Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5
This verse was known as the Shema that became a hallmark of Judaism. The word Shema itself comes from the Hebrew beginning of this passage in Deuteronomy which marks the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “Hear, O Israel…,” is “Sh’ma Yisrael” in the Hebrew. In obedience to God’s word, God’s people were to in essence have the Shema with them everywhere and talk about it regularly. It was to be a regular part of life, a staple of Judaism. The principle that the Lord God is one and loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and might/strength was so important that Jesus references this very passage as a summary of all the Ten Commandments, or Law/Torah. It is recorded in 3 of the 4 gospels: Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27.
Many churches and ministries have capitalized on Jesus’ summation of the Ten Commandments in making mission statements that include “loving God and loving others.” My own church, indeed, with its mission statement which I came up with is, “We desire to be a Gospel-centered community that loves God, loves others, and transforms the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Much has been made of loving God and loving others and even making disciples who make disciples thanks to the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 and also Francis Chan’s book Multiply, among others. Yet, what about the extent to which one is to love God, how does that work out in the day to day of everyday life? What does it look like to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Well, I believe the meaning is that the love of God is not intended to simply be a category amidst other items in one’s life, rather it is to be the foundation of one’s life and all of life is to be built upon it. As a Christian, it means that when we read something such as Colossians 1:15-20 which says…
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:15-20
… we recognize that all those prepositions have to do with Christ and that our lives are to be lived by, in, through, toward, and for Christ. As the Law was so bound to the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament, so God’s people are bound to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The Law was the foundation of the Hebrew people’s lives. The Gospel is the foundation of our lives as Christians, and we live our lives by, to, in, through, and for Christ. As Christ shapes our lives in our being transformed by the Holy Spirit, the love of God in Jesus permeates every facet of our lives. After the Spirit moves us to acknowledge our sin, turn from sin, and believe the Gospel, then what follows our will being surrendered to God is our very lives which takes all of our lives while the Spirit works on our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Gradually and slowly, with no small pattern of stubbornness and sliding on our part, God peers into our hearts, minds, souls, and strength/efforts and claims, “Mine!”
The love of God shines in full force through the Gospel wherein Jesus Christ, His Son, takes on flesh, lives a perfect sinless life, dies for sinners, and rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Our love then to God is a response to the love of God for us, who loved us first (1 John 4:19). God is love, as John writes, and anyone truly born of God by faith in the Gospel and regenerate by the Spirit of God in turn loves God and others.
However, what does it look like practically to love God with all one’s strength? I feel that much has been written, preached, and said about the heart, mind, soul, but sometimes excluded is the strength part. Now, if strength is understood as with all one’s efforts, then it means that loving God with all one’s strength means that all one does should then reflect the love of God in Jesus Christ. All one does is to be done for the glory of God or as glory of God is sometimes overused in our culture I will simply say, ‘make much of Jesus in one’s life.’ The average church-going Christian works at owning the love of God in their lives and living to God’s glory, however, often that means prayer, devotionals, gathered worship attendance, service in the church/community, spiritual gift cultivation and usage, and doing all one can to encourage other Christians with the Gospel. None of these are bad, however, these are ways one loves God with their strength in the church, what about in their lives at work, school, home, or even by oneself?
I believe this is a neglected aspect of loving God in the American church today, to be honest, and I will tell you why. Christianity is often treated seriously in the American church-goers life except when it interferes with what the American church-goer likes to do. This conflict is minimized as often what one likes to do wins the day and lives comfortably with Christianity in the American church-goers life. The result is often a spiritualizing of Christianity in the American church (singling out only because that is my experience) which becomes separate from the real-world, practical, day-to-day things like taking out the trash, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, or in New England this winter, shoveling a great deal of snow. Not only this but I would include going to the gym, working out, eating, parenting, how one talks to garbage men/women or mailmen/women or people in positions of service considered lower by cultural standards. Are we loving God with our bodies? Are we loving God by denying our craving for too much of our favorite foods or for some of our favorite things all together? Does the love of God in our lives serve our day-to-day favorite things as opposed to redeeming them?
What does it look like for the love of God to transform our lives in a radical way in the ordinary things that we do in our daily lives?
I believe it means making the Gospel of Jesus the focus of not only our minds, hearts, souls, but also the focus of all our endeavors. So, we strive not only to attend church services or read our Bibles, but we become mindful of how the details of our lives reflect the Good News of Jesus Christ. One area where the church could do a better job on the whole at loving God with all one’s strength is surrendering our appetites to God. It is difficult for a preacher to take the pulpit and rail against sin week in and week out, yet, routinely overeat. People knock on overweight preachers and the hypocrisy of their calling out certain sins in the church yet neglecting one that they struggle with themselves. I feel for these preachers because the reality is that sin is far more pervasive than simply one’s appearance. The sin of gluttony is one that can’t be hidden, but there are plenty of other sins that can be hidden and are not seen by others. So, when I say many Christians need to consider how they are loving God with all their strength when it comes to their diet, I am not condemning those who are overweight. The card-holding Crossfit church member could be just as sinful by idolizing a certain image and physical appearance for their lives. This is not to say eating good food is sinful nor that exercise is bad, but that both food and exercise can be idolized when sinful people with sinful hearts are put in their path.
When the love of God penetrates the strongholds of emptiness and the idol-factories of the human heart with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our strongholds of sin are broken into as we pursue the love of God with all of our being and existence. We run the race of faith with eyes fixed on the prize which is Christ leaving behind the dead weights of whatever idols that we have struggled with in our old lives and those which we may continue to struggle with in our new lives in Christ. We are no longer controlled by our appetites for food, for people’s approval, for power, fame, or material things, but as we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6) we are slaves to Christ. This doesn’t bear the American connotation of slavery which is horrendous and an example of slavery to sin, but slavery to Christ means being bound to serving Christ. For the Apostle Paul, there is not slavery to sin, slavery to Christ, or some other way; rather, there is one or the other: slavery to sin or slavery to Christ. Slavery to sin is slavery, but slavery to Christ looks more like freedom than slavery even though Paul uses the word slave.
The church has come down on homosexuality and how it is sinful for someone to be a Christian yet live in an active homosexual lifestyle. The church has differentiated this from same-sex attraction as not being sinful but temptation, but acting upon that temptation continuously while claiming to be a Christian is sinful. Christians are called to repentance, to turn away from sin, and to live lives of repentance. The church is to be a place where it is as someone has said, “Okay to not be okay, but not okay to stay that way.” This is how the church has treated homosexuality, yet, rather hypocritically many Christians have not treated gluttony in the same way. The culture is increasingly aware of Christians pointing their fingers at homosexuality while neglecting the sin of gluttony altogether. I say this not to justify an argument for homosexuality, but to simply say that if we want to love God with all our strength we need to let those uncomfortable words of Scripture sink in more and take a hard look at how we live our lives. The hypocrite card is often played in our culture today and the funny thing is is that all it means to be a hypocrite is to say one thing and do another. Everyone is a hypocrite on some level, but it is time for the church to be honest about not living in light of the Gospel in the details of ordinary life and begin to strive to love God with not only all our hearts, minds, souls, but with all our strength as well.
For one who isn’t a Christian and living a sinful lifestyle, their excuse is, “So what?! I can do what I want and I don’t believe in Jesus like you Christians do.” They said the same things in Paul’s day, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Dave Matthews Band actually has a song where they just sing that line repeatedly. For those of you who don’t know Dave Matthews Band, it’s a 90’s thing. Today, that looks like Carpe Diem, the anthem of the now almost legendary status of The Dead Poet’s Society and countless high school and college class mottos. However, for the Christian, what excuse is there? What excuse do we have for not seeking to live each part of our lives in light of the Gospel? What excuse do we have for living comfortable, wealthy, American lives? How do we justify our comfortable living with the Bible? Should we? If we desire to love God and believe that God is most glorified in us as we are most satisfied in Him (John Piper-ism, and “Amen!” to it), then why do we go on finding satisfaction in other things and gorging ourselves on things that are not God in our lives as if we will find the joy and fulfillment that only God can provide? We are called to live carefully in the world as Christians, to be in the world yet not of the world.
If the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are to be anything more than important principles to help us live our best lives now, if Christ is not merely to be a part of our lives but our lives are to be lived in Christ, then perhaps we should re-examine ourselves and strive to do not only the churchy things for the glory of God, but the more ordinary things in our lives. When we do this, I believe we’ll find that we will cease to be a person who goes to a church and a person who is a part of the church. When we do this, we will not simply discard the hypocrite card that critics throw at us (those cards will never go away by the way), but we will live more fully in light of the Gospel in our daily lives. We will experience the transformative power of the Gospel of God’s grace for sinners in our lives, and not just talk about it. We are not all called to be Crossfit members, I mean, it IS expensive. We are called to be Crossfit Christians living our lives in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ every day and exercising the gifts of the Spirit to serve the church and cultivating the fruit of the Spirit as we grow in grace.
So, let us run the race of faith with endurance throwing off the things that weigh us down with our eyes fixed on Jesus, and may we run that race of faith loving God with all of our strength.