The Greatest Commandment

This is the first and great commandment. Do you care? Does it matter in the big picture of your life? What does it say we have to do?

1.) ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” What is the character of those who love with their heart, who have given their hearts to the Lord? Thinking of God makes them feel warm and affectionate? They are touched by tender testimonies and kind, reassuring words of God’s love for them? They have received the gift of grace? They are grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? They may know God as the sacrificing Savior Jesus Christ and as the loving Father.

2.) “With all your soul” What is the character of those who have also given their souls to the Lord? Jesus is the most important thing in the world to them, more than family, friends, or worldly possessions? They know they are owned by Him? They want their lives to reflect God’s will? They likely call Him the Lord and Master of their lives.

3.) “With all your strength” What is the character of those who have given their strength to the Lord in addition to their hearts and souls? They are willing to be His disciples, to work on behalf of His kingdom? They know that in order to do His work they have to submit to His instruction regarding what to do and how to do it? They are eager to embrace God’s power and relinquish their desire to control others, God, even themselves? They may call Him Guide, Teacher and Counselor.

4.) “And with all your mind” What is the character of those who have given all their mind? They have ceased to demand their own way? They’re committed to being transformed, changed by the renewal of their minds, not just once but forever as they grow and learn and are brought ever more closely into line with the image of Christ? They’ve quit demanding answers and understanding before being obedient. and want only to be shown how to respond according to God’s timing and purpose for their lives? They are brought into a personal, intimate fellowship with the Lord? They see, hear, and think as He does, but even so, they know that they are not God? They hunger and thirst for righteousness and pursue relationship with Jesus vigorously through the Word? They know Him as Friend and Lord God Almighty.

If we give all four aspects of ourselves to Him and love him fully, He is revealed to us more completely. A pastor once said, “We give as much of ourselves as we can understand to as much of God as we can understand.”

(added 1/19/03) Look at all the places where it is written. Matthew 22:37, Mark12:30, and Luke 10:27. Read the original text in Deuteronomy 6:5 which Jesus was quoting in the gospels. Seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit in understanding these differences. It is my belief that not one thing in the Bible is contradictory or insignificant. Therefore, I wanted to understand the differences.

Deut. says: “with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.”

Matthew says: “”with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.”

Mark says: “with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength.”

Luke says: “with all your heart, and all your soul, and all our strength, and all your mind.”

We can understand the differences.. In Deuteronomy, the word “might” describes the fullest measure of both intellectual ability and physical ability. Put another way, “mind” and “strength”. So, Mark and Luke interpret the verse in more specific terms than just “might”, but with the same meaning. Their order of listing them (Mark – mind then strength; Luke- strength then mind.) is really not an issue, it seems to me. Rather their respective orders of listing the two perhaps is a reflection of how the process occurred in their own lives. Mark is known to have backed out of a missionary trip at one point- his “strength” having failed perhaps even when his mind desired to be committed to the Lord. For him, loving with all his strength may have actually come last. Luke, an older, more mature writer and disciple, was perhaps able to observe how loving God with one’s strength, following as a disciple, working out one’s commitment faithfully over time perhaps preceded the act of loving with all the mind with the fuller understanding that came after the resurrection. I think that even the gospel verse among these three that captures our imagination probably is reflective of how the process is being accomplished in our own lives. For those who choose vocations in ministry, loving God with all their “strength” may have more impact and meaning, for example. Those who are intellectual in nature and “pick nits” and argue relentlessly before yielding wholly to God perhaps find that “loving with the mind” is a more important and necessary act and likely precedes their ability to love Him with their “strength”. Some individuals have a higher demand for evidence than others and surrender their mind to loving God last. (Like the Apostle Thomas and the Berean believers who had to see it for themselves!)

Matthew leaves “strength” out altogether. It’s possible that he saw “loving with the mind” as a more necessary element than loving with one’s physcial strength, which fails as we age and he equated “might” with “mind” without taking “strength” into consideration.. Even the most physically infirm can still love God completely with no physical strength to offer whatsoever. Also, like James, he may have determined that the act of loving God with one’s mind would naturally lead to loving one through action or strength. Matthew’s gospel, too, is written to persuade the Jews of the fulfillment of the prophecies by Jesus Christ, not necessarily move them into being apostles like himself. It is designed to capture the intellectual faculties. By comparison Paul, in his epistles, spends more time in developing the imagery of “strength”, building the case for perseverance, as well as the necessity of the transformation of the “mind”. I no longer puzzle over the differences among the verses or view such differences as a reason to question the accuracy or validity of the Bible. I trust that the Holy Spirit will lead each person in an understanding according to her own reason, experience, and tradition as she affirms the supremacy of Scripture and seeks God’s timing, purpose, and plan for her life.

Addendum 8/16/2004-A similar thought from an earlier era: By Stanley Jones, Song of Ascents, Nashville: Abingdon, 1968, p. 189:

Swami Shivananda, a famous swami in India, used to tell his disciples: “Kill the mind and then, and then only, can you meditate.” The Christian position is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind” – the intellectual nature; “with all thy heart” – the emotional nature; “with all thy soul” – the willing nature and “with all thy strength”- the physical nature. The total person is to love him – mind, emotion, will, strength. But the “strength” might mean the strength of all three. Some love him with the strength of the mind and the weakness of the emotion – the intellectualist in religion; some love him with the strength of emotion and the weakness of the mind – the sentimentalist in religion; some love him with the strength of the will and the weakness of emotion – the man of iron who is not very approachable. But loving God with the strength of the mind, the strength of the emotion, and the strength of the will – that makes the truly Christian and the truly balanced and the truly strong character.


In my own life, I gave my baby heart to Jesus at age 12, but there were entire areas of my life that had not yet come into existence.  I had no understanding that those areas would need to be surrendered to God as they came into being…..things like sexuality, finance, relationships, parenting, career, and more.  And how much did I really know about sin at 12?

At 38 my world-weary and sin-sick soul understood the difference between a sentimental affection for Jesus as Savior and full, all-in commitment to him as Lord and Master.  That is when I began loving him with my soul. 

At 43, I had been studying Scripture diligently for five years.  I still had a lot of questions and quibbled over what I perceived as conflicts and contradictions in the Word.  I also continued to struggle with cultural views of life I had learned in the world and how differently the Word calls us to live.  I surrendered my inability to reason out what I perceived as contradictions and simply prayed, “Lord, I don’t have to understand it all.  I simply ask you to guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to understand what you need me to understand according to your timing and in keeping with your purpose for my life. Amen.”  It happened in a church service in February 1997 and within weeks, my life was transformed dramatically as I began to understand how to love him with my mind.

Then, at 48 I knew the Lord was calling me to a vocation in ministry and began moving toward certification as a Christian educator.  Later I would return to graduate school for counseling and go to seminary to serve even more fully equipped for counseling and teaching, loving him with all my strength for the rest of my life. .

If you are a committed Christian, I expect you can point to the times in your life when you were called to deeper love in each way…..a point of decision and surrender.