One day a student came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”
You might recall that Jesus included “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” in his response. Do you remember, however, that Jesus answered by quoting a portion of the “Shema” (“Shema” means “Listen” or “Hear”). Shema is found in the Torah of the Hebrew Bible (Deut. 6:4-9). Jesus’ answer to the student’s question begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord alone!”(Deut. 6:4 (NIV footnote;)
In Jesus’ day, reciting Shema meant renewing your relationship with God. This was done regularly, perhaps several times a day. Whenever a person recited the Shema, she celebrated God’s covenant or promise of grace. Shema firmly acknowledges allegiance to God alone. To recite Shema is to whole-heartedly accept the Kingdom or Reign of God in life. Again and again and again.
When the student asked Jesus his question, he asked Jesus in the language of their culture, “Rabbi, what is your yoke?” or “Rabbi, what is your interpretation of Torah?” The student wanted to know Jesus’ “bottom line,” his summary of Torah.
And so the greatest commandment is the answer to questions like, “What is the Bible all about? What is God all about? Who is the Christian, and what is she doing here?”
The greatest commandment also underlines that a loving relationship with God is absolutely essential for God’s people! Loving others is meaningless if that love is not in response to a loving, covenantal relationship with Almighty God. A loving relationship with God must be set and nurtured first; only then will love for others flow out in response.
Life itself is all about loving God with all of every part of you in response to God’s covenant of grace. And love for God is best expressed in loving others.
The Shema expresses the foundation of Christian living. Jesus obeyed and loved God, and he loved others, perfectly. If we are to be like Jesus, the desperate desire of our hearts is to do the same. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the community of faith expresses unconditional love of God through obedience and through loving others.
Finally, at a minimum, the Shema included Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them to your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
God desires believers to live his commandments. The intense and constant meditation on God’s Word is the legacy and obvious witness of those who love God and love others. Loving God and loving others springs out of a deep passion for and commitment to the Text.
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