How do we pass along the faith to the next generation? The Shema, a famous section from the book of Deuteronomy, gives us a threefold pattern of passing the faith onto the next generation, which can be put like this:
Right after reminding Israel of God’s uniqueness (“Hear O Israel…the Lord is one”), Moses now asked them to do something. He asked them to love God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5).
This doing part of discipleship is central to the whole book of Deuteronomy, a book concerned with the renewing of the covenant with God. This renewal demands obedience which would be possible only as a response of love to the God who had brought them out of Egypt. Moses’ point was simple. Since God so loved Israel, he expected love in return.
This command to love God can be hard to understand. How can love be commanded?
It is important to try to understand the command the same way Moses’ audience would have heard it. Love in this context was not just an emotion. It was an action, a verb, a doing. This love required personal devotion, a total commitment, and an absolute loyalty.
The oneness of God was to be matched by the oneness of our devotion to Him.
As you can see, this step in discipleship moves decisively from information to formation: The command to love was not primarily meant to inform the Israelites, but to form them spiritually. Love forms us, just as hate deforms us. Their love for God would keep their hearts healthy, their souls refreshed, and their strength intact. Thus, every time other gods would flirt with her, Israel would be able to prioritize her devotion to God.
This relationship of faithful love would inoculate her from apostasy and idolatry.
Today as we stand on the borders of the heavenly land He has promised us, God wants us to love Him with full devotion. But just like Israel, we are so broken and fallen and divided. Often, we either do not have love or do not know how to love. The answer to this problem is simple. We cannot give something which we do not have, and love is God given.
I like to tell a story about a mother’s love which reminds me of God’s love.
Once upon a time, a woman and her young son were walking down the street. They were fully enjoying the crisp of warm weather and were just having a great time. They were so much caught up in their conversations that they simply ignored the fact that only a few footsteps away there was a sewer wide open without a lid in the middle of the road. As they continued walking and the kid took another step, he fell into that sewer.
Now I want you to imagine all the gross, disgusting and disturbing stuff in that sewer. Imagine it is deep, dark, and poisonous. The mother stood at the opening, helpless and crying, pleading for help, trying in every way to help her son. Her cry brought many people to the scene.
Finally, after a few hours, the kid was finally rescued. Alive but full of filth! People around found him gross and smelly. But his mother did not. Do you know what she did the moment she saw him? She ran to her son, hugged, and kissed him, ignoring what the people around her thought or felt. That’s a true mother’s love.
The Scripture says,
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
The gospel gives us the capacity to see and witness God’s love. We have all fallen into the sewer at least once in our lives, but our holy, loving God came to our rescue. He stepped into that sewer for us and got dirty to rescue us. And in John 3:16 we see how daring, inconceivable, and invincible God’s love is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16, emphasis added).
In return, we shouldn’t be afraid to love God from all our heart, soul, and strength.
Yes, loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength is a lot to ask. It means loving with all our being, our wholeness, our everything. Loving God becomes our priority, our duty, our passion. This love which we need to bring together from every area of our lives requires an utmost effort. Indeed, this devotion leads to sacrifice. Sacrifice of our time, energy, money, comforts, or the gods in our lives.
Yet as all-encompassing as it is, loving God is not meant to be a chore. Rather, it is designed to be a genuine relationship of the heart. As Moses explains immediately after describing how we love God, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts” (Deut. 6:6).
As a disciple of Jesus, is this command to love God on your heart?
I believe as disciples of Jesus, we can cultivate this command in our hearts, because the more we learn about God, the more we invite Him to be part of our everyday moments. The more involved He is in our lives, the more we will see His uniqueness. The more we see his uniqueness, the more we will love Him. The more we love him, the more we will want to do for Him. And the more we do for him, the more we will enjoy Him, and the cycle goes on…
And if loving God is not on your heart today, then what is on your heart?
Let’s review. Passing along the faith as described by the Shema starts with hearing and moves onto doing. The third step, the subject of the final article in this series, is repeating.
If loving God is not on your heart, then what is on your heart?