Love in many forms
The immortal bard, William Shakespeare once wrote, “Love is a many splendored thing.” Then in 1960, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant revised that to say, “Love Hurts” and a few years later a Scottish rock had a top five hit screaming about it. More recently, around 1979, Peter Wolf and Seth Justman decided that “Love Stinks” and the J. Geils Band sang about that. And finally, author and cultural critic, Douglas Adams says, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of love: Avoid, if at all possible.”
Human beings have a hard time through the centuries just figuring out how to express, understand, quantify, or relate to this emotion we call love. Within the confines of the biblical record, theologian Tom Oord notes, “From Genesis to Revelation and from the early church through today, the Christian story revolves around love.” But just what does that word, love, mean?
What do we mean by love?
The truth is, we don’t really know what we mean by love. More often than not, love is simply understood as a feeling, a sort of wistful desire to be someone because of physical attraction or similar interests. I don’t think that’s an adequate definition of love because most people use this definition and most people have had a difficult time with romantic relationships because of it.
When we get to the heart of it, love means different things to different people. For example, in many parts of the world, love has more to do with duty, action and attitude in a relationship. In others, love is a passion for life and the continued well-being of those around you. The ancient world also varied widely in their definitions. The Roman culture regarded love as something to be controlled. Passion was a sign of weakness so for a Roman to be considered excessively passionate was to be effeminate or unchecked in your emotions. Aspects of personal conduct such as honor and duty were considered greater and to be strived for. The idea is best summed up by historian Paul Veyne who wrote this about Romans, “Love is slavery, but friendship is freedom and equality.
And yet, the Bible says clearly, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” For the next two weeks, we will try to figure this out.
What does it mean to love God?
Will Rogers said, “A educated man is only educated so long as you are discussing the subject he was educated in.” I don’t know educated I am in this subject but I’m going to give it a stab at defining this word love. Love is defined as the innate desire and expression of emotional, intellectual, and/or physical affection or feeling for another person. We don’t feel all of these things for everyone that we encounter. In fact, in most languages other than English, there are multiple words for love that talk about the varying degrees of feeling. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, love is eros (physical love), phileo (brotherly love or liking something), agape (faithful, selfless love), and xenia (hospitality toward others). So you can have an expression of love for hobbies and things we like (phileo), a love for our friends (phileo, agape, or xenia), and a love for our spouse (all of these).
As the lawyer comes to Jesus in our text, we see the Nazarene having his education tested. The idea, I believe, was to see if Jesus could either caught in a false teaching and thereby be discredited or to get Jesus to say something inflammatory enough to warrant declaring him a threat to Jewish and Roman society. Yet time and again, Jesus finds the holes in their arguments and teaches the teachers something about the things that they had taught.
In this case, Jesus is letting the lawyer define the greatest commandment for himself. The lawyer rightly answers by quoting from Deuteronomy – or the second law. Jesus, being the good teacher, applauds his student and then challenges him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live” or maybe a better translation might be, “Do this and you will be full of life.” So what is it that the lawyer should do to have life or be full of life.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart
When we talk about heart in the ancient world, we are talking about the seat of a person’s emotions. We mean that place in the psychological makeup of someone that is driven by their feelings. When Jesus speaks of this in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart (or your emotional inclinations) will be.” It’s part of a section where Jesus is comparing a desire for the things of the physical world and a desire for the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. If your heart – your emotions – are directed toward the Kingdom, then you have treasures, things of value – that cannot be taken from you, cannot be lost.
When we talk of loving God with all your heart, we mean expressing the innate emotional affection or feeling for God. We mean turning our emotions toward God and feeling a sense of affection and feeling born of our experience with God.
Love the Lord your God with all your being
Being becomes a more interesting way to love God especially when we realize it is speaking of our conscious self or personality. Our being is that part of us that is uniquely us, the part that makes us individuals and distinct from one another. This is the part of us where our moral compass resides, the part that gives us a sense of right and wrong. So by our definition, it would be to express the innate emotional affection or feeling for God with respect to our moral decisions and attitudes. It is allowing God to be the central arbiter for all of our feelings that are related to our morals with the understanding that our morals should be God’s morals especially if we walk as those following Jesus and “adopt the attitude that was in” him according to Philippians 2.
Love the Lord your God with all your strength
What do you do well? Stop and think for a moment about the things that God has given you an ability to do. My father for instance, has the eye of a photographer. He can look at practically anything and tell you whether it has enough light, the right angle, the right depth, and all the other intricacies to make a scene a good photograph. He studied the science behind it for many years but he also has an innate, natural gift for seeing what is there when others can’t.
When we talk about loving God with all of our strength, we are not necessarily talking about a physical strength but our personal strengths, what the Bible would refer to as our spiritual gifting. According to Paul,
“There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
So the definition for loving God with all of your strength in this case might be something like the innate desire of a person to use their natural and innate gifts of the Spirit and abilities as an offering of affection or feeling for God.
Love the Lord your God with all your mind
This one should be obvious, right? The mind is pretty much the mind, that part of our person that is represented by our intellect, our capacity to reason, our ability to think. All true, but not all. The mind in the New Testament understanding of it can also be our disposition, our thought life. It’s just how we think but also what we think about. What we are talking about is all the traffic running through the grey matter. For some this may be considerable and require an intricate system of paths to keep the thoughts from running over one another, kind of like the Los Angeles freeway system. For others of us, this is kind of like a dirt path in the woods. One way in, one way out; no muss, no fuss, no traffic. Either way, the definition of loving God with our mind we could offer would still look something like the innate desire of a person to orient their thought life toward God and the things of God.
One big happy definition
I love a good puzzle and this one has a lot of pieces. Let’s see if we can put them all together into something that makes sense. We are called to love (innately desire and express emotional, intellectual, and/or physical affection or feeling) the Lord our God with all of our heart (the seat of our emotional being), our being (the place of morals and attitudes), our strength (our abilities and gifts of the Spirit), and our mind (our thought life). Quite a mouthful, huh? How about a simplified version – desire and express your affections toward God in every aspect of your life.
Morality? You bet.
Abilities and gifting? Without a doubt.
Thought life? Absolutely.
No stone should be left unturned, no place hidden away and reserved. Everything we are, everything we have, everything we wish to be, is to be made accessible to God and changeable to the discipleship of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Oord, Dr. Thomas. The Nature of Love: A Theology (p. 2). Chalice Press. Kindle Edition.