© 2022 Tanya Goffin / Harvest City Church

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27—see also Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:37)

This scriptural command is taken directly from Deuteronomy 6:5. In Judaism it is called the Shema and even today is still considered by Orthodox Jews to be the most important prayer in Judaism. It would have been very familiar to all Jews in the time of Christ. I have felt challenged by this commandment as we face 2022.

Firstly, it is the premier command in a hierarchy of important commands from God. Everything else—the Ten Commandments; the importance of trust, belief and faith; good deeds towards others; generosity—hangs on this commandment. Without this love, everything else is worthless as far as God is concerned (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). When Jesus challenged Peter after His resurrection, He focused on Peter’s lack of love, not His lack of faith or belief (John 21:15-19) If you love someone enough, trust and obedience happen through relationship and are no longer a problem.

Secondly, it includes the word ‘all’. Do I love God in 100 percent of everything in my life, from the big to the mundane? It’s the latter than often presents the biggest challenges, particularly in relation to prioritising His Word and His church. For example, do I love God enough to meet Him at church and on time? After all, it is Jesus who is the invisible presence behind both worship leader and preacher.

Thirdly, I have lots of things I want from God in 2022, particularly blessings around my family and friends, and good health and strength for myself. These are good and biblical things to pray for! However, the command to love God with everything has no conditions attached to it. It is the only thing He wants from me regardless of my circumstances. Am I going to love Him in the context of seemingly unanswered prayers, overwhelming financial and health difficulties, or bereavement? Especially when I am thinking ‘He is God, why doesn’t He do something because I know He could!’ That big question ‘Why?’ hangs in the air, obscuring everything else.

Looking at real case histories in Luke

Around 50 AD, an elderly Mary heard a knock on her door and received a home visit from a well-respected Gentile physician called Dr Luke. The ‘beloved physician’ (Colossians 4:14) clearly had the attributes of a good doctor—now, as then—a good listener, and thorough and sensitive in his quest to find out the truth. For the first time, Mary gives a thorough account of what happened all those years ago and Luke faithfully recorded her story.

‘Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honourable Theophilus.’ (Luke 1:1-3)

Luke was a medical doctor (the first recorded medical missionary), a faithful companion to the Apostle Paul right to the end, a traveller and a historian—some commentators say the most scrutinised historian in the ancient world. The above verses indicate a follower of Jesus who did not believe in fairy stories or myths. His accounts are set in real time, in turbulent secular history, with real people and events. He also did not believe in ‘blind faith’, but looked for and examined evidence from reliable sources (see also 1 John 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-18). He was not naive or stupid—he knew virgin conceptions were not natural—but did not take the view espoused by many theologians and atheists: ‘miracles are not natural, so cannot happen, so didn’t happen’.

Loving God with all of our minds means that, as Christians, reading and studying the Bible is a priority. The Bible is like a mine of lots of different precious jewels. Some parts (like the Psalms) are easily mined and speak to our hearts and souls in lots of different situations. Other parts (like Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) require deeper mining and more study, but offer rich rewards.

Today, we are inundated with information ‘hits’ (try looking up a medical condition on Dr Google—thousands of pages of information but no wisdom!). It is more important than ever that we really examine the sources of information and watch what goes into our minds. Most of the information we receive via social media is based on someone’s feelings and opinions (however convincing!) and bears very little resemblance to objective truth.

How about Mary?

In human terms, Mary had a life full of ‘negative events’ after she said yes to God. She was not naive or stupid, but asked honest questions to the angel about the virgin conception and then answered with immortal words of total devotion to God: ‘Let it be unto me according to thy word.’

One can imagine the gossip and slander, the people avoiding her when it became apparent she was pregnant and unmarried. It is very likely she was widowed young, and then had to watch as her eldest boy was slandered, rejected and plotted against during His earthly ministry, finally standing at the foot of the cross as her beloved son was slowly tortured to death. But all her questions were answered at the resurrection when she watched her son also become her Saviour and glorious King.

In all our difficulties, the only place to find the peace promised by the prophets of old is at the cross, where Jesus—in love—took our punishment for sin upon Himself so we can be forgiven and reconciled with God. (Ephesians 2:1-13)

The challenge is to avoid the trap that another character in Luke 1 fell into. Zechariah was a good, righteous and religious man who obeyed God, but he let his love for God slip. He was also promised a miracle son but, unlike Mary, responded with scepticism and disbelief. The comforting thing for all of us is that despite Zechariah’s failings, God kept His promise to him—though he was struck deaf and dumb for 9 months until his son, John, was born.
Luke and Mary saw a bigger picture, which is where our ultimate hope lies.

‘We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies… For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-11, 17-18)

By entering into a personal relationship with Jesus through the cross and the forgiveness of our sins, we are ready to face the only enemy that really matters—death—and depart in peace when God calls us to our true home.

Let’s face the challenge of taking hold of our own lives and being thoughtfully and 100 percent surrendered to our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Truth For Life, Alistair Begg
The Gospel According To Luke, Alistair Begg (truthforlife.org)
Advent Mediations (2021), Dr Timothy Keller (gospelinlife.com)