The Call to Love
A mentor of mine recently asked me about the dichotomy between two prominent verses in Holy Scripture. The first, Deuteronomy 6:5,[i] says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The second, Mark 12:30, adds “mind” to this list.
The passage from Mark differs from the one in Deuteronomy most noticeably by the addition of the word “mind.” By saying that God must be loved with the entire mind, Jesus suggests that interpretations of scripture by faith or by logic need not contradict each other. On the contrary, one will arrive at the very same conclusion of the dominion of God through either/both lenses. The mind cannot deny faith simply because it is difficult for the heart to accept.
I believe that Jesus distinguished between “soul” and “mind” here because the first is spiritual and the other is physical. Jesus himself is true God and true man, the only being in the universe to be divine and earthly simultaneously. Similarly, we, humans, are the only beings that are both physical and spiritual. Our bodies die, but our souls endure, making the resurrection possible.
So I think that Jesus added “mind” because he wanted to recognize the dominion of God through any perspective, and he wanted to strengthen the promise of the resurrection.
I was also asked what I thought the various passages meant by “strength.” By the way, this word is also included in Luke 10:27, but not in Matthew 22:37, which are two additional recitations of this same fundamental idea.
Here’s how I interpret the sequence of “heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Each word is a different element of the Christian faith that is necessary for personal salvation and the salvation of others. The heart, of course, handles passion. Without passion, the rest of the faith is futile because believers are simply “lukewarm” (see Revelations 3:16). The soul is the spiritual aspect of our dual nature that endures after physical death, allowing a relationship with God to continue until the resurrection. It follows that the decision to believe must be enduring in order to fulfill the commandment to love the Lord with the soul. The mind is the other aspect of our dual human nature, but it is also the ability to love God “rationally,” as discussed above.
Lastly, strength denotes a form of physical action. One can lie in bed and think about loving God all day, but it doesn’t accomplish anything. Yes, I’m familiar with Ephesians 2:8, which says that it is through the grace of God that we have been saved through faith as a gift from Him, so one might argue that we really could sit around all day if we wanted to. But it’s important to look at the language of this passage: it says we HAVE BEEN saved. It has ALREADY happened, so if something further is to happen (i.e. the salvation of others), then something else must be done. If one reads on to Ephesians 2:10, they see that God has created his children for good works. Not only that, but he has prepared these good works in advance. A similar idea is apparent in 1 John 3:18, which says: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”
The Christian worldview sees love fundamentally as an action, not just an emotion. Christians believe that God’s love brings salvation to those who accept it, which implies a duty to share it outside ourselves – that is, believers are compelled to physically act in order to invite others to accept God’s love. That is what I think the scripture means by strength. It is the ability to act, and if love is fundamentally an action, then to love is an act that requires strength. Christians see two benefits in evangelization: first, others are saved by God; and second, whatever we do for the least of our brothers, we are doing for Christ, as is stated in Matthew 25:40.
So, by using this strength, which is essentially the exercising of spiritual gifts (and 1 Peter 10:40 says believers should use these gifts for the good of others), Christians help others and directly serve the Lord, who gives the ability to serve him in the first place. It’s a powerful cycle of the gift of love, what love does for us, and the resulting desire, ability, and purpose to love others as a consequence. By “others,” of course, I mean both God and our fellow man, which are the two groups that Jesus mentions in Mark 12:30.
Short answer regarding the difference between the Matthew and Deuteronomy verses: Jesus helped humanity take the next step in our understanding of salvation history.
[i] All Scripture references in this post are from the New International Version (NIV) translation.
faith, love, reason, work