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A Call to Hear

The First and Great Commandment in the Law

4 min

Previously, we have been looking at the Ten Commandments and seeking to apply them to our daily lives as followers of Jesus. In these next two months, November and December, we will examine carefully the grand summary of “all the law and the prophets” given by our Lord Jesus.

In the last week of His earthly ministry and only a few days before He went to the cross, Jesus was teaching in the Temple. He had just answered a trick question from the Sadducees concerning resurrection. When the Pharisees saw that Jesus had silenced their rivals, they asked a question of their own. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:35–36).

Jesus answered by citing two different passages in the Old Testament — Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).

Following that assertion, Jesus then made this profound summary: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). To love God is to worship Him alone, to reject all idols, to reverence His name, and to keep His day holy. To love our neighbor is to honor life, be pure in heart, honor personal property, speak the truth, and be content. (The second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” will be our study focus during the month of December.) For November, we will give greater consideration to what Jesus called “the first and great commandment.”

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).

This key passage of Scripture is called the “Shema Yisrael.” The title comes from the Hebrew word for “Hear, O Israel.” This passage is a call to the nation of Israel to pay attention, to listen, to give earnest heed to the commandment about to be given.

After calling for their attention, Jehovah God then calls His people to an affirmation of Who He is: “The LORD our God is one LORD.” In order to love the Lord, we must know Him, and for us to truly know Him, He must reveal Himself to us. We do not define God. He must define Himself, and He graciously does so in the following profound yet simple words.

The LORD

Jehovah is the personal name by which God revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). God is not some distant, galactic force or heavenly being, nor is He some unknowable power behind the universe. He is Jehovah. In Isaiah 42:8, He states: “I am the LORD: that is my name.” The Hebrew name is hard to express fully in English. It means “The Existing One”—the One Who has no beginning, no ending, no creator, and no rival. He is living, personal, eternal, powerful, self-existent, and He has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

Our God

Not only is He Jehovah, but He is also “our God.” God is willing to be known, to be loved, to be claimed as our own. He has manifested His goodness, love, and mercy, and granted us His redemption. He allows Himself to receive our personal pronouns attached to Himself: “my God” and “our God.” While the name Jehovah speaks of His eternal being, the name Elohim speaks of His power and His strong arm that is exerted in our redemption. We could say that the name Jehovah speaks of Who He is on our behalf, while Elohim speaks of what He does on our behalf.

Is one LORD

This statement is of the unity of the Godhead. This is not the time nor the place for a detailed discussion of Trinitarian doctrine versus the Arian heresy, nor the development of historical Church Councils concerning the nature of the Son. But a right view of God is intrinsically important in the Christian life. How can we love God if we do not know Him? He is the triune God, manifesting Himself eternally in three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But God remains one in essence. He not only calls for our worship and our love, but He calls for our exclusive worship and our chief, overarching love. We are to worship God and none else. We are to love Him above all.

“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

Just as God has given Himself unreservedly to us, we are to give ourselves unreservedly to Him. We love Him because He first loved us (see I John 4:19). God wants us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might. We could parallel these three aspects as our spirit, our soul, and our body. Our love for God is not merely a religious feeling, an emotion, or an idea. Our love for Him is not merely physical actions like bowing, kneeling, and lifting our hands. Loving God encompasses all of these aspects and much, much more! It is a love that sets our hearts afire, consuming our minds, stirring our emotions, quickening our will, and empowering our hands and feet to do His bidding.

Immediately after this “first and greatest commandment,” we are pointed to the Scripture where God reveals Himself: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7).

Do you love the Lord your God as you ought to love Him? In order to love Him with all your heart, soul, and might, you must know Him. And in order to truly know Him, you must fill your life with His Word and Spirit. How often do you meditate on Scripture? Is the Bible a well-read book in your family, or does it sit on a bookshelf “for emergency use only”? Are you speaking and teaching God’s Word in your home? In what ways are you modeling for your children how to wholly love the Lord? When traveling, do you take time to pray and ask God for His presence and protection? At bedtime, do you seize the opportunity to read Bible stories, meditate on Scripture, and sing with your children? In the morning or evening, does your family read God’s Word together? May God give us all the grace to give earnest heed to what Jesus said is the “first and great commandment.”

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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