At the core of all things Jesus tells us that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Love at first seems a simple term however; the love that Jesus describes seems to be lost in the translation.
By the English definition love is described as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties or affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.” This kind of love seems tied to an understanding that it is a reactional response to something which is mutually experienced, beneficial or acquired between two individuals. Love is something which is earned through a relational development rather then a characteristic which is always present.
Although often interpreted this way by many unsuspecting believers this is not what Jesus meant when he called us to love God. The love which Jesus asks of us is in the Greek form of ἀγαπάω love which has the deeper meaning of “a God like love that loves regardless of the circumstances, a deliberate love that decides it will keep loving even if it is rebuffed. We are challenged to live out the highest love and to do so with the highest sincerity. Our love is to be genuine, not counterfeit.”
This is a love which seems most difficult to instill in the hearts of many people today. It is as though we do not trust that it has already been created within us. With the wear and tear of a consumeristic, competitive, self driven, and fallen society we have callused the relational sides of our hearts and hidden, even from ourselves, our own identities of ἀγαπάω love and the connection to which it gives us to God. In spite of this, the apostle Paul is still right in saying, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” We may hide from the love which is in our hearts but love is always present. Jesus knew this and calls us to acknowledge, revel, and bring that love to the surface of everything we do.
Mrs. A. E. Janzen describes the story of a college professor by saying, “A college president not long ago made this arresting statement to a class of graduating seniors: “It gets easier and easier for man to dominate his universe … and harder for him to dominate himself.” He went on to say, “It matters little what you learn or express if in the end you cannot find some ways of working things out with your neighbors.” We cannot dominate the universe, but, with God’s help, we can dominate ourselves.”
Similarly, Michael Frost quotes Vaclav Havel, “There is such an enormous gap between our words and deeds. Everyone talks about freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, and peace; but at the same time, everyone, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, serves those ideals only to the extent necessary to defend and serve his own interests, and those of his group and state. Who should break this vicious circle? Responsibility cannot be preached: it can only be borne, and the only possible place to begin is with oneself.”
Both Janzen’s story and Vaclav’s articulation point to the truth that love is not something which we can earn or acquire from God or others but is rather a conscious choice which we are free to express starting solely within ourselves. We are free to express love by choice and are not confined to expressing it through a consumeristic “what do I get out of it” mentality.
Loving God first starts by the words and deeds we begin within ourselves allowing others to see the transformation to which we experience and freeing them to recognizing God’s love within them. It starts by loving God with all of our heart by seeking the incarnation of Christ like character from the inside out and then extending that love outwards to all of our soul by living faith as a holistic expression of who God created us to be.