“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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 12:31
The greatest purpose we have is to love God, and this purpose is the freeway that has exit ramps into our relationships, our work, our attitudes, our desires, our goals, etc. And yet, what is essential to loving God.
One expression of love is in worship. Perhaps it is fitting to start here, because this is the one aspect of love that we are unfamiliar with in our interpersonal relationships. Part of loving God is worshipping God. This is best described in the Psalms as an expression of deep admiration and thankfulness at the characteristics of God. Psalm 117 is a great example of this.
1 Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! 2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! –Psalm 117:1-2
We love and appreciate God because of His character. We love God because of the different aspects of God that make Him merciful, gracious, kind, creative, etc. The reason we worship God for these and we don’t worship others for these same characteristics, is because God is the original. There are merciful, gracious, kind, and creative people, but they only have these characteristics in as much as they reflect them based on their designer. We worship God for these characteristics because He is the ultimate source.
An aspect of love that we can probably better understand having an anthropomorphic basis for such is that of desire. If we love someone we have a desire for them. Such desires for someone are a common theme of interpersonal love, and they translate over with such ideas in Psalm 42 which equates the desire for God as a deer panting for water, or the comparison of God to something for which we have an insatiable appetite as does Psalm 34. This desire for God is essentially us saying, I want more of God whether that means a deeper knowledge, more time to focus completely on God, or any of those other things which function to deepen our interaction with God. To desire and pursue a more complete knowledge of God is to desire God.
A third part of loving God is found in our passion for others. Part of loving God is in loving others because they are made in the image of God. The second part of Jesus’ greatest command given in Mark betrays this idea.
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:31-32
We love God by loving people. This is because people are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Being made in the image of God, in a spiritual rather than physical way, means that other people are the most tangible way to express love to and immaterial God. When we love people, we are really showing appreciation for their creator ultimately. In this way we love God through showing love to people around us.
The struggle with these ideas is not in understanding them, rather, it is in the execution. Often times we equate activities with love rather than motivations. These are not acts of love, they are attitudes of love. This is why Jesus, during His earthly ministry, had such a critical view of the religiosity of His day. They did a great deal, but it was in their hearts that they failed to love God. The “how” or the “what” questions are not the most important as we analyze our love for God. The “why” question is the most important. In this we can ask three questions to greater understand our love for God. How do I show my appreciation for who God is? How do I pursue or desire God to gain a more complete knowledge of Him? How do I love the people that God gave me to show me who He is? The last of these questions is probably the most difficult, because people are flawed and broken and don’t reflect God’s image like they were meant to because of sin. The answers to these questions may depend on the person and the situations and opportunities that he or she has. The answers may not be complicated or profound, but the questions themselves are important. In fact, the questions make all the difference. If we are not asking them, if we don’t have an answer for them, if we don’t care enough to think about it, then we are not motivated by loving God at all in what we do. In this case, we have resigned ourselves to having a religion, and we have forgotten Jesus and the very foundation of the gospel. In other words, asking the questions in your life will show you whether you truly love God or if you simply love the idea of the gospel. If we are motivated by love for God, everything in our lives that we do should lead us back to a singular motivation. The important part is to ask the questions that help us discover whether that motivation is because we love God back for the love He shows us in the message of the cross.