Moses says that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our abundance. Jesus clarifies and arguably expounds on this when he says that you are to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). In fact, Jesus says that this is the first and the greatest commandment. I have written elsewhere on how Jesus’ language harmonizes with Moses’ and I have also explored each one of these aspects of loving God in depth — for our purposes here, let us say that Jesus is commanding us that we are to love God with every aspect of our being, both earthly and spiritual and even with our material possessions.
What I want to explore here is not so much the detail of loving God with the totality of your being, but why it is important to do so. Why should you love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and, why should you love him with all and not some of these aspects of your character? Why not just give some while holding part of it back for yourself? Surely, that is what most professing Christians do anyway, is it not?
Billy Graham was well-known for saying, “If you want to know a person’s priorities, give me five minutes with his checkbook.” I prefer to ask the question in terms of how someone spends their time. There is work, sleep, eating, commuting, etc… that are required parts of living in this western world, but out of the day, how much time do you spend in prayer in comparison to how much time you spend watching television or playing video games? How much time is spent in reading your Bible in comparison to personal pleasure reading? According to a New York Times article from a few years back, American adults average about 4-5 hours of television (or other forms of entertainment — YouTube, movies, etc…) per day. If that describes you, may I ask if you are genuinely loving God with all of your being — in this case, with all of your time? Or, are you holding back?
Truly, I am not arguing that all television or other “screen-time” is bad; the occasional game, movie, or television show is not a bad thing (of course, I suppose that depends on what you are watching too…). But, what I am saying is that your prayer and devotional time should vastly outweigh the time you commit to entertainment. And when I say “vastly,” I do mean vastly.
It seems to me that when I hear preachers talking about why we are to love God with all, much of what I hear has to do with the benefits of doing so. People say that you will be more “spiritually fulfilled” or that you will discover the “blessings of God in your life.” And while this may be the case, it should say that these are (at best) only the byproducts of being wholly committed to God.
The real reason that you and I are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is because God is worthy of your love and your devotion. There are many things in your life that vie for your attention and for your affection, and many of these things are beautiful and wonderful things, but they are not God. God is infinitely better. And while you will gain incalculable satisfaction from worshiping him because he is worthy, an even better way of looking at it is that worshipping him is the only right thing we can do in life.
Truly, I do understand, none of us will do this perfectly in our lives. Thanks be to God that our eternal salvation does not depend on meriting anything — that work was done by Christ — but ought we not strive for what is right and true when we know it to be so?
The fourth question in the Heidelberg Catechism adds to this that the Law of God commands us to love Him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. Why a command? The answer is simple. The purpose of the Law is to instruct us in how to live in a way that is right (righteous) and true. If it is the right thing to do to honor God with all of our existence, is it any surprise that the law of God requires that we do the same. And again, this is not about earning merit or making points with God. This is simply proper and what is expected not just of redeemed Christians, but of the creation itself. Psalm 117 instructs even the pagan nations to praise God because God has been faithful to his own people (something they cannot say about their pagan idols).
“And, if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me, but which I will choose, I do not know.”
Here is the simple message of the Christ-focused life. God gives us work to do; we must do so to His glory and by reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. How often we live lives that are marked by distraction. How often we live our lives focused on ourselves, our reputations, our goals, and our own ends, not on the glory of God. How different our lives would look, would they not, if we to embrace and pursue Christ instead of self.
The idea of “choosing” in the Greek is rooted in the notion of that which is more desirable for our lives. In a world where different schools of theology debate the nature of human free-will, people sometimes excitedly declare, from a passage like this, “Look! The Apostle Paul is affirming his absolute freedom of will when he speaks of choosing one over the other.” As a Calvinist, my response is to say, “Look at the text.” Paul is speaking about life and death — yet, scripture also teaches that God numbers our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16), surely Paul understands that there is nothing that he can do to even add an hour to his life (Matthew 6:27). So how is it that we are to understand the “choosing”?
To begin with, though God is sovereign, we are not unthinking robots. We make real decisions in a way that is relatively free…at least free in the sense that our decisions are consistent with our character. Note, God’s freedom is constrained by his character as well (he cannot lie, sin, cease to be God, etc…), so this notion of our freedom constrained by character should not throw us much.
So, by Paul’s character, what is it that he will choose? What will be most desirable for him? We have just spent verse after verse seeing the intensity of Paul’s focus on the glory of God. What Paul wants, what he desires more than anything, is exactly what God wants for him. And this Paul does not yet know. Will he soon die or will he live? He will speculate some in the verses that follow, but above all else, he wants his desires to be aligned perfectly with the desires of God himself. Everything else is secondary.
What a remarkable model for us to follow. How different our culture would be if Christians were committed to God above all else. In a world where pluralism has crept into many people’s theology, how different our churches would be if everyone would be as committed to the scriptures and their authority in life as the Apostle Paul presents himself. Jesus said that if you love me you will obey me (John 14:15)…that means not only obeying the commandments that we like, feel comfortable with, or are acceptable in the community around us, but all. That means embracing not only the parts of scripture that you appreciate or happen to agree with, but all of the scriptures as one unified book of God. As Paul will later write, they are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Let us throw to the wind our hinderances and pursue Christ. May we love him in every sense of the term and serve him. And may our desires for our life be found to be in tune with God’s desires for us…not just in some things, but in all areas of life and thought.
“Take my life and let it be,
Consecrated, Lord to thee,
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.
Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall by thy Royal Throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store,
Take myself and I will be,
Ever, Only, All for Thee.”
“And my lord made me swear, saying ‘You must not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell. Instead, to the house of my father you should go and to my family. From them take a wife for my son.”
We have already discussed the importance of a believer not marrying a pagan in the plan and decree of God (see verses 2-4), though it is a principle of which we ought regularly be reminded. This does not mean we cannot do business with or be neighbors to an unbeliever, but it reminds us that for the covenantal union to make any sense whatsoever, both parties in a marriage must be committed to the same God who is forming the union. If both are not committed to Christ, how then can two become one? They would be a divided person at best. Thus Eliezer explains his vow to the family of Rebekah as commanded by his master, Abraham.
Having already discussed being unequally yoked, what is worth noting here is Eliezer’s fidelity to the call. Here he takes great pains to quote Abraham verbatim and not to simply summarize his master’s words. Because Eliezer recognizes that he is a servant and thus an emissary of Abraham, he recognizes that he does not have the liberty to insert his own interpretations here.
Inserting interpretations, of course, is what always gets us in trouble. It was Eve’s error when debating with the Serpent in the Garden and it is regularly our failure when speaking of God’s word with others in the community. We feel like we have the gist of the statement and just choose to summarize it rather than sticking to the literal word itself. When we summarize like this, we typically insert our own preferences into the teaching and we also tend to denude the Word of its sharpness and power.
Of course, unless we hide the word of God in our heart, regularly meditating on it and memorizing it, how can we have fidelity to that word that God has given us? We have often become lazy in our approach to God’s word and in doing so become guilty of making it say what we would prefer for it to say. When we do this, we cease to be a faithful servant, committed to God’s call upon our lives. Friends, mark the example of Eliezer well, for his fidelity to the very words of Abraham should be reflected in our fidelity to the word of our Almighty God.