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.

Moms, Love God With All Your Mind

Much recognition has been given lately to frontline workers, and rightly so. Medical personnel, retail employees, truck drivers, postal workers, and countless others have kept our country functioning in the midst of the current crisis, even as others have been asked to stay home. Moms have never been strangers to the frontline. They may not be in the public eye, but they are the original frontline workers in their children’s lives. As mothers bandage one boo boo after another, prepare countless meals, and dry rivers of tears, they are attuned to their children like no one else on the planet. Motherhood is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. In my experience and observation, moms often give more attention to maintaining their own physical and emotional health than to nurturing the life of the mind, despite the fact that it is equally important to our spiritual health.

When asked by a scribe to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) As women, we are typically very good at the heart, soul, and even strength sections of that verse. Often we are so worn out from performing the roles of short order cook, janitor, activities director, dispute mediator, and taxi driver, that we brush past the mind portion of the greatest commandment. But our children are fighting a new kind of battle in the world today that can only be defeated through sound reasoning. This requires that we strengthen and engage our minds with God’s Word, learn to apply critical reasoning skills, and teach our children to do the same.

While playground bullies still exist, a larger threat is posed by a culture that engages in linguistic gymnastics by redefining words and invading our children’s minds with unbiblical ideas. Our children are no longer just fighting against enemies on the playground who want to pummel them with their fists. They are up against an invisible foe who wants to capture their thoughts. One particularly insidious inroad is the cyber-bully capable of throwing virtual punches to their psyches from the other side of a device screen. Just as we would teach them to defend against physical threats, we must also train them to take every thought captive for Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Our kids may not even recognize the danger at first glance, but it is our responsibility to teach them to recognize the hazards inherent in a culture trying to remake God in its own image. How can we equip ourselves so that we are prepared to equip our children? As moms, we need to put on our helmets, work out our salvation, and hold on to truth.

Put On Your Helmet

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit — which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17

The first line of defense in the life of the mind is to put on the helmet of salvation for ourselves before we ever try to come to our child’s aid. This may seem counterintuitive at first, because as moms our first instinct is to protect our kids without thought for our own safety. But think of it as being similar to the way flight attendants instruct parents to respond in emergency situations. They tell parents to place the oxygen mask on themselves first before attending to their children. Salvation works the same way. Until we accept the life sustaining gift of salvation by grace and through faith, it is difficult for our children to realize its importance. We cannot pass on what we haven’t received ourselves. As they observe the peace, assurance, and security we find in our salvation, our children will be drawn to the hope we have in Christ.

Work Out Your Salvation

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12

After we have protected our minds with the helmet of salvation, we are responsible to daily work out our understanding of what it means to be saved. The sanctification process requires that we soberly and reverently seek to mature in our comprehension of the finished work of Christ on our behalf. We grow in our understanding that not only did Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection save us from something, but it saved us for something. We were rescued from sin and death for the purpose of walking daily in the abundant life God promises His children. Not only that, but we look forward to eternity in heaven with our Lord. If we only view salvation as a kind of “fire insurance,” we and our children miss out on realizing the full benefit of all that Christ accomplished for us. We miss out on the joy of cooperating with Him in His plans for us on this earth until He calls us to our eternal home.

Hold On To Truth

But test all things. Hold on to what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Finally, we should seek to practice discernment by letting go of those things that are not healthy for our minds. We are bombarded with information and entertainment choices coming at us from news sources and social media accounts from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning until the time we lay our heads down on our pillows at night. It is incredibly easy to become absorbed in our own virtual worlds without carefully holding up the things we hear and see against the truth of God’s Word. Our microwave culture insists on instant gratification, and tells us that everything ought to be quick and easy. But sometimes the discernment process requires that we let our thoughts slowly simmer on the back burner for a while. By so doing, we allow truth to permeate our minds without reflexively accepting things that may not line up with God’s Word. As our children watch us wrestle well, test all things, and hold on to what is good, they learn to do the same.

This Mother’s Day as your children shower you with gifts, consider reciprocating with the gift of a mom who loves God with all her mind. Let’s weep and laugh with our children. Take time to run and play with them. But let’s not neglect to think critically and deeply about spiritual things, and to teach them to do the same. Our children will reap long-lasting benefits from such an investment. It will be a gift that keeps on giving as they pass it along to their children, and there is no greater joy in the life of a mom than watching a Godly legacy bloom and flourish.