Our love for God begins with and is carried along by esteeming affection toward Him, but it is not complete until it is expressed through loving action. As was shared in Part 1, love is not only a passive noun but an active verb, and the primary action that love engages in is that of giving. When love expresses itself, it does so by giving that which is of value and benefit to the recipient and also that which is of cost and sacrifice to the giver. Both of these aspects together make up the full measure of love expressed. This is true in our human relationships, and it is also true in our relationship with God.
So the questions beg to be asked, “What can I give to God that is genuinely beneficial to Him?”, and also, “What is it that God desires that is costly and sacrificial on my part to give Him?” It seems that there is very little that God needs or is deprived of that I have the power to supply Him with, no matter how much it might cost me, and so the answers to these questions are indeed quite limited. There is one thing, however, that God does truly desire, that He esteems of great value and benefit to Himself, and that I do have the power to give Him. In my giving of that one thing, great cost and sacrifice is also incurred by me because that one thing IS ME…all of me!
When God commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) He not only is calling us to affectionately esteem Him with the totality of our being, but also to sacrificially give the totality of our being to Him as a costly gift of love. This beneficial/sacrificial act of love is the only appropriate response we can give to the unspeakable, esteeming affection and costly love He has given us in giving us the totality of HIMSELF! “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 He has first loved us with all of His heart, all of His soul, all of His mind, and all of His strength, and now we are drawn and compelled to love Him in return with a similar complete and utter giving of ourselves, heart, soul, mind, and strength to Him in loving response.
Furthermore, God’s great, magnanimous acts of love towards us encompass all of His vast workings in the realms of creation, redemption, the Church, and the Kingdom. It is through these immeasurably beneficial acts that He ultimately intends to win our hearts so as to possess all of who we are for Himself. We are His “treasure buried in a field” and “pearl of great price” that He has sold all in order to fully possess. He, in turn, has become our “treasure buried in a field” and “pearl of great price” that we are now compelled to sell all in order to fully possess. Our very life, then, is that most precious thing that is within our power to give to Him that is both of great value and benefit to Him and of great cost and sacrifice to us to give in order to express our love to Him.
The Secret to Loving God
” The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant.” (Psalm 25:14 NKJV)
Admittedly, the Greatest Commandment is quite intimidating by its absolute nature, and we probably consider it to be spiritually and practically beyond our reach. God, however, does not command without also giving the ability to obey what He has commanded. In order to fulfill His commandment, though, we must understand not only His desired end, but also His source and means to bring us to that end. Ultimately, His source and means are bound up with His “covenant” which is “the secret of the Lord” that is made known to “those who fear Him.”
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are under the new covenant which operates much differently than the old covenant. In the old covenant, God gave His law written on stony tablets that the people had to take in with their physical senses and comprehend with their minds. As they sought to obey it, their hope was that somehow the righteousness of God’s law might get down into and be written on their stony hearts that they might not sin against God. If they were successful in this, they would presumably become righteous enough to live under God’s favor and blessing. In the old covenant, everything was from the outside in and from the top down.
In the new covenant, however, God begins by bringing us into His grace and favor at the very beginning by having mercy on us, forgiving our sins, and making us righteous before Him on the basis of faith alone in the Person and work of Christ. He then begins to work by His Spirit from the inside out, beginning with our spirit and moving from there to our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
In this way, the new covenant produces spiritual fruit in our life through the process of organic life and growth. Another way to view this process, then, is as the natural growth of a tree. As a tree grows upwards from a seed by first producing roots, then a stem/trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit, so the work of the Spirit grows upwards from our spirit (“root”) through our heart (“trunk”), our soul (“branches), our mind (“leaves”), and our strength (“fruit”) thus producing in us a “tree of life” that bears its fruit in season.
In the new covenant, therefore, everything is from the inside out and from the bottom up. Only as we cooperate with God in this new covenant way will we find the secret to loving God! If this order is ever significantly reversed (i.e., by embracing an old covenant principle and direction), our lives will not produce the fruit of love that He has rightly commanded, desires, and deserves.
Our Spirit – The Root
When we are “born again”, our human spirit comes into living union with the Holy Spirit. Our spirit is the deepest part of who we are and is that part of us which is made for union and communion with God who is “Spirit.” (John 4:24) It is in our spirit that genuine love for God is rooted and draws its life.
We said in the last post that the foundation and essence of love is esteeming affection. This esteeming affection for God comes from our worship (lit. “worth-ship”) of Him for Who He is and all He does. Jesus taught that the kind of worship the Father seeks is that which is “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It is in our “spirit” that we commune with God in worship and receive from Him revelation knowledge (“truth”) of all that He is and does. Our spirit is the innermost part of who we are, and so this is where God begins. As we regularly give ourselves to worshiping God “in spirit and in truth”, we cultivate esteeming affection for God within our heart. From there this love for God flows outward to affect our soul, mind, and strength.
This new covenant way of loving God not only flows from the inside out, but it also grows from the bottom up. Interestingly, God has made our bodies in such a way as to physically “incarnate” this reality.
Scripture indicates that our spirit is located within our “belly.” For instance, we read in the book of Job that Elihu, the youngest of Job’s counselors, explained to Job where he got his inspiration from. He said, “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” Job 32:8 KJV. Shortly thereafter, he went on to say, “…I will answer also my part, I also will shew mine opinion. For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles” Job 32:17-19 KJV (emphasis added.) We see in this the connection between the “spirit” and the “belly.”
Solomon said in Proverbs 20:27 KJV, “The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” Again we see here the spirit/belly connection.
We also have recorded in the gospel of John: “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) John 7:37-39 KJV
Although this understanding may be new to us, there are a number of reasons why the human spirit may in fact be located by God’s design within the belly.
First of all, our belly is physically in the center (mid-point) of our entire body, even as our spirit is central to our whole life and being.
Secondly, it is the area where the womb is located in the female body. (Both the Hebrew and the Greek words translated “belly” in the King James Version are also translated “womb” in other passages. ) This is where life begins and is initially nurtured. When the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, the life of Jesus was conceived and developed within her womb. Similarly, it is within our spirit that the life of Christ is “conceived” and where He is formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the “new birth” and subsequent spiritual growth.
Thirdly, it is the area where the body receives its nourishment. Initially, in the womb, this is through the umbilical cord which attaches to the unborn child’s belly, and after birth, within the person’s stomach and digestive track. Likewise, our regenerated spirit is where we receive spiritual nourishment as we feed on the Bread of life and drink of the living waters of the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, it is the area where the “enteric nervous system” is located, which is sometimes called our “gut brain.” Our intestines contain some 100 million neurons that function as an independent nervous system that not only control some of the functions of the digestive track, but also process, in communication with the “head brain”, emotions, mood, and intuition. (I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Trust your gut.” or, “What’s your gut telling you?” It’s not just a manner of speaking!) Our spirit, located in this same area, intuitively receives and perceives the emotions, “mood”, and thoughts of God and communicates them to the other sentient parts of our being, namely our gut, heart, soul, and mind.
Taking all of these considerations together, then, it is quite reasonable that our spirit is indeed located within our “belly.” This being so, it is also physically located below the heart and the head, so that the life that flows and grows from the spirit does so in an upward direction.
In relation to the “tree of life” analogy, the spirit represents the “root” of the tree. It is that lowest part which supplies nourishment and nutrients to the rest of the “tree.” It also firmly anchors it in the “soil” (God’s Spirit), giving the tree stability and strength. The rest of the “tree of life” within us grows upwards and outwards from here.
Our Heart – The Trunk
If our spirit is comparable to the root of the tree, our heart is like unto the trunk. The trunk is the main part of the tree that stands between the roots and the branches and supplies the life-giving nourishment to the fullness of the tree. The trunk is also the strength of the tree, and as it is constituted and contoured, so grows the tree.
In his book, The Better Covenant, Watchman Nee said:
“The heart stands between the spirit and the soul. All that enters the spirit must pass through the heart. So also is it true with all that issues from the spirit. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). This means that the heart is the passage of life. In other words, all fruits which man bears outwardly come from the heart. Such is its significance.” (pg. 95)
The heart is the first part of our being mentioned in the Greatest Commandment that we are to love God with. The foundation and essence of the heart’s love for God is the esteeming affection that originates in the spirit’s worship (worth-ship) of God. The completeness of its love for God is in its giving of itself entirely to Him.
The heart is considered to be the seat of the mind, the will, and the emotions. To love God with all of our heart, then, each of these aspects must be given to God in love at the most fundamental heart level.
The mind of the heart – It may seem strange that the heart has a mind, but, indeed it does. Similar to the way that the gut has an independent, yet interconnected, “brain”, so the physical heart does as well. Scientific research has uncovered that the heart has some 40,000 neurons that form the “intrinsic cardiac nervous system”. One of the leading experts in the field of neurocardiology has said, “The heart-brain’s neural circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain to learn, remember, make decisions and even feel and sense.”¹ This merely affirms what the Bible says. Scripture tells us that in our heart we think (Prov. 23:7), meditate (Ps. 19:14), muse (Ps. 39:3) hide God’s word (Ps. 119:11), receive wisdom (Prov.2:10), devise wicked imaginations (Prov. 6:18), plan (Prov. 16:9), get knowledge (Prov. 18:15), entertain evil thoughts (Matt. 9:4), understand (Matt. 13:15), etc… These are all cognitive functions that transpire within the heart as well as the head.
Although the “heart-brain” functions independently of the “head-brain”, yet it communicates powerfully with it and is one of its primary influencers. Science has shown that the communications ascending from the heart to the head (afferent communication) exceed communications descending from the head to the heart (efferent communication) many times over. Furthermore, whenever the heart and the mind are mentioned together in Scripture, the heart is mentioned first, indicating its priority and superiority over the mind. This influence can be clearly seen in Scriptures such as James 4:8 which says, “Purify your hearts you double-minded.” We must, therefore, consecrate our heart’s thought-life to the Lord that our entire thought-life, heart and head, may be acceptable and pleasing to Him.
The will of the heart – “The word of God is…a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV) Not only does the heart have “thoughts”, but also “intents” (desires, purposes, passions, pursuits, etc.) The will of man, though connected with the soul, is rooted within the heart. The will is the most consequential part of our being for it is the control center that directs the entire course of our life. Although the mind may give rational input and the soul emotional influence, the will of the heart is the initial motivator and final arbiter/decision-maker concerning all the vast number of inclinations and choices that are made. More than any other aspect of our heart, God desires our will to be fully given over to Him at this most fundamental level as an act of sacrificial love.
The emotions of the heart – Lastly, our heart is the seat of our emotions. The heart experiences deep positive feelings of joy, hope, love, peace, gratitude, compassion, confidence, etc,… as well as negative emotions of sorrow, disappointment, hate, anxiety, ingratitude, indifference, fear, and the like. These powerful emotions, both positive and negative, greatly influence our entire being, spirit, soul, and body. When our heart is fully given over to the Lord, our deeply felt emotions, and consequentially our entire being, begin to come into alignment with the purity of His Heart.
It cannot be overemphasized how significant the heart is in the spiritual life. It is the “trunk” of the tree through which everything passes from the spirit (“root”) to the soul (“branches”), up to the mind (“leaves”), and out to the strength (“fruit”). It is that part of the “tree” that is the support and strength of all of the upper tree, and as it grows, so grows the tree. This is the first aspect that God requires in the Greatest Commandment to be given fully to Him in order that we may love Him as He has commanded and as He so rightly deserves.
As can be seen thus far, the beneficial/sacrificial action that is the completeness of love toward God is initially and primarily an internal and unseen action. Before God is looking for anything outward, He is seeking and desiring the internal giving of ourselves completely to Him beginning with our spirit in esteeming worship and our heart in loving surrender. This is the way of organic life and how “the tree of life” grows, develops, and bears fruit within us!
We will look in the next post how this new covenant, organic growth in the love of God develops further within our soul, our mind, and our strength.
Series posts: Part 1: “Love”, Part 2: “Hate”, Part 3: “Generational Dynamics”, Mid-series Review/Redux, Part 4: “Building Across the Briar Patch”, Part 5: “Speaking the ‘Love’ in Truth”, Part 6a: “Loving God With All of Our Heart” (Esteeming Affection)
For a fascinating scientific look at the heart-mind connection, you may find this TED talk interesting: