Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 12:30 GNB (Good News Bible)
This is the ninth of 20 memory verses that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The “Table of Contents” is available here in the series introductory article.
Immediate & Passage Literary Context
The immediate literary context for Mark 12:30 is Mark 12:28-34, titled The Greatest Commandment:
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Expanding slightly further to the start of Chapter 12, we see that Jesus had been preaching and teaching both the Pharisees and Sadducees. The two groups represented rival schools of thought within Jewish society; Pharisees were a sect that championed piety and purity in upholding the law. Whilst this did set them apart from mainstream Jewish society, their more democratic lifestyle saw them more engaged with the local population unlike the more aristocratic and exclusive lifestyle of the Sadducees. It is worthwhile noting that Chapter 12 showed both groups simultaneously challenging Jesus and testing him. In the passage of 12:13 – 17, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with the question on paying tax to Rome/Caesar, which Jesus swiftly neutralised. Having silenced this group, in verses 18 – 27, Jesus then takes on the theological challenge issued by the Sadducees in their understanding of resurrection, and the status of marriage in heaven. Again, Jesus was able to answer so eloquently they too were stumped.
Unlike these earlier two passages and respective group approaching Jesus and attempting to trick him in their line of questioning, the way the scribe or teacher of the law broaches the question in verse 28 on the most important commandment, there is no hint of malice or trickery. Instead, this question was a genuine one with pure motive.
Wider Literary Context
The Gospel of Mark is believed to have been written first, and before Matthew. However, a traditional view and understanding of Mark’s Gospel was that is provided a summary of Matthew, and was thus ordered second in the order we know the New Testament today. Mark, as the traditional author of the Gospel, was the travelling companion of Peter and founder of the church in Alexandria. However, modern scholars have revised this view to an unknown author who compiled the various stories into the one text.
The Gospel of Mark is considered the first and earliest Gospel, written with internal references to war which date it to 66 – 70 AD. Written in Greek for a gentile audience who would not have understood Jewish culture and customs, Mark’s gospel is widely accepted as having the best preserved account and order of events. This is a foundational point in the Markan priority theory, that Mark came first. When comparing the three synoptic gospels, both Matthew and Luke tend to find alignment and agreement with Mark but not with each other against Mark. Part of the key here is that when Matthew and Luke are harmonised, it is because Mark is too.
Whilst Matthew and Luke offer a more refined reading of the events of Jesus’ ministry, Mark tends to read in a more colloquial style, unrefined and casual. Writing for the gentile audience, Mark places a heavier emphasis on the Son of Man phrase, intricately linking Jesus to Daniel’s prophecy on the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God the Father.
The Gospel of Mark lacks a clearly defined structure, and is simply split into three sections:
- Galilean Ministry / Miracle Stories (Mark 1:1 – 9:50)
- Journey to Jerusalem (Mark 10:1 – 10:52)
- Events in Jerusalem (Mark 11:1 – 16:20)
The ending of Mark is a further interesting topic. The shorter version ended at 16:8. Two endings then deviated from this point – a short version or the extended verses 9 – 20. It is believed these days that the additional 11 verses were added on in the second century instead of leaving the gospel a somewhat anticlimactic dramatic story without resolution.
As a memory verse selected for application for children in a Sunday School/Kids Church environment, Mark 12:30 has core application great for building up a faith. The teaching and principle behind the verse is self-explanatory.
The challenge is to give God our first priority. In stating this task, many people in today’s modern society get caught up on reacting to this by stating that by focusing actively on God in everything, there is not much room for anything else. A common misunderstanding thus develops that if you put God first, family and work are secondary. A better understanding is that God is holistic and His presence and will pervade into all areas of a believers life. God wants us, as shown in Deuteronomy 5:16a, to honour our parents (priority and commitment to family). Thus, by honouring and giving priority to our parents as the honourable obedience in following this commandment, we are pleasing God and living out His will. In this way, to Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and souls is to believe and obey His commandments.
Part of the key to success in living out this memory verse application is to ensure that we live lives of obedience to God in all that we do. Being a good child, partner and member of society is all part of honouring, obeying and ultimately loving God. Since God first loved us unconditionally, the motivation for loving God back, whilst may be incomparable, is still a necessary act on our part given we all have a free spirit and will of our own.