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 the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”
There is truly a ton of material in this passage, but it is valuable to keep the whole statement of the Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Christ, as we look at the parts. Once again, He speaks for God and with authority. He states to Abraham that “you have not withheld your son from me.” Notice too, the language of Abraham sparing his son. Jesus uses similar language in teaching his own disciples:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If someone desires to come after me, then he must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For the one who wants to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it benefit a man if he acquires the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?’”
Now our English translations of this passage in Matthew do a bit of a tricky switch on us, that I am hopefully remedying here. In each of the cases that I have translated as “life” the Greek word yuch/ (psuche) is being used. This is the term from which we get the English word, “psyche,” and it means much the same thing in both English and Greek. The yuch/ (psuche) refers to the seat of one’s person or you could say his personality. It is what makes us tick and what makes us individuals and different from one another. It is also typically seen as the primary place in which we bear God’s image. It can be used to refer to our physical life here on earth and sometimes it can be used to refer to the ongoing nature of our spiritual life, though it is a distinct thing from the pneuvma (pneuma) or spirit.
The dominant English approach to translating this passage of Matthew is to presume that Jesus is talking about one’s physical life in the former part of the statement and talking about one’s eternal spiritual life in the latter part, but that is not what is literally being stated. If we render the word consistently, all of the way through, we realize that the emphasis is not so much on eternal things but on temporal ones. And what good does it do for you if you spend all of your energy building an empire for yourself, but it kills you in the process? As people often say, “you can’t take it with you…” Jesus is not condemning a man to eternal fire for building a financial empire, but he is asking the question, “are the sacrifices you are making worth the riches you have acquired?”
Abraham is a wealthy man at this point in his life, but the greatest wealth that he holds is found in the person of his son Isaac and in the promise of God that Isaac and his children will be multiplied greatly on the face of the earth. God has thus asked Abraham to place even that on the altar of sacrifice. On a purely human level, Abraham and Sarah could have lived the life of a king in terms of their wealth, but then they would be gone and their witness forgotten. This child was everything, yet they were willing to lay even that to the side if God so desired it — choosing to be in submission to God’s design and not to their own.
This is the heart of what Jesus is teaching his disciples. Their obedience would cost them their lives in a variety of ways. Most would die martyrs deaths. But for all of them, the real cost would be that they would set to the side their personal plans and aims and follow God’s plans for them. Ultimately, God’s plans for us are far better than any plans that we could make on our own, but it takes faith and obedience to go through the process of getting there. It means picking up the implement of our suffering and death (the cross) and following Jesus wherever he would lead. It is counter-cultural to do so, but in the end, it is far better. Ask any pastor or missionary who has left a life behind to follow Christ, and like Abraham, they will affirm, “Yes, it is infinitely better than what I could have designed on my own.”
“Return, Oh my life, to your resting place!
For Yahweh has ripened over you.”
We talked about the word vp,n< (nephesh) in verse 4, and how even though that word is sometimes translated as “soul,” it largely deals with the fleshly, physical aspect of life, which is why I think that it is more proper to translate it as “life” as I have done here and in verse 4. What we do need to understand, though, is this language of “resting place.” Usually when we speak of resting places, we think of the “final resting place”—namely, the grave. And though we as Christians know that the grave is not our final resting place, either for our flesh or for our spirit, this has nothing to do with what the psalmist has in mind. When he speaks of returning to a resting place in this verse, he is speaking of a place of safety and protection (Deuteronomy 28:65, Ruth 3:1). The idea that the psalmist is expressing is that as a result of sin he has wandered from the safety of God’s house and his soul yearns to return to the blessings that are connected with God’s presence.
This sentiment is echoed in the second half of this verse. Many of our English translations have followed the King James and translated this passage as saying “for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.” The term that is used is the verb lm;G” (gamal). This word is normally used in the context of something being brought to completion. It can be used, for example, of a baby that has been or is being weaned or of fruit that is brought to full and complete ripeness. In our case, the metaphor of ripe fruit seems to be what the psalmist is getting at. Thus we have the picture of God being like ripe fruit (mellow, dripping with sweetness, and satisfying to parched lips) toward his people, satisfying their every need.
When I was younger, I was not one who got very excited about ripe fruit. I had my orange juice in the morning, but fruit was never something that I sought as a snack. When I was in High School, I began working summers doing landscaping work for a couple of families in our community. One of the perks of the job was that they provided me with lunch while I was working there. I can remember how wonderful it was, after spending hours clearing brush in the summer heat, to come up the hill to the house and see a bowl of chilled, fresh fruit—especially the plums. I still don’t think that there is anything more refreshing than a chilled plum on a hot, dry, summer afternoon. This is the illustration that the psalmist is painting for us. Sin separates us from the blessings of God and he yearns to be back in the resting place of God’s presence, with our Lord satisfying his parched soul.
Beloved, is our Lord sweet like fruit to your lips? Is it God’s word that you use to satisfy your parched soul? If it is not, it needs to be, for there is no sweetness like the sweetness of God’s promises to the persecution and trial parched life of the believer. Loved ones, quench your soul in God’s word; find your resting place in the arms of Christ. Know the joys of forgiveness and redemption from the sins you deserve to be condemned for!
In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.