In this series, we are going to cover living for God through Christ with all the faculties mentioned in the great commandments which sum up the law: namely, to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. I will refer to these four aspects as faculties, which are intended to communicate an inherent ability or power, something that is simply part of how we live and move and have our being.
How exactly do we connect the idea of loving God with these faculties and living for God through Christ with them? By this, we are not changing the command. Rather, we are considering that, if we are to love God with these faculties, then these faculties ought to be devoted completely to God. Love is measured by what we are willing to give for its object. In this way, love and holiness are related ideas, since holiness is devotion to a person or thing and love is the choice that precipitates holiness. And if something is completely devoted to God, it seems axiomatic that the same thing exists, or lives, for God. In other words, loving God with these faculties must also mean living for him with these faculties. Loving someone or something as living for something or someone are similar ideas. What, then, do these faculties have to do with living for God through Christ, and how do we do it?
Perhaps the first thing to do is to distinguish the different faculties from each other. Scripture gives us 4: the heart, the soul, the mind, and the strength.
The heart in Hebrew may be defined as the inner part, the midst of a person. The heart is the blanket term for a person’s cognition, affection, and volition. The term heart denotes all three in their intertwined and integrated functions. In Greek, the heart may be defined as much the same thing. It denotes the whole internal workings of a person. To love God with all our heart means to devote all our internal machinery to God, that is, how our thinking, affections, and choices all interact with one another.
The soul is the essential life force of a person. The soul is the fundamental being itself, the essence of personhood. We might say the soul is the substance within and from which the heart takes its shape. To love God with all our soul is to include not only what our essential being does but our essential being itself. To love God with our soul is to view our very being, the substance that makes us a self, to God.
Mind is the thinking aspect, the critical thinking capacity, the self-governor, the steering wheel, and the rudder. The mind as cited in Matthew 22:37 refers to our understanding, that is, our sense. Interestingly, the mind is not mentioned in Deuteronomy 6. And the word in Greek which the term "mind" typically translates from Hebrew is the word for heart. This is due to the fact that the term "heart" in Hebrew carries broad connotations. It has a broad semantic range. In effect, for the lawyer in Matthew's gospel to cite the heart and mind while leaving out strength is almost to say the same thing twice. In any case, in taking "mind" as understanding, it would seem that loving God with all our minds would mean devoting our understanding to him as the highest priority of our knowledge as well as the organizing principle of all that we know. All our understanding is for God, in order that we might understand God rightly above all things, with other desires for knowledge subject to this one.
Strength is the force produced and emanating from the soul and channeled through the body as appropriate. The word translated as "strength" in Hebrew in Deuteronomy 6 is a word used almost 300 times, with most instances functioning as an adverb such as "very", "greatly", or "abundantly". The term also functions as a noun, but only in Deuteronomy 6 and 2 Kings 23:25, the latter of which is simply a reference to the former. Other than these two, I can find no other instances in which this term functions as a noun.
What then do we make of this term translated as "strength" or "might"? It would seem to refer to much more than mere physical capacity. Rather, it seems that we should conceive of strength or might in terms of abundance and excess; that is, those capacities, abilities, or resources which we have at our disposal to do with what we will and which are in excess of what we require for subsistence.
In short, when we read the command to love the Lord God with these four faculties, we are being called to love God with all that we are. These four aspects are comprehensive. There is no part of our essence or existence that is excluded.
A Comprehensive Command
This command to love God in this way thus makes a comprehensive demand on our lives. Everything from our essential being to our most ephemeral action is to be dedicated to God as the supreme object of our love.
And what is this love? How do we understand it? I believe love is best measured by what we are willing to give for its object. I may love going to the movies and I may love my wife. Both are true. But what I am willing to give up in order to go to the movie theater is much less than what I am willing to give up for my wife. I may love both, but one is of a far higher order than the other. Compare Romans 5:8: "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (ESV)
So it is with loving God. This command is absolute. God's command is that he be the greatest love, the supreme object above which nothing is placed.
And notice that it is a command! We so often speak and act as though we are not the agent of our loves but are subjected to them. Yet the command itself implies the agency over love rather than subjection to it. And in the next several posts, we will consider what it means to live for God through Christ with each of these four faculties in more detail.