January 26, 2017 • Life for Leaders
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Christians sometimes get confused about how to respond to God’s commandments. Some of us think, for example, that all of the commandments of Scripture are no longer relevant for us since we are saved by God’s grace through Christ. Others of us pay lip service to salvation by grace, but we live as if we have to earn God’s love through obedience to his commandments. By loving God, we believe, we can get God to love us in return.
Unfortunately, this commonly held assumption gets it backward. Our love for God does not begin with ourselves, our good intentions, our efforts, or our desire to get God to love us. Rather, love begins with God. We love God in response to God’s initiative, God’s love for us.
This was true for the people of Israel. We see this in the structure of the Shema, the passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 that Jesus quotes in Mark 12:29-30. There is a clear command in this passage: to love God with all we are. Yet, this command comes after the announcement of who God is: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In yesterday’s devotion, I began to examine God’s identity as found in this short affirmation. Today, I want you to see how this statement conveys God’s love for his people, including you and me.
First of all, God is “the Lord.” God is the one who, in Exodus 3, revealed himself to Moses as Yahweh (Exod 3:14). Later in Exodus, God filled out the meaning of his name: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. . .” (Exod 34:6). In other words, God’s very name represents his abundant love and grace.
Second, God is “our God.” For the Israelites, this meant that God had entered into covenant relationship with them after delivering them from slavery in Egypt. For us, “our God” reminds us that God has entered into covenant relationship with us by delivering us from slavery to sin and death. God is “our God” through Jesus Christ.
Third, God is “one,” not only as the only true God, and not only as being essentially one in nature, but also in love. As it says in 1 John 4, “love comes from God” (4:7) because, in fact, “God is love” (4:8). Therefore, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (4:10).
So, the commandment to love God does not stand alone. Rather, it stands in response to God’s initiative, to God’s loving character and activity. As it says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” And one of the main ways we respond to God’s love is by loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Next week, we’ll consider how we might do this. For now, I’d encourage you to contemplate God’s love for you and how you might live your whole life in response to this love.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you think about loving God, do you ever assume that your love for God can make God love you more?
How have you experienced God’s love in your life? Has this experience helped you to love God? If so, how?
What helps you to be reminded of God’s love for you? What helps you to know God’s love in your daily life?
Gracious God, you are love, indeed. You are self-giving, faithful, abiding, never-ending love. All praise be to you!
You have loved us in so many ways, dear Lord, our God, but most of all by giving us your Son, who showed us your love, and who, by love, gave his life on the cross. Your love became human in Jesus, for our sake. All praise be to you!
Forgive us, Lord, when we think we can make you love us more by our actions. Yes, we can please and honor you, but your love for us comes first and foremost. We love because you first loved us. All praise be to you!
Help us, Lord, to respond to your love by loving you. May we give our love to you through all that we are, even in our daily work. May our work this day be an expression of our love, our response to how much you love us. All praise be to you! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: God’s Call to Moses (Exodus 2:11-3:22)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.