“And you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your life, and with all of your understanding, and with all of your strength.”
Jesus continues the passage with an explanation of what it means to be committed to God as Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), or “our God.” And Jesus says that the way we live this out is by fully committing ourselves to God’s adoration and service. The first section of this passage is a direct quote of the LXX, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, yet, it would seem, at the initial onset, that Jesus has added to the text as we move to the latter half of what Jesus is teaching, but we will address that as we get to that section.
Jesus begins with the command from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. In the modern, Greek, mindset (remembering that our way of thinking is predominantly influenced by Greek thought, not Hebrew thought), the heart is the seat of the emotions or passions. Thus, when many of us read this line initially, we immediately assume Jesus to be commanding us to love Yahweh with all of our passion. While Jesus certainly does command us to love Yahweh with our passions, that is not what he means by heart. In the Hebrew mindset, the heart was the seat of one’s personality and reason. If a Hebrew person wanted to speak of one’s passions alone, he would talk about something as being from our bowels (I can’t figure out why Hallmark hasn’t picked up on that idea—I can just see the Valentine’s Day cards now; I love you with all of my bowels, dear…). Thus, the command that is being given is that everything that makes you a reasoning human being—the whole of your personality, if you will—is to be dedicated to the love of God. This would include, then, not only your reason and intellect, but also those little quirks that make you who you are. Beloved, have you ever considered the fact that you are to love God with your idiosyncrasies? They are part of your very makeup, thus, they are designed to be used by you to the glory of God!
Jesus continues with the command that we are to love God with all of our life. This is the Greek term yuch/ (psuche), which is the word from which our English word “psyche” comes. Many of our English translations will translate this word as “soul,” but I have opted to translate this as “life” out of deference to the Hebrew word that yuch/ (psuche) is being used to translate in this case. The Hebrew term is the word vp,n< (nephesh), which refers to all that which gives life to and animates the body. It is variously translated as life, breath, and even soul, but it is distinct from the word x;Wr (ruach), which means “spirit.” In modern English, we don’t normally distinguish between the idea of a soul and of a spirit, so to preserve the Hebrew distinction, I have opted to translate this as life. In Hebrew, the spirit is understood much in the same way as we understand a spirit today, but the soul was intimately bound to giving your physical body life, and hence our translation. Thus, the idea being communicated in this first half of Jesus’ statement is not a dichotomy between the passions of man and the soul of man, but a united image of how we are to love God with our personality and with all that gives us life and breath in this world. We are to be wholly committed to Yahweh, our God.
Now, as we look back to Deuteronomy 6:5, from which Jesus is quoting, we find a peculiar difference. The Hebrew concludes with a third command, that we are to love God with all of our daom. (meod), or, literally, all of our “veriness.” The idea expressed, by making the adverb “very” into a noun, is that of applying all of your abundance, all of your blessings, and all of the external things that God has put into your life toward the worship of God. All of the rich blessings that have come to you in this world, as they have come from God, are to be used and applied toward the love of God. That raises an important question for all of us—how are we using those blessings? How do we use our vacation time; how do we use our savings; how do we use the finances that we have been afforded; and how do we use the retirements that God has given to us? Beloved, we are often guilty of applying these things—these things that make up our “veriness”—toward our own ends and not for the love of God. How we need to regularly look at our lives and see just how we are using the blessings that God has afforded us.
Yet, Jesus does not use this language, nor is he quoting from the Greek LXX, which reads, all of our du/namiß (dunamis)—or might (dunamis is the word from which we get the English word, “dynamite”). Instead, Jesus breaks this final command into two separate parts: dia/noia (dianoia) or understanding and ijscuß (ischus) or strength. My initial response was that maybe Jesus was breaking up the language of vp,n< (nephesh), or life, as yuch/ (psuche) and dia/noia (dianoia) and replacing du/namiß (dunamis) with ijscuß (ischus). Thus, the idea of life would be expressed by both life and mind or soul and mind and power would be changed to reflect the idea of strength. The problem with this interpretation is two-fold. First of all, it seems odd that Jesus would add the word dia/noia (dianoia) to yuch/ (psuche) when yuch/ (psuche) is a direct quote of the Greek LXX. Secondly, given that Matthew does not record Jesus as saying ijscuß (ischus) at all, but ends with dia/noia (dianoia). Matthew, being a good Jew, would have been intimately familiar with the text and importance of Deuteronomy 6:5 and it would have been very unlikely that he would neglect to record an element therein.
That leads us with one other reasonable alterative, and that is to understand Jesus as expanding on the idea of our loving God with all of our daom. (meod), or veriness. Instead of using the LXX translation, then, we see Jesus giving his own translation of daom. (meod) into Greek by using two terms: dia/noia (dianoia) and ijscuß (ischus). In other words, Jesus is saying that for us to worship God with all of our abundance, or veriness, requires us to do so with our mental capacity, or dia/noia (dianoia), and our physical capacity, or ijscuß (ischus). In other words, all of the energy we might expend, to accomplish all that we do in this life, we are called upon to use to love God. We are to think about God, reason about God, meditate about God, and then the work of our hands—as mighty as that work may be, must too be done for the glory and love of God. Indeed, this translation would capture the idea of the abundance that God has given us (as that abundance so often comes through the labors of our hands and/or our minds).
Thus, Jesus, in quoting Moses here, leaves no stone unturned when being asked the question of how we are to express our love and adoration for God on high—every inch of our life is to be devoted to God’s glory regardless of our career, trade, or background. Does this mean that all should be preachers and missionaries? Certainly not! Yet, this does mean that whatever you do, whether hobby, curiosity, or career, should be done to the glory of God. Dear friends, I wonder, can we say this about our own lives? Can we say that the way we have ordered our career or the way we have spent our leisure time is designed to glorify God? Oh, beloved, how we should look deeply at our hearts, our lives, and our efforts and ask ourselves, “how is God glorified in this.” And then, when an answer is shown, work diligently to change how we live our days so as to submit ourselves to the challenge of Jesus’ words. May our lives be lived all for the glory and honor of God alone.