Reading the Bible, with its many laws, commands, and parables can make it seem difficult to discern what it is God expects from people. Because God knew we would be confused, He included a few verses that help simplify His message to the human race. One of those verses was penned by King Solomon, believed to be the wisest man who ever lived. He recorded his observations about life in the book of Ecclesiastes. After spending the whole book pointing out the futility of a life without God, he concluded this book of wisdom with Ecclesiastes 12:13: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
Solomon writes that mankind's whole duty to God is only two-fold and that the first part is simply to fear God. While the Hebrew word for fear here, yare, does mean "to be afraid" or "to be filled with dread," it can also mean "to reverence, to admire, to be filled with awe or wonder, and to tremble with joy." People should approach God with a respect for Him as the avenger of wrongdoing, in wonder of His character and actions, and ready to tremble with joy as He reveals more of Himself to us. This stance of "fear" is often related to the idea of humility. David, in Psalm 51:16–17, said "For you will not delight in sacrifice … [or] burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." So while God did prescribe sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Mosaic Law, His desire was that those sacrifices come from a humble and repentant heart. God wants people to turn their hearts toward Him, recognizing His greatness and holiness and our lack thereof.
Another time God summarized His desire from people is in Deuteronomy 10:12–13: "What does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" The command to fear God is repeated in this verse, but it is followed by the idea of walking with God. This idea of walking in step in close relationship with God is repeated throughout Scripture. Enoch (Genesis 5:22), Noah (Genesis 6:9), Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 48:15), David (2 Chronicles 6:16), Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:4), Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:3), and Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:2) all walked with God. In the New Testament, Christians are told "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him" (Colossians 2:6). Paul wrote in Romans "we too might walk in newness of life" and "walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 6:4; 8:4). Colossians 1:10 ties this idea of walking with God to "increasing in the knowledge of God." Entering into a relationship with God where we journey alongside Him as we get to know Him better is the goal God sets before us with this metaphor. But the good news is that when we draw near to God in humility simply desiring to walk with Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8; Luke 11:9–13).
Both Solomon's observation in Ecclesiastes 12:13 and God's command to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:12–13 include keeping God's commandments as part of people's responsibility toward God. So which commandments are the most important and how do we keep them? When this question was posed to Jesus, He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37–40). With this response Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, the call to love God first and foremost, as the most important commandment. The best way to "keep His commandments" is simply to love God.
As we approach God humbly and walk in relationship with Him, our love for Him will grow. As our love grows, we'll desire to continue walking with Him and obeying His commands. Jesus presented this idea of obedience inspired by love in John 14:15 when He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Simply loving God will lead us to obey His commands. Paul explains in Philippians 2:13 that "it is God who works in you, both to will [or desire or prefer] and to work for His good pleasure." So there is no need to stir up within ourselves the self-discipline to obey His every command. We simply need to walk with God, loving Him above all else, and He will work within us helping us to both desire and actually do what is right. His Holy Spirit empowers us to love God fully and serve Him from the right motives.
God desires a humble heart that surrenders to walking in a loving relationship with Him as He works within us resulting in a life of obedience to His will.
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