The greatest commandment, said Jesus, is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Luke 10:25-28, Mark 12:28-31; see also Matthew 22:35-40 [minus strength]).
Well, we should love God then — but how exactly is this done?
As we unpack the four means with which we are to love God, it’s interesting that they seem to match up fairly well with the ways in which we show our love for God that immediately come to mind.
Studying and thinking about Scripture, His Word, involves principally the mind. Obeying Him, including bringing others to Him, requires strength. Prayer and worship should be soulful. And we should praise Him from our hearts.
It’s also interesting to consider how the four means match up with the four kinds of prayer. So perhaps: thanksgiving (mind), adoration (heart), supplication (soul), and confession (strength).
To love someone, we must first of all believe that the person exists. Then, to nurture the emotion of love, one must dwell on what is lovable about someone rather than what is not. As I noted elsewhere on this blogsite, “[W]hat if you went through the day reminding yourself to look for reasons to love God, and trying to think well and lovingly of the people who cross your path?”
There’s a circularity here: To love God means (among other things) to obey Him, and obeying Him means (among other things) loving Him. But the sort of “circularity” we have here does not undermine the truth claims; maybe it should be labeled “mutual reinforcement” instead.
And here’s a complication: “Love” refers both to emotion and to behavior. I wonder to what extent the modern tendency is to emphasize the former while the ancients emphasized the latter. For romantic love, especially, we moderns frequently assert that we love someone even when we treat them like dirt. “You always hurt the one you love”; see also Randy Newman’s parody of this nonsense in his song, “Marie.” But when Jesus wanted to explicate the meaning of loving one’s neighbor, He told the story of the Good Samaritan, in which the key is compassionate behavior, with little mention of emotion (only Luke 10:33, which says the Good Samaritan “took pity on” the hapless traveler). See also 1 John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
This is consistent with Jesus saying that both the Golden Rule and the second great commandment are each the core of what is required by the law and the prophets. Consider: The Golden Rule is definitely about behavior, not (just) attitude; and if both the Golden Rule and the second great commandment encapsulate all teachings of the law and the prophets on interpersonal relations, then it follows that the Golden Rule and the second great commandment are close equivalents; and therefore the second commandment, too, must be about behavior, not (just) attitude. If GR=LP and 2C=LP, then GR=2C; and if GR=2C and GR=B, then 2C=B. And if “love” means behavior — not (just) attitude — for the second great commandment, then presumably Jesus must have meant for it to include behavior — not (just) attitude — for the first great commandment as well. See Matthew 7:2 and 22:40; see also Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8-9.
There’s an echo of the faith/works issue here. Just as true faith entails not only belief but action (as is discussed, in particular, in James), so probably true love in this context also involved not only passion but action. One cannot act (consistently) unlovingly and claim to love, any more than one can act (consistently) unfaithfully and claim to have faith.
Finally, the fact that we are told to love God with, inter alia, both heart and mind suggests that that love should include both passion and discipline.
Okay, well, here’s a bottom-line list of how to love God:
- Believe in Him.
- Obey Him and bring others to Him.
- Pray to Him, praising Him and being sure to dwell creatively on His wonders and to thank Him frequently and thoughtfully for all He does for you.
- Read and study the Bible, which advances all of this. The Word is His love letter to us.
ADDENDUM: From Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism (55-56, 2d edition, abridged), re love and obedience:
Supreme obedience was interpreted to be the expression of love. This lesson was underscored most emphatically on the eve of His death. As the disciples gathered around Him in the Upper Room following the paschal meal, Jesus said: “If ye love Me, ye will keep my commandments . . . He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him . . . If a man love Me, he will keep my word; and my father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my words; and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent Me…. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love . . . This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I have told you” (John 14: 15, 21, 23, 24; 15:10, 12).