What Does "Love the Lord with All Your Heart" Mean in the Bible?
When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he made it very simple for us when he said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Then he added, “The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Yes, Jesus made it simple by breaking down the whole law into two to-dos, but just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. These two commandments are two of the hardest ones to live by. This record of Jesus speaking the well-known Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, is also cited in Matthew 22:37-39 and Luke 10:.
This is a two-part article on the two most important commandments. This one will be about loving the Lord with all your heart and the next one will be about loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus doesn’t just say that our lives will be better if we do this. He doesn’t say that these are nice ideas. He says that I MUST love the Lord my God with all my heart, as if it is essential to really living my life.
It is imperative to really experiencing the full and abundant life. After all, in his presence is fullness of joy and in his right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11). By loving him with all my heart, I place myself in this position of joy. Joy that is there regardless of my current circumstances. I want that kind of full joy. Don’t you? And with all your heart is only the beginning. I also must love him with all my soul, mind, and my strength. Like I said before, this may be simple but it’s not easy.
The Context of "Love the Lord with All Your Heart" in the Bible
But here is the context for why Jesus utters these words in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. At this point in time Jesus has resurrected Lazarus from the dead, he has entered Jerusalem with a triumphal entry on a colt fulfilling prophecies, he has entered the temple and driven out all who were buying and selling goods there, he has healed the blind and lame at the temple who came to him, and this next day of Holy Week, Tuesday, he has returned to the temple to teach. Both the Pharisees and Saducees (groups of Jewish leaders) were trying to trap him in his teachings by asking him what they thought were trick questions. Both groups thought of Jesus as a public nuisance who was getting in the way of their political and religious goals; if they could get him to say something heretical then they might be able to sway the current public opinion. First, the Pharisees sent a group of their disciples and some Herodians (followers of King Herod) to ask Jesus about the imperial tax to Caesar, but Jesus was not deterred and called them out on their evil intent.
That same day, the Saducees (the group of Jewish believers who did not believe in a bodily resurrection) came to ask him about marriage in the resurrected life; the example they gave was a woman who was married seven times — namely whose wife she would be in the resurrection. Jesus tells them they are in error and that they do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God; he also tells them that earthly marriage will not be part of the resurrection. Amazed like the first group, they also leave. Finally, the Pharisees try again by getting an expert in the law to ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest? For if Jesus chose any of the commandments above the others they knew they could trap him, but he responded with Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which they would have been very familiar with. Jesus continued, "This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:38-40). He also questioned them back about the Messiah, and Matthew tells us "No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions" (Matt: 22:46).
In Luke 10:27, the context is before Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On one occassion in Jesus' travels, an expert in the law tests him by asking "what must I do to inherit eternal life" (Luke 10:25). Luke tells us "He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,' and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Luke 10:27). The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible also comments that "Luke uses a fourfold description—heart, soul, strength, mind (cf. Mark 12:30)—intead of the threefold description in Deut. 6:5 since the Greek for 'heart' and 'mind' translate the full spectrum of meaning of the Hebrew word for 'heart.'"
How to Love God with All Your Heart
To love God with your heart means to love God with your emotions. Praising him with your happiness, smile, and gratitude is easy when things are going well. Like when you perceive an answer to prayer or one of life’s good gifts comes your way, but how about when things aren’t going so well? ALL your heart means at ALL times. Even when God seems quiet. Even when he says wait. And even when he says no. And, yes, even when bad things happen. Continuing to love God even when bad things happen or when good things don’t happen is key to a life of contentment. You don’t have to be happy “for” the bad thing. You just have to see through that bad circumstance to the God who wants to comfort you and will never leave you nor forsake you.
Loving God at all times is a day-to-day learning process. We learn more and more how to do it and keep on doing it a little each day. Until soon you can say with the Apostle Paul, I am content no matter what. I can live on almost nothing and I can live with everything. The secret of living in every situation is remembering that I can do everything, I can live through anything, and I can even overcome—through Christ who gives me strength, sustenance, and courage (Philippians 4:11-13). The root word of courage is "cor" which is Latin for "heart." Living with courage and heart daily is a good way to remind yourself to love God.
"'Lev' means heart in Hebrew, and it wasn't a body part to the Israelites, they had a broader understanding of heart than our culture. They thought of the heart as the organ that gives physical life and the place where you think and make sense of the world, where you feel emotions and make choices"
How to Love God with All Your Soul
To love God with your soul means that innate part of you that always knew that you were created by a Creator. When you let yourself be still and quiet, something inside of you just knows that there is a God. When you look at all of the intricacies of the universe, the planet, and your own body, a piece of you knows.
As Blaise Pascal said in 1670, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
Yes, you have a God-shaped hole within you that can only be satisfied by Him. But then you have to allow yourself to go even further past that simple knowing and let yourself believe that God not only exists but he loves you enough to send his only Son to die and free you from your sins. Your soul takes you much farther than your heart can; it takes you to a solid relationship with the living Lord and as a bonus, heaven.
The Spurgeon Study Bible comments,
"'With all your heart' means intensely. 'With all your soul' means sincerely, most lovingly. 'And with all your strength' means with all our energy, with every faculty, with every possibility of our nature."
How to Love God with All Your Mind
Now that you’re trusting in Him with your heart, you continue to the next area—"not depending on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). It is possible to know and believe in the truth of the Bible and yet still fall for many lies of the world and Satan. You may even know that they are lies, but you still feel like they have a hold on you. Who am I to do this or that? I’m not good enough. Maybe I can take a shortcut and not have to wait on the Lord for this good thing? This person won’t listen to me. That other person doesn’t even care about me. No one will find out if I do this wrong thing.
When I depend on my own understanding, lies run rampant in my brain. They can pop up at any time in an attempt to slow my walk with God. Loving God with my mind means renewing my mind daily so that I think more of his thoughts instead of my own. I know his thoughts by reading the Bible daily. Then with study and repetition, some of his thoughts go in to my brain and dissipate those old lies. God’s will and thoughts are good, pleasing, and perfect. I need as much of them as possible to fill and renew my mind (Romans 12:2).
I can take a cue from Philippians 4:8 and replace lies with thoughts that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and virtuous. I can pray and ask God to put a hedge of protection around my mind and thoughts. If I’m honest with myself, I admit that a high percentage of my thoughts are entirely self-focused. But God’s Word gives me a new, much higher perspective. Daily Bible reading will fill my mind so full of good things that there isn’t any room left for those ugly lies. Renewing my mind in God’s Word is an important way of loving God.
How to Love God with All Your Strength
Then I go on to a study of my actions. Do they show a love for God? For if I read God’s Word and don’t obey it, it does me no good. If I merely put the words into my brain without putting them into practice, it’s just an encyclopedia entry—only information, no transformation. Stepping out on faith and taking action enables me to remember what I learned and it may even help other people. God likes it when I’m led by faith to act.
Worship isn’t just singing. It is living by faith so that other people see my example. It is presenting my body and my actions as a living and holy sacrifice to the God I love (Romans 12:1). It is doing things that are right even when people around me don’t understand. It’s speaking up when I see injustices. It’s caring for the physically and spiritually wounded. It is doing hard things that take a lot of effort in order to possibly reap a harvest somewhere down the road. It’s even doing things that are right and good even when we don’t see any kind of reward.
Pleasing God should be my biggest and most wanted reward. A lot of times we do see some kind of reward for our actions of faith, but we don’t always. Not all promises are meant to be fulfilled in the here and now; some will be fulfilled much later, in a grander, more perfect way in the hereafter. Don’t be fooled into the lie that your good deed will go unnoticed forever. It won’t. God loves all our good deeds and will bring something good out of all of them.
Yes, loving God with all my strength means stepping out in faith. It means stepping out of my comfort zone. It means stepping out to help someone. Faith without works isn’t worth much. But faith with works can change a piece of the world for the better.
Like the other concepts, loving God with all my strength is simple to say but not always easy to do. So, I have to remember that I don’t walk any of this out by myself. I have a strength working within me that enables me to keep on going forward. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).
Another way of saying love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength is to seek the Kingdom of God above all else.
- Think and learn about it.
- Seek it and you will find it.
- Seek it and you will love God more and more.
- Seek it and your perspectives will change for the better.
- Seek it daily and you will receive what you need.
- For your Father in heaven loves you.
In reality, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is simply a response. For we love because he first loved us.
Look for the second part of this article; it will be more on what we do with this great love for God. That is what we do "unto others."
I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the LORD. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. Psalm 84:2
Jennifer Heeren loves to write and wants to live in such a way that people are encouraged by her writing and her attitude. She loves to write devotional articles and stories that bring people hope and encouragement. Her cup is always at least half-full, even when circumstances aren’t ideal. She regularly contributes to Crosswalk. Her debut novel is available on Amazon. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. Visit her at her website and/or on Facebook.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/kieferpix