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What is loving God?

Hear what our Lord Jesus saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.   Matthew 22:37-40 (Book of Common Prayer)

Each Sunday, as I was growing up, week in and week out, our family was at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. Following the opening hymn the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew grabbed my attention. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God….” I knew that I knew that I knew it was important. However, I didn’t know what it meant. Deep down below the words, what does it mean to love God and one’s neighbor?  How do we love with all of our heart? How do we love with our soul? What does it mean to have a loving mind? Eventually I came across the other Gospel’s inclusion of loving with all our strength. So what does that mean?  Can we understand it? If we understand can we do it better, with all we have to offer?

It wasn’t until years later after I had been through seminary, ordination and several years of ministry that I had one of those “ah ha” moments of life. During a two week course in a School of Pastoral care I found a framework that has helped me understand more clearly our heart, soul, mind and strength. One of the lectures we had during those two weeks was on the Jungian theory of Personality Types and the use of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type indicator. A significant part of the Personality Type theory concerns what are known as the four functions. They are Feeling, Intuition, Thinking, and Sensing. As I learned more about these concepts I thought, “Wow! This could be the answer to my lifelong question.”  Could the four functions be a way to understand loving with our Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength? My answer was yes.

Heart (kardia) This word has many nuances of meaning in the Bible.  It indicates the seat of physical, spiritual, and mental life.  It can refer to moral decision making (2  Cor. 9:7) as well as describe emotions, wishes and desires (Rom. 1:24).  Feeling: This word is likewise a relatively complex and broadly defined term.  As with the Biblical understanding of “heart” the feeling function is not just a matter of emotions.  It is in fact a mental function.  Feeling denotes a particular set of things people think about; among them are values and harmony.  There is a one-to-one exact relationship between these two words and related concepts. Modern depth psychology was a long way off when the Gospels were written.  However, there is enough overlap to make a useful comparison to help us love God with the totality of our being.

Soul  (yuch) This word also has a variety of complex meanings in the Bible.  It ranges from the simple idea of life itself (Gen. 9:4) to the idea of the soul which transcends this life (1 Pt. 1:9).  It is the paradoxical inner and transcendent nature of the soul which makes it similar to intuition.  Intuition is connected to remote input of smell and the sixth sense.  It is also oriented towards infinite possibilities in the future.  At the same time it is a mental function that seems to operate from within.  Intuitions are deep inner hunches as opposed to hands-on concrete data.

Mind (dianoia) This word is a bit more focused in its meaning.   The lexicons give three basic Biblical definitions: 1. intelligence (Eph. 4:18) 2. thought  (2 Pt 3:1)  3. imagination (Num 15:39).  The mental function labeled thinking is most like the first two of these definitions.  It is concerned with logical abstract things.  Yet like the use of mind in the Bible, the Thinking function can also have some strong emotions connected to these thoughts. Thinkers may feel passionately about ideas.

Strength  (iscuo) This word is translated variously as strength, power, or might.  It is most often used of God or the power given by God. (Rev. 5:12, 1 Pt. 4:11, Eph. 1:19).  The sensing function is most connected to the actions of the body.  Certainly we need strength and power of will and emotions.  Yet, it is only when we put the will and emotions into action (with strength, power, or might) that the body becomes fully involved.  That involvement is also connected to the sensing function’s preferences for one thing at a time in the here-and-now of the present.

Thus we love God, and our neighbor when we engage the totality of what it means to be a human being. Love is not just a feeling. Love is a decision expressed in the actions of our body from the depths of our souls.

Often our ability to understand is limited by our language. The average person has one word for snow. The avid skier probably has a dozen. When we only have the one word “love” how can we fully understand what it means. There are more words for love and they help us to understand loving God and our neighbor.

Philios is Greek for brotherly love. We know it from the city in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Eros is sensual physical erotic love. Perhaps it seems strange to think of our love for God in an erotic way. However, for some Christians, marriage is a sacrament. The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, uses the symbolism of marriage to describe the relationship between God and his people. Platonic love is the sharing of minds, ideas, thoughts and visions. Agape is the self sacrificing total unconditional love of the soul.

Jesus as the perfect man, and God with us, helps us to understand these four ways of loving.  It is no coincidence that one of our most popular hymns is “What a friend we have in Jesus.” We know him to have had friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. One of the twelve, perhaps John, was known as the “beloved disciple” because of his close relationship with Jesus.

The Bible gives us no reason to believe the current speculation about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdaline. However, it does reveal him to appreciate sensuality. He received the physical attention of women who washed his feet with tears and with oil.

We know Jesus as the “Word” of God. He is the embodiment of the creative ideas of God and his word is truth. In the only story of his childhood we see Jesus in the temple learning from and debating with scholars. The Gospels make it clear that his intellect was vastly superior and more wise than anyone the Scribes and Pharisees sent to trick him with difficult questions and theological traps.

Most importantly his life and his death demonstrate his total devotion to God and his love for us. He sweat bullets of blood in prayer and gave every ounce of his strength to torture and death on the cross.  He urged us all to be ready to take up our crosses and follow his example. Many of the first disciples did just that. Some died in even more painful ways, all for the love of God, for Jesus and His Gospel.

We can also apply the idea of four loves, and four ways of being human, to the four traditional ways in which the church carries out her life. They are called, Koinonia, Liturgia, Kyrigma, and Deaconia. In English we know them as Fellowship, Worship, Proclamation and Service.

We both love God and his people as we participate as members of the church. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We gather together in community to enjoy each other’s company. We are there to celebrate the good times with potlucks and wedding receptions. We are there to lean on one another through difficulties and trials. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” The work of the church is to lift our souls to God in worship. We use our minds, our intellect, to proclaim the Gospel in church and in the world. We give of our time, talent and treasure as we visit those in prison, minister to the sick, feed the hunger and clothe the naked. When respond to human need caused by weather, war, and earthquake, and fire, we carry out the love of Christian service.

Here is the sticky part. Is love that is commanded really love? Perhaps the answer comes in this way. The Bible tells us in the words of 1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Because God has, and does, love us unconditionally he has grounds to command us to do likewise. Moreover the Bible challenges us to love each other as a way to demonstrate our love for God.  1 John continues in verse 4 and 20:  If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

Let us consider the question from a military point of view. A good soldier is trained to follow orders without question. In battle there is no time for a debate about strategy or action. Chain of command and following orders is a must. Yet, when an officer is loved and respected by those in his command there is no thought about following orders. The solider follows out of devotion to his leader and will follow him into the valley of the shadow of death without question. How much more is this true for those who love the Lord?  Jesus says, “I give you a new command, Love one another as I have loved you.”  For those who love him do not dwell on the word “command” we seek with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, to follow and obey.

For a more detailed discussion of Personality Type you could go to http://www.personalitytype.com/.  For detailed analysis of each of the 16 Personality Types and how they relate to ministry see my web site. http://theschmitthouse.net/personalitytype.html.