“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 22:37–39

Among the most thought-provoking words found in the Bible, these words were uttered by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. There he talks of godly qualities (Beatitudes and “You have heard that it has been said…but I say to you”), the Lord’s Model Prayer, admonishments that life and speech must match (do not be a hypocrite) and “Ask…seek…knock.” But just as memorable are His words of warning: “Enter in at the straight gate” and “a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Perhaps most striking is His warning concerning false prophets in Matthew 7:15–25: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” These are indeed thought-provoking words that define the difference between those who love God and those who do not love Him.

To understand the meaning of our Savior’s words we must look at the larger context and the over-arching biblical theme of salvation by faith. Our Lord was calling Israel to repentance from dead works to serve in spirit and in truth. Is this not the meaning of His words to His disciples? John 14:15 reads, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:21 reads, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him….” John 15:5 reads, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” John 15:9 reads, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

The Apostle John continues this theme in his letters. 1 John 2:3ff reads, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him,’ and does not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His words, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know we are in Him.” In 1 John 5:1ff he explains, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments….” 2 John 5f also states, “…that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”

There is no doubt that our Lord’s thoughts are to fulfill the great commandment (a full summary of the entire law) as found in Matthew 22:37–39. The Ten Commandments are easily recognized as two-fold: commandments 1–5 detail how to love God and commandments 6–10 illustrate how to love your neighbor as yourself. The whole bent of the Old Testament law was to authentically love God and love your neighbor. This is the meaning of our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, and His admonitions to His disciples.

Since love must be grounded in truth, and since all forms of human love derive and achieve their highest glory when they take their bearing from the unchangeable character of the love of God, it is important that you assess the quality of your love for God. After all, we are at best, “unprofitable servants.” There is always room for improvement.

The foundational precepts for Israel displaying love for God are found in Deuteronomy 6. In verse 5 Moses records, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” He is not dividing up human nature into three parts, but is rather looking at three aspects of every man. The heart is the intentional will of the whole man. The soul is the whole self in its neediness and unity, will and vitality. Strength is descriptive of a man’s energy in action, or energy put to work. The way to love God is total commitment, whole-hearted, energetic obedience. This is why verse 6 states, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” Heart is repeated twice, for emphasis, because actions without heart are merely exercise.

To love God is first to really know His character. Second, it is to know His acts. The hearty work of loving God is from the depth of your being: “You shall teach [impress] them diligently…and talk of them” (verse 7). It is a diligent and earnest pursut: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand…” (verse 8). It is also a daily, persevering, and continuous pursuit: “You shall write them on the doorposts…and on your gates” (verse 9).

The opposite of love is not hatred, it is actually indifference and apathy. Can you honestly characterize yourself as one who loves God with all your heart, soul, and strength? Trust and obey.