronomy the decree to love God was not so much a feeling as it was a command to obedience (Wright, 2001, p. 582). In the context of Deuteronomy which Jesus Christ quotes to his followers when instructing them, the idea of “loving God” is synonymous with political loyalty between nations (Wright, 2001, p. 584). Therefore, to “love God” is to be a loyal follower of God, in the context of the New Testament, a follower of Jesus Christ. What do followers do? They live out the teachings of those they follow. What does it mean to love God with all of the heart? The heart in western culture is often associated with emotions and feelings. Such was not the case with ancient Hebrew society (Wright, 2001, p. 583). In Hebrew culture it was the place of thought, will, decision making, and conscience (Wright, 2001, p. 583). According to Wright (2001) “Thus, to do something “with all your heart” is equivalent to saying “in all your thoughts and decision making.”” The Holy Spirit is vital to this command (Wright, 2001, p. 584). Truly one cannot even begin to express loyalty and love to God without the indwelling Holy Spirit. Since the command to “love God” is a call to loyalty and obedience, not to a sense of feeling, Christians are all the more able to obey the command to love the Lord through action and attention to the desires of God to serve thy neighbor and love thy neighbor as thyself. 

While focusing in on the obedience aspect of practicing “loving God” one must not neglect the emotional aspect of the experience. The only reason Christians are capable of loving God is because God first loved his people, even before they were his children (Anderson, 2006, p. 144). It could be said that divine love is manifested within the believer by the Holy Spirit, which helps believers to love as God loved (Anderson, 2006, p. 145). The love that God gave in Christ Jesus is a strong motivation to love for the believer (John 3:16, 1 John 3:16). It can be said that the believer has a responsibility to love, and even more so that the believer is empowered to love through the love that God gives (Anderson, 2006, p. 145). The scriptures say that God is love, and through the experience of God's perfect love a believer can in return love God as he loves the believer (Anderson, 2006, p. 145-146). Loving God is not merely about loyalty or obedience to the command's of God, but is about learning to love through the present love of God and learning to love through practicing compassion for others and oneself (Anderson, 2006, p. 146).

Living the Great Command

The great commandments to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" are useless unless they are applied practically (Luke 10:27). How can Christians love God? Christians can love God through radical devotion to the teachings of the Bible. Christians can love God through sincere prayer. Christians can love God through mercy ministries. Christians can love God through self sacrifice. Christians can love God through intense emotional affection for the Heavenly Father. Christians can love God by living for Jesus Christ. Of course all of that sounds great. But how does it really practically apply to modern life? For me personally, I recognize how much noise and distraction there is in the modern culture. If I don't keep a constant Christian message flowing into my spirit from multiple angles I'll be in danger of backsliding. To practically love God I need to include God in every aspect of my life. Prayer is vital to that. Daily Bible study is important to that also. But even more so, there are other things. I listen to Christian radio and Christian speaker CDs. I fill my social media news feed with Christian quotes and pictures. I go to church on Sundays and I run a Bible study. I need to do those things so that God remains the center of my focus and loyalty. For the church I attend, it's important that we share the gospel with others. We already do a great deal for the poor through the food pantry, homeless shelter, and after-school program. But what people need more than the social gospel, is the gospel out of the scriptures. If no one shares it word for word, then people simply don't know and don't think about it. I see that as a primary focus for obeying the first great commandment, to love God. Through my service to others and keeping the message of God flowing into my life, I am able to hold to my radical loyalty to God, and also build up my love for God through works. 


Anderson, Pamela Sue. "Can we love as God loves?." Theology & Sexuality 12, no. 2 (January 1, 2006): 143-163. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 28, 2015).

ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. ESV Text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Rivera, Ted. The Half Gospel. 2013

Rivera, Ted. The Heart of Love: Obeying God's Two Great Commandments. Zondervan, 2013.

Rivera, Ted. Reforming Mercy Ministry: A Practical Guide to Loving Your Neighbor. IVP Books, 2014.

Wright, Rebecca Abts. "The Impossible Commandment." Anglican Theological Review 83, no. 3 (Summer, 2001): 579-84,