We’ve all heard the saying: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I heard it again recently, and wondered, does the Christian faith have a ‘main thing’? Something that could be considered the heart message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Certainly, John 3:16 comes to mind. In one succinct statement, God’s invitation to an everlasting relationship with Him is trumpeted to all mankind. What about our response?
Jesus proclaimed the key to our relationship with God in Matthew 22:37, when he answered the Pharisees’ question about what is the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (quoting the Hebrew Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:5). In Luke 10:27, a fourth element is added – to love God with all your strength.
It’s easy to get caught up in a lot of peripheral stuff that clouds this basic message. But according to Jesus, THE most important aim in life, THE critical goal, THE main thing, is to love God utterly and completely. To love the totality of who God is (eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit), with the totality of our whole being, is what the First and Greatest Commandment is all about.
It has been said the Bible is God’s love story. His love for the world (John 3:16) is unfathomable, but the First and Greatest Commandment, as defined above, broadens and deepens my understanding of how much God loves me, and the kind of love He longs to receive in return. What does it mean to love God with all my heart? The heart (not necessarily the muscle beating in my chest) has been considered since ancient times to be the seat of one’s inner being. The Bible talks about people with wicked hearts, deceitful hearts, loving hearts and grateful hearts. Hard hearts, soft hearts, cold hearts, open hearts, closed hearts. These ‘heart conditions’ seem to be markers by which God casts judgment about a person’s character. The heart seems also to be the place where love takes root and grows…or withers and dies.
At age 52, I feel like I am beginning to understand human love pretty well. I love my husband, my children, my extended family, my country, my friends, my church, my pets, even some strangers. I sometimes sign cards: “Love, with all my heart.” I know what this kind of love feels like and how I tend to behave when I love in this way. And I know God feels this way about me…do I feel the same about Him? Do I love Him with the same depth and intensity, determination, perseverance, and longevity as I love the people and things I hold dear?
What does it mean to love God with all my soul? The Hebrew word for soul means life, or a breathing creature. Not the bodily functions that make up a living organism, such as respiration, but those elements that make a person unique. The Greek equivalent is psyche, the emotions and intellect and will that make up a person. If there were an organ in our bodies that housed these aspects of our selves, it would be called the soul. To love God with all our souls, then, is to acknowledge that our makeup is more than just physiological, and to intentionally nurture the connectedness between our emotions, intellects and wills, and the Creator who made us and understands us best. (If you don’t believe that you, as a unique and marvelous individual, were created by an Almighty God, think about whether a watch, with all of its intricacies, could result from tossing all of the tiny jewels, gears, wheels, balance, casing, screws, etc., on a workbench, and waiting for it all to magically come together. You, of course, are much more complex than a watch!)
Loving God with all my mind is perhaps the easiest to grasp, yet an area that I often resist because it takes time and effort. I have a friend who is a retired chemistry teacher. She loved chemistry, but most of her students did not…the class was merely a requirement. For those who were struggling due to lack of interest, she would challenge them, for one week, to ACT as if they loved chemistry. What do you do when you love a subject? Using your mind and other faculties, you learn as much as you can about the subject. You read about it, think deeply about it, learn the various aspects of it, practice it, you might even write about it. Without knowing it, my friend was putting into practice an ages-old axiom: You are what you think (as well as what you eat). By the end of the week, she hoped her students would come to love chemistry. The same is true about loving God with all your mind. Spend time getting to know Him, and you will fall in love with Him.
Loving God with our hearts, souls and minds requires all of the strength we can muster. Mental strength, emotional strength, spiritual strength, even physical stamina. Jesus once said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). We all have a treasure trove of resources, even if we are not wealthy. What we do with our talent and time (and our money) is telling of what we care most about…what we love. Do we expend our strength in loving God? Are we keeping the First and Greatest Commandment?