Deuteronomy 6:4-5. 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
This prayer, known as the Shema (the Hebrew word “hear”) is the center of Jewish life. It is prayed daily at morning and evening prayer service. It is recited on Yom Kippur. It is recited before death. It’s like the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer all rolled up into one. It’s a big deal.
But it’s not just a big deal for Jews. Jesus, our Savior, said that the Shema is the greatest commandment, coupling it with “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why is loving God so important?
God is love. God created from love. God created us to love. Loving God is the meaning of life. You stop loving God and you stop living. Sin is by definition the failure to love God.
“Love God” seems so obvious. Religion 101. But then why is it so hard? Why do we need this command? Why would we need to be told to love the one true God?
The answer is because we naturally resist loving God. In fact, in our natural state we hate God. We are his born enemies. He alone stand in the way of our self-determination and self-rule. But if God wants to change this, why doesn’t he say “Submit to the Lord your God with all your heart…”? Or, “Obey the Lord your God with all your heart…”?
Because he loves us.
God wants our love first, before our obedience. Anyone can be beaten into submission and obedience. Anyone can choose to obey for their own good. All without love. But because God loves us with everything that he is, he wants us to love him with everything that we are.
Yes, love, like obedience, is an action (love with all your might), but love is also a feeling, a desire (love with all your heart), and an attitude (love with all your soul). If loving with all that we are is what we were created for, then it would be unloving of God to NOT demand that we love him. It’s the same as if God commanded us to breathe air. We need to breathe air to live, so the command is not burdensome, it is life giving. In the same way, our soul needs to love God. And so, like breathing, the command to love God is life giving.
Except there’s one little problem (actually a big problem). We can’t do it.
Probably as soon as you read the Shema and its command to love God you felt it in your gut. You knew what we all know – you can’t command love. Forcing someone to love you immediately destroys love. Surely God must know this.
Don’t worry, he does. God knows that we can’t just manufacture love for him just because he told us to. This is why God didn’t just command us to love him. He first loved us. He initiated. He pursued. He gave. He demonstrated. He died. All from love.
It is this initiating, pursuing, unconditional, divine love that transforms us, making it possible for us to receive God’s love and then love God in return. But this is more than just seeing God’s love and then imitating it. It is receiving his love by faith in the life of Christ. It is a supernatural pouring of love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).
In Christ, God has given us a whole new life force. A new heart, a new affection, a new desire for his love. A new soul, a new vision of his love and bent toward his love. And a new might, a new power to love. Now we love God because we love God, not just because he told us to.
“To live is Christ” means God has poured his unconditional and eternal love into our hearts by pouring Christ’s sacrificial life into our hearts. When we know and trust that we are loved infinitely we are transformed into the lovers that God seeks. Not just obeyers, but wholehearted lovers. Lovers that find the meaning of our lives in loving God with everything that we are and everything that we will be.
Do you love God? Do you know that you’re loved by God?
You in Christ
You have been placed into God’s eternal love. He cannot love you more and he cannot love you less. How does this capture your heart today?
Christ in you
Christ’s life in you empowers your love. How can you choose to love today?