Tag Archives: great commandment

Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God

[Stake Conference, April 2019, Adult Session]

During the last week of the Savior’s life, the various groups opposing Jesus were desperate to entrap him, so they peppered him with questions they hoped would embarrass him.  Famously (or infamously), a man described as a pharisee, a scribe, and a lawyer asked the Savior to identify “the great commandment in the law.”  Jesus answered by quoting one of the most important passages of all scripture, known to Jews as the Shema, which says, in part (see Deut. 6), this:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Jesus called this “the first and great commandment” and said that the entire Law of Moses comes from the two commandments to love God and to love each other.

The Shema continues with one of the most important early references to home-centered study and learning:

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Lastly, Moses continues with these words, which some Jews practice literally.  We don’t, but we should consider the tremendous emphasis they add to the great commandment:

8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Let me repeat here the key words from this critical teaching:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

What does it mean to love God?

The “first and great commandment” is to love God entirely.  What does it mean to love?

The dictionary definition that makes most sense to me in this context is “to be devoted to.”  We are to be wholly devoted to God.  That devotion should fill our hearts and our souls and efforts.

But what about the feeling of love?  Is love also a feeling?

That may be tough at times.  Devotion and commitment are choices.  I can be devoted to God and love him in that sense entirely according to my own choices.  Feelings, though, are hard to choose.  They tend to be more the result of things both inside and outside us.  The ideal feelings toward God may include things like profound gratitude and reverence.

I believe that those feelings result most from our knowledge and understanding of who God is and what He has done and does now and will yet do for us.  They result from knowing how He feels about us and about the sacrifices He has made on our behalf, highlighted by the Atonement.  They come from understanding something about his perfect attributes of mercy and generosity and patience and compassion.

Can we love God with all our heart, soul, and might if we don’t feel the feeling of love in our hearts?  Yes, we can in the sense of being devoted to him and choosing him and following through on that choice.  We can also strive to know and understand him better, which will build our appreciation for him and facilitate the feelings of love.

Here is kind of a strange-sounding thing you might try sometime.  I don’t do it very often, but on rare occasion I have.  Try saying your evening or morning personal prayer without using words.  Instead of talking to God, which is how we should usually pray as Jesus taught us, just feel.  Get him in your mind and let your feelings provide your prayer’s expressions.  As you consider him and that he knows your feelings as well as your thoughts, you might feel things like awe and reverence, like gratitude, like being small and dependent, like respect and admiration.

To the extent we don’t feel those things, I think we might simply strive to know and understand him better.  While we do, we can persist in patient devotion.

What does loving God look like?

Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  We know from the Pearl of Great Price that God’s work is to save and exalt us.  We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that our work is to keep the commandments.  The Second Great Commandment, of course, is to love each other, including that person who offended us or who with whom we disagree or just don’t like.  We can assume that this should be an active love—that we would actively seek to lift, support, build up, and help each other.  We can assume that loving our neighbors doesn’t merely consist of feeling a warm feeling towards them (unless, of course, we are actually incapacitated).

We could try to insert here a long list of commandments and actions that would reflect our love for God.  We could talk about doing this or doing that—or not doing this or not doing that.

The trouble is that if we try too hard to describe what loving God might look like, we will end up converting love for God into a checklist—and a checklist mentality is already a source of trouble in our culture.

God is neither the Great Accountant tabulating our debits and credits nor is he the Great Scorekeeper tallying our points and fouls.  He is our omniscient and loving father who asks for our love, our devotion.

Suffice it to say that when we love God, we will love our neighbor, keep his commandments, and allow our love for God to inform all of our important decisions.  We might develop the habit of asking ourselves, each time we face an important decision:  which choice will best reflect my devotion to God?

The first of the Ten Commandments says that we are to have no other god before our God.  Surely that means that we should neither worship nor love anything more than we worship and love both our Father in Heaven and the Savior.  There are many alluring worldly temptations involving money and appearances and momentary pleasures.  Our love for God must be strong enough that we will worship him more than them.

What happens to us when we love God?

Normal things happen to us.  Life happens to us, including good and bad.  We sometimes labor under the notion that loving God and keeping his commandments will result in in an absence of trouble—or at least an absence of tragedy and catastrophe.  It doesn’t.  Otherwise, how would we explain Abinadi and Nephite women and children being thrown into a fire.  How would we explain the early apostles, Joseph Smith, or faithful members of the Willey and Martin handcart companies?  God will not rob us of the mortal experience, whatever that may mean for us.

What will He do?  He will do things that matter far more than our temporary physical struggles in mortality.

  • Paul taught “that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
  • Moses taught that God’s mercy is extended to “them that love [God].”
  • Jesus clearly taught that those who love God receive forgiveness.
  • And in the Book of Mormon, we read that if you “love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”
  • I also believe that loving God inspires in each of us the development of Christlike attributes, including love for others, gratitude, humility, meekness, and modesty—not merely modesty in how we dress, but modesty in our behavior, including our use of social media.

May I suggest tonight—besides the obvious suggestion that we all love the Lord—that we leave no doubt in the minds of our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and all those who are dear to us that we love God and are filled with gratitude to and for Him.

In the Church Handbook of Instructions, there is a section on Leadership which applies to all of us.  It says, in part:

All Church leaders are called to help other people become “true followers of . . . Jesus Christ.” To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples, living each day so that they can return to live in God’s presence. Then they can help others develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.

Callings and positions entirely aside, each of us can be a “faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples.”  Let us share with all around us, beginning most importantly with our families, that we love the Lord and that that love is what motivates and informs the choices we make.

I share Paul’s testimony:  “all things [do] work together for good to them that love God.”

In closing, let me repeat the words of Moses, the Shema, with some slight modifications:

The Lord our God is one Lord:

And we shall love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might.

And these words… shall be in our hearts:

And we shall teach them diligently unto our children, and shall talk of them when we are at home, and when we leave our homes, and when we go to bed, and when we rise up.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.