What is the relationship between loving God and neighbor, and how can both Jesus and Paul say that loving our neighbor fulfills the law (Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14)? Isn’t love for God an even higher priority?
Moses helps us answer these questions in Deuteronomy 10:16–19, where he portrays a radical love of neighbor as the key test to measure whether we are loving God with all.
With an echo of the call to love God with all, Moses opens Deuteronomy 10 by calling Israel to maintain radical God-centeredness (Deuteronomy 10:12–13). Yahweh is always to be the blazing center in his people’s solar system. He then notes that such wholehearted, life-encompassing allegiance to God was warranted from Israel because he created them and because he rescued them from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 10:14–15). In light of these truths, Moses then applies the call to radical love for God into Israel’s everyday lives, and in the process, he reveals how far they were from God’s ideal. I see five significant points regarding love for God in these verses.
1. Loving God with all is a heart issue (verse 16).
Moses first charges Israel to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Israel was hardhearted, and hardhearted people cannot love God. Indeed, their hardness went deep, controlling the core of their very identities. As Moses said in the previous chapter, “You are a stubborn people. . . . From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:6–7). Until their hearts got fixed, love would not be evident.
2. Loving God with all is an idolatry issue (verse 17).
The reason why hardheartedness is such a problem is because God rightfully demands all our allegiance, and any hardness toward him is an idolatry problem. “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10:17). Yahweh is the only God in the pantheon of heaven (Deuteronomy 5:7; 6:4), and therefore he alone holds the right to our absolute surrender (Deuteronomy 5:8–10; 6:5). He alone is the preeminent savior, sovereign, and satisfier, and therefore misplaced affections are foolish and suicidal. God is to be the sun in our solar system, not one of the planets circling us. Idolatry separates us from love.
3. Loving God with all is about being like God (verses 17–18).
It is at this point in Moses’s sermon that we begin to see more clearly how intimately he tied the call to love our neighbor with the call to love God. Indeed, implied in the text is that those who have hearts of love toward God will ultimately begin to resemble God himself, who “is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17–18).
Idolatry of the heart is seen in a failure to love as God loves. Love for God is displayed in whether we are willing to love our neighbor, even those who are most difficult to love –– to sacrifice our time, treasures, and talents for the sake of those whom God loves.
In my own life, I feel that only recently have I begun to understand what it means to love God in this radical neighbor-love way. Over the last five years, my family has journeyed the road of trans-racial, international adoption, seeing the curse of orphan status broken in the lives of three little treasures. By faith the saints of old “were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, . . . were tortured . . . suffered mocking . . . of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:34–38).
Radical neighbor-love magnifies the worth of God, regardless of the cost, and displays the type of love God himself has shown. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant . . . even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:26, 28). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12–13). May God help us love this way.
4. Loving God with all is about loving as we have been loved (verse 19).
Having identified the hardness, idolatry, and godlessness of his hearers, Moses now urges them to love the broken –– to see their hearts surrendered wholly to Yahweh’s supremacy, manifest in care for the needy: “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Loving God with all is about loving others as we ourselves have been loved. Israel knew what neglect, abuse, emptiness, hunger, and poverty were like; they had experienced all these in their past. They knew what it meant to be dirty, and they knew what it meant to be redeemed. Believers today have experienced an even greater redemption through the victorious work of Christ Jesus. Sins are forgiven, and righteousness is won. And “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
Radical neighbor-love is birthed in the soul of one who has tasted the sin-overcoming, mercy-saturating, joy-filling love of God, now manifest in the person of Christ. “We love because he first loved us” (4:19). Loving the broken is overflow from the life that has been filled with love from God. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
5. Loving God with all is a miracle of grace.
Many recognize how difficult it is to pour out our own resources in love for the hurting, the weak, and the marginalized. Love for the broken is messy and wearying and unattractive, apart from the amazing grace of God. In the end, this kind of radical neighbor-love is impossible without God’s help (Deuteronomy 29:4), and therefore it becomes a key test for knowing whether we are connected to the source of love.