Exploring Deuteronomy Week 5: Love, Love, Love
Pastor Dan’s sermon “Love” in the “Not By Bread Alone” series is available online here.
Wow. Yesterday’s sermon was beautiful and convicting and powerful. And it should be — it was about what Jesus said is the most important commandment in all the Bible:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5).
A couple of years ago, I taught a university class on the Old Testament. Every time we met, I would invite the students to stand with me and recite these verses with me in Hebrew and English. I don’t know if the students loved it (probably not), but I did! It was a really cool reminder of God’s greatest desire for us — that we love Him with everything that we are, that our goal each day is to wake up and serve the one, true God.
There is so much to these verses — they are the heart of the Jewish faith, and Jesus said it is the most important thing we can do in our lives. As Pastor Dan mentioned yesterday, a faithful Jew says this prayer in the morning and in the evening. These verses are known as the “Shema,” which is the first word of verse four, “hear.” In Hebrew, the word shema can mean listen, but it also means to hear and do. All throughout the Bible, faith is action, it is something we do.
There is so much we could talk about in relation to the Shema, but there are a couple of things that used to confuse me that I thought might be good for us to discuss today!
First, I always wondered why, when Jesus quotes the Shema in the New Testament, He adds the word mind. In Deuteronomy, the command is to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength. In Matthew, Jesus says to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. In Mark, Jesus says to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Why does Jesus talk about loving God with your mind, when the original commandment in Deuteronomy doesn’t include that word? The answer has everything to do with the fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.
Like Pastor Dan mentioned yesterday, heart, soul, and strength have very specific meanings in Hebrew. In Hebrew, the word “heart” encompasses both emotions and intellect. So when Deuteronomy tells us to love God with all our hearts, it means that we are to love Him with our emotions, our thoughts, our self-consciousness — our minds. A Hebrew would have heard that we are to love God with all our hearts and automatically known that this included our intellect. The Greek word for heart, however, does not include the idea of the mind. So, when Matthew and the other Gospel authors were writing their texts, they had to add in mind in the Greek in order to encompass what the word heart does in Hebrew. So, it’s the exact same verse and concept — just taking into account the translation differences between Greek and Hebrew.
There’s another cool thing we see when Jesus talks about the Shema in the New Testament. First, Jesus affirms the Shema as the most important commandment in the Bible. He also adds a command from Leviticus 19, one that says to “love your neighbour as yourself.” (I spelled it that way for you, my Canadian friends.)
Before Jesus began teaching, there were two famous rabbis named Hillel and Shammai. These two were both great teachers and had disciples, just like Jesus. Hillel and Shammai had different theological views, and they often opposed one another. Now both Hillel and Shammai affirmed that the greatest commandment was the Shema — to love God with everything. But the two disagreed about the second greatest commandment. You see, in God’s law, there were many commandments and sometimes it seemed as though you had to break one in order to fulfill another. For example, if your friend fell into a pit on the Sabbath, do you leave him there so as not to work on the Sabbath? Or do you help him out so that you are fulfilling the command to love your neighbour?
Shammai believed the second most important commandment was obeying the Sabbath. This, he thought was most important to God. Hillel, however, believed the second most important commandment was to love your neighbour. But no one had ever solved the debate.
So in the New Testament we see the Pharisees get together and decide to ask Jesus, this new rabbi, a question. Matthew says they wanted to “test” Him, which was a common term for figuring out what someone believed. The Pharisees wondered — whose side is Jesus on, Hillel’s or Shammai’s? Jesus answers that the first commandment of course, is to love God with all that you are. And the second is to love your neighbour. Jesus sides with Hillel!
And we see this second greatest commandment lived out throughout Jesus’ life. He often heals on the Sabbath — not because He doesn’t want to honor the day of rest, but because He knows that God’s law is fulfilled when we love Him and love each other. Loving your neighbour — healing him, helping her, showing him God’s grace — wins out over no work on the Sabbath. Love is trump.
Jesus perfectly showed us what it looks like to love God and love each other. He ultimately does this through the greatest love of all — sacrificing His life.
* In what ways do you want to practice loving God and loving others this week?