“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart ...” (Matthew 22:37-38)

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)

Is this another trap for Jesus?

Jesus' statement comes in reply to Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus with the question:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (Matthew 22:36)
These temple priests were trying to find fault in Jesus. They were trying to trick him into saying something that was contradictory to their teachings, so they could accuse Jesus of blasphemy and persecute him.

But for Jesus, their question provided the opportunity to clarify his mission and his teachings. Furthermore, Jesus' answer provides for us the compass with which we can steer our lives by.

Was this the primary teaching of Moses too?

Notice that Jesus’ statement is quoting the prime teaching of Moses. His statement is derived from this central teaching by Moses:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)
This teaching of Moses and Jesus focuses on the importance of having a heartfelt and personal relationship with God. It also de-emphasizes many of the mundane rituals that were the focus of the temple teachers Jesus was speaking to.

Despite that focus on rituals by the Pharisees, we find that love of God was the primary instruction of Moses. In addition to his statement above, we find similar instructions throughout Moses' teachings:
"Love the LORD your God and keep His requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always." (Deut. 11:1)

"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 11:13)

"If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to Him and to hold fast to Him" (Deut 11:22)

"because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the LORD your God and to walk always in obedience to Him—" (Deut. 19:9)

"For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws" (Deut. 30:16)

"and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life" (Deut. 30:20)
The fact that Jesus drew this most important teaching from the teachings of Moses - one of God's messengers (or Prophets) - is important. Jesus is giving precisely the same instructions that were given by Moses and other messengers of God. This is evidenced by the teaching of Joshua, a follower of Moses after he had passed:
"But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)

So be very careful to love the LORD your God. (Joshua 23:11)
We also find that David taught love of God:
Love the LORD, all his faithful people! (Psalm 31:23)
In addition to other Prophets, Moses, Joshua, David and Jesus were all passing down the same clear message from God. They are giving us the single takeaway point from all of the teachings of scriptures and all of the Prophets.

What about fearing God?

We also find in most translations of the Old Testament a number of verses attributed to Prophets suggesting that we should fear God. How can we love someone we fear?

In most of these verses, "fear" is a mistranslation. In these verses, the word "fear" has been translated from the Hebrew word יָרֵא (yare'). This word, according to Strong's lexicon, can also mean "to stand in awe of, be awed" and "reverence, honor, respect."

Certainly, we cannot love someone we fear. But we can love someone that we are in awe of. We can love someone that we revere. And we can love someone that we honor, and respect.

Therefore, the appropriate translation for the Hebrew word יָרֵא (yare') in the context of the Old Testament teachings about God is to honor God, or revere God - not fear God.

And certainly, to be awed by God - because the Supreme Being is truly awesome.

Is there a difference between salvationism and love for God?

We can thus gauge and measure the doctrines of various teachers and institutions by this instruction. Are they teaching love for God, or are they teaching salvationism?

Salvationism is the philosophy whereby a person worships Jesus or God for the sole purpose of becoming saved. Today many institutions teach salvationism.

Contrary to love of God, salvationism is a self-centered philosophy. Salvationism is not love for God because it is focused on saving me. As such, it is actually the opposite of love for God.

A person who loves God doesn't care about being saved. A true lover of God cares about pleasing God. They could care less about whether they are saved or not.

This is what "love" means, Love means to care for the happiness of another. Love is the opposite of self-centeredness. When we love someone else, we care about that other person's happiness more than our own. 

Indeed, focusing upon our own salvation is not love. Love means to put someone else's interests above our own.

What does loving God mean?

Loving God means caring about what God wants, and putting what God wants above what we may want. And we can know by Jesus' and Moses' instruction that God wants our love. He wants us to establish a loving relationship with Him.

This means that loving God requires us to accept that God is a Person. Why? Because we cannot love an impersonal object, whether it be a burning bush, a thundering voice, a void, or a vague force. Love can only be given to a person because love means we care about that person as we might care about ourselves - and each of us is, indeed, a person.

Loving God, then, means first understanding that God is a Person. Then it requires reaching out to God and coming to know God. Once we come to know God, we discover what pleases Him. 

We have to know a person in order to love them. We also have to know a person before we can know what pleases them.

What does 'all your heart' mean?

Jesus and Moses' instruction is clarifying not only that we should love God, but that we should love God with all our heart, soul and mind. What does the word "all" mean here?

Let's use an analogy. Let's say a soccer player is looking up in the stands at his girlfriend for a minute, just before he is passed the ball. The distraction will prevent him from getting the ball and moving it forward, right?

In the same way, Jesus and Moses are asking us to love God with all of our hearts. This means without distraction to the degree possible. In the beginning, this means our focus should be upon coming to know God and establishing a personal relationship with Him. As we progress in coming to know God personally, we will naturally fall in love with God. 

This is because we are connected to God. We come from Him. He is our closest family member. It is natural that we love our closest family member, because we are intimately related.

We also need the Supreme Person. We need His love and we need to love Him.

This is why there is so much loneliness, depression, and anxiety in the world. These come from forgetting our connection with God.

When we truly reconnect with God we naturally come to love Him because He is the Perfect Person. He is naturally loveable. He is everything we seek when it comes to having a relationship with someone. 

Once we establish this sort of loving relationship with God, naturally our focus will more and more be upon making Him happy. Our loving relationship with God will thus naturally divert our focus from making ourselves happy, and our focus will be upon pleasing God.

Does love make us happy?

This is the irony about love: When we love someone we are wanting to make them happy. But because we are creatures of love, loving also makes us happy.

This is more specific when our love is aimed at God. We do get a glimpse of this happiness when we love another person or family member. But the full breadth of fulfillment comes when we love God and all of God's children (that is, everyone).

Because loving and pleasing God is our natural constitution, and we are spiritually connected with Him, we will naturally be fulfilled when we love Him with all our hearts.

And this is also why wealth, possessions, power, and authority do not fulfill us. We might try so hard to make ourselves happy with material things, and yet we still feel empty. 

This is why even the most famous and wealthy people will still put so much attention (focus) on their spouse, children, and/or pets. They have found that their fame and wealth don't fulfill them.

It is only when we begin to love another that we begin to have a glimpse of real happiness. Jesus confirmed this when he said:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
Love of God is the 'kingdom of heaven.'

Why is love fulfilling?

Why do we feel happier when we care about and act on behalf of someone other than ourselves?

Because by nature we are loving servants. Our natural constitution is to love and serve our beloved. We were specifically created by the Supreme Being for this purpose: To love and serve Him in partnership with His associates. This is our natural position.

This also means that we are lovers by nature. We are not kings, or champions, or moguls, or conquerors. These may be roles that we play on earth temporarily, until our bodies get old and die. God is the real king, the champion, and so on. And our natural role is to help Him. 

When we love and serve the Supreme Being, we become completely fulfilled. When we try to enjoy for ourselves, we feel empty.

Notice how Joshua says above, "we must be careful." Being careful means staying vigilant. Just think of a parent of a baby. In order to keep the baby safe and healthy, the parent must stay vigilant. When their attention is diverted, they must try to bring it back to focus on the baby. 

In the same way, when we find ourselves diverting from our focus upon pleasing God and onto our self-centered concerns, we must realize this and bring our focus back to the Supreme Being.

The facilities for doing this are praying to God, praising God, offering to God, and working for God. 

These are all facilities that Moses, Jesus, and all the Prophets taught for trying to focus our lives more and more upon our relationship with God. By doing these things we gradually reconnect with the Supreme Being.

As our love for God grows, we become focused upon pleasing Him, and our focus is naturally taken away from ourselves. Furthermore, when that focus upon loving and pleasing God brings us more happiness than our self-centered activities, we begin to want to do more things that please God. In other words, as our love for God grows, we become more attracted to the things that please God than the things that please ourselves.

It is a natural process, which Jesus, Moses, and all the Prophets taught.

Can someone be forced to love God?

We were created to love and serve God. But love requires freedom. We cannot be forced to love. Love requires the freedom to love or not love. To care or not care.

This is why God gives us the freedom to love Him or not. This is also why we cannot see God with our physical eyes: God has put us in a temporary physical world where we can't see Him because we at some point in the past chose not to love God.

So God, being the loving, kind Person that He is, gave us the freedom we wanted. He is allowing us to make our own decision about whether we want to love Him or not. Should we decide we want to re-establish our relationship with God, He will begin to gradually show Himself to us - according to the extent of our desire to be with Him.

God also encourages us to re-establish our loving relationship with Him by sending His messengers like Moses and Jesus to tell us so. But notice that they did not try to force their followers to love God. They encouraged love of God.

This is because God wants us to be happy - because He loves us unconditionally. Whether we love Him or not, God loves us.

Did Jesus love God?

Jesus illustrated his love for God throughout his mission. His entire teachings were focused on reconnecting with God.

But his love for God was most prominent when he prayed to God:
"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39)