The Most Important Commandment of All

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Matthew 22:37–38 (ESV)

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.

In response to the question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered that the greatest commandment or most important commandment, out of ALL the commandments that the Lord gave to Israel through Moses, was to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul and with ALL you're your mind.

Jesus was quoting the Scriptures from Deuteronomy 6:5 which reads, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  In Deuteronomy, it does not have “mind” but rather “might” or “strength”.  What’s exactly going on here?  Well, there have been a few explanations but nothing mind blowing or worth explaining in this short article.  However, what is true is that Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the original commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength (might).

Many have taken “heart”, “soul” and “strength” and have interpreted each word as referring to a different aspect of our inner being.  So, for instance, the heart would be referring to our thoughts, the soul would be our emotions, and strength would be our will.  However, this is not the case. 

If you read through the Old Testament, you will discover that the Hebrew word for “heart” is used metaphorically not only as the place for man’s inner thoughts but also his emotions, self-will, beliefs and attitudes.  Essentially, in the Old Testament, the heart is the whole inner being of a person.  So, if the heart is the whole inner being of a person, what is the soul?

Literally, the soul means “throat” or “gullet” but the word is also used metaphorically to refer to a person as in Ezekiel 4:14, where Ezekiel cries out, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself (soul).”  In Leviticus 21:11, it’s also used of a corpse – “He shall not go in to any dead bodies (souls) nor make himself unclean.”  When all the uses of the word for soul are examined, soul seems to be referring to the entire person.  Thus, the heart refers strictly to one’s inner being, while the soul is the entire person.  So, what’s a person’s strength?

Daniel I. Block explains the meaning of “strength” as follows:  “Here its meaning is best captured by a word like “resources”, which includes physical strength but also economic or social strength, and it may extend to the physical things an Israelite owned: tools, livestock, a house, and the like.”

So, a better understanding of heart, soul and strength is to see it as series of three concentric circles.  God is commanding you and me to love Him with ALL of our HEART - our thoughts, desires, attitudes and will – the first concentric circle.  However, He not only wants our inner lives (heart) but also our entire person (soul).  This is the next larger concentric circle.  What we do with our physical bodies matters to God!  To love God cannot simply be an inner life, spiritual experience but it must also include our physical being.  Thus, John writes in 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  However, God doesn’t just stop here but He commands us to also love Him with everything that comes under our ownership and authority.  This is the third and largest concentric circle.  God commands us to love Him with our whole life; with all we think and feel, do and say, own and have influence over.  He calls us to love Him with EVERYTHING.

This is the great and most important commandment of all.