Loving God with Our Whole Being
Matthew Lesson #135
September 11, 2016
“Father, You have revealed Yourself to us in Your Word. You have revealed to us who we are and the basic problem that we have which is sin. It’s the greatest problem that we could ever face in life, and yet You have solved that problem.
You provided for us a perfect salvation, a perfect redemption. You have provided a way to justify us freely by Your grace, and for that we are so very grateful.
Father, as we study about You this morning, study about Your love for us and our love for You, we pray that You would help us to understand these things, to enlighten the eyes of our soul that we may clearly perceive the truth of Scripture and its application in our own lives, in our own thinking, and in the way in which we carry out our lives on a day-to-day basis.
May we be transformed by the ministry of God the Holy Spirit through Your Word this morning.
We pray this in Christ name, Amen.”
We are studying in the Gospel of Matthew, and last time we were looking at the third question that is asked by the opposing religious leaders to Jesus—a question regarding the Torah—“What is the greatest of the Commandments?”
It was designed to be a question to trap Him. As in the previous two questions, Jesus has a very sophisticated answer that avoids being caught in their trap, but it captures a critical understanding of vital foundational teaching.
Not just in the Torah: this command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength wasn’t something that man was expected to do from 1446 BC on, but it had been expected prior to that.
That just as murder was not defined as a sin by the Mosaic Law, but had been a sin since the beginning of the human race, the Law was just the instantiation of these commands within the framework of the legal constitution for what would be the new Jewish nation.
Jesus focuses on this as foundational to all other law that was part of the Torah.
We’ve looked at these three questions. The first one was, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” Jesus took the coin and said, “Whose images is on the coin?” And then said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”
The second question was another trick question proposed by the Sadducees who didn’t even believe in the resurrection. They set up this somewhat fallacious hypothetical, that you had a man who died young without children and under the laws of levirate marriage, his widow would marry his brother.
They would go through seven brothers, each one would die prematurely, and then they proposed a trick question, “whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”
Then Jesus in His inimitable way of winning friends and influencing people says to these who prided themselves on the knowledge of Torah, “You err because you don’t know the Scriptures.”
He won them over that day, right? No, not at all. He pointed out that in the resurrection that we would not be marrying or giving in marriage, just like the angels.
The third question is, “Teacher, what is the great commandment of the Law?” It’s covered in Matthew 22:34–40.
Jesus said the greatest commandment was that we were to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength”. And the second is like it, we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.
We covered this in terms of the overall teaching of this passage last week, but today and the next two weeks, we need to probe this a little more, because we need to understand what it means to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength”.
The question is raised in Matthew 22:35, “One of them, a lawyer”—Matthew says it’s a lawyer, Mark says it’s a scribe—both are true. The lawyer idea isn’t the kind of lawyer you know but an expert in Torah.
He was a Pharisee, he was an expert in Torah. As a scribe, he would be an expert in Torah, and he asked this question, “What’s the great commandment of the Law?”
Mark gives us the full reply. It comes from the Shema in Deuteronomy, which we’ll look at in a second. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart—-Matthew gives a shorter version, that’s the one on the screen—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
We see the Greek words there and essentially these terms—heart, soul, mind—are synonymous: they are used to depict the inner immaterial life of an individual.
He’s not making distinctions between them. He is using all three of them to make the point that it’s with everything that you have, and that’s what comes across in the last word.
It’s the word translated “strength” in the Septuagint, ISCHUS—the Greek form from the Greek translation made about around 200 BC. Actually as we’ll see in the Hebrew, it’s a little different word expressing that kind of idea.
The quote comes from Deuteronomy 6:4–5. Mark gives the full quote, quoting Deuteronomy 6 from the beginning. The reason that’s important is because, as a trick question, the Pharisees would be thinking, “Well, how can you really distinguish between different commands and say one is better than the other? I mean if God commands two things, and they come from God, aren’t they of equal importance?”
Jesus begins the quote, as Mark presents it, with a Shema, which was considered the ultimate command in Judaism—they recite the Shema three or four times a day.
“Hear, O Israel:” The word “hear” in Hebrew is shema. That’s why it’s called the Shema: “Hear, O Israel”: Yahweh eloheinu; “the Lord our God,” Yahweh echad.
That’s an interesting word there translated “one.” That’s a traditional interpretation, but the word echad does not indicate a singularity. It indicates a multiplicity within a singularity.
Thus, the two become one flesh in marriage: there’s still two personalities within one union.
I think the Tanakh—the 1986 Jewish Publication Society translation—captures the meaning well in terms of the context. It’s not talking about the Lord is one, meaning it’s a singular monotheism or unitarian monotheism, which is often the response that you’ll get from the Jewish community and from rabbis.
But the rabbis who translated the Tanakh translated it “the Lord alone” because if you read the context of Deuteronomy 6, the Israelites are being told not to worship other gods, not to fall prey when they go into the land to the gods and goddesses of the Canaanites and to worship them and to abandon Yahweh. So it is a command to avoid idolatry and worship Yahweh alone.
That leaves plenty of room to understand the Christian doctrine of the plurality of God known as the Trinity, as evidenced in passages like Genesis 1:26–28 where we read God saying, “let Us”—a plurality—“let Us make man in Our image.”
If there was a singularity, God would be saying, “Let Me make man in My image” but it’s a plurality there, so it indicates a plurality in the Godhead. This is quoted as the foundation, “the Lord alone”.
What is significant about this is the next verse, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.”
That’s translated by the New King James as “the strength.” The first word for “heart” is levav, and that means “the heart,” which in the Old Testament usually refers to the thinking part of the soul or the innermost part of the soul where the beliefs are held.
This is thinking: we believe with our mind. We don’t believe with our emotions. You don’t believe with some other part of your body, you believe with your mind.
It’s a concept where you appropriate something, and you accept it as either being true or false.
This is a property of the intellectual part of our soul. We don’t believe with the emotion: emotion is incapable of thought. It is not rational; it is simply a response to thought.
We are to believe with all of our heart: meaning our thinking, our soul. Again, these are used synonymously, and the Hebrew uses this third word I have on the screen on the right.
It is me’od, which is simply an adjective for something that is very great, and it usually modifies something else, like something is very dark or very big or very bright. But here it’s just “very”, and it was used as an idiom to indicate “to the fullest extent possible”.
We are to love the Lord our God with every ounce of our being—with every part, every fiber—of our being. We are to give everything to Him: He is to be the sole focus of our lives to the exclusion of everything else.
If we put anything else in a position that’s more significant than God, then that is idolatry. Again, this is a verse that is emphasizing the exclusivity of this relationship with God.
When we are commanded to love God—and we’re commanded to love God throughout the Scriptures, even in the New Testament—so this is not something that’s distinct to the age of the Law in the Old Testament, but is part of the New Testament as well.
When we are commanded to love the Lord, we have to stop and think about what that means. What does it mean to love God?
We live in a world today that doesn’t think very much about the concept of love. We have been in a postmodern worldview scenario—at least at the pop-culture level—since the 60s.
The love and peace generation came along with the baby boomers, and love was equated with sex; love was equated with just emotion and equated with sentimentality.
The church came right along behind that. It is typical throughout 2,000 years of church history that the church, rather than distinguishing itself from the world, just follows worldly ideas.
Because as unbelievers get saved and enter into the church, they bring with them all that worldly baggage in their thinking. A lot of places just don’t teach them enough to follow the commands of Romans 12:2 to renew their minds, to be transformed by the Word of God.
So they continue to think just like they thought before they were a believer: they think as an unbeliever. What we see today is the byproduct of 40 years of undefined thinking, a lack of analytical thought related to the concept of what it means to love.
You go to a lot of churches today, they’ll talk a lot about love—they will emote and it’s sentimental—but there’s no real teaching that takes place.
What we’ll see is that to love God is predicated scripturally upon knowing God. We’re to learn about God and the only way we can learn to love God is to learn His Word. If we don’t learn his Word, then it’s just empty, meaningless emotion.
So a couple things that I want to look at today as we begin this:
First of all, in sort of an introductory summary, I want to look at what the Scripture says about God being love, because what precedes our loving God is that God first loved us.
We have to understand God’s love before we can begin to talk about what it means to love God.
The first thing is about a four-point introduction related to God as love; secondly we’ll look at about 10 points on the nature of God’s love.
We need to learn to love God. The Scripture teaches that love is an essential characteristic about the nature of God.
A chart that we use quite a bit to help people capture the essence of God and these 10 attributes:
God is sovereign, which means He is the King of kings. He rules over all of His creation. He is the ultimate authority in the universe.
He is absolutely righteous, which means that He is the standard of right and wrong—Who He is, His character—is perfect righteousness.
He does not submit to some higher abstract ideal of what is right or wrong: He is the ultimate determiner of right and wrong.
The application of that standard to His creation is His justice. He is a just judge, the psalmist says. He judges the world on the basis of His own righteousness.
He is also love.
Although liberals and unbelievers say, “how can He be love and just at the same time?” it’s because they don’t understand love and they don’t understand what justice is because God is the One who defines both.
We’re told in Scripture that He is holy. That’s one of the few things—as we’ll see in a minute—that is stated about the nature of God; and that He is love.
He is also eternal. He is eternal life. He has no beginning and no end.
Then we have the three “omni” characteristics—I call them the Omni Brothers: Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent.
Omniscient means He knows all of the knowable. There is nothing He doesn’t know.
He knows the hypotheticals. He knows what would happen if you had married that person you thought you were in love with in high school. He knows what would happen if you had gone to the other university or college that you had an option to go to.
He knows what would happen if you had taken another job, rather than the one you have. He knows everything—all the what-ifs He knows— He is omniscient.
He is omnipresent, which means He is present fully to every part, every molecule of His creation everywhere.
He is omnipotent. He is able to do everything He intends to do. He is all-powerful. There is no force, no creature, nothing in the universe more powerful than God. He is all-powerful.
He is veracity—a word for truth—He is absolute truth.
Jesus made this claim to deity when He says in John 14:6, the well-known verse, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” When He says “I am the truth,” He is making a claim to be divine because God alone is truth, absolute truth.
He is unchangeable—He is immutable. He is, as part of that, absolutely faithful.
All these different attributes come into play when we talk about the love of God. So, just a reminder on His essence, as we focus upon God’s love.
First of all, we’re told in Scripture that God is love in two places. 1 John 4 draws out a lot of the implications of God’s love. We read in 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love, does not know God.” We’ll come back to that verse. And then it says, “for God is love.” It defines who He is.
1 John 4:16, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in His love—that’s talking about fellowship, walking by the Spirit, abiding in Christ—he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.”
This isn’t talking about salvation; this is talking about the spiritual life, walking in fellowship with the Lord.
We have other passages that talk about what God is:
John 4:24 says that God is spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 1:18, the text says that God is faithful.
In 1 John 1:5, “God is light—which is using a metaphor to describe the holiness, the righteousness of God. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
In these verses we’re told that God is love.
Psalm 99:9 says that “God is holy.” The term “holy” means totally unique, set apart. It is often used to summarize His righteousness and His justice, but it also includes His love.
We might also use the word absolute integrity when we think about this concept. But holiness means set apart: He is distinct from His creation. He is the unique Being of the universe: this is God.
He is the just judge in Psalm 7:11. God is a just judge.
God is the judge in Psalm 75:7.
God is gracious, and then in the second line of Psalm 116:5, God is merciful. Grace and mercy are attributes of His love, His unconditional love.
The first point is we have to understand that God is love. It is inherent; it is one of those core attributes that define who He is.
So if we’re ever going to say anything about love, if you’re going to tell your spouse, “I love you,” your children that you love them, your friends that you love them, we always have to recognize that whenever we use that word “love,” it ultimately must go back to an understanding of love as is manifest in the person, the essence of God.
So we have to really think about this concept.
Second, we’re told in Scripture that God is the One who initiated love towards the human race, that He is the One who reaches out. It is not man that reaches out and develops some idea of God, but that God is the one who took the initiative to love His creatures, even when they were fallen creatures.
Again, we’re in 1 John 4:19. I put the “Him” in brackets because if you’re using an NASB, NIV, NEV, NET, ESV—any of the modern translations based on what’s referred to as the Critical Text in the Greek—it doesn’t have the word “Him” there.
If it were just to say “we love,” that could mean love for creatures, love for friends, family, loved ones, spouses. But there are a number of manuscripts—in fact, the majority texts plus Codex Sinaiticus, which is a very strong ancient manuscript—have the direct object there that we love “Him”.
But it also fits the context because the very next verse talks about those who claim to love God, so the topic here is loving God.
1 John 4:19 should be understood to say, “We love Him because He first loved us”. God takes the initiative. Our love for God, therefore, is a response to His initiating love.
That’s interesting because that sets up an important analogy that is used in Scripture between God and man.
The third point: this makes God equivalent to the male in a male–female relationship; in that He is the initiator. Men are built physically, emotionally, and intellectually to be the initiator. Females are built to be the responder, to be the one who accepts and receives the male.
The human race in this analogy is equivalent to the female as the responder. That’s important because this is one of the reasons that the Scripture always uses the male pronoun to refer to God.
We live in a world today that has bought into a fallacious, autonomous value called gender equivalence: the equality of the genders in a functional sense.
This is extrapolated out into these new translations of Scripture that refer to God as a female, or they switch around the pronouns all the way through: sometimes God’s a she, sometimes God’s a he. It’s true, God does not have a gender.
But there’s something that lies behind these gender distinctions that we have in the human race, and that is functionality: that males were created to initiate and to lead.
That doesn’t mean women don’t lead in certain spheres, but that they are designed ultimately to be the responders.
Men were given the ultimate responsibility in the garden. The female was created to be his helper, his ezer. There’s only one other ezer, one other Helper mentioned in Scripture, and that’s God, so it is a role that imitates God. This is a high-value term.
Feminists come along, and say, “Oh, the idea that women are to be helpers to men, that’s subservient, etc., that’s diminishing the importance of women.” But it’s a role that God Himself has, so it elevates the significance of women, it doesn’t diminish the significance of women.
It also shows these ideas in Scripture that God is the initiator, that these pronouns should be translated as “He” because they relate to this as God as the leader and the initiator of love.
Fourth thing in this introduction is that human love is part of the image of God in all of us. When God created man in the garden, we’re told that He created man in His image, male and female He created in His image, so that men and women have the ability to think as God thinks.
They are self-conscious as God is—fully conscious of who He is—and they also love as God loves, so that they could reflect the love of God back to God freely, from their own volition.
Human love, being part of the image of God, must be ultimately defined because its archetype, its ultimate pattern is the love of God: His divine love.
Therefore in conclusion, we must understand divine love first, if we are going to understand love at all.
Only by understanding God’s love, can we begin to have a good rational conversation about the nature of love.
That’s the second part that we want to look at this morning, and that is answering the question, what is divine love? What exactly is divine love?
Is this God’s attitude of sentiment towards the human race? Does this somehow describe His feelings for the human race, or is this something much more profound than either of those concepts?
The first point is that the pattern or paradigm, the picture for us of divine love in Scripture is what happened at the Cross.
We probably won’t get beyond this first point this morning: how is God’s love demonstrated to us? What’s the picture that He gives to us?
The first comes from a verse that is well known to all of us: John 3:16, as it’s translated, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The pattern that is laid down here is God’s love. But we don’t always catch that in the English because when it’s translated “For God so loved the world,” often what we hear—and you’ll hear people translate this who haven’t paid attention to the Greek— “For God loved the world so-o-o much that He gave His Son.”
Isn’t it wonderful that God loved us so much?” And you will hear sermons like that. Oh, they’re such “feel good” sermons and everybody goes home feeling all warm and fuzzy, but that’s not what the Greek says at all.
The Greek uses the word that’s on the left here on the screen, the word HOUTOS. This is an intensifier that means that God loved “in this way”, or God loved “thusly”, or God loved “in this manner”.
So how did God love us? That’s the question it would be answering. How did God love us? THIS is how God loved us: that He sent His only begotten Son.
It’s not talking about the extent of God’s love. It’s talking about an illustration of how God loved us: that He sent His Son to die on the Cross for us.
He loved us in such a way that He provided the solution to the greatest problem that we would ever face. It’s important for us to understand a little bit about the nature of that particular problem: it’s the sin problem.
When God originally created Adam and Eve in the garden, they were sinless, they were in His image and in His likeness.
They were righteous, but it was an untested righteousness, and the test came in the form of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for the day that they ate of it, they would certainly die.
We know what happened, that they disobeyed God, they ate from the fruit, and they died spiritually—they were separated from God.
At that time, God is not compelled by anything to do anything more other than to bring judgment upon them, and to end the whole project and send them to eternal condemnation. There’s nothing that demands that He do anything more.
But God loved His creatures, who were in His image, in a way that demanded of Him— because of His love—that He provide a solution, a perfect solution. A solution that would take care of all the problems, all the consequences that would come as a result of that sin.
He provides this perfect solution, and this is seen in a second verse related to this point, from Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died as a substitute for us.”
Christ died for us. Both of these verses are basically saying that if you want to understand love, you have to understand this pattern, this paradigm, to understand the nature of this kind of a love.
Both words use the Greek word AGAPAO. There are about four different words that are used in the Greek language for love; two of them are used in the New Testament: AGAPE (or AGAPAO is the verb) and PHILEO is the other verb. AGAPAO is the broader term that can incorporate even PHILEO. It’s a big summary term and PHILEO usually implies more of a direct intimate knowledge.
Revelation 3:20 is a verse that people often think of and sometimes quote as for salvation. It doesn’t have everything to do with salvation. The verse says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
It’s a picture of fellowship; sitting down having a meal together. This verse comes in one of the seven letters to seven churches, and it’s addressed to churches as believers.
The way we know this is because the verse right before, Revelation 3:19, Jesus says, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.”
The word there for love is PHILEO. PHILEO was only used of God’s relationship to believers: it’s an intimate love.
It is not AGAPAO. AGAPAO was how God loves unbelievers as well as believers. But a more intimate love is suggested here, and only believers are the object of God’s PHILEO love.
What we see in this first point is that the pattern and picture for love for us is the divine love at the Cross. We have to unpack that. We have to look at the characteristics of that love in order to really understand what genuine love is: a love that is consistent with integrity, consistent with righteousness, and consistent with the character of God.
If we as believers are going to ultimately love God, we have to understand what it means. If we’re to love others—our neighbor as ourselves—we have to understand what this kind of love means. We’ll come back and work on that more next Sunday morning.
“Our Father, we’re thankful for this opportunity to get into Your Word, to think through what You have revealed to us about Yourself, about Your love for us, to see the example of the Cross.
That You loved us in such a way as to give Your Son, to send the eternal Second Person of the Trinity into human history, where He took on a human body, lived among sinners.
The righteous holy eternal Second Person of the Trinity rubbing shoulders, walking the streets with corrupt fallen humanity day in and day out, and ultimately being unjustly sentenced to death, brutally punished, beaten, crucified to pay the penalty for our sin.
Father, we pray that if there is anyone here or listening that they would come to understand that His death on the Cross had each of us in mind. That Jesus died for you, Jesus died for me, Jesus died for every single human being.
He paid the sin penalty: He was our substitute. He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. But the only way that that can be appropriated and made ours is by trusting in Him.
It’s not by works: Scripture says “it’s not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us”.
It’s not by morality: it’s not by keeping the Law, it’s not by giving; none of these things.
It’s simply believe: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Scripture says, and you will be saved.
For the rest of us, this is the foundation for understanding how we are to love God, and how we are to love one another.
This is foundational to every other command in Scripture and is central to our daily walk by the Holy Spirit. The very first fruit that we see listed of the fruits of the Spirit is love.
This is miraculously manifested in our life, but as a result of our walk by the Spirit and our walk according to the truth of Your Word, which means we have to know Your Word.
We are each challenged by this: that we have to know Your Word to know You better; and only as we know You better is God the Holy Spirit going to produce this kind of love in our lives.
We pray that we might be willing to take up the challenge to fulfill these commands in our lives.
We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”