“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deuteronomy 6:4-9
This passage is called the Shema. That’s the Hebrew word for “hear,” the first word in these famous ancient words. For more than four-thousand years the Israelites and Jews have recited these words out loud at least twice a day. Orthodox Jews today recite this passage out loud during their morning and evening prayers. These words are vitally important in both Jewish and Christian history, they’re so foundational for our faith.
Who is the God of Israel? Who is our God? Who are we loyal to? How many gods are we going to have?
“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”
This is truly first things first. Before we cross the Jordan River, before we settle in the new land, before we become lights to these people and God’s image-bearers in the world, before we do anything… are we going to be devoted to the Lord? Will we be faithful to the Lord exclusively, or are we going to be seduced by the pagan gods of this new country?
By reciting this statement day after day, year after year, century after century, God’s people declare their complete and unqualified devotion to the Lord. This is not just a monotheistic confession. It’s not “This God is one God.” It’s “This God is our one and only God! We will not serve any other God!” This is a foundational pledge of allegiance. This is an affirmation of a dead-serious commitment. This statement is all about who we are and to whom we belong. First things first.
In order to consider the depth of what’s being confessed, I want to break this passage down into four parts this week. First, today, you love the Lord with your whole person.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”
That’s interesting, isn’t it? Can you command somebody to love? Isn’t love a mysterious feeling that just appears and sometimes disappears? Isn’t love just an emotion and it’s either here or it’s not? No, not according to Scripture. The Bible teaches that love is an act of the will. Love is more about intentional action than accidental feelings. Each one of us decides whether to love or not. In the ancient Hebrew language, the word for “heart” here actually means your heart and your mind; this is your entire inner being. This is where you feel and think. It’s both.
The literal word for “soul” here is “throat” or “gullet.” It means your appetites, your desires, who you are as a person who does things and interacts with the world and other people.
And then “strength.” This Hebrew word is translated in the Greek Old Testament as “dynamis.” That means “power.” Dynamite, right? Hebrew scholars say this is about any power you have to accomplish something — maybe “resources” would be a better word. Physical strength, yes; but also economic or social strength, maybe even the things you own like tools or livestock or your house.
The point is: you love the Lord your God with your whole person, without reservation. No loopholes. A covenant commitment to the Lord that’s rooted in your heart, but extends to every level of your being. Jesus quotes this verse and says this is the most important thing. This is primary, the first thing! Love the Lord with your whole person.