The Greatest Commandment: Love God First

I know a little bit about talking to lawyers because I raised one. My home grown litigator could be hard-headed and frustrating at times. He could easily argue the paint right off the wall, and I imagine lawyers were much the same in Jesus’ day. The Messiah was in the middle of a cross examination by the prominent religious leaders of His time when a scribe asked Him to identify the greatest commandment. No doubt he thought this would be quite a challenge for the rabbi from Nazareth, and that Jesus would squirm as He decided which of the 613 commands was most important. Would it be one of the dietary laws, a law regarding sacrifices, or perhaps a sabbath regulation?

In a mic drop moment, Jesus answered the question. He declared that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) The scriptures tell us that the audience was speechless as Jesus’ words hung in the air. The self-righteous teachers of the law felt their egos being crushed beneath the weight of this scriptural mandate. They were confronted with the fact that this commandment is foundational to obedience in every area of life. So why does God want to be the boss of us? He made us. He knows what’s best for us. He knows what’s bad for us.

He made us.

“Come, let’s worship and bow down; let’s kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalms 95:6) God commands us to love Him because He made us. Like a mechanic who builds an engine, or an architect who designs a structure, He knows how we function best, and is intimately acquainted with the purpose for which we were designed.

We were made to run on Him. C.S. Lewis explains this concept in Mere Christianity when he says, “Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (Book 2, Chapter 3, p. 50)

We will be most fulfilled when we use each part of who we are for the purpose for which it was designed. God made our hearts to worship, and stirs in them a restlessness that can only be satisfied when He is the object of our worship. Our triune God had perfect community within Himself, and created us to enjoy fellowship; therefore, our souls will never be content until they join in communion with Him. God Himself is a rational being, and so He created our minds to be able to reason and discover evidentially who He is. He designed our physical bodies to be vessels through which we can work with purpose and serve Him. Because He made us, He also knows how to best maintain His creation by providing what’s best for us.

He knows what’s best for us.

My older son has always harbored a disdain for green beans. I remember one particularly unpleasant showdown over his least favorite vegetable when he was about six years old. Having tired of playing short order cook and catering to his whims, I was determined that he was going to eat just one bite of green beans before getting up from the dinner table. He was just as determined to defy my demands. After about a two hour show down, he balled up his tiny fists and declared, “You’re ruining my whole life!” For the record, he did eventually eat one bite (score one for Mom), and has managed to live a productive and healthy life, none the worse for the incident.

Much like my son, we often ball up our fists and determine that God takes pleasure in issuing edicts designed to ruin our good time. We think God should prioritize our happiness, and simply allow us to consume whatever satisfies our appetites in the short term. We often forget that He is out for our eternal good. It’s the difference between gorging on chocolate and disciplining ourselves to eat our vegetables. Ultimately, He knows what’s best for us and He knows what’s bad for us. He knows it’s harmful for us to be filled up with ourselves rather than to love and be led by Him.

Thankfully, God’s Word tells us where to find sustenance. The Psalmist encourages us to satisfy our hunger and thirst through feasting on God’s commands. “How sweet your word is to my taste — sweeter than honey in my mouth.” (Psalms 119:103) “I open my mouth and pant because I long for your commands.” (Psalms 119:131) Jesus, the Word Incarnate, tells us that He is the Bread of Life (John 6) and the Living Water (John 4) and that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Matthew 5:6). When we love God first, we receive what is good for us, but we also avoid what is bad for us.

He knows what’s bad for us.

He knows it’s bad for us to be our own bosses. God knows that when left to our own devices, our hearts are inclined to churn out idols. Often those idols bear a strong resemblance to the person we see in the mirror, because it’s human nature to want to be in charge. My younger son invented an interesting word when he was about three years old. Having overheard us call him both strong-willed and independent, he merged the terms and declared that he was “wendapenda.” The same son, tired of being bossed around by his older brother, also once emphatically prophesied, “One day I’m gonna be the boss of somebody!” While this was sort of cute and even a bit amusing to observe in a toddler, it’s not so attractive as we get older. This is the same struggle humans have faced since the very beginning, recorded in Genesis 3, when the enemy convinced Eve that God was holding out on her by not allowing her to be her own boss.

God also knows it’s bad for culture to be the boss of us. The world we live in reverses the two greatest commandments. We live in a me-centric, selfie-obsessed culture that does its best to convince us that only by loving ourselves first can we truly love others. The truth is that we cannot love ourselves or others until we first love God. We have no definition for real love apart from Him. The culture also assures us that we will be happiest if we just follow our hearts and let our feelings lead the way. God’s Word warns of the danger of this approach in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I know that my feelings will lead me astray in a hot second, so they are definitely in no position to be the boss of me. Following our hearts is a one way self-destructive path.

Love initiates action.

Love for God is a command that initiates an action. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” When we accept the free and gracious gift of the gospel, we are called to obedience in following His commands. Obedience to the first command bears fruit which flows over into the second, and compels us to demonstrate our love for others. Unless we embed the anchor of our faith deeply into the immovable bedrock of God’s steadfast love, we risk flailing about in the stormy sea of our emotions, grasping onto the drifting wreckage of things wholly unworthy of our worship. It is only by virtue of loving God first that we experience the transformation and renewal of our hearts and minds, and become equipped to change our world with the life-giving gospel.

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