Have you ever had anyone in your life to whom, whenever they speak, you automatically listen? Whether it is mentors, teachers, parents, or others, there are some people who, anytime they begin to share, have our full attention. I’m blessed to have several people who speak into my life in this way. That’s why I will always remember what a mentor of mine taught me early on in my discipleship.
“Kiefer, you will lead out of your intimacy with God.”
These words often ring in my ears. This simple yet profound thought has marked my walk with the Lord, and I realize that part of what has made it so impactful has to do with the person who spoke those words to me. We live in an age where sound-bite theology supposedly makes one an expert, where the importance of news is measured by how many people are listening, and where our worth is often determined by how “in the know” we are. Too often have I seen people get swept up in the chaos of the narrow perspective of “today”, of “the now.” Too often have I seen Christians carried away with what the world is proclaiming and, as a result, make themselves as irrelevant and unprotected as a house with no foundation in a hurricane.
Now more than ever it is crucial that we learn how to filter and silence the many voices that vie for our attention and draw us away from the truth. Now more than ever we need to heed the words and study the life of Jesus and, when He speaks, we must pull away from everything else and give Him our undivided attention. I say this because there is one thing that Jesus has instructed us to do that is far more valuable and important than all other things. This one thing is so important that He even declared that all of scripture rests on this one commandment. It is so important that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus specifically quoting it. In Hebrew, it is referred to as the Shema, which is its first word, translated as “Hear.”
“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 passage of scripture was so important to the people of Israel that they were to read it aloud every day and was still commonly recited, not only in Jesus’ day, but even in our present day by observant Jews. So, in the Gospels, when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment, it should have come as no surprise that His response was the Shema.
The reason why all of Scripture rests on this one passage is because it calls the people of Israel to listen, first of all to who God is, and goes on to describe their proper response to Him. God is one, He is unique, and there is none like Him. The word for one in Hebrew is echad, which interestingly is in the plural form. This grammatical detail gives us a picture of both the complexity and the unity of our triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This set God apart from all the other gods worshipped in the time it was originally written, and still does today. If we don’t start with the acknowledgement of who God is, the rest of the statement doesn’t matter, and our religion will be founded on nothing. But, when we start with who God is, then we are anchored on so much more than just words on a page. With God setting Himself apart here, we recognize He is the One who not only loves us, but is the very purpose for our love.
Next, the verse says that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and might. I would argue that the reason why so many Christians get caught up in the news and media frenzies of the day is because we have lost knowledge of what it means to do this. To really love the Lord our God is more than an emotion. (Emotions are fleeting and cannot establish or sustain us in God.) Actually, the language used here connotes action. Not only is this how we are to think and feel, but this is how we are to actually live (conduct our lives).
In our day, when we look at words like heart, soul, and might, we are likely to our own interpretation of what those words mean based on their common English usage. We need, however, to know their bible meaning. In contemporary culture, heart is connected to emotions; soul has certain mystical, “spiritual” connotations, and might tends to refer to strength. But, when Moses originally penned these words in Deuteronomy and also when Jesus quoted them in the Gospels, they carried different meanings.
Heart in Hebrew does involves one’s emotions, but includes much more. It has to do with a person’s mind, thoughts, intellect, and will, including all the cognitive decisions they make. In other words, when the word heart is mentioned in this verse, the idea is that we are to actively love God not just with our emotions, but also that love will affect the way we think and the basis on which we make individual choices and decisions. When we love God this way, we submit our heart, soul and mind to Him and, consequently, our love for God shapes our emotions, thoughts, and will.
The word soul in Hebrew does not convey anything mystical or even intangible. It has a far more concrete meaning. Not only does it have to do with a person’s identity, but it also with ones physical body. So not only do we love God with all our heart, but we love Him at the core of who we are, our very being, and even our physical bodies are submitted to loving Him. This reveals our true identity is actually found in loving Him.
Lastly, the word might in Hebrew does not even mean strength. In fact its literal meaning is muchness or abundance. It is added for emphasis. This communicates that, not only are we to love God with all our heart and soul, but also with everything and anything else that has to do with us as individuals and as His people. It is a call to extravagantly and abundantly love God with everything that we are and everything that we have.
For us as a church I believe God is calling us afresh to these things. Our word of the year is Break Forth and Build. We live in a culture obsessed with what is shallow, but is longing for something deep and lasting. If we want to break forth and build the Kingdom of God in our time and place, we have to be rooted and grounded in our love for Him. We have to get to the place where we are so focused and centered on God that while the storms of the world rage, people who don’t know Him will see that God has established a refuge here in our city. I love that in Mark 12 Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. But the power to obey this commandment must stem from the first. When we prioritize our love for God with all that we are, the way we love people profoundly changes. Following these two commandments will allow us to build what He has called us to build. So, let’s commit to them as never before!