“One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’” (Mark 12:28-30 NLT)
At its heart, this is a commandment for God’s people to be loyal to him. You do not have to be an expert in the Old Testament to know that staying loyal to the LORD was the challenge the Israelites faced. The people of the exodus struggled to stay loyal in spite of their wilderness wanderings. The people of the conquest struggled to stay loyal in spite of the fact that it meant fighting what seemed a hopeless cause. The people of the monarchy struggled to stay loyal in spite of the constant temptation to give in to other deities – often being tempted to do so by their own kings and priests.
Every generation has its own test of loyalty. Ours is no different than the ones who have come and gone. It is our test – it is not God’s. He knows who He is. He knew the time in the beginning when no one else existed. He had no rivals. He also knows about eternity future. He has appointed a day of judgment. He knows that there will be no rival standing after that day. He has a day of destruction coming that will deal effectively with all his enemies. One by one, all humans and all demons who have dared compete with him for the allegiance of others will be judged, punished, and destroyed, until the last enemy (death itself) will be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Judgment Day is the Final Exam. It is the time when all will see who made it to the next term (which, in this case, is eternity).
The standard is this: loving the LORD as the one and only lord. The apostle Paul said:
“There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 NLT)
Living for the one creator and trusting in his one means of life is what Christians do. It is how we show our loyalty to our LORD. We have been born into a generation of religious pluralism, but we dare to be religious singularists. We will tolerate and befriend others who hold to other faiths and accept them as individuals. We may even defend their right to believe what they do. But we cannot join their worship, not allow our children to be proselytized. The Bible teaches the truth. Things that contradict the Bible’s message cannot be taught or accepted without breaking the most important commandment.
Our God looks beyond this age with its relativism and uncertainty. He sees into eternity when no rival to his throne exists. He knows what is real and what is just a passing fancy. The Christian is challenged to see this world as God sees it. Today it is filled with things that are temporary, but there are some things that will remain. Loyalty to the LORD makes sense, because only he and those who cling to him will last. It is not just that we want to be on the winning team. It is that we understand that even the contest is temporary. God’s enemies will be destroyed. Those who follow them will be destroyed. Jesus is not just one of those offering life: he is the life.
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-12 NET).
The life we are born into is a gift from our creator. The life that we expect to receive at our resurrection is a gift from our Redeemer. He is coming in the clouds one day, and he has a gift with him. We are so certain that he is coming back and has that gift for us that we can talk about having it now. It is a done deal because it is a promise from the one who loves us so much that he went to the cross for us. He is not going to let us down. So, whether we are alive when he comes, or asleep in death, we know we will live along with him. He is the firstfruits from among those who sleep (1 Cor. 15:20,23). Just as he was raised (awakened) to life again, so we will be raised (awakened) as well.
THE ORGAN OF LOYALTY
In ancient days, the heart was more than the seat of the emotions. It was the organ of loyalty. When God told the Israelites that they would rebel against him, he also promised that “The LORD your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your heart and soul and so that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6 NET). If the opposite of loving God is rebellion, how do we show our love for him? Those who rebel must return. You cannot love God if you remain distant. The first Christians were taught how to live because “the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). You have a heart which is capable of clinging to the LORD in loyal love. The Father knows that you will do it. He sees into the future and sees you loving and serving him forever (if you are a believer now).
THE LOYAL LIFE
Your soul is not some invisible life force which survives death and flies away when the body dies. Your soul is your life itself. The Old Testament Hebrew word nephesh is related to a Ugaritic word for neck or throat. It had to do with eating and breathing. The word came to express one’s life. In the New Testament, Jesus said:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 ESV).
That word “life” was the word psuche, the Greek word for soul. It had to do with eating and drinking. Disembodied souls do not eat and drink, but living souls do, because eating and drinking keeps them alive. Jesus was challenging his disciples to live lives so loyal to him that the LORD was more important that staying alive. That is what it means to love the LORD with all your soul.
THE LOYAL MIND
To love the LORD with all your mind entails surrendering your mind to his. It is not simply allowing someone to indoctrinate you in religious things. It is setting your mind free to become what God intends it to be. A mind loyal to God is always open to learning. The prophets in the ancient world have students, and taught them how to see what God sees. Jesus gathered disciples around him, invited them to follow him, and promised to turn them into something more than they were. To simple fishermen, he promised to make them into fishers of men (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). To teachers in Israel he promised to teach them heavenly things (John 3:12).
Satan wants to keep us from devoting our minds to the LORD’s service. He likes to convince people that God is not interested in their minds: he only wants their hearts. But this commandment requires us to be completely and comprehensively loyal to the LORD. There is no hierarchy of loyalty. Our thought lives are just as important to God as our emotions are. Especially in this age where all religions are criticized for being primeval, we need men and women who dare to challenge that assumption. We need Christian doctors and lawyers and teachers to unashamedly proclaim that God is sovereign in the classroom as well as the prayer room.
PRIME TIME LOYALTY
For the Hebrews, the word strength had the connotation of youth and vigour (Joshua 14:11). Another strategy that the Enemy uses against the LORD is to convince people to waste their strong years on themselves, and to put aside the LORD’s work until retirement. But the LORD commands prime time loyalty. He wants the years of our strength. In fact, if we dedicate our strength to loving him, he will renew that youth (Psalm 103:5). This appears to have been what happened in Caleb’s life. Sadly, the Calebs of this world are few, because Satan has convinced most that there is plenty of time for religion later on, after you spend your life on other pursuits. But, imagine a generation of young men and women whose hearts and souls and minds and strengths are wholly committed to the LORD!
ONLY ONE THING
The greatest commandment challenges us to forsake a life of many pursuits and to concentrate our devotion and efforts on God: the one and only. Most of us who want to be good Christians struggle with this. Like Martha, we are “distracted by (our) many tasks” (Luke 10:40 NRSV). Jesus commended Mary because “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42 NLT). Have you discovered it yet? Life is like a puzzle that only makes sense when you see the big picture. Then, you can put it all together. Discover Christ – the one and only — and keeping the greatest commandment can be done. Come, sit at his feet, and your life will have meaning.