Love. There are few things so universal and yet so challenging. Love for God. “The most important” commandment, says Jesus (Mark 12:29–30), and one that both the old and new covenants portray as necessary to enjoy God’s sustained favor.
“To love God is to enjoy God’s sustained favor.”
As Moses asserted, Yahweh “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” but he “repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them” (Deuteronomy 7:9–10). Similarly, Paul declared that “all things work together for good” only for “those who love God . . . who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Some have tagged the Supreme Command of Deuteronomy 6:5 the “all-command,” because of the three-fold “all” — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV). There is no room here for divided affections or allegiance. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). If indeed there is one God who stands supremely powerful and valuable (Deuteronomy 6:4), this demands a supreme and total loyalty from you and me, a loyalty that starts with the heart.
Loving with All Our Heart
While surprising to some, the old covenant recognized that a spiritual relationship with God begins from within, with a proper disposition toward the preeminent Savior, sovereign, and satisfier. From the heart “flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23), and without one’s will, desires, passions, affections, perceptions, and thoughts rightly aligned, the life of love is impossible.
Therefore Moses calls Israel to “know . . . in your heart” that God disciplines like a father his son (Deuteronomy 8:5). He urges God’s people to “lay it to heart” that there is no God besides Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:39–40) and to ensure that his words “be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6), thus anticipating the miraculous heart-work that the new covenant would realize (Jeremiah 31:33).
Loving with All Our Soul
Along with our hearts, we are called to love Yahweh with all our soul. In the first five books of the Old Testament the “soul” refers to one’s whole being as a living person, which includes one’s “heart,” but is so much more. For example, in Genesis 2:7 we are told that “Yahweh God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living [soul] creature” (Genesis 9:5).
“Love God with your passions, hungers, perceptions, and thoughts.”
Elsewhere, corpses are called “dead souls,” which simply means the person, once alive, is now dead (Leviticus 21:11), and Yahweh promises that his “soul [i.e., his being] shall not abhor” all who follow his lead (Leviticus 26:11). In light of these texts, it seems Moses starts with a call to love God from within and then moves one step larger saying that everything about us as a person is to declare Yahweh as Lord.
So we are to love God with our passions, hungers, perceptions, and thoughts. But we are also to love him with how we talk, and what we do with our hands, and how we utilize our talents, and how we react to challenges — our entire being is to display that we love God.
Loving with All Our Might
What then is the meaning of loving God with our “might”? The word translated “might/strength” in Deuteronomy 6:5 usually functions as the adverb “very” in the Old Testament (298x). The noun version occurs in Deuteronomy and in only one other place, which itself is just an echo of our passage. In 2 Kings 23:25 we are told that King Josiah “turned to Yahweh with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.”
So if the word usually means “very,” what would it mean to love the Lord will all our “very-ness”? Interestingly, the Greek translation of this word is “power.” The Aramaic translation is “wealth.” Both of these may actually be pointing in the same direction, for the strength of a person is not simply who he is, but what he has at his disposal. Think with me: If Moses’s call to love Yahweh starts with our heart and then moves out to our being, could not our “very-ness” be one step bigger and include all our resources (see Block, Deuteronomy, 183–84)?
This means that the call to love God is not only with our physical muscle, but with everything we have available for honoring God — which includes our spouse, our children, our house or dorm room, our pets and wardrobe and tools and cell phones and movies and music and computers and time.
Whole-hearted, Life-encompassing Allegiance to God
So are we on target reading it this way? The context of this passage would suggest we are. Deuteronomy 6:6–9 stress that treasuring God’s oneness and uniqueness needs to be personally applied to our lives (Deuteronomy 6:6, 8). It needs to impact relationships (Deuteronomy 6:7), and what goes on at home and in the work place (Deuteronomy 6:9).
“The Bible calls us to wholehearted, life-encompassing, community-impacting, exclusive commitment to our God.”
This means that the covenant love we’re called to must be wholehearted, life-encompassing, community-impacting, exclusive commitment to our God. And this God is our God only because he has now revealed himself to us in the person of his Son. This kind of love we should have for him doesn’t exist apart from love for Jesus — for Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30).
This truth means that every closet of our lives needs to be opened for cleaning, and every relationship in our lives must be influenced. This call to love God this way destroys any option of being one person at church and another person on a date. What you do on the internet needs to be just as pure as what you do in Bible-reading. The way we talk to our parents needs to be as wholesome as the way we talk to our pastors.
There needs to be an authentic love for God that starts with God-oriented affections, desires, and thoughts, that permeates our speaking and behavior, and then influences the way we spend our money and how we dress, and drive, and our forms of entertainment. Whether we’re eating or singing, jogging or blogging, texting or drawing, love for Yahweh — the one true triune God — is to be in action and seen.