When Jesus told the Pharisees that the most important commandment was "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind," he put that commandment above everything else in Jewish law. Here's how that radical shift affects us today.
The Pharisees were already grumbling about a radical new prophet when one of them tried to trick up Jesus in His teaching. The Pharisee asked Jesus, Of all the commandments, which is the most important? Jesus answered, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:28-30). Speaking these words, Jesus quoted Old Testament scripture and elevated loving God above the spiritual importance of the other 612 statutes of Jewish law (New International Study Bible, footnotes for Mark 12:28-29). Jesus proclaimed, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” to light the way in our Christian walk.
Where Does the Bible Say to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart, Soul, and Mind?
In this public conversation with a Pharisee, Jesus nearly quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, a scripture well-known to educated Pharisees and Sadducees. This passage from Deuteronomy is called the “Shema,” after the first word of the passage:
Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One (Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad).
The Shema is repeated in Jewish prayer services and recited in morning blessings, on holidays, at bedtime prayers, and as part of the deathbed confessional. The Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith in one God.
The scripture in Deuteronomy varies slightly from the similar passage in the Gospels. Deuteronomy 6:5 reads, Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The word “mind” is replaced by the word “strength.” I think of “mind over matter” when I put the words mind and strength together. We reason an action with our mind, and then we are motivated to complete the action with our strength of purpose. It is determination, willpower, at work in our spiritual lives when we carry out a thought with action. Feelings aren’t part of the concept of loving God with all your mind and strength—it is more about thinking rationally and doing something with your ideas.
Spiritual action is the foundation of Jesus’ response to a Jewish legal expert in the crowd, recorded in the Gospel of Luke. The lawyer quizzes Jesus about Hebrew law. In this case, the lawyer wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers the man with His own questions: “What is written in the Law?” He replied. “How do you read it?” The lawyer quotes the Shema of Deuteronomy—to love God and secondly love thy neighbor—and Jesus tells the man he has answered correctly. Jesus then blesses the man’s understanding by adding the reassuring words, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Again, loving God and your neighbor is an action plan, something to do.
How Can You Love The Lord Your God with All Your Heart?
Bible verses refer to our hearts many times. In the Old Testament, wise King Solomon wrote, Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23). Jesus elaborated on this in Matthew 12:34: For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Our heart keeps us alive physically, pumping vital blood cells to all parts of our body. That is true for all creatures of God. Metaphorically, however, the heart represents our passions, desires, and affections—our spiritual life. Ancient Hebrews thought of the heart as the organ that gives physical life as well as the place where you think and make sense of the world, where you feel emotions and make choices. The word for heart in ancient Hebrew, “lev,” didn’t refer to a body part at all.
According to Vines Expository Dictionary, the meaning of the word heart, in contemporary Christian terms, stands for man’s “entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and emotional elements.” The heart of the matter is the core importance of an issue. A person has heart if he or she is a strong, determined person. This modern understanding of the word heart encompasses emotions, rational thinking, and willpower.
Of course, the heart also represents love in contemporary culture. God is love, literally, in this loose translation of Psalm 27 by Nan C. Merrill in her book Psalms for Praying (Bloomsbury, 2006):
Love is the strength of my life. . . , she writes, One thing have I asked of Love, that I shall ever seek: That I may dwell in the Heart of Love all the days of my life, to behold the Beauty of my Beloved, and to know Love’s Plan. (Psalm 27:1, 4, 11).
How Can You Love The Lord Your God with All Your Soul?
In a Bible Study Tools article, Sheila Alewine wrote that heart and soul both represent the inner, immaterial part of man, separate from his physical body. The soul is literally the breath of life, which God breathed into man to make him a living being.” The concept of having a soul is complicated.
Danielle Bernock wrote in a Crosswalk article that “The soul, or breath, is more than just an abstract word for life. It’s the individual, the self, the person or creature, as well as the mind. This speaks of deep thought and deliberate choice.” A soul is perhaps best understood as personality. The soul is all about what you enjoy doing. Your soul also houses your talents.
Discipline is required to manage your soul and the personality God has given you. God asks us to love Him with all of our soul, comprised of all of our talents and dreams. This means dedicating your life to Christ in a fundamental way. Jesus’ mother Mary sang, My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47) when she received word from the angel Gabriel that she would bear God’s son. Mary was committed to serving God by raising His son. The prophet of Psalms wrote, Find rest, O my soul, in God alone, my hope comes from Him (Psalm 62:5).
How Can You Love The Lord Your God with All Your Mind?
The Bible speaks to the rational process of loving God with more disciplinary advice. Philippians 4:8 says, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. We are to control our thoughts, for thoughts lead to actions, habits, and lifestyles.
Solomon wrote something along the same vein in his Proverbs: As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23:7). And in Proverbs 4:23-27, it says,
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
How Do We Love Our God with Our Whole Selves?
In the Shema of Deuteronomy and the Gospels of Jesus, the words heart, soul, mind, and strength tell us how to love God. Another important lesson of the Shema is that we love God with all of ourselves. Each thought, emotion, impulse, and action should be directed toward pleasing God. Our entire lives should honor our Maker, who gave us our lives. These words in the Shema and Gospels are a command God gave to all of His children.
The Gospel writer Matthew recorded Jesus saying—after He quoted the Shema of the Old Testament—On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40). As a door hangs on its hinges, loving God is the entryway to a Christian life. With a nod to the enormous body of Old Testament law and all the Biblical prophets’ words, Jesus steadfastly claims loving God is most important and loving your neighbor is second in importance for His followers.
In the words of a popular song’s lyrics, “Love God, Love People.” Jesus spoke this timeless message to His followers while He was still on earth. This is how to please God.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/metamorworks
Betty Dunn hopes her articles help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published memoir Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
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Iron Sharpens Iron
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Faith without Works Is Dead
Be Anxious for Nothing