The Jews have a phrase from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy that they repeat over and over. It is called the Shema (from the Hebrew word "to hear"), and it is found in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one." Moses, the writer of the book of Deuteronomy, follows this declaration with these words, in verse 5, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Jesus was asked by a teacher of the law to declare what HE considered to be the greatest commandment. He responded, "'Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.' This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-40).
Most people who claim to be Christians have heard these words and have some understanding of what they mean. We are supposed to love God and love others. So, we try to do that, right? Jesus summarized all of the commandments into these two: love God and love others. That's what disciples of Jesus do. We try ... and we fail. Then we try some more ... and we may actually feel successful for a little while. But then we fail again ... and again ... and again. We keep on trying because we don't really know what else to do. We are thankful that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, because we know we are sinners in need of God's grace. Thank you, Father, for your forgiveness!!
So that's it?! Living the Christian life means trying to obey these two commandments? Is that what Moses was talking about? Is that what JESUS was teaching His disciples?? Or was there more in these words? As I was preparing to teach the first lesson in a study we are doing in our adult class on Sunday mornings, I was struck by something the author of our study book wrote ("The Essential Commandment" by Greg Ogden). He rightly explained that Jesus wasn't giving us a "higher law" to try to obey. Rather, He was calling people into a relationship of love with the living God!!
God had chosen Israel to be His special people. He had set His love, His affection, on these people. They were His treasure, the "apple of His eye." So why the Shema? What does it mean? And what does it have to do with loving God? Listen to it again: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one." The Jews and others interpret this to be a statement that contradicts the teaching of the Trinity - one God in three persons. After all, it says, "The LORD our God, the LORD is ONE." But it actually teaches the same thing that we learn later in the New Testament, that within the Godhead there is relationship: Father, Son and Spirit! AND, it explains why Moses follows it with the words, "Love the LORD your God ... " The word, "ONE," refers to the fellowship, the love, the unity, the relationship within what we have come to call "the Godhead" - the one, true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is like saying, "God is oneness."
If the Bible didn't teach this, I would be guessing, but it DOES. Actually, JESUS does!! In John 14:11, Jesus says, "Believe me when i say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." Then in chapter 17, verses 21-23, Jesus explains what the Shema means ... here is what Jesus is praying for:
" ... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ... that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me." And He goes on in verse 26: " ... in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." Do you get it???
Jesus brings His children INTO the relationship that He has with the Father! The "essential commandment" is this: enter into God's love, receiving the love of the Father through Jesus as His Spirit works within you ... receive His love and then LOVE HIM BACK!! The Shema declares the beautiful oneness of God, the perfect love that only God Himself knows, and then invites us to share in that love, to join God in loving Him AND others. Some are already part of His family with us - our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we have the privilege and responsibility to invite others into the circle of God's love.
Do you see why THIS is the "essential commandment," or, as Jesus put it, the "greatest commandment"? If you're not busy on Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m., come join us at the Oakwood Intermediate School in Allendale every week for the next few months. If you don't live in the area and are reading this blog, I will be sharing some thoughts as we look at God's Word concerning how to enter into this relationship of love with God and to find joy unspeakable! "Hear!! The LORD our God is ONE," and through His Son Jesus, He has invited YOU to be part of His "circle of love!"