Pastor to Pastor

Equip Them to Love God

There's a reason why it's the first and greatest commandment.

Ministry for Mission: Sent like Jesus (6)

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” Deuteronomy 10.12, 13

“Therefore the first commandment teaches every kind of godliness. For to love God with the whole heart is the cause of every good.”

  - Cyril of Alexandria (375-444), Fragment 251

Knowing God’s will
Pastors are frequently approached by people expressing a desire to know God’s will for their lives. “What is God’s will for me? Should I stay at this job? Try to work out my problems with my wife? Date this guy? Go to seminary? Become an elder?” And so on.

Typically, a pastor will try to help the inquirer map out alternative courses, then think through which would be the best for him. This has the dual benefit of providing some clarity for the one seeking God’s will – clarity, but not specific answers – and of allowing the pastor to think he’s done something worthwhile. And perhaps both of these are true.

But the problem is that this inquirer will be back, and more like him. Because the problem of knowing God’s will crops up again and again, and since the pastor was so much help last time, they’ll just go to him again. And that’s inevitable, I suppose.

But the bigger problem is often that people are trying to answer the question of God’s will for some situation from a mindset and within an orientation to life not conducive to yielding the answer they seek. For very often, such questions about God’s will are really inquiries concerning what might be best for me, that is, what I would consider as best in the situation, which, of course, God would certainly want me to know.

But if people want to know God’s will, they need to examine the life foundation on which an answer to that question is being sought. Unless their entire life is grounded in God’s will, they’ll always have difficulty discerning what He wants for them next. Only if God’s people love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength will they love Him as they should in the face of any immediate concern or opportunity.

Loving God must be the absolute and unchanging foundation for all of life’s decisions. If it is not, every decision, even those putatively desiring to know the will of God, will be about what’s best for me, for loving me, as I might choose, were I wise enough to do so. And any pastor who enables believers to function this way is leading people to hoist their sails into the spirit of the narcissism of the age, and not into the Spirit of righteousness, peace, and joy.

Our most important work as those who are set in the church for the equipping of the saints is to equip them for loving God, and to shepherd them for living that love. And, as Moses explained, loving God is a two-sided coin which is to be spent in three specific directions.

A coin with two sides
According to Moses, loving God does not begin there. Loving God begins in fearing Him. If we do not fear God, we will not love Him. Fearing God is more than reverencing Him, or regarding Him with spiritual awe. These are important, but fearing God is more than that. Jesus said we should fear God because He is able to destroy us, body and soul, and would be justified in so doing (Matt. 10.28). People throughout the Bible who were confronted by some direct manifestation of God fell to their knees, covered their faces, and feared for their lives. The writer of Hebrews says that our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12.29), that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10.31), and that He is able to chasten and discipline in ways we will find decidedly unpleasant (Heb. 12.3-11). Where the fear of God is lacking, we will not love Him, because we will not truly know Him Whom we are commanded to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will only love Him, to the extent we do, for what He can do for us – such as guide us through some life decision – but we will not love Him for Who He is.

Pastors must therefore instruct people in the fear of God by explaining and expounding His immensity, sovereignty, majesty, holiness, justice, indignation, and wrath.

The other side of that coin, of course, is love. When we fear God and walk in His ways, we discover two things. First, we are unable to walk in His ways as He commands. We fail constantly. We rebel often. We consider that we know better than God how we should live, and even when that blows up in our face, we are reluctant to repent and seek the ways of the Lord.

And for this God should judge, condemn, and be utterly through with us. But He is not! This is the miracle of mercy and grace, which we need at all times, and with which our loving heavenly Father surrounds us continuously. Thus, when seeking to walk in His ways we fail often. We rejoice in that what He could do to us, He does not; instead, He is patient, and calls us to know His goodness and to come to repentance (Rom. 2. 4).

And for this, love grows in our hearts toward this patient and loving heavenly Father.

Teach the people of God to fear Him, and they will discover that the God they rightly fear is a God they can wholeheartedly love.

Three directions
Moses combines fear and love of God with three specific actions or directions: walk in all His ways; serve the LORD; and keep the commandments and statutes of God.

Fear of God and love for God, while they begin in the heart, mind, and conscience, are expressed, confirmed, and strengthened in the everyday situations of life. In all our daily walk – as we manage all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities – we want to serve and worship God and keep to the path marked out by His Word. We must thus increase in the knowledge of God’s Word, and pastors must equip the saints with those daily disciplines that will enable them to grow strong in Scripture, pray without ceasing, set their minds on the things that are above, and wait on the Lord. Only by increasing in the Word and these other disciplines can we expect to increase in Jesus, and thus to walk with, serve, and obey God at all times.

So that when questions arise about the will of God, we will operate from a foundation of genuine and increasing love for God, turn to His Word for parameters and counsel, look to the example and agenda of Christ, and draw on the inward power of His Spirit to enable us to walk, serve, and obey according to the demands and opportunities of the situation.

And as we thus walk, serve, and obey, we will manifest the truth of God, express the love of God, display the holiness and justice of God in good works that glorify God and thus fulfill the demands of ministry that we are presented with in the normal course of our everyday lives.

And we will increase daily in the love of God, which is the first and great commandment. Teach the people you serve to fear God, and from there, lead them to love Him with all their soul and strength.

And although we ought to love God far more than men, yet most properly does God, instead of worship or honor, require love from us, because in this way he declares that no other worship is pleasing to Him than what is voluntary; for no man will actually obey God but he who loves Him.

  - John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew 22.37

Personal Mission Field
This is the seventh of several installments of this series on “Ministry for Mission”, in which we are investigating the believer’s calling to a Personal Mission Field. If you’d like a preview of the topics we’ll be considering, watch this brief video.

Resources for Shepherds
Visit our new website and the Resources for Shepherds page especially prepared to provide shepherds with a variety of resources and opportunities for improving their skills. You can even add your own items by clicking the submission form and posting a resource of your own. Or, if you prefer, send your submission to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I’ll post it for you.

Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.