Obedience and The Greatest Commandment

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

The Greatest Commandment

6:1 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

There is a lot of talk about love these days, especially in the romantic sense. We live in a culture that is saturated with movies (which are generally all about love and relationships) and music (also about love and relationships) which convey the sense that this is something that we feel, a dreamy fairytale-like state-of-mind where all of life is hunk-dory, and prince charming flies in to sweep us of our feet and save the day!

In Scripture, however, we find the Divine foundation for love and the Biblical definition of love. Like Christ says in Matthew 22:37-40, the great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind… and the second is to love our neighbor as ourself. In one sense, Jesus Himself is affirming the Old Testament mosaic law, (Deut.6:5) to love God with all our heart, soul and might… confirming that he came not to abolish the law but to fufill it.

As we read God’s words in Deuteronomy 6, we find that the primary message is obedience to God, and not “love” per se. Notice such words like commandments, statutes, and rules (NIV: commands, decrees, laws) are prominent, and how obedience to these commandments, statutes, and rules is emphasized.

We are to observe them (v.1), keep them (v.2), and be careful to obey (do) them (v.3). They are to be upon our hearts (v.6). We are to impress them on our children and talk about them continually; that is, when we sit at home, walk along the road, lie down, and get up (verse 7). We are to use all manner of reminder devices to keep His commands continually before us.

For the Israelites that meant tying them on their hands and foreheads (v.8) and writing them on their door frames and gates (v.9). For us, it might mean a “Post-It” note with a pertinent verse of Scripture stuck on the bathroom mirror or the clock on our desk. And thus, it is in the midst of this strong emphasis to the Jews on obedience to God’s Law and on the practical necessity of keeping its precepts always before them so they would obey, that we find the greatest commandment (v.5): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Whatever else that may be involved in loving God with all our heart, obedience to His law certainly seems to be a major part of it. Throughout Deuteronomy, we find that this equating of obedience to God with love to God is a very common theme. (Check out 10:12-13; 11:22; 19:9; 30:6-8; 30:19-20) It shouldn’t surprise us that obedience to God’s permanent moral law is a major part of loving Him. Indeed, Christ has said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21); and as the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” The proof of our love to God is our obedience to Him. Our love to God will always manifest itself in obedience to Him.

I reckon that our love and thus obedience to God always takes on one of 2 approaches: cruise-control obedience, or race-car obedience.

In the cruise-control obedience, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behviour up to a certain level or “speed.” The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we don’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us.

Once we arrive at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the “cruise-control” button on our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs of God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul and mind. This “cruise-control” obedience is likely descriptive of our spiritual lives for many of us much, if not all, of the time.

On the other hand, race-car obedience is just like race-car driving. Such drivers would never use a cruise-control, they’re not interested in blending in with the speed of those around them, and have no desire to simply curise at a comfortable speed–they wan tto win the race.

To love God with all our heart, soul and mind means to obey Him with all our heart soul and mind. We should “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord“, or rather, we should “make every effort to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14). God is not impressed with our worship on Sunday morning at church if we are practicing “cruise-control” obedience the rest of the week. We may sing with reverent passion or great emotional fervor, but our worship is only as pleasing to God as the obedience that precedes & accompanies it.

Such is the sense of uneasiness that fills my heart as I struggle with the concept of “love”, loving God, loving others, and loving another. I may not be living with some flagrant sin in my life, but I was simply living in a “cruise-control” mode of obedience. Somewhere, somehow along life’s winding road, I had lost the commitment and intensity that is implied in the pursuit of holiness. I wasn’t seeking to obey God’s law with all my heart, soul, and mind. Instead, I had settled into a comfortable routine, in which there were no major vices, but their was there an all-out effort to obey God in every area of my life, especially in interpersonal relationships.

Let us rather discipline ourselves in love — that is, in obedience. Let us run to win the race, to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, est after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

(This article was originally published on November 27, 2006.)