Love is the greatest of all God’s commandments. In fact Love is the Heart of the Atonement and the covenant we so earnestly seek. The love of God is the principle upon which the foundations of Heaven and Earth were laid. It is the principle by which all set apart relationships are established and by which all broken relationships may be restored.
The Heart Of the Covenant
In God’s covenant with Israel the Heart of the Covenant is expressed as an instruction and declaration of Love called the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
To this day this declaration is remembered and guarded by Israelites everywhere because similar to our Preamble of the Constitution it expresses the foundation upon which our covenant relationship with God is based.-God (YHVH) is our ONE Elohim (Power, Authority, Lord, Ruler, King, Priesthood head). Like a faithful wife to a husband we are to love our God with singleness. The keeping of his words (Instructions, commandments, etc) are the sign (mark) in our hand and forehead that demonstrate our covenant love for God. It is Love that establishes Israel as a loyal and set apart people.
The Savior Declares the Shema -The Greatest Commandment
"And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment." (Mark 12:28-30)
Today when many people are asked , “What is the greatest commandment?”, the response is usually to “Love God”. This is true, but without the understanding of Love as the Heart of the Covenant we do not understand how to fulfill this Greatest Commandment:
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Moroni Draws Upon the Shema
The Prophet Moroni in his final words pleads with us to remember the Heart of the Covenant to Love God with all our might, mind, and strength:
“And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot." (Moroni 10:31-33)
To deny ourselves of all ungodliness is to embrace a way of life that embodies loving God in all that we think, do, and will. There is no salvation in legalism, but we live our life by God’s law as an expression of Love for Him and the gift of grace he bestows.
Tzedekah – The Pure Love of Christ
To receive and experience the Love of the Covenant is to experience and extend the Pure Love of Christ-Charity.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” (Moroni 7:46-48)
Just as Israel (Jacob) became a son of God through the Love of God even so the Nation of Israel became a covenant nation to God because of this same extension of Love. When we hear the word Charity in American culture it often invokes images of someone giving food or money to someone in need. The word translated as Charity comes from the Hebrew word Tzedekah which means acts of righteousness. In particular the acts of righteousness refer to the fulfillment of the commandments of God. As Moroni so aptly described Tzedekah or acts of righteousness thus:
“And charity (tzedekah) suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45)
Covenant Love -The Ancient Path
Covenant love would lead us to establish and experience set apart relationships with God and with one another. As we live in a world where harmony has been broken it is through the love of God that these potential relationships may be restored. Covenant Relationships and Love are based upon the pillars of the covenant--eternal principles extended again and again as if it were one eternal round from Father Adam, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph in Egypt even down to Joseph Smith. The pillars of the covenant are steadfast, immovable, sure, and do not change. A man may build his house upon this sure foundation and establish true power in the priesthood upon himself and upon his posterity through all generations of time.
Covenant Love begins and ends with God and the establishment of his dominion. It is the kind of love that God uses to confront us, the people he desires to establish covenant with, to identify the areas that hinder us in our relationships with him and one another. In fact Covenant Love seeks to establish a more perfect relationship so that as it is in Heaven even will it so be on Earth. There is a great and often senseless debate among scholars between the rule of law and the rule of love, but in the ancient paths followed by the Fathers they are one and the same:
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:3-11)
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3)