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18 January 2015

Mormon Bible Study: The Great Commandment

Probably one of the best known scriptures in the New Testament is found in Matthew:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.
Matthew 22:36-38

These three verses were the focus of the whole lesson in Relief Society last week. It was my first week back in Relief Society after about four years wandering the halls with disruptive children. It was a fantastic first lesson back to class. The "teacher helps" at the end of the lesson had this to say:

"Be sure you don't believe that you are the 'true teacher.' That is a serious mistake. ... Be careful you do not get in the way. The major role of a teacher is to prepare the way such that the people will have a spiritual experience with the Lord."

-Gene R. Cook

The teacher, a very good friend of mine, did a really good job with that, and the Spirit taught me some awesome stuff. First, I had a look at a cross reference to Deuteronomy, and realized that this wasn't just a stroke of brilliance He had on the spot; this was drawing from a passage of scripture that was incredibly well known. It's so well known that in modern Judaism, it's the beginning of a prayer called the Shema, and devout Jews recite it twice daily.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The Lord pointed them to the basic, the fundamental, the ordinary, and said it was the most important. But it was such a common answer. The proverbial "Sunday School Answer." I have noticed that while we sometimes feel like they're trite, the Sunday School Answers are actually profound. And so it was this time. Love God. Love God with everything you have got. That's the crux. In every time, at every place, in every thing, Love God. That's what verse seven is describing. When you're sitting in your house, when you're traveling around, waking and sleeping, these things are supposed to be on your mind. This was so important that they were to wear these verses, written down and tied to their body, reminding them to write the principle in their hearts. And in case that wasn't enough, they should also put them on the gate of the house- the entrance, where they will be always visible, helping them to always remember: Love God. 

The Relief Society lesson put President Benson's explanation for why this is so important that they should go to such lengths to remember it right there at the top of the page, in big letters:

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”

Interestingly, the lesson spends a good chunk of time talking about charity. I spent a few minutes pondering this, because it surprised me, but as I did so, it seemed very right. We don't talk about it much, perhaps because it is so easy to focus on Christ's obvious love for us, but His love of the Father is no less profound. Charity -the pure love of Christ- includes His love of God. His life story is the story of perfect love for and submission to His Father. In this type of charity, as in all else, He set the pattern.

To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all-consuming and all-encompassing. It is no lukewarm endeavor. It is total commitment of our very being--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually--to a love of the Lord. The breadth, depth, and height of this love of God extend into every facet of one’s life. Our desires, be they spiritual or temporal, should be rooted in a love of the Lord. Our thoughts and affections should be centered on the Lord. “Let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord,” said Alma, “yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever” (Alma 37:36).

-Ezra Taft Benson

But how do you do it? How do you get there? The Lord showed us that too.

"In word and in deed Jesus was trying to reveal and make personal to us the true nature of His Father, our Father in Heaven. He did this at least in part because then and now all of us need to know God more fully in order to love Him more deeply and obey Him more completely. As both Old and New Testaments declare, “The first of all the commandments is … thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first [and great] commandment. Little wonder then that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.” “I want you all to know Him,” he said, “and to be familiar with Him. We must have “a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes,” an admiration for “the excellency of [His] character."
-Jeffrey R. Holland, The Grandeur of God

It's the first, the greatest, the most fundamental of the commandments. It is the root of our strength. It should shape every thought, every action, every moment.

Love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 


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