The ability to love and be loved is a gift from the hand of our gracious God. It reflects God’s own love for us – in redeeming us from slavery and bringing us into covenant relationship with him, where he promises to be faithful to us and we promise to serve him.
That’s the background for the great confession of faith and commitment captured in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: ‘Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ This series of Word for the Week reflections begins in Deuteronomy, and then traces how love for God – and neighbours too – is reaffirmed in Jesus’ teaching. Across Old and New Testament, we see that love for God involves our entire being and that discipleship happens in relationship not just with God but with others. We’re invited to ask: what would our homes, families, workplaces, relationships, and churches look like if we truly took to heart the call to love God and neighbour?
The Love Commandments: We attach so many meanings to the word love, but what about love as a command, what is God doing in his commands? Unpack with us in this five part bible series. This is part one.
“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Imagine yourself in the service of an all-powerful ruler. What do they demand of you? Do they demand control of all their people’s finances, as in far-left communist nations? Or command acceptance of a particular worldview, as Chairman Mao did? Or absolute loyalty without limit or grace, as the fictional Voldemort did? Perhaps you can imagine a more ethical leader, who demands care for the poor and disadvantaged, or abidance by a strict moral code.
But can you ever imagine them commanding love?
It would be a preposterous command. Love is intimate, freely given; it cannot be extracted, controlled or measured. In many ways, it’s invisible – you could not test or measure compliance.
So what right does God have to demand love from his people, as a commandment of first importance? How is it even possible to make such a demand?
This commandment first occurs close to the start of Deuteronomy, surrounded by repeated exhortations from Moses for the people to obey God – a people who have failed time and again to follow even the simplest direction from God. And it finds its place in the Torah, which is full of countless rules seemingly so alien to us today. In comes this strange command that assumes God is loveable, that in knowing him we will love him freely.
In this commandment God reveals his central purpose. He knows that love, by its very nature, requires relationship. The commandment reveals his desire to be intimately known by us – a desire expressed to Adam, Eve and all their descendants, and through Christ to the whole world. He also knows that we need no special skills or talents, no particular social context or upbringing, no minimum requirements of understanding or education to fulfil this command. Christ’s death and resurrection mean that everyone is able to enjoy access to God. We can all know him.
But in life, with its commitments and obligations, both joyful and difficult, is my first desire to know and love God? Do I put this relationship before evangelism, tithing, service, campaigning for justice, good works? All these are right and proper, but the first thing is to love God.
Perhaps this is the ultimate test: when those on my frontlines look at me, do they see my religion or my relationship – knowing and loving a living God?
For Further Reflection
- We live in a culture where love is often portrayed as a feeling rather than an active choice. How would you answer a question from a friend or colleague about God commanding love from those who follow him?
- Consider your own motivations. How far do you live for God out of a sense of obligation, and how far because of committed love?