Loving God: A Brief Biblical Theology

In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith declares that all aspects of life and culture follow certain patterns or “liturgies.” These patterns, these daily habits, end up forming our loves in ways we might not expect. He notes,

If you think of love-shaping practices as “liturgies,” this means you could be worshiping other gods without knowing it. That’s because such cultural liturgies are not just one-off events that you unwittingly do; more significantly, they are formative practices that do something to you, unconsciously but effectively turning your heart to the songs of Babylon rather than the songs of Zion (Ps. 137). Some cultural practices will be effectively training your loves, automating a kind of orientation to the world that seeps into your unconscious ways of being. That’s why you might not love what you think; you might not love what that snowball of thinking on the tip of the iceberg tells you that you love (37).

A close friend of mine who has also read Smith’s book has summed up his thesis this way:

These liturgies are the ways we train ourselves to love. But we need to identify the secular liturgies in our life. And then asking questions about them: what vision of the good life is carried in those liturgies? What story is being told? What does this cultural institution want me to love? Becoming conscious of what we are being formed by is the first step. And then…we want to intentionally re-calibrate our loves by immersing ourselves in liturgies that are indexed to the gospel – to God and to his kingdom.

We don’t always love what we think we love. Our daily lives, our thoughts, and daily patterns often betray what we really love. But if we are to love God above all other loves, if we examine and address false narratives and love only God, what will such a life look like in a practical manner? What do the Scriptures teach us about loving God? When we biblically examine what it means to love God, we see that loving God can placed into three major categories.

The expectation of loving God

The children of God are expected to love God. This is the clear teaching from both the Old and New Testaments. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses, having just reiterated the Law to a new generation of Israelites who had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness, begins by calling Israel to hear a great truth. He commands them,

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! (Deut. 6:4).

Yahweh is God. And he is one! He is unique. And having gotten their attention, he then declares what God expects from them in this command to hear (and obey God):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:5).

This expectation, that we love God with our whole heart, soul, and might, is repeated three times in the gospels when Jesus is asked which commandment was the greatest of all:

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’ (Matt. 22:37).

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’ (Mark 12:30).

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

As we observe in the synoptic gospel accounts, we see four characteristics with which Jesus says we are to love God:

Heart … soul … mind (Matthew)

Heart … soul … mind … strength (Mark)

Heart … soul … mind … strength (Luke)

None of the synoptic accounts exactly follows the teaching from Deuteronomy 6:5 by containing only “heart … soul … might (strength). All three gospel writers contain “heart” and “soul” which reflect the immaterial aspect of man: Matthew substitutes “mind” for “strength” while Mark and Luke include “strength” and also include “mind.”  One note about “might” in Deuteronomy 6:5. The term (מְאֹד) is used some 300 times in the Old Testament and only twice as a noun (2 Kings 23:25). It is used predominately as an adverb with the force of “muchness” or “exceedingly” or “very.” To love God like this, with all of one’s “muchness” means all of one’s strength and includes all of the physical side of man as well.

There is no room in such a short blog post to expound either what each author is doing or the significance of what all these characteristics imply. But we can say that Jesus is calling his followers to love God with their entire being. In other words, “love God with everything you have!”

The evidence of loving God

We are called to love God with our total being, and next we see what that looks like. In Deuteronomy 13 Moses warned Israel to not listen to the words of a false prophet. False prophets serve a purpose even for the believer because they force a challenge: will we listen to Yahweh or to the messages of false prophets?

1      “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,

2      and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’

3      you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 13:1-3).

One evidence that we love God is that we follow his voice over all others. And these false messages are allowed by God to “test” us to determine if we love God above all others. In other words, will we obey God’s commandments or the words of a false prophet? Moses in the very next verse goes on to declare what our life looks like if we love God by rejecting false messages:

You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him (Deut. 13:4).

Jesus himself taught that love for God was tied to obedience to his commandments. He states,

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15).

Similar teaching is found in John’s gospel (14:21, 23; 15:10).

Josiah exemplified what it means to be so devoted to God and his word:

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him (2 Kings 23:25).

There had never been a king before Josiah or after him that who so consciously obeyed God and his word. This is incredible. And he started as a young boy with such a tender heart.

We have seen the expectation of loving God and the evidence of loving God. God calls us to love him and if we do love him, we will obey him. Finally, we see the service of loving God.

The service of loving God

Simply stated, those who love God care for those that God loves. As Jesus was preparing to depart for heaven after his death and resurrection, he challenged Peter by asking him three times if he loved him. Each time Peter said he did and each time Jesus exhorted him to tend to his sheep.

15  So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep (John 21:15-17).

If we love God, we will love those whom God loves.

Summary:

We don’t always love what we think we love. We would all like to think that we love God above all others, yet our daily “liturgies” or habits of life might show a different devotion upon closer examination. As a matter of fact, these habits are helping to produce these various loves. But once we have taken inventory of our life and discovered what we are actually loving, we are called to love God with our total lives, with every fiber of our beings. And when we do, we should see such devotion show up in our obedience to Christ and in the care and love for his people.



Categories: Loving God

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