Jesus identifies the greatest commandment as this: to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all of our mind: and the second greatest commandment as this: to love our neighbour as ourselves.
In his book Experiential Worship, Bob Rognlien looks at these ways in which we are to love God – with heart, soul, strength, and mind – in the light of how these terms are understood throughout the Bible.
The term ‘heart’ relates to the human attribute of being volitional creatures: is concerned with what we choose. For us who live in a Western culture, that is not how we tend to view the heart: we tend to view the heart as something that has no choice of its own, but is helpless against being swayed by the power of love. This is so often our excuse when relationships breakdown: “just as I couldn’t help falling in love with you once, I couldn’t help falling in love with someone else now...” But biblically, the heart is the seat of our choice-making – including choosing to be faithful, in all of our relationships.
The term ‘soul’ relates to the human attribute of being emotional creatures: is concerned with what we feel. So we see the Psalmist address himself, “why are you so downcast, O my soul?”
The term ‘strength’ relates to the human attribute of being physical creatures: is concerned with what we do.
The term ‘mind’ relates to the human attribute of being intellectual creatures: is concerned with what we think.
But if we are to express our love for God in each of these different ways, it follows that we must also love ourselves and our neighbours in these ways, too: for the first and second greatest commandments are intimately connected.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus defines ‘self’ as those of our own faith community or culture, and ‘neighbour’ as those who live more-or-less alongside us who have a different view of God.
In the parable, we see how the priest and Levite (worship leader) – who were of the same community as the man left for dead – and the Samaritan – who was from a different community; and, moreover, there was significant tension between their two communities – all make a choice. The priest and Levite choose not to intervene to help – choose not to love ‘self’ with the implication that they could not love ‘neighbour’ either – and the Samaritan chooses to help not only a neighbour but an enemy.
In the parable, we see how the priest and Levite respond to the emotion of pity by suppressing it; whereas the Samaritan allows himself to feel pity.
In the parable, we see that the priest and Levite take the physical action of moving away from the man, passing him on the other side of the road; whereas the Samaritan takes the physical actions of cleaning and dressing his wounds, lifting the man onto his own donkey, and caring for him.
In the parable, we see an absence of loving intellectual engagement from the priest and Levite; whereas the Samaritan comes up with a plan to ensure the man’s ongoing recovery.
So, how might we express love in our neighbourhoods through what we choose, through what we feel, through what we do, and through what we think?
What’s the dirtiest job, the one thing that no-one else is going to do, the thing that people choose to walk by on the other side from, to declare that it isn’t their responsibility? Where I live, I’d say it was the sheer amount of litter and dog-shit on the pavements...Am I willing to choose to love my neighbourhood with a bin-liner and plastic gloves? What about where you live?
When Jesus saw the crowds, milling about with no sense of purpose, he had compassion for them. When we see the crowds, milling about with no sense of purpose – the gang of children and youths vandalising the play-park across from the church, because they have no constructive vision of or hope for a future – society tells us to respond with indignation...Am I willing to express compassion towards those who project an image that says “stay away”?
What might we do, to express love to our neighbourhood? One of the things I do is take funerals. Measured by anything other than the command to love your neighbour as yourself, it is a total waste of my time: funerals are one of those situations where, if I do the job well, you won’t even be aware. But people need someone to take the funeral of their loved ones, and it is a way in which I can love. It is also a situation where I need to choose (heart) to love by what I do (strength); and where what I feel (soul) also has an impact: we are called to love in four different ways, but often they work hand-in-hand.
How might I use my intellect to express love? At different times, Jo and I have both gone into our children’s schools as parent helpers, to work with small groups of children who need additional coaching or to listen to individual children read. Such opportunities vary from school to school. What other opportunities exist in your own context?