“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
There is a Latin maxim: ubi amor, ibi oculus. “We love to look at what we love.” When one of the scribes, seeking apparently to test Jesus, asked him which command belonged at the top of the Old Testament list of rules, Jesus turned his—and our—gaze away from the law of God to the God of the law: “love the Lord.”
Look at God. Do you love Him? Do you love to look at him as He is revealed—with holiness, purity, power, and wisdom—in His Word? In the Old Testament? In the New? Of course, as Jesus reminds us numerous times, our affection for the Father and the Son are inseparable: “Whoever hates me hates my Father also” (John 15:23).
This is the first and great command, Jesus intimates: to agape God, to so delight in Him that we are willing to give ourselves to Him utterly. Jesus packs four directives into this one instruction, further expounding on the first command by demanding all our heart, soul, mind, and strength — in other words, our all of everything. While Jesus doubtless means for us feel the full impact of these four exhortations together, it is also clear that each of them is a distinct and essential part of our love for God and is therefore worthy of individual consideration.
For instance, what does Jesus mean when He commands to love the Lord with all your soul? There are at least three implications to this command.
The primary meaning of the word that is here translated soul is “breath.” Recognizing how interlinked our breathing is with our existence, it is no surprise that many Bible translations commonly uses the word “life” in place of soul.
As Albert Barnes points out, to love the Lord with all your soul, then, “means to be willing to give up the life to him, and to devote it all to his service; to live to him, and to be willing to die at his command.”
The second command, Jesus teaches us, is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31) … but the first command is to love God better than ourselves.
There is a distinction, though, between our soul—our life—and the life of plants or of animals. Our soul is created immortal. It will last forever. Thus, to love the Lord with all our soul requires loving Him with a vision that transcends our time on earth and surrenders our eternity to him.
The ancient Jewish writers appreciated this aspect of God’s command when, in the Mishnah, they provided the following interpretation: “with all thy soul, even if He should take away thy soul.” Isaac Watts, in his famously soul-searching hymn “Show Pity, Lord” echoed this same faith in God for the eternal destination of his soul:
Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.
Do you trust God for your eternity? Can you speak David’s words with your own breath: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust” (Psalm 25:1, 2)?
Trusting God with our afterlife naturally deflects our attention back to this life, and reminds us that loving God with all our soul also entails loving Him with all of our desires and aspirations.
Interestingly, the word aspiration also contains the idea of “breath” and speaks of how intimately entwined our goals and ambitions are with our very life. What we desire to be is, in a sense, exactly what we already are; it is what we are striving for, but it is also what our life is already all about.
What is your greatest ambition? What do you lay awake at night dreaming about? “We love to look at what we love” — what do you gaze at longingly in the treasure chest of your imagination? What do you desire above everything else?
The Puritan preacher Thomas Doolittle wrote, “This world doth often change its inhabitants.” Your house will eventually be someone else’s house, your job someone else’s job.
There is only one goal that is always worth striving for, every day of your life. There is only one place that is rich and secure enough to plant your hope there. There is only one Person that is worthy of all your attention, devotion, and worship. That goal, that place, that person is the very one who speaks to the scribe, the rule collector, in all of us. He is Jesus Christ. Love Him with all your soul. Give Him your all of everything. Gaze at Him until you love to look at Him.
Justin Huffman is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and pastored churches in the States for over 15 years. He is currently lead pastor of Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Chau and their four children. Justin is the author of the “Daily Devotion” app, as well as numerous books and articles, including his newest book Behold: an Invitation to Wonder. Connect with him at justinhuffman.org.