by NR JOHNSON
As sweat dripped down her brow, her eyes narrowed in deep concentration. The next two minutes would determine everything — failure or fame. The long days of training and years of obsessive dedication culminated into this moment at the starting line.
Olympic athletes lead grueling lives. Nearly every waking moment is spent on their sport. Everything revolves around being the best in their division. Their heart, mind, and strength are focused on one thing.
Just as an Olympic athlete doesn’t casually pursue their sport, neither should we as Christians casually pursue our God.
Consider this: our call is to seek God with all of our heart (Jer. 29:13) and to seek first His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33) — for He rewards those who diligently seek after Him (Heb. 11:6).
The Most Important Commandment
One day, the religious leaders of Israel came to Jesus trying to trap Him. During the discussion, a scribe asked a question about which of God’s commandments was most important. Interestingly, Jesus responded with the one passage the Jews had committed to heart more than any other — the Shema.
The Shema, literally meaning “hear” or “listen,” is the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4–5: “Hear, Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (NASB).
This passage was the basic confession of faith for devout Jews and central in the life of an Israelite beginning from the time of Moses to the present day. In Jesus’ day, every Jew would quote the Shema at the beginning of the day and often at its end. This passage was quoted every week at the start of the service in the synagogue. It was foundational to the life of Israel, and as such, many scholars suggest Jesus would have quoted it daily.
Since many Rabbis saw the Shema as the heart of the entire Law (in fact, some modern scholars suggest that the entire book of Deuteronomy is a commentary or explanation of the Shema), it is no wonder Jesus used this as His response when asked about the greatest commandment:
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ [Deut. 6:4–5]. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [Lev. 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:29–31 ESV
Loving God with Everything
With all that in mind, let’s dive deeper into the way Scripture tells us we are to love God.
In early Hebrew, “heart” and “soul” overlapped, so rather than being two distinct aspects of a person, they conveyed the idea of the “internal life, dispositions, emotions, and intellect.”1 One scholar said we might better understand it today as the whole of our mind and emotions, both conscious and unconscious. “Strength” indicates strength or power, but also energy and ability. Taking the passage as a whole, the emphasis is upon loving God with totality, undivided loyalty, wholehearted and exclusive devotion.
I find it fascinating that Jesus, like He often did when He explained the Old Testament, gave a fuller understanding of the passage. The original passage in Deuteronomy says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (6:4–5, emphasis added).
Yet, when Jesus quoted the passage, He added a word — “mind.” Though heart and mind would have been closely associated to Jewish understanding, the Greek-influenced audience Jesus was speaking to placed great emphasis on the mind. It appears He didn’t want His audience to have any excuses; their love and devotion unto God was to be total and all-consuming.
If we quickly look at each aspect of loving God with “all,” we find there is nothing excluded:
Heart: the focus of your thoughts (mind), including your emotions (heart); knowledge of right from wrong (conscience). It also conveys the idea of the “center of your life.”
Soul: often understood as the immaterial and core part of who you are; the “location” of your mind, will, emotions, and conscience.
Mind: includes your understanding, intelligence, thoughts, and reasoning.
Strength: your capability, strength, power, might; includes having the ability and requirements to do something or get something done.
As the Bible Knowledge Commentary puts it: “To love the Lord means to choose Him for an intimate relationship and to obey His commands. This command, to love Him, is given often in Deuteronomy (6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20). Loving Him was to be wholehearted (with all your heart) and was to pervade every aspect of an Israelite’s being and life (soul and strength).”2
Loving Jesus isn’t to be a theory we mull around in our minds. Rather, it is demonstrated in how we live — it is revealed in our daily actions. Does your life truly show that you love Him with ALL? Is your pursuit of God “all-consuming”?
Discover what it looks like to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength with the three-day study on the next page.
Read the following passages and make a list of what it means to love Jesus with wholehearted and exclusive devotion: Deuteronomy 10:12–13; 2 Chronicles 6:14; Psalm 84:1–2, 10; 119:2; Jeremiah 29:13–14; Matthew 6:33; John 14:15–27; 15:1–13; 1 Corinthians 13; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 1:5–7; 2:15–17; 3:10, 16–18; 4:7–21.
Once you’ve compiled the list, take some time to ponder this picture of wholehearted devotion to God. Come before the Lord and invite Him to search your heart and life, showing you the areas where your love has been divided. Consider journaling what God is speaking to you through His Word.
I’ve often said that there are three things that reveal what is most important to us: how we spend our time, how we spend our money, and what we talk about. I recently came across an A.W. Tozer quote where he gave a list of seven things that reveal what is important in our lives:
1. What we want most
2. What we think about most
3. How we use our money
4. What we do with our leisure time
5. The company we enjoy
6. Who and what we admire
7. What we laugh at
Where do you place the focus and emphasis? Is it Jesus or something else? Take this study time to examine your life and what each of these areas reveal. Are there practical steps you need to take or things you need to change in order to more fully build your life around Jesus? Take some time to commit these things to prayer. Ask the Lord to deepen your love for Him and for His strength to walk out any steps of obedience He put on your heart.
Loving and pursuing God with “all” cannot be disconnected from loving others. Though Jesus gives it as the “second” most important commandment, the emphasis of the passage is that both loving God and loving others is intimately connected. The book of 1 John gives us some incredibly practical guidance in loving God and loving others. Take some time and read through all five chapters of 1 John (it should only take around 15 minutes) — as well as the following verses: John 13:35; 15:12–17; 17:20–21; Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4:32.
Allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind any people or relationships that need reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness, or love. How can you practically demonstrate love to the people in your life (including, and perhaps most especially, the people you dislike, that frustrate you, or are different than you)? Remember to lean upon God’s strength, wisdom, and grace as you walk in obedience to His command to love others.
Just as an Olympic athlete is fully committed and invested in the pursuit of their sport, may we as Christians have an all-consuming pursuit, pleasure, and passion for the One who is worthy of all — Jesus Christ. May He have first place, be the center, and have the preeminence in all things. (See Colossians 1:18.) Or, as Jesus said, may we love Him with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength.