The Greatest Commandment – Love God
Most Christians know Jesus said the two great commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love other people. But what exactly does this mean? What does it mean to “love God with all your heart”? This Bible study will examine the first, great commandment and seek to explain what it means to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
What does “Love God” Mean?
We will begin our Bible study of what it means to “love God with all your heart” by examining who “God” (the object of our love) is, and what “love” means.
God – The Object of our Love
The first and great commandment to “love God’ is found in Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13; 13:3; 30:6; Joshua 22:5; Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:30; and Luke 10:27. As we seek the meaning of the command to “love God,” we need to understand who God is. We will therefore start our study with a brief review of who God is, then examine the Hebrew and Greek names used to describe God.
Who is God?
God is the Supreme Being; the all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present God, who created everything and is in control (“elohim” in Old Testament Hebrew; “theos” in New Testament Greek).
In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for God used in the greatest commandment is like the word “god” in English. These words are used generically to refer to any powerful being, god or deity that one might worship.
But the great commandment does not apply to just any deity or someone else’s god. The great commandment is about YOUR God. You are to love “YOUR” God with all YOUR heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus was speaking to Jews, so the God He was referring to was “the LORD,” God of the Israelites.
Who is the LORD in Hebrew?
Throughout the Old Testament, the covenant name for the God of the children of Israel (in Hebrew) is “Yahweh.” But “Yahweh” is generally translated as “the LORD” in English versions (including the KJV). Translating God’s name as “the LORD” makes it sound more like a title than a name. Truly, God is the one and only God, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and master of the universe.
But God told Moses that His name is “I AM who I AM” (YaHWeH), and instructed Moses to tell the children of Israel, ““I AM” has sent me to you.” God’s covenant name of “I AM” declares His self-existence. The God of the Bible is ‘the God Who IS.’
“The LORD” is the self-existent, creator God, Who IS. All existence, including all life and all things, comes from ‘the God Who IS.’ We are to love ‘the God Who IS’ (Yahweh / “the LORD”) with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength because He created us, has power over us, and because all we have comes from Him. “It is He that has made us, not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).
Who is “the Lord” in Greek?
When the Son of God was born into the world as a man, He was born as an Israelite with a Jewish mother. During His earthly ministry, Jesus would have spoken the language of the Jewish people (Hebrew or Aramaic). When Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 in answering the question about the greatest commandment, He would have quoted it as it was written in Hebrew.
Greek was the most common language when Jesus lived on earth. Like English today, Greek was a nearly universal language in the time of Christ. As a result, the New Testament was written entirely in Greek, including the gospels. This means what Jesus said was translated and recorded in Greek. God inspired the New Testament writers though, so we can trust the gospels to accurately convey the meaning of what Jesus said.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all quote the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 6:5. The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, produced during the 2nd and 3rd century BC. Just as we use English versions of the Bible today, the Septuagint made the Old Testament available to people who did not speak Hebrew, in a language they understood.
The gospels follow the Septuagint translation in recording the greatest commandment as being to “love ‘the Lord‘ your God.” The Greek word translated as ‘lord’ is ‘kurios,’ which means ‘lord, master, ruler,’ similar to how we use ‘lord’ in English. So, the gospels follow the Septuagint in translating God’s name (Yahweh / I AM) as ‘the Lord,’ just as English versions translate it as ‘the LORD.’
Love – The Commanded Action
Love is at the heart of the two great commandments. We are to love God and we are to love other people. But what is love? This section will explain the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words used in these commands.
Love in Hebrew – ahab
The Hebrew word for ‘love’ used in the greatest commandment to “love the LORD your God with all your heart . . .” is אָהֵב (ahab). This Hebrew word is like how we use ‘love’ in English.
‘Ahab‘ is used in the Old Testament to describe the love / affection of parents for their children, of a slave for a good master, and a man’s love for his wife. It refers to having “an affection based on a close relationship, sometimes in comparison to other persons with a lesser relationship” (James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).
Love in Greek – agapao
There are two Greek words commonly translated as ‘love.’ The first is ‘phileo,’ which refers to ‘brotherly love,’ affection, friendship. ‘phileo‘ is based on feeling, relationship, and reciprocation. It is similar to the English use of ‘liking’ someone.
The second word translated as ‘love,’ which is used in the great commandments, is ‘agapao.’ The meaning of this verb is similar to that of ‘phileo,’ but is stronger. ‘agapao‘ is more sacrificial and is based more on choice rather than feeling and reciprocation.
‘agapao‘ is used to describe God’s unconditional love. “God so loved (‘agapao‘) the people of the world that He gave His only Son, that they might have eternal life” (John 3:16). And “God demonstrated His love (‘agape‘) for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The noun form of ‘agapao‘ love is ‘agape,’ which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13.
- ‘agape’ love is patient and kind (1 Cor 13:4)
- ‘agape’ love is not envious, boastful, or proud (1 Cor 13:4)
- ‘agape’ love does not act rudely, is not selfish or easily angered, and does not keep a record of wrongs suffered (1 Cor 13:5)
- ‘agape’ love takes no pleasure in evil or injustice, but rejoices in truth (1 Cor 13:6)
- ‘agape’ love bears, believes, endures, and hopes all things (1 Cor 13:7)
- ‘agape’ love never ends (1 Cor 13:8)
After His resurrection, Jesus asked Peter whether he loved (agapao) Him. Peter responded, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo / like) You” (John 21:15, 16). Apparently, after his betrayal, Peter could not bring himself to claim the stronger form of love commanded by God.
Do you love God or merely like Him?
Love God Greatly
The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. We have examined the meaning of ‘love’ and who God is. Now we will examine the meaning of the phrases, “with all your heart,” “with all your mind,” “with all your soul, and “with all your strength.”
Simply put, loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength means we are to love God greatly, with our whole being. People are three-part beings created in the image of our triune God. We are spiritual beings inhabiting physical bodies with minds enabling us to make judgments and choices about what we think, say, and do.
We each have a mind, body, and soul. They are distinct, yet they are inseparable and work together to make us who we are. We must not be double minded or partial in our love for God. We must love God fully with every part of our being.
Each of these phrases contain the words “with all your . . . .” It should be noted that the Greek word translated ‘all’ is ‘holos,’ from which we get the word ‘whole.’ ‘holos‘ means complete in extent, whole, all, entire. Our love for God must be complete in each aspect of our being, with nothing missing.
Love God with all your heart
The great commandment to love God always begins with the heart. First and foremost, we are to love God with our whole heart. So, what exactly is the heart?
The Bible describes your heart as the center of your inner being, where your mind, body, and soul intersect. In modern psychological terms, the heart might correspond to the “subconscious mind.” Your heart is what makes you one person despite having three separate parts (mind, body, and soul).
Like the mind, your heart thinks (Gen 6:5; Prov 23:7; Mt 15:19; Mk 7:21; Lk 9:47; Act 8:22), understands (Prov 8:5; Isa 6:10; Dan 10:12), imagines (Gen 8:21), plans (Gen 27:41; Prov 19:21), purposes (Dan 1:8; Act 11:23; 2 Cor 9:7), makes decisions (Prov 16:9), and can be deceived (Dt 11:16).
Like the body, your heart has desires and feels emotions like love (Dt 6:5; 11:1, 13; Josh 22:5; Lk 10:27; 1 Pet 1:22), hate (Lev 19:17), joy (Ex 4:14; Jn 16:22; Act 2:26, 46), heaviness (Rom 9:2), grief (Gen 6:6), sorrow (Jn 16:6), anger (Dt 19:6), fear (Dt 20:8; 28:65, 67; Jn 14:27), doubt (Mk 11:23), pride (Dt 8:14; 17:20; Prov 16:5; 18:12; 21:4; 28:5; Isa 9:9; Dan 5:20; 8:25), discouragement (Num 32:7, 9; Dt 1:28), etc.
Like the soul, the heart has conscience (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21) and makes spiritual choices, both good and evil (Mk 7:21; Lk 12:45), and can be “hardened” (Ex 8:15, 19, 32; Mk 6:52; Rom 2:5).
Wisdom (Job 9:4; Prov 2:10; 10:8) and foolishness (Ps 14:1; Prov 22:15; Rom 1:21) reside in the heart. Some people foolishly reject God’s Word and His ways with “an evil heart of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:12). Others believe unto righteousness (Romans 10:10) and joyfully receive God with a humble and penitent heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), which is why it needs to be cleansed “by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Your heart is where your continual inner dialogue takes place (Gen 17:17; 24:45; 27:41; Dt 8:17) and where your deep-seated feelings and motives reside. It is possible to have doubts and waver in your resolve (Mt 14:31; Mk 11:23). We need to be fully convinced and purpose in our hearts to believe and obey God’s Word. We need to “keep our hearts with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
To love God with all your heart requires you to purpose in your heart to please and glorify your Heavenly Father in everything you think, say, and do. Loving God with all your heart means continually giving God love, praise, and gratitude as your Creator, Redeemer, and provider. Loving God with all your heart means obeying God and trusting in His faithfulness regardless of circumstances; even in times of trial, adversity, or sorrow. Loving God with all your heart requires unwavering faith in, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.
Love God with All your Mind
The mind is the seat of conscious, rational intellect. The mind refers to the ‘conscious mind’ as opposed to the ‘subconscious mind.’ The mind thinks, reasons, and makes decisions. Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are all functions of the mind.
We must be single-minded in our faith-in and devotion-to God and His Word, not blown about by every wind of doctrine, nor led astray by vain human philosophies or “the oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20).
Our mind (and heart) can be influenced by words, emotions, and experiences. These can harm us by programing our hearts and minds in ungodly ways that displease God. We must therefore use our minds to thoughtfully and carefully choose what we read, listen to, or watch; who we associate with; and what we do.
We must purpose in our hearts to properly use our minds to choose that which is right and pleasing in God’s sight
The apostle Paul instructed the Philippians to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable (of good report), virtuous, excellent, and/or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Most importantly, we must fill our minds with the Word of God by routinely reading, studying, and thinking about the Bible. To be truly blessed by God, in His Word we must delight, and meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
The world, the pride of our spirit, and the passions of our flesh all seek to take control our lives. We must purpose in our hearts to properly use our minds to choose that which is right and pleasing to God.
Love God with All your Soul
People are not merely animals or physical beings that evolved from mud over eons of time. God is Spirit (John 4:24) and created people in His image (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6) with souls, which are spirit. And God is seeking people who will worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Loving God with all your soul means wholly loving and worshipping God with your regenerated spirit.
In the Bible, the spirit is often associated with emotion. The human spirit can be troubled (Gen 41:8; John 13:21), jealous (Num 5:14, 30), sorrowful (1 Sam 1:15), anguished and bitter (Job 7:11), haughty / proud (Prov 16:18; Dan 5:20), humble (Prov 16:19; 29:23; Isa 57:15), patient (Eccl 7:8), angry (Eccl 7:9), grieved (Isa 54:6), fervent (Acts 18:25; Rom 12:11), and fearful (2 Tim 1:7).
Likewise, the soul can be sorrowful (Ps 35:12; Jer 31:25; Mt 26:38; Mk 14:34), troubled (Ps 6:3; 88:3; Jn 12:27), discouraged (Num 21:4), anguished (Dt 28:65), bitter (1 Sam 1:10; Job 3:20; 10:1; 21:25; 27:2; Isa 38:15), grieved (1 Sam 30:6; Job 30:25), distressed (2 Ki 4:27), hate (Ps 11:5; Isa 1:14), joyful (Ps 35:9; Isa 61:10), delighted (Ps 94:19; Isa 42:1; 55:2: 66:3; Ezek 24:21), and calm (Ps 131:2).
The fruits of the Spirit are described as, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:23). This indicates that these godly traits should be true of your soul.
Loving God with all your soul means always being submissive to the Spirit’s control
Being spirit, our souls are the immaterial part our being. While our souls can be corrupted morally, they are not subject to physical decay. They will not wear out or pass from existence.
When our body dies and return to the earth, our soul spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Our souls will then face judgment for what we did while alive in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Those who turn from sin to Christ are reborn spiritually through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Those who delight in pleasing their Heavenly Father, will enjoy the blessings of heaven forever. Those who hate God, reject His Word, and die in their sins without trusting Christ will be cut off from everything good God gives. They will be cast into complete darkness in a lake of fire, where they will suffer alone for eternity.
Loving God with all your soul requires loving your Creator, believing His Word, and receiving His Holy Spirit by repenting of your sin and trusting Jesus Christ as your Savior. Once you have been washed and regenerated by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, you must be led by the spirit, walk in the spirit, and continually worship God in spirit and in truth.
Loving God with all your soul means always being submissive to the Holy Spirit’s control. And if you truly love God with all your soul, you will naturally bear abundant spiritual fruit. You are known by your fruit (Mt 12:33; Lk 6:44).
Love God with All your Strength
Loving God with all your strength means doing everything within your power to please and glorify your Heavenly Father in all you do. It means always doing your best, holding nothing back.
It should be noted that anything you say or do involves the use of your body. Loving God with all your strength therefore largely applies to your physical being and using your physical strength to serve and glorify God.
However, strength can also refer to mental strength, will power, and not “losing heart.” So, loving God with all your strength also has application to your mind, soul, and heart.
- “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 – NKJV).
- “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 – NKJV).
- “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
- “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10 – NIV)
- “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10 – NKJV).
How to Love God with All your Heart
This section will provide some practical applications about how to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Put God First
Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength requires giving God first place in your life. Pleasing and obeying God must be your top priority. You must love God more than any person, thing, or god in this world.
Our self-existent Creator has commanded, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The apostle John ended his first epistle saying, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Idols are not just graven images that represent false gods. An idol is anything thing that you love or worship more than God.
God deserves first place in our hearts because:
- He created us. He gives us life and breath. Our life and existence is in Him. (Acts 17:25, 28)
- Everything good we have comes from God. (1 Timothy 6:17)
- God gave His only Son to shed His blood, dying on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sin so our sins can be forgiven, and we can receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)
- Loving God with all our heart is the reasonable response to all He has done for us (Romans 12:1).
An idol is anything that you love or worship more than God
And lest you be tempted to write this off as some Old Testament principle that does not apply today, please remember, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).
If we truly love God with all our heart, then we will want to bring Him honor and give glory to His name. We will honor God by publicly acknowledging Him as our Creator and Redeemer, and we will never take His name in vain or use it disrespectfully. We will let the light of God’s Holy Spirit so shine in our lives that people will see our godly behavior and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
The apostle Peter admonished us to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 / NIV).
And king David, a man after God’s own heart, prayed saying, “I will praise Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify Thy name for evermore” (Psalm 86:12). We should praise God and bring glory to His name as well.
In providing guidance about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul said:
But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord.
But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.
There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.1 Corinthians 7:32-34 (NKJV)
Paul advocated remaining single and chaste to prevent having divided interests and loyalties. He wanted people to be without care, concern, or anxiety in their relationships and who they try to please.
As noted above, loving God with all our heart means God should have first place in our hearts and lives. We should seek to please God first in all we think, say, and do. But those who are married are often distracted by the things of the world as they seek to please their spouse.
Marriage is good, honorable, and divinely instituted (Hebrews 13:4). There is nothing wrong with marriage as long as the husband and wife agree to keep God first in their lives and in their family. The point here is that our primary concern should be to please God.
First and foremost, we must have faith in God and believe His Word. For, “without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The way to please God is to do the things that delight Him. God delights in truth (Psalm 51:6). God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). And God delights in people “obeying the Voice of the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:22).
The way to please God is to do the things that delight Him
God faithfully shows mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments (Leviticus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; 19:9; 30:16; Joshua 22:5). Some people who call themselves “Christians” think that they can do anything they want because Christ has freed them from the law and paid for their sins. But genuine Christians will love God and seek to please their Heavenly Father.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus commanded His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15) and “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word” (John 14:23). And He told them, “If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments1 John 5:3
In his first epistle, the apostle John said:
- One way to have assurance of your salvation is by keeping Christ’s commands (1 John 2:3; 3:24).
- The way to receive what you pray for is by keeping God’s commandments and doing those things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22).
- “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
Anyone who thinks he loves God while disobeying His Word is deceiving himself (Jeremiah 17:9). If you truly love God with all your heart, you will want to please Him by believing His Word and obeying His commandments.
Loving God – Summary
Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength means loving God with your whole being and giving Him first place in your life.
Having a personal relationship with our creator and redeemer, Jesus Christ, is a treasure whose value is beyond measure.
Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like ‘a hidden treasure’ or ‘a pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:44-46). In the parable of ‘the pearl of great price,’ a man sold all he had to buy one pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46). In the parable of the ‘hidden treasure,’ a man joyfully sold everything he had to buy a field in which he found treasure (Matthew 13:44).
Having a personal relationship with our creator and redeemer, Jesus Christ, is a treasure whose value is beyond measure. We should joyfully give everything we have to gain that relationship with our Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and earth, knowing we will receive far more than we give up (Luke 18:29-30).
In poker, people are sometimes so confident that the great cards they hold will win that they are willing to bet all they have on that one hand. They push all their money to the center of the table in making the bet. This is called going “all in.”
Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength means being willing to give all you have to please your Heavenly Father. You must believe that God is real and be confident that citizenship in His Kingdom is of far greater value than anything you have on earth. There can be no hedging of bets or straddling the fence. You must be “all in” for God.
Are you “All In” for God?
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