There are 613 some odd laws in the Hebrew Bible. Some are odder than others. Only one person has ever successfully obeyed every single one of these commandments His whole life. He only ate the approved foods. He never missed a sacrifice or holy day. He never took the Lord’s name in vain. He always tithed, honored His parents, and so on and so on. That person was Jesus, and since He was the world’s foremost authority on obeying commandments, He was once asked a very profound question: Which commandment is the foremost above all the rest? In His answer He designated one commandment as the greatest – above all the other 612 – which puts it in a category all its own. That’s the commandment this book is about. And it’s the commandment that changes everything.
Maybe the reason He designated this one commandment as the foremost above all the rest was because He knew that if a person obeyed the foremost commandment, then all the others would tend to fall into place. If you obey the greatest commandment, all the lesser commandments automatically tend to get obeyed along with it. On the other hand, if you disobey this foremost commandment but try to obey the other 612, your personal righteousness still won’t amount to anything more than a pile of filthy rags.
This all-important question was posed to Jesus while he was teaching and debating with religious leaders in Jerusalem. The Bible describes the account like this: “One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”’” (Mark 12:28-30, which includes a quote of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:4,5)
Jesus could have said something like, “The foremost commandment is: Obey all commandments.” But the foremost commandment is not about following a long list of commandments.
It’s about having a relationship with God.
Why is this the greatest commandment? Because God loves us, He wants to have a relationship with us, and He wants us to love Him in return more than we love anything else. “I want faithful love more than I want animal sacrifices. I want people to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NCV)
God earnestly wants us to love Him, but what does loving God involve? What does it look like when we love God? How does it change your life? What are the hallmarks of a person who loves God above all else? What are some of the fruits that develop when we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? How do we know when we’re obeying this ultimate command? Where do we start? That’s what this book will help explain.
In the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus taught that a tree is known by its fruit. (See Matthew 7:15-20.) When your life is rooted in God’s love, it produces several specific types of fruit. But when your roots are planted elsewhere, it produces very different set of fruits. When a person loves God, that love manifests itself and becomes evident to yourself and to others in many noticeable ways.
When you love God, it shows. And it changes your life from the top down and the inside out.
If loving God is like the ultimate crown jewel of obedience, this book will examine this foremost commandment one facet at a time. We’ll look at many of the inward and outward changes that happen in people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
One of the many things I love about the book of Proverbs (in addition to its concentrated wisdom) is that it is 31 chapters long, which means you can read one chapter a day for a very impactful month. That inspired the idea for this book to also contain 31 chapters, written with the intention of reading one chapter a day for one month. It might end up being a month that deepens your commitment and changes your life. I hope you can join with at least one other person and read the book together to share your insights and observations. At the conclusion of each chapter are a few questions to think about and prime the pump for discussion in your group.
The 31 topics described one at a time in the chapters of this book could each be expanded into an entire book. Many terrific books that have done exactly that are already available, and I’ve quoted from many of them. But what this book sets out to explain is that the commandment Jesus called the foremost of all is the starting point on which a Christian’s life is built and lived. (Ironically, it’s also the end point.) Once you build your life on that commandment, many changes will take place. It’s entirely possible to obey many of the lesser commandments in the Bible without obeying the greatest commandment at the top of the list. (Jesus frequently pointed this out to the Pharisees.) By obeying the greatest of all commandments, all the others tend to get obeyed as a result. When re-ordering your life, you don’t start at the bottom with the lesser commandments and work you way to the top; you start at the top and work your way down. You could call it “trickle-down righteousness.”
WHATEVER IS ON THE INSIDE SHOWS ON THE OUTSIDE
Sometimes you’ll observe or meet a person and you’ll get a curious sense that he or she is a Christian. A person who loves God has a totally different countenance than someone who doesn’t. Even if they’re not wearing a Christian-themed T-shirt, or dripping in Christian jewelry, or doing anything particularly spiritual like quoting Scripture or singing hymns, you just get a sense that he or she is a fully devoted follower of Christ. They stand out.
Maybe it’s the way they interact with others – especially with those who might be considered lower on the social pecking order. Maybe it’s the way they carry themselves, or maybe it’s the way they talk. Maybe it’s how they deal with difficulties, or respond when they’re wronged. Maybe it’s how you can tell they genuinely care about you. Maybe it’s the dignity they bring to doing mundane tasks. When a person loves God, it shows.
Some phony Christians are able to fool a lot of people. But if you’re around them long enough, whatever is on the inside will eventually make itself known on the outside. Sooner or later, phonies get found out and you can see through their God façade.
Just because a person is highly religious or spiritual on the outside doesn’t mean they love God on the inside. Jesus’ most heated interactions were with disingenuous religious leaders who projected a holier-than-thou mask of piety. Naturally, He saw right through them. He rebuked the self-righteous, hypocritical Pharisees for caring more about the image they projected on the outside rather than their devotion to God on the inside. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28)
There are plenty of modern-day Pharisees packing the pews and filling committees in churches today as well.
But this book isn’t about helping you polish up your outward façade that people see. It’s about reordering the parts of your life that only God sees. Of course, when your faith is genuine, eventually other people will notice as well.