In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees with the question:
“What is the greatest command?”
Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets”.Matthew 22: 34 – 40
As a side note: Jesus wasn’t giving them a new law, these two laws are cited from Deuteronomy 6:5 and would have been known by a Pharisee (especially a Pharisaic lawyer).
What is love then?
Unfortunately for us, the word love gets thrown around flippantly, jading its meaning. For me, I often conjure up images of the word “love” written with a heart where the “o” should be. (If you know me, please never buy me a mug with a bear on that has this.)
When we look at the Merriam-Webster definition for love, many of the emotive and physical qualities of love are listed as definitions, before the quality of love that can be relied upon: Unselfish and benevolent concern for another.
On closer inspection, the last definition boils down to a decision of will where you choose to set another’s concerns above your own.
If I could choose the type of love I would have shown to me, I would prefer the unselfish and benevolent concern type. As an emotionally volatile individual, I know the fluffy feelings fade quite quickly when someone deeply disappoints or hurts me. And I know I’ve been guilty of these and many more offenses towards others.
Unselfish and benevolent concern for another
The question then is, what does love look like? I’ll take the summary from 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 13 as the guideline:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
When I read through these with the understanding that they are a choice of will, I don’t see any emotions getting involved in the process. Especially when this list of qualities are considered in the context of practicing them towards each other.
I often do not feel particularly patient, kind or the desire to be humble, but in those moments, I have to choose the unselfish things.
I must be patient with that individual that is really grinding my gears. I must choose to treat that person who isn’t quite on my level with respect instead of treating them poorly and arrogantly. I must choose to celebrate someone else’s victories and good gifts, instead of criticizing what they’re doing with their money.
I know my feelings will never quite measure up to the requirements of love. Waking up on the wrong side of the bed has derailed my obedience to the greatest command so many times. Just ask anyone who is close to me.
Love yourself a little
Let’s quickly touch on this one. We often think that loving on ourselves is treating ourselves those luxury items we want. There is a time and place where these things do good and they celebrate your worth. But if these things are acquired to establish your worth, they do more harm than good. The latter approach is often how we end up in bad debt.
So how do you show love towards yourself in a healthy way? You shush the mean voices in your head by being patient with yourself when you fail. By being kind and generous to yourself when you are going through a tough time. You hope for the best for yourself, and believe the best of yourself. You endure those times your body throws a spanner in the works with patience, and take care of it.
I think if we could practice love more often towards ourselves, our ability to do so for the world will increase in a way that truly lets our light shine in the darkness.
Allow your mind to be blown
Finally, and I leave the difficult one for last, because this is the one you need to chew on.
The greatest command begins with:
“Love the Lord your God with all your strength, with all your mind and all your soul.”
Remember what preceded this section of the post.
Love is a choice of will, where you chose to show unselfish and benevolent concern for another. Love chooses to be patient, chooses to be kind, chooses to hope for all things good, bare all things and believe all (good) things.
Does God ask of us to show these acts of love towards Him?
Considering that God invites us into a relationship, and not a religion, I’d say:
Indubitably (Undoubtedly, unequivocally or unquestionably).
I’ll leave you with that thought, and a resource from Read Scripture on what on the Jewish understanding of Soul.