“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it; ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37–40

True saints will forever be characterized by full devotion to God and ministry to others. There are many well-meaning people who emphasize the people-centered commandment because the God-centered commandment spiritually demands so much. The error of the “Social Gospel” is that the first commandment of full devotion to God was replaced by devotion to humanistic religion, while neglecting God’s whole truth. The second commandment of “love thy neighbor” became the ultimate end in religious fervor. Evangelicals today must guard against the same hazard. Doing good to prove being good is really not much different than works-oriented salvation. Keep God’s order and God’s priority in the first commandment, and the second takes on its rightful shape and meaning.

Doing good serves a high purpose when it is designed to pave the way to witness. Serving to earn a hearing is useful in order to tell the claims of the Gospel and pursue each soul’s need of salvation from sin to holiness. But doing good in order to elicit a spontaneous response of spiritual life in someone else is not found in our Lord’s words. In fact, an unsaved person is incapable of spontaneous spiritual life ginned up from within. He must be acted upon by the Holy Spirit, utilizing the Word of God (John 3:3–8; Romans 10:17).

Several observations about our Lord’s words from Matthew come to mind. First, while both characteristics of true saints are expansive (the immaterial you—heart, soul, and mind, and the material you—bodily serving), it is instructive that the second characteristic is very brief compared to the first characteristic. The first characteristic, therefore, defines and directs the second.

Second, it is quickly apparent that the second characteristic flows out of the first. Authentic love for God will not remain hidden. You cannot have one commandment functioning as designed without the other fully functioning as well.

Third, not only do the two commandments outline the Ten Commandments, they are also trans-dispensational in that they are featured in the Gospel and are unfolded in the rest of the New Testament. They are characteristic of all saints, of all ages.

Finally, the two commandments work in tandem to define the difference between merely nice people and those who are born-again. There are many who practice the golden rule, but they do not have eternal life since they do not know God. They have no authentic devotion in loving submission to the true God. On the other hand, there are also many who claim to love God but do not care for those He loves. In both instances spiritual life is absent.

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” is the first commandment. It is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5. In fact, as austere as the book of Deuteronomy is perceived to be, the word love appears many times. It is God’s attestation of His love for His people and His challenge for them to love Him in return (10:12, 13:3, 11:1, 13:3, 30:6). Deuteronomy 7:6ff declares, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people…but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers….” Love, as demonstrated by our God, is a choice of commitment. His love is the model for the believer’s full devotion to God. “We love Him because He first loved us,” 1 John 4:18 says.

Webster defined love “to be pleased with, to regard with affection, on account of some qualities which excite pleasing sensations or desire of gratification, what gives us pleasure or delight.” He further said, “The Christian loves his Bible. In short, we love whatever gives us pleasure and delight, whether animal or intellectual; and if our hearts are right, we love God above all things, as the sum of all excellence and all the attributes which can communicate happiness to intelligent beings.

In other words, the Christian loves God with the love of complacency in his attributes, the love of benevolence towards the interest of his kingdom, and the love of gratitude for favors received. The love of God is the first duty of man, and this springs from just views of his attributes or excellencies of character, which afford the highest delight to the sanctified heart. Esteem and reverence constitute ingredients in this affection, and a fear of offending him is its inseparable effect.”

God is the initiator in His love for us. Our fitting response is love for Him. Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Chapter 10:12f repeats, “What does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD our God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good” (Psalm 5:11).

As you grow deeper in your love for Him, your service to your fellow man will find its eternal purpose. What steps can you take to augment your devotion to the Lord today? Trust and obey.