How the Church Loves Godby Rob Swanson on August 11, 2020
Matthew 22.34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I am to love God with all I’ve got.
I do not live up to this. Never have, never will.
This teaching however was not given to increase guilt.
Rather, it is an invitation to partake in life’s fullness and potential.
Love is key. Regarding love there is much to learn, receive, enjoy, and do.
I am to love God with my kardia, psuche, dianoia – heart, soul and mind.
Three part descriptions of humans are found throughout the Scriptures, starting with Moses.
Deuteronomy 6.4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (ubkal kodam - utterly all of you). For Moses, love was a matter of keeping the law, i.e. beyond adoration. Jesus understood that connection (Matthew 22.36, 40).
Mark reflects the language of Deuteronomy:
Mark 12. 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (isxous). 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Luke’s rendition has four parts:
Luke 10.25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (isxui) and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Paul includes the “spirit” (pneuma):
1 Thessalonians 5.23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Humans do not have a well-defined number of components distinct from one another. The revelatory writers were not proposing a comprehensive psychology. Additionally, word meanings shift over the centuries, and in translation - proto-Hebrew to Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek.
Not a problem. I get the point: I am to love God with everything I have.
We are to love God with everything we have. We = church.
“love one another” … It is “A new commandment” (John 13.34)!
“love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2.17).
This is how “We know we have passed from death to life” (1 John 3.14) and know we have “been born of God” (1 John 4.7).
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Luke 6.32.
There are another 20 similar New Testament references closely connecting the presence of God with the presence of his love – agape, love of a divine source, beyond natural capacities. Jesus makes clear there is no separating the love of God, love for God, and love for neighbor.
Agape then entails brotherly love (phileo – 20x) as well.
Both agape and phileo have social components, more than a personal disposition.
Love is a “must” (1 John 4.21). Most commands are for social order and betterment. It is not as though we are to love God as atomic units, independent of one another, and then in our occasional interpersonal encounters.
Love exists relationally and socially.
We all work at practicing love. But how? Together, or individually?
It would be in keeping with western culture to understand love as a personal responsibility / virtue, with personal benefit – a duty fulfilled, like mowing the lawn or retrieving the mail. We all do these, which in a sense makes it “plural.”
From the understanding of western culture love is within, love is an ideal.
I experience it, then I can express it. I, I, I. Me, me, me.
No, no, no. Back to agape:
This love is not a human attribute and is not done on our own.
Love is God’s presence at work in his kingdom, his family.
Love, like God (1 John 4.8, 16), is the fabric of life, of life together.
It is the tie that binds (Fawsett).
Love exists as it is in practiced between us.
So, how can this love be the magnificent dynamic it is in the common church setting:
* Sunday mornings, sitting in rows, following prompts, processing a Bible message and worshipping?
* Mid-week groups, answering stock questions, maybe after watching a dvd?
Good activities to be sure, but not an acceptable description of church; not an acceptable application of loving God in the social context “with all we’ve got.”
Agape sometimes is thought of as God’s incomparable and extreme love.
More often it is expressed in small deeds and interactions. Daily.
Loving God with all we’ve got is not a short-term, infrequent, anaerobic expenditure of energy from which I retreat and recover.
Rather it is aerobic – long term, maintainable, balanced, rational, and in synch with ability, fueled by grace. Not stress free. Expressing and releasing agape does call for work and toil, but in God, who supplies the strength (Philippians 4.13).
This will always be the stuff of life – abundant life (John 10.10).
Loving God with all we’ve got assumes active relationships.
This is why I plan for meetings throughout the week, every week.
Two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4.7). Sometimes twelve are better than two!
From agape based relationships come …
unity, service, extended prayer, prayer diversity, counsel, encouragement, learning, worship, gift identity, gift expression, accountability, correction, kingdom insights, ideas and initiatives.
We want to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, mind, body and spirit.
We want to do this together.
Personal disciplines are required of me, lest I become a drain on the others.
If my soul is well maintained there is a good chance I might become a blessing to those in my orb.
Agape is strong and covers a conflation of ideas, even conflict.
Agape enables the “sharpening (of) one another” (Proverbs 27.17).
Social discourse expects disagreement and rub, followed by learning and the formation of solid friendships. Exposing heresy and unacceptable behaviors inevitably occur. The church accepts this sorry responsibility. But most of the time interaction with gifted members of the body of Christ creates fellowship.
Who would not want to be part of this?
The love of God (1 John 4.7, 11) … conjoined with the Holy Spirit’s fullness(Ephesians 5.18) … in a body being built up to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4.13) by grace through faith. This leads to evangelism at its best!
How does the church love God?
Together, with one another.
With all we’ve got.
Rob Swanson, Centerville, MA – former missionary and pastor, author of The Bible Reader’s Companion.