Dear Lovers of God,
Welcome Back to Love
I awoke out of a sound sleep at 4:00 AM on January 1, 2022 saying, “Welcome back to love.” Having meditated on the topic for this month’s newsletter, I knew that I must write on LOVE. But, “Welcome back?” The Lord began to unpack that thought, taking me back to 1973 when the Spirit of God was wooing me to my Messiah through a music album (vinyl) by a group called “Love Song.” One of the songs on the album was “Welcome Back.” “Welcome back to the things you once believed in… welcome back to the love that is in your heart…”
There is a real sense in which we all have to return to a simpler love, a childlike love, an uncomplicated, trusting love. The writers for the Hallmark Channel have tapped into this in the secular arena. The same theme runs throughout almost every movie: The main character returns “home” (e.g., for the holidays) to a simpler life (e.g., their childhood home in the country) and finds a longlost love that had been displaced by a love of the world (e.g., big city, fame, and fortune). True love is rediscovered, and all live happily ever after. The theme of the Hallmark Channel this month is “Loveuary.” I confess to watching a number of Hallmark movies. I like the feel-good endings. But the love that is broadcast in every episode pales in comparison to a far greater love: the love of God.
What about Messianic believers? Is there a love that we need to return to? Real, true love? I am drawn this month, as I have been in the past, to the word SIMPLICITY. Consider 2 Cor. 11:3 in which the Apostle Paul (Rabbi Saul) is writing to those whom he had “betrothed to one husband,” the Messiah: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Messiah.” The word “simplicity” is translated “a sincere and pure devotion and purity to the Messiah” in the Tree of Life Version, and “your single-hearted devotion and pure love for Messiah” in the Passion Translation.
Simple. Pure. Devotion. Have we left our first love? (Rev. 2:4). Do we need to repent and return? (Rev. 2:5). Is there a sense in which we need to return to the “old paths” (see Jeremiah 6:16)? Are we like the prodigal son who needs to return to the embrace of the Father? I am convinced that more love awaits us. It all begins with a decision on our part, an act of the will. Let’s declare: “I will put on my spiritual running shoes and run into my Father’s arms. I will pursue love. I will turn from other loves—the love of money, the love of prestige, the love of material things, and pleasures of the flesh—to the Greater Love, the love of God.” The Word of God makes it very clear, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
The First or Great Commandment is just that—a command—to love God! Charles Spurgeon, one of the most famous preachers of all time (1834-1892), called the First Commandment “the king of commandments.” Why? Because every other commandment can be found in this great one. Our Messiah, who re-emphasized the greatness of the commandment, grew up reciting it in its original Hebrew: V’ahavta et Adonai Eloheicha b’chol l’vav’cha uv’chol nafsh’cha uv’chol m’odecha. Pronounced: V-ah-HAV-ta et Ah-doe-NAI Elo-HEI-kha b’KHOL l’VAV’kha uv’KHOL NAF-sh’kha uv’KHOL m-oh-DEH-kha.
In English: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” This verse from Deuteronomy 6:5 is called the “V’Ahavta” because of the first words “You shall love.” It is actually part of the shema, the great confession or declaration of faith of Judaism, that consists of three biblical passages: Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. Traditionally, the Shema is recited twice per day, in the morning and in the evening (in observance of Deut. 6:7 that includes “…when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Can we remind ourselves to love God twice a day?
What about love being commanded? This is possible because true, biblical, love is a decision, an act of the will. More than an emotion. An article by Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue, poses the question: “How is it possible to order someone to have an emotion?” Their answer: “The commandment to love God is not just an order to feel a particular emotion. Rather, it is a commandment about the attitude you have when you do things that draw you closer to God. Loving God and deepening your love for God is a choice you make every day through your actions.” Love and action are inseparable in the Jewish mind. Yeshua echoed this when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). And again, “…if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:23). This last promise is a powerful one, especially for those of us who are going through trials (cancer, in my case). Keep loving God. In fact, love Him as never before. Trust Him when He promises to never leave you nor forsake you. Let your light shine among men, in spite of your circumstances. Share your faith with others. God will come to you. The Father, the Messiah, and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will make your home their home! Love can live in your house. The love of God is more powerful than any disease, any dilemma, any obstacle, or any impossible situation.
Those of us who have found the One our soul loves (Song of Solomon 3:3) can say along with the psalmist of Psalm 43:4, “…to God my exceeding joy (Gili in Hebrew).” We don’t need to see Him physically to love Him. “Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
ALL Your Heart, ALL Your Soul, ALL Your Might
ALL is mentioned every time. God wants it all—ALL our love, all our devotion, our whole heart. I’ll never forget the day, over forty years ago, when I first began studying the Song of Songs, and the Lord spoke to me about my role in ministry. He clearly said to my heart: “I don’t want to be your Employer.” He wanted a love relationship with me, not a “working relationship.” The ministry is not a “job,” it is a calling. A love service. Neil felt this way also. In his later years, he insisted on taking less and less compensation from Jewish Jewels. It was hard for him to receive a salary for loving God. Love—and obedience—have kept us on the airways since 1980. Serving the Lord is a privilege. Loving Him is an honor and a joy.
Yeshua, the Messiah, gave His ALL when He left His home in Glory to be born as a man, suffer along with us, and die a cruel death for our sin. He gave ALL His love for our sake. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Yeshua knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). Yeshua is our model. We need to follow Him by giving our all. An excellent book about loving Yeshua is My All for Him by Basilea Shlink. Uplifiting and challenging.
Loving God with ALL (kol in Hebrew) our being is loving God supremely. As the psalmist David sang, “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Ps. 103:1). The V’Ahavta implies that we are to love God more than father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife. God is to be first in our heart. That is His desire. That is what He seeks. I like the following comments by Charles Spurgeon: “God doesn’t ask for our admiration, but our affection.” “The happiest of creatures are those that are the most holy, and that unreservedly love God.”
Heart, Soul and Might
In Hebrew, the heart (lev or levav) is the center of human thought and spiritual life. Lois Tverberg explains in her book, Listening to the Language of the Bible, that we tend to think that the heart refers mainly to our emotions, but in Hebrew it refers to one’s mind and thoughts as well. That explains why the Great Commandment in the Tanach mentions loving God with our heart, soul, and might (strength) while in the New Testament the Greek translators included the “mind” as well. The Torah says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). In the New Covenant, “Yeshua answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment“‘” (Mark 12:29-30).
Lois Tverberg continues explaining the Hebrew mindset: “Because the Hebrew uses physical things to express abstract concepts, the heart became a metaphor of the mind and all mental and emotional activity. This helps us understand verses such as Deuteronomy 6:6, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” (be a part of all your thoughts). To love the Lord with all our heart is to use all our thoughts and mental abilities as well as our emotions to love Him.
What about “soul”? What does it mean to love God with all our soul? The Hebrew word for soul is nefesh (NEH-fesh). It means “life” as well as “soul.” In other words, we are to love God every moment of our lives. It even includes the idea that we should love God even to the point of sacrificing our lives for Him. It is certainly not enough to love God one day a week, whether it is Saturday or Sunday. Yeshua is our Yedid Nefesh (YEH-deed NEH-fesh), Lover of our Soul. He loved to the point of sacrificing His life for us. God loved the world (every soul) so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son for our salvation. Because we have been forgiven much, we can love much. (See Luke 7:47.) May we, by the grace of God, love Him with all our life. He is our life (Deut. 30:20a).
To love God with all our might or strength, meod (may-ODE), means to love Him with all we’ve got—to love Him exceedingly well. It has been said that meod accents the superlative degree of total commitment to the Lord. Faithfulness is implied here as well. Is ours a faithful love? A love that goes the distance? Rabbi Donin in To Be a Jew points out Israel’s relationship with God as described in terms of an eternal marriage between lovers (Hosea 2:19-20), in which Israel will know, yadah (ya-DAH) the Lord. God wants Israel (Yeshua wants us) to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of our Beloved (Rom. 12:1, Phil. 2). True love involves giving. Where selfishness predominates, love is not love with meod. Ahavat nefesh (ah-ha-VAHT NEH-fesh), sacrificial love, is lacking.
The second great commandment is: V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha, (v’ah-HAV-ta l’RAY-akha kaMO-kha). “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Mark 12:31). When the Messiah Yeshua exhorted His followers to love their neighbor, He was quoting from the Hebrew Bible: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18).
When a lawyer asked the Messiah to name the greatest commandment in the law, He quoted the V’Ahavta. Then Yeshua said, “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:38-40).
Why is loving one’s neighbor like loving God? Neil always saw them as two sides of an equation with an equal sign between them. Loving God=Loving One’s Neighbor. The second commandment lies within the folds of the first. It has been called the “Golden Rule,” and also the “Royal Law” in the New Covenant Scriptures (James 2:8). We read in the Book of 1 John about the relationship between loving God and loving our neighbor: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).
While most of us find it much easier to love God than to love others, we are not exempt from Commandment #2. Our love of people demonstrates our love of God. The great Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Yeshua, was once asked to teach the whole Torah while the questioner stood on one leg. He responded: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Love of one’s neighbor has both a positive and a negative aspect. We are to do to others as we would wish them to do to us. Conversely, we must not do to others what we do not wish them to do to us.
There is a Hebrew concept called gemilut hasadim (geh-me-LOOT kha-sah-DEEM) that encompasses acts of kindness done for others in a spirit of love and compassion. Attending a funeral is considered an act of pure love, for example, because it is the only mitzvah where the recipient can never be reciprocated. Peacemaking also falls in this category. Yeshua raised the standard of gemilut hasadim since He greatly expanded the definition of “neighbor.” His Jewish contemporaries applied the term “neighbor” to those within the Jewish community and those people who behaved decently toward society. The anti-social, criminally minded, cruel, dishonest, etc. were excluded from their concept of “neighbor.” The Messiah’s Parable of the Good Samaritan must have shocked His Jewish audience. (See Luke 10.) Despised Samaritans could be “neighbors.”
Yeshua also elevated “Love your neighbor as yourself” to “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). The Messiah’s love for us is far greater than our self love. His love is pure, unconditional, selfless, and unending. Ours is not. To love another as Yeshua loves us is a high calling indeed. Love is the fulfilling of the law. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). While all people should be regarded as “neighbors” and treated with love, our fellow believers in the Body of Messiah should especially be recipients of our love. We are exhorted in 1 Peter 1:22 to do this: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” God can give us that sincere love. I am always challenged by a universally accepted doctrine among traditional Jews: “All Jews are responsible for one another.” Shouldn’t we as believers in Yeshua adopt this same position?
The Source of Love
If God commands something, it must be possible to obey that command. This includes loving Him and loving our neighbor. But we can’t give what we do not have. The key is to receive first. Then we have something to give. The Bible makes it clear that “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). As we receive love from God, we have love to give Him—and others—in return. He is the source of love because God is Love (1 Jn. 4:8). Because He is loving, we can be loving.
Let’s Pray: “Abba, thank You for Your amazing, unconditional, sacrificial love for us. I need more of Your kind of love so that I can love You in a deeper, more intimate way and love those around me with true compassion and unselfishness. Please help me to walk in love, in all circumstances. Increase my capacity to receive love from You. I open my heart to allow the Ruach HaKodesh to shed Your love throughout my heart, keeping it soft toward You and others. Help me to love Yeshua’s Body, His Bride, knowing that if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us” (1 Jn. 4:12).
In Yeshua’s Name—Amen! Loving God and loving you,