“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart ...” (Matt. 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)

Another trap for Jesus

This 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 ecclesiastical Jewish teachers 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 put Jesus in jail.

But for Jesus, their questions provided Jesus with 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.

The primary teaching of Moses

Notice that Jesus’ statement is quoting the teachings of Moses. His statement is derived from this statement by Moses:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5)
This statement gives focus and importance of having a personal relationship with God, and de-emphasizes the mundane rites and rituals that were the focus of the ecclesiastical Jews Jesus was speaking to - along with many of the rites and rituals that are the focus of many of today's ecclesiastical sectarian institutions.

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 many other representatives of God before him. This is evidenced by the teaching of Joshua, the student of Moses, after Moses had passed and God had empowered Joshua to teach on His behalf:
"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." (Jos 22:5)
So Moses, Joshua and Jesus were all passing down the same clear message from God. They are giving to us the single take-away point from all of the teachings of scripture and all of the prophets.

Salvationism versus love for God

This also means that we can gauge and measure the doctrines of various teachers 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 most of the sectarian institutions that claim to represent Jesus are teaching salvationism.

Contrary to love of God, salvationism is a self-centered philosophy. Salvationism is not love for God because it is focused on saving myself. As such, it has nothing to do with love for God.

A person who loves God doesn't care about being saved. A true lover of God only cares about 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. When our focus is upon our own happiness (or salvation), this is not love. In other words, love means to put someone else's happiness above our own happiness.

Love also means that God is a Person. Why? Because we cannot love 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.

Loving God means wanting please God

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.

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 gets 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 the Supreme Being is the most lovable Person.

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.

This was Jesus' condition 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)
The irony here is that while following Jesus' instruction means to completely divert our attention away from our own happiness, loving God actually brings us the ultimate happiness. Because loving and pleasing God is our natural constitution, we will naturally be fulfilled when we love Him with all our hearts.

We get a small glimpse of this when we see or have loving relationships in the physical world - be it between husband and wife, parent and child, between friends or even with a pet. In these instances, we see that we can become completely attached to the experience of caring for someone else. As we work to take care of that person (or persons), we begin to derive a significant amount of happiness from those efforts. In other words, we derive more happiness by pleasing another than we derive from pleasing ourselves.

And this is also why so many - even those who have wealth, possessions, power and authority - are not happy with trying to make ourselves happy. We might try so hard to make ourselves happy, and yet we still feel empty. This is why even the most famous and wealthy people still put so much attention (focus) on their spouse, children and/or pets: 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 it feels better to care

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 and His associates. We were created to love and serve, in other words. This is our natural position. And the reason why we are not fulfilled by the so-called loving relationships of the physical world: Because we are not in our natural position as one of God's loving servants.

This also means that by nature, we are not enjoyers. We are loving servants. God is the enjoyer, and our role is to help Him enjoy. When we love and serve the Supreme Being, we become completely fulfilled. When we try to enjoy for ourselves, we feel empty and miserable.

Notice how Joshua says, "we must be careful." Being careful means to stay vigilant. Just think of the babysitter or parent of the young child in the analogy above. In order to stay focused upon the child, the babysitter or parent must stay vigilant. When their attention is diverted, they must try to bring it back. 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 prayer, praising God's Holy Names, offering to God and working for God. While there are lots of rules about avoiding "sinning," most people cannot simply stop doing "sinful" things, because "sinful" things are simply things done in self-centeredness: They are things done to make ourselves and your temporary physical body happy.

There is only one sure way, as Jesus and Moses taught, for avoiding "sinful" or self-centered behavior; and that is to focus our attention on coming to know and love 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.

This is a gradual process. We cannot immediately change our focus from pleasing ourselves to pleasing God. We cannot immediately begin loving the Supreme Being. First, we must be re-introduced to the Supreme Being by God's representative. Then we apply the principles of prayer, praising God, and offering to God. These allow us to begin to re-develop our personal relationship with God. As this takes place, we become more fulfilled. As we become more fulfilled, we begin to disregard our self-centered motivations.

The process is natural because it is real: We were created to love and serve God. But love requires freedom. We cannot be forced to love. 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. He also encourages us to re-establish our loving relationship with Him by sending His representatives Like Moses and Jesus to tell us so. This is because God wants us to be happy - because He loves us unconditionally.