There is a good indication that Jesus quoted the Shema every day of his life.

The Shema, literally meaning “hear” or “listen,” is the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

This passage was the basic confession of faith in Judaism and central in the life of an Israelite from the time of Moses even through today. In Jesus’ day, every Jew would quote the Shema at the beginning of the day and often at its end. This was the passage that the men quoted every week at the start of the service in the synagogue. It was foundational to the life of Israel, and as such, many scholars suggest Jesus likely quoted it daily.

Since many rabbis saw the Shema as the heart of the entire Law (in fact, some modern scholars suggest that the entire book of Deuteronomy is a commentary or explanation of the Shema), it is no wonder Jesus used this as His response when asked what the greatest commandment was:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ [Deuteronomy 6:4–5]. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29–31, ESV).

Loving God with everything

In ancient Hebrew, “heart” (which included the mind) and “soul” overlapped, so rather than being two distinct aspects of a person, they conveyed the idea of the “internal life, dispositions, emotions, and intellect”* (one scholar said we might better understand it today as the whole of our mind and emotions, both conscious and unconscious). “Strength” (or “might”) indicates strength or power, but also energy and ability. Taking the passage as a whole, the emphasis is upon loving God with totality, undivided loyalty, wholehearted and exclusive devotion.

I find it fascinating that Jesus, like He often did when He explained the Old Testament, gave a fuller understanding of the passage. The original in Deuteronomy says, “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Yet, when Jesus quoted the passage, He added in “mind.” Though covered in the Shema with “heart,” for a Greek-influenced world that placed so much emphasis on the mind, it appears Jesus didn’t want His audience to have any excuses; their love and devotion unto God was to be total and all-consuming.

If we quickly look at each aspect of loving God with “all,” we find there is nothing excluded:

  1. Heart: heart, interior, center; the locus of a person’s thoughts (mind), volition, emotions, and knowledge of right from wrong (conscience) understood as the heart
  2. Soul: the immaterial part of a person which is the active or motivating source of an individual life; the site of all the psychological facilities (such as the heart, mind, and conscience)
  3. Mind: understanding, intelligence, mind, disposition, thought; that which is responsible for one’s thoughts and feelings; especially the seat of the faculty of reason
  4. Might: capability, strength, power, might; the possession of qualities required to do something or get something done

As the Bible Knowledge Commentary puts it: “To love the Lord means to choose Him for an intimate relationship and to obey His commands. This command, to love Him, is given often in Deuteronomy (6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20). Loving Him was to be wholehearted (with all your heart) and was to pervade every aspect of an Israelite’s being and life (soul and strength).”**

Loving Jesus isn’t to be a theory we mull around in our minds; rather, it is demonstrated in how we live—it is revealed in action. Does your life truly show that you love Him with ALL?

Loving our neighbors

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Several scholars have pointed out that Jesus’ statement “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39) does not indicate an order of importance; rather, the two statements are equally significant. In other words, Jesus does not tell us to love God and if we have extra energy to love our neighbor; He declares that both are essential to the Christian life.

If you do not love others, then you do not love God, and if you love God with wholehearted and exclusive devotion, love for others will naturally come out of you (see 1 John 3:10–11, 16-18; 4:7–8, 11–12, 16; also John 13:35; 15:17; 17:17–26).

Our love for others should indeed be a byproduct of our love for God—that as we love Him, He fills us with His love and enables us to love those around us—but biblically, the two commands carry equal weights.

As I love others, I demonstrate love to God (see Matthew 25:40), and when I love God, I won’t be able to withhold love from others. They are intricately tied together.

In Luke’s account, the lawyer who questioned Jesus wanted to justify himself and asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

Interestingly this was a question the rabbis often debated. They wanted to fulfill the command in Leviticus 19:18, but with the Roman occupation, Greek philosophy running rampant, and a host of other “exclusions” they tried to justify, many rabbis declared that “neighbor” only referred to fellow Israelites, who were not Roman informers or religious heretics. And even some Pharisees only included fellow Pharisees as “neighbors” to the exclusion of everyone else.

So who is our neighbor?

Jesus previously declared, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43–44).

And to answer the lawyer’s question, Jesus tells a story that reveals more than just whom we are obligated to love.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead (Luke 10:30).

This seventeen-mile journey was not only difficult but extremely dangerous. The steep and narrow road descends 3600 feet from Jerusalem’s hills to the lowest city on earth, Jericho, 846 feet below sea level. Due to its remote location, it was often a place where robbers waited for travelers to pass by, and as such, it was foolish to travel there alone. No one would have been surprised when the man was robbed and left half dead.

And a priest happened to be going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side (Luke 10:31–32).

Since the priest and Levite (a clerical aid at the temple) were coming down the road, it is presumed they finished their duties at the temple and now return to Jericho, a city where many important temple priests and workers lived. Men of such importance would not have walked the seventeen-mile journey; they were likely riding a donkey and had a small group with them for protection. They had everything they needed to help the man lying half-dead on the path.

It is important to note that because the man was stripped and lying naked on the road, there was no way to identify him—neither his social status nor nationality, which were typically identified by speech or clothing.

Yet, both the priest and the Levite saw the man lying in the road and decide to refuse compassion, despite being men who were known for living to the letter of the law. Because the priest and Levite would have been of high social status in Israel and thus admired by the normal crowds, their response was likely understood and justified by those who listened to Jesus’ parable.

When most of us think of the priest and Levite passing by on the “other side,” we think of a large road where they can stay far away and act as if they didn’t see the man lying there. Yet the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is narrow, often no more than a few feet across. There was no way they could have missed seeing the man and likely had to step over him to pass by.

In typical Jewish storytelling, the crowd likely expected to hear that the third character, the hero, was a good Jewish man. Jesus has been descending the order of importance from priest to Levite, so it would have been natural to assume the next character was a good and honorable Jew.

Yet, Jesus turns the tables by choosing a Samaritan.

Jews despised Samaritans. They were the half-Jew half-Gentile people who lived in the middle of Israel and were so hated that Jews would walk an extra three days to go around their land if they needed to go from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south.

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him, and when he saw him, he felt compassion. And he came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and he put him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you” (Luke 10:33–35).

This Samaritan saw the man lying on the road, used oil and wine as a medicinal treatment for the wounds, and likely used his own clothing (his keffiyeh headscarf or linen undergarment) to wrap the wounds. Placing the hurt man on his donkey, the Samaritan walked the rest of the way to an inn and used his own money to pay not just for one night, but scholars tell us that the two denarii paid to the innkeeper would have been enough for twenty-four days, promising to come back and give even more if it was needed.

The lawyer who asked Jesus the original question “who is my neighbor” wanted to know who he was obligated to help, who his neighbor was. But Jesus turns the question upside down. Rather than clarifying who qualifies as a neighbor and who does not, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” (Luke 10:36).

The lawyer responds (notice he was unwilling to use the word “Samaritan”), “The one who showed mercy toward him” (Luke 10:37).

The question Jesus asked the lawyer was not “who is the neighbor you need to help?”—splitting the world into groups of people we are supposed to love or not—the question was “who proved to be a neighbor?” Who acted with love and mercy?

Jesus tore down the dividing wall of hostility and doesn’t have groups of people we are called to love and those we can justifiably hate (see Ephesians 2:11–22). If God is love, and He loved us even while we were yet sinners living in rebellion to Him (see Romans 5:8), then there is not a single person we can withhold love and mercy from.

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:37).

If we are to love our neighbors like we love ourselves … let’s admit that we really do love ourselves—we protect and pamper ourselves, we feed ourselves food we enjoy, and most of our day is caught up in thoughts about ourselves. What if we had the same intensity of love and obsession for those around us?

While we don’t have to agree with someone’s behavior or overlook their sin, we are called to demonstrate God’s love and mercy to the world. We are asked to give of ourselves—our time, money, energy, resources—on behalf of others.

We don’t have to agree with the choices someone makes, the behavior they indulge in, or the sin they commit—but we need God’s heart and love for that person.

Do we have that kind of love for others? Do we have the kind of love that is willing to go to a cross, bleed, suffer, and die for the sake of those around us?

If I love Jesus, I will love others. And the more I love others, the more I find myself knowing and loving Jesus.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and … you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets” (Luke 10:27 and Matthew 22:39–40).

The key defining attribute of a Christian

Jesus told His disciples that the key defining attribute of every believer is their love: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

Jesus went on to say, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. … This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:12, 17). The same love that Jesus has for us is the same intensity and self-sacrificing love we are to have for one another.

Paul picks up this theme when he writes,

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).

He then went on to describe what genuine God-produced love should look like in our lives:

Love is patient, love is kind, is not jealous, does not brag, is not puffed up; it does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered; it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails … (1 Corinthians 13:4–8).

Does that describe your life? Are you patient, kind, never jealous, never boasting, never prideful or puffed up? Do you always seek the good of another? Do you always rejoice in truth and never celebrate the evil deeds of the world?

We, as Christians, are called to a high standard; the chief characteristic that should be demonstrated in our lives is love.

I don’t know about you, but I am lacking. I need to grow in love … which we are told is a FRUIT of the Spirit. Love is not something we can grit our teeth and produce more of, in and of ourselves. It is Spirit-produced through His life within us. I need Jesus, through His indwelling Holy Spirit, to increase and bear the fruit of love in and through my life. I can’t do it apart from Him.

Grow more in love:


* John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Dt 6:5.
** Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 274.

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