Thou shalt love the LORD thy God

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Deuteronomy 6:1-9

“Feelings are feelings, they’re neither right nor wrong, it’s what you do with them that counts.”

How often have you heard this kind of sentiment?  (And interestingly, it is a sentiment!).

You’re as likely to hear it in church as anywhere else these days.  Even Christians will say that feelings are outside moral categories, what counts are acts of the will. According to this philosophy, all matters of the heart are ethically neutral.  Therefore the Christian life is about forgetting your feelings and getting on with the hard slog of discipleship.

But that’s not what we see in the Bible.  In fact throughout the Bible we see all sorts of expectations for our emotional life.  We’re meant to feel contentment  (Exodus 20:17), heart-felt love (1 Peter 1:22), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11); sorrow and joy (Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:4), desire (1 Peter 2:2), gratitude (Ephesians 5:19,20), to name just a few.

And right at the heart of the Old Testament we have this saying, known traditionally as “the shema“.  To a Jew these are probably the most famous words of Scripture, the ones they are most likely to know by heart.  Jesus Himself quotes it, calling it ‘the first and greatest commandment’ (Matthew 22:37). But these words put a bomb under our cultural stoicism:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

There is a logic to the verse: Because of God’s oneness we are to love.  As we discussed when we thought about “one flesh” – the way God is one is like the way husband and wife are “one.”  They are united in love.  And as this verse says, “the LORD, our God, the LORD” is one.  God is one because God is love.  And God is love because God is Trinity.

Therefore “thou shalt love.”  That’s the logic.  To know God is to become godly.  And to be godly is to love.

The first and greatest commandment is directed emphatically at our affections.  We ought to be lovers of God, with our heart, soul and might.

The heart speaks of our innermost being.  It’s about what we treasure.  (Matthew 6:21)

The “soul” is the same word in Hebrew as “throat”.  It’s about what we thirst for.

Our “might” is, literally, our “muchness”.  It’s about our whole person given over to God.

The LORD does not want will-driven stoics but warm-hearted lovers.  This is the essence of the Good Life which God has for us.

Of course commandments can never make us love God.  Yet this is a true description of the Good Life.  And it’s not about grim-faced determination to do right.  It’s about love – heart-felt, thirsty, mighty love!

Have we settled for something less?  Have we relegated our emotions to the basement of the Christian life?  Perhaps we know that our feelings are there, we just don’t think of them as belonging to our discipleship.  Well allow the first and greatest commandment to challenge us, and to challenge us at the heart!  Love is central, vital, indispensible – the “heart and soul” of our walk with God.

To be clear – the law cannot whip up these feelings and neither can we.  It’s only when we see God’s love for us, expressed in Jesus, that our hearts are won:

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

But when we appreciate His love, this is what is birthed in us – not strong-willed determination but heart-felt affections.  If love is not central to our gospel response, perhaps we’ve got the wrong gospel.  The Christian life is an affair of the heart.

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