We hear much today about the Second Great Commandment – “love your neighbor as yourself” – but in the insistence that this is of supreme importance and with some using this as a weapon against Christians to point out supposed hypocrisy, the First Great Commandment – loving God – seems to get little or no attention.
The Two Great Commandments
When posed with the question: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:36 -39)
Loving our neighbors is a natural outgrowth of keeping the first commandment. Keeping the second without the first can lead to questions about whether the second is actually being kept at all.
How does one love God?
I was going to ask how one shows love to God, but the most important thing is really loving God. The showing of love may or may not involve real intent. This is not very different from focus on the showing love to others, which can be done with different intentions as well. One can be nice and polite and politically correct while still feeling contempt for another.
Loving God by Obedience
Jesus said “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Of the Ten Commandments, the first is:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
Putting anything above God, including ourselves and our desires, violates this commandment. Why is this important? Is it just because God, of course, is greatest of all, so nothing should be given more importance than He who is supreme? Does it have something to do with the fact that Satan’s rebellion consisted of an attempt to put himself above God, to be given all the glory, and that by our putting anything we desire above God, we in effect are following his lead? Does God need us to worship Him, or is it beneficial to us to remember who is in charge?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks clarified the statement following the second commandment forbidding worship of graven images, “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God”:
“The meaning of jealous is revealing. Its Hebrew origin means “possessing sensitive and deep feelings” (Exodus 20:5, footnote b). Thus we offend God when we “serve” other gods—when we have other first priorities.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “No Other Gods” October 2013 General Conference)
Keeping God’s commandments is not selective. We cannot pick and choose which commandments we think are relevant or important or desirable and focus only on them while violating others. The whole act of obedience is an acknowledgment of God’s omniscience – a recognition that His laws and His ways are right and we must conform to all of them. Selective obedience is not really obedience at all – it is putting oneself in the position of God, to choose which commandments we will keep and which we, with our limited understanding, think are not that big of a deal.
Of course, God knows that we will not be able to keep all of his commandments perfectly. We will fail and sin. That is why he provided a Savior for us. The significant commandment to keep in mind then, is the commandment to repent, to forsake sin and turn to God seeking forgiveness. Loving God means repenting and returning to Him again and again.
Loving God by Sacrifice
Loving God requires some sacrifice on our part. Jesus Christ provided the ultimate example of the loving sacrifice. What we are asked to sacrifice is “a broken heart and a contrite spirit”. (see D & C 59:8; 3 Nephi 9:20; Psalms 34:18) This involves a recognition of our relationship to God – that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving and that we are fallen men and women with weaknesses which lead us to do evil. Compared to Him we are “less than the dust of the earth”. (Mosiah 4:2; Helaman 12:7-8) This sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit is really giving up our attempts to put ourselves before God. We give up our will to do his will. We put God first in His rightful place and approach Him in humility recognizing our unworthiness and need for His mercy.
We love God through the sacrifice of our Natural Man. When we can “give away all our sins”(Alma 22:18), and sacrifice our selfish “all about me” pride, we show Him our love. When we approach God in humble repentance, we show gratitude for His gift of forgiveness.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
Wanting to remain a Natural Man and suggesting that this is what God intended for us is in effect denying God and showing contempt for Him. The supreme act of God’s love was the atonement of Jesus Christ. He took upon Himself all of our sins and died to save us from them. To insist then, that because of His love, He approves of sinful behavior is, in effect “trampling under foot” (see 1 Nephi 19:7; 3 Nephi 28:35) and “receiving not the gift”(D & C 88:33). How could one be more unloving than to insist that the one who loved you enough to pay the price for your sins condones your continuing what caused Him pain and suffering?