The Heart of God’s Law

Being a parent helps you relate to God. As you love your children, work with them, teach them, ache for them, discipline them and yearn for their success, you can better identify with the joys and the pains God feels for His children.

Deep down, the Father longs for a close connection with each of us. Like all parents, He wants His children to accept His love and extend love back to Him. He wants us to show our love through obedience, gratitude, respect, admiration, loyalty and real joy in being able to spend time with Him.

Read Mark 12:28-30 (and Matthew 22:35-38) to see how Jesus showed that this truth is at the heart of God’s law.

The Bible contains several hundred laws. Christ said the most important of all of them is God’s command that we love Him wholeheartedly! God wants to be at the center of our lives. He loves us with perfect love, and He wants us to love Him right back so we can be perfectly united as one Family.

This “first and great commandment” is the most profound and beautiful law. It reveals so much about how God thinks, and how much family dominates His mind. He wants deep family love to saturate everything! He is not interested in shallow relationships. He wants to absolutely shower His Family with love, and He wants sons who love Him back; heart, soul and might!

That is God’s command! That is what we must strive for. We cannot settle for anything less in our relationship with our Father—because He will not.

Check Your Heart

Read the First Commandment in Exodus 20:1-3. This law says that nothing can come before God in our lives. God must have first place continually.

“Have you put something else in place of God?” asked the Plain Truth of February 1960. “Is your time, your interest, your service taken up more with something other than the true God? What idol have you placed between yourself and the true God—studying His Word, and living by it? … In everything you think or say or do, you either serve God—or else you serve your own lusts and Satan the devil! … There is no middle ground! You either delight in God and His law and serve and obey Him all day long—or else you serve and obey your own lusts!” Every time we sin, we are putting something before God and breaking the First Commandment.

Read Deuteronomy 6:4-5 to see what Christ was quoting. Meditate on the three parts of the command in verse 5.

Heart refers to your feelings, your will, even your mind and intellect; the center or innermost part of your being. God wants us to love Him with the whole of it! Now, as Jeremiah 17:9 informs us, our natural human heart is deceitful and wicked. So we must let God create a new heart in us—a heart through which His love can flow (e.g. Psalm 51:10). The fact that this was God’s command even to physical Israel shows that God’s earnest desire from the beginning—in accordance with His eternal spiritual law from eternity—was love like God and the Word shared forever!

Soul comes from the Hebrew nephesh, which refers to your physical body—your life. We must commit to serving God with it. It is easy to serve ourselves and our lusts with our physical body—for example, breaking the laws of radiant health by eating bad food or too much food, failing to exercise or to get enough sleep. God commands that our body be a tool to serve Him—that we love Him with all our nephesh, our physical life!

Might means vehemence or strength. It implies loving God wholly, speedily, diligently, especially and exceedingly! The essence of this commandment is, God must get the very best of what we have to offer.

Make God Number One

Satan is constantly working to get us to minimize God’s place in our lives. We need to fight to keep God in the center. Remember this commandment throughout every day, and actively strive to love God this way. That doesn’t mean you can’t have other interests, but none of those interests can ever come before God! Anything that draws your heart, soul or strength away from God is an idol!

Consider your prayers, for example. Herbert W. Armstrong and Gerald Flurry have recommended we pray on our knees about an hour a day. Mr. Flurry has said how we talk to God in prayer should be the top priority in our lives. If you find yourself consistently putting in less than an hour, what is getting in the way? What are you prioritizing above God? If your prayers aren’t fervent and effectual, what are you doing to change that? If you struggle, don’t get discouraged about it—just realize that God seeks a deeper connection with you! Let that motivate you to try to improve.

We have also been encouraged to study the Bible about an hour a day. God wants to educate us for that time, and He wants us to be excited to gain those insights into His mind. Our love for Him will show in our love for the Bible! Do we let other things take priority? Do we not have the quality of study we should? Are we really digging into the Scriptures? What does your attitude toward study say about the quality of your love for God?

Continue reading in Deuteronomy 6 for an expansion of this law. Study verses 6-12 for specific instruction on how to love God wholeheartedly. God tells us to love Him by writing His words in our heart, teaching them to our children, putting them into action in our deeds and thoughts, and posting them in our homes. He even warns us that when He blesses us physically, we must take care not to let our prosperity spoil our love relationship with Him! What an important command to remember in this materialistic age.

Study Deuteronomy 10:12-13. God carefully spells out exactly what He seeks from us and shows that it’s all for our good! Just like us with our own children, God commands these things because He wants to see us succeed and prosper!

This passage mentions not only loving God with all our heart and soul, but also serving Him with all our heart and soul. Like James, who called himself “a servant [or bondslave] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” we are to be slaves to God with all our heart and life, and to love it. As Gerald Flurry writes, “God’s very elect are a small little remnant of people who know a lot about the Father and Christ, and who want to be a slave to both of them. This is a bondage of love. We love being in bondage to God” (The Epistle of James).

Fear God

Look again at the first thing Moses mentions in Deuteronomy 10:12. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). The word fear, from the Hebrew yare (Strong’s #3372), is also translated reverence. It is a sense of awe—a supreme respect—an attitude of worship.

Loving God starts with and includes a proper fear of God. This fear helps us see just what an honor it is to have this relationship. We should respect God enough that we do what He says. We should also be afraid to disobey Him! Read Deuteronomy 10:14, 17-20, and ask yourself how real that powerful, valiant, mighty warrior God of judgment is to you.

Prophecy reveals how God is going to judge and punish this evil, rebellious world. Before long, all men will learn to fear God! (e.g., Isaiah 45:23-25). We need to nurture a type of that fear today.

It’s important to note: God doesn’t want us to fear Him in a way that causes us to draw back from Him. He wants fear that moves us to draw near to Him! Study Exodus 20:18-20 to better understand the difference. When God gave the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were terrified. “Fear not!” Moses told them, yet God gave His law “that his fear (Strong’s #3374) may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” There’s no contradiction in this passage. Wrong fear causes people to cower; right fear motivates obedience.

Study Malachi 2:4-7 to see how God praises “Levi”—Herbert W. Armstrong—for his fear, and to see the beautiful fruits that the right fear produced in that man’s life and ministry.

Read Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 to see how this obedience-inspiring fear must be central in our lives. We can never afford to be casual about sin, or to turn God’s grace into a license to disobey (Jude 4). Build and nurture proper fear in order to remain motivated to use God’s grace instead as an opportunity to bring more and more righteousness into our lives.

Cleave to God

Read Deuteronomy 10:20 again to see God’s command that we “cleave” to Him. Notice it reiterated in Deuteronomy 13:4. Now, compare this with Genesis 2:24.

Remarkably, the same word is used in both contexts! It means to cling or adhere; figuratively, to catch by pursuit. This word is also translated be joined together, follow close, follow hard after, pursue hard, and overtake. Believe it or not, God wants us to pursue Him like a man courting a woman! He truly is after a love relationship! He wants this love to surpass all other loves in our life!

The Psalms are full of praise, worship and honor. God ensured they were canonized to provide us a vivid example of the first and great commandment in action.

Study Psalm 63:1-8 to see a stunning expression of this commandment. This is a most heartfelt love song to God, written by a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). How David thirsted, yearned, craved to be in God’s presence! God’s love meant more to him than his own life! As David thought about and praised God, it brought joy into his life. Psalm 63:6 shows that when David woke in the middle of the night, he wouldn’t think about worldly things: His first thought was on God! Even his dreams revolved around God.

The phrase “followeth hard” in verse 8 comes from the same Hebrew word translated cleave in Genesis and Deuteronomy. David obeyed that command, and God responded by holding on to him. God loved David, and David loved God! That love went back and forth between them.

How about us? God wants us to yearn for Him with the passion of a young couple preparing to marry! In your daily prayer and study, do you thirst for that time with God? Do you crave it? It is not natural to do so. We must work at it. David really cultivated this yearning. He continually stirred it up within himself through passionate prayer and study, and deep meditation on the things of God.

If we do the same, we too can develop this love for God. In fact, God commands it! It is the first and great commandment!