Did your parents ever command you to love your spinach at the dinner table?For some kids, it seems hard enough just to get them to eat their vegetables. But for a parent to say, “I command you to enjoy that spinach,” that seems hard to imagine.
And yet God seems to do something similar with the children of Israel. Deut. 6.5 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” Lev. 19:18 adds “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Was God commanding love? Can true love be commanded? If a husband says to his wife, “I command you to love me for the rest of your life, or else . . .” we think something is wrong with him. We know that true love is not forced.
So what was God saying when He commanded love? Was He perhaps expressing a desire to have a relationship that goes beyond the compulsion of a slave or a servant to something best described as free and unforced?
In Exodus 20:19, the people said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Moses’ response was “Do not be afraid, God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 20:20, NIV).
In the Old Testament, God sometimes had to speak very forcefully. On Mount Sinai, for example, God made quite a display of power and grandeur. It was such a strong display that the people said to Moses they were afraid of God. Moses implied that God was just trying to get their attention so they would respect God and listen.
It is true that sometimes God has had to shout to gain His people’s attention, but He doesn’t want to continue shouting. Once the attention is gained, He desires to move us beyond fear to a love that is freely given. This same God later calmly and quietly explained to His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
So what does this mean for our lives today? I believe it means that we strive to know God personally and intimately as we would with our best friend on earth so that when we obey God we do so because we trust Him implicitly, knowing Him well and freely agreeing with Him. I believe it means that we love Him with our full attention because of who He is.
Pastor Paul Carlson