Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Loving God is Keeping His Commandments
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.
And His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3NKJV
Question 102 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?” It gives the answer, “The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God, is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul and with all our strength, and with all our mind.” Last week we looked at how the preface to the Ten Commandments determines the context in which we are to understand them. This week we consider in particular the first “table” of the Ten Commandments.
We have already seen how the Ten Commandments are a summary of all of God’s Law to man. In other words, all of our duty which we as creatures made in God’s own image and likeness owe to God as our Creator, is contained within the Ten Commandments. Therefore, for an act to be defined as sin it must ultimately be seen to be breaking of one of these commandments. Likewise, every good work can only be determined to be “good” insofar as it can be shown to be keeping of one of these commandments. Accordingly, the Law of God, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, is the one and only standard of righteousness and sin, for as noticed previously, the Law of God is nothing more than the revelation of God’s holy character given in the form of precept.
When we consider how the hundreds and even thousands of the specific laws of God can be summarized in just Ten Commandments, we are amazed and we ought to be thankful to God that we can know all of our duty in such a brief list. However, Scripture reveals that there is an even more concise summary of God’s Law that has been given to us. Jesus taught that in the two commands to love God and to love our neighbor are summarized “all the law and the prophets,” (Matt. 22:40). Following Jesus, theologians for the past two thousand years have identified a two-fold division in mankind’s duty as prescribed in the Ten Commandments. The first four explicitly refer to the duty that we owe unto God, whereas the last six speak to our obligations to our fellow man.
This two-fold division of the Ten Commandments can be further attested to by the fact that God gave them to Moses written on two tablets (KJV: “tables”) of stone (Exo. 31:18). Although we cannot know for certain, many theologians believe that the two tablets correspond to these two spheres of duty: one tablet to describe our duty to God and one to set forth our duty to man. Thus, God gave the commandments in such a way that even by their form they serve as an aid to man’s obligation in that they call our attention to our two prescribed areas of obedience.
Today’s question focuses on the first table of the Law, which contains the first four commandments prescribing our duty to God. According to the Catechism, the summary of the commands to have no other gods, to make no graven images, to hallow God’s name, and to keep His Sabbaths is to love God with all of the heart, soul, strength, and mind. Here, the Catechism is simply repeating the answer of Jesus from Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27, when He was asked for God’s greatest commandment. Jesus did not mean to teach that man’s nature is composed of four distinct parts, a point emphasized by the fact that Matthew’s account leaves out the word “strength” (Matt. 22:37). These three or four distinct parts are mentioned by Jesus merely to emphasize that the Commandments require a sincere and total commitment from the entire being of man. We are to totally and completely love God in every possible way throughout our entire lives. Accordingly, the most important thing about Jesus’ answer is not in being able to precisely categorize the origin of each act of love as coming from the heart or mind or whatever, but in identifying all of our duty in terms of love. That is, all of our obedience, which we owe to God, must be done not grudgingly, unwillingly, or by force, but out of our unfeigned love for God. God is pleased, NOT when we want to do what WE love to do, but when we love to do what HE wants us to do. If we love God we will keep His Commandments. In fact, we will keep them precisely because we love them! When we understand that the Commandments show us who God is, we will love them even as we love God. However, the person who does not love the Commandments cannot love God, for they are nothing less than the authorized picture of who God is.