These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.
The human brain weighs less than 1.5 kilograms, yet it is the most complex structure in the body. The brain encases more than 100 billion cells, and is capable of sending signals to millions of other cells at speeds of more than 350 km/h. Over its lifetime the brain will establish trillions of connections within the body.
Just imagine. We have all that power at our disposal, but we still manage to forget where we put our car keys! The human brain really is an incredible machine. It goes far beyond any man-made computer in terms of its complexity and capability. Your brain serves as the command and control centre of your body. It enables your various organs to function while at the same time it helps you to operate at an intellectual level. In other words, while your brain keeps all the different body parts functioning correctly, you are able to listen and learn, retain facts, reason and think. It really is quite remarkable. The human mind is one of God’s most incredible creations.
I have no idea who decided to work it out, but it’s been estimated that approximately six trillion reactions take place in every cell in our bodies every second. Your heart pumps about 100,000 times a day. You will inhale and exhale about 23,000 times. And countless other things are happening in your body right now that you pay no attention to - digesting, reproducing new cells, purifying toxins, converting stored energy from fat to blood sugar, and repairing damaged cells just to name a few. And all of this is regulated by your brain.
It is hard for us to imagine how complicated even the simplest of mental functions is.
So I find it very interesting that Jesus calls us to love God with all our minds.
This is the season of jingling bells and jangled nerves. The rush and expense of the Christmas season sadly leaves us with little time to do what Mary did - to ponder these things in our hearts.
We can only imagine the turmoil she must have experienced when God stepped in and changed her life so dramatically.
But her reaction which is recorded in Luke 2 is fascinating: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” There has been much speculation as to how old Mary was when all of this happened, but one thing we do know for sure: This was, up until that point at least, the most important day of her life. But yet she just took a deep breath, calmed down, and treasured and pondered all that she’d experienced.
Now let’s move into the hustle and bustle of the hi-tech age of the 21st century. For so many of us, our lives seem to be nothing more than a blur, and we become too preoccupied and busy to even think.
But thinking is a God-ordained activity. Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with all our minds. So today, as we find ourselves on the brink of another festive season, let’s try to get a grip on our perspectives by looking at Jesus’ great commandment in Matthew 22. This same conversation with the Pharisee is recorded on Mark 12 and Luke 10. Each time Jesus refers back to the Old Testament, to Deuteronomy 6 and He quotes the ‘Shema’, a creed which was taught to every Jewish child, and was recited daily.
But there is an interesting change which Jesus makes. In the original Shema, the Jews are called to love the Lord with all their hearts, souls and strength. Jesus adds the word ‘mind.’ There have been many discussions over the years as to why Jesus did this. One suggestion is that maybe this particular Pharisee to whom He was speaking was proud of his mental agility, and he needed to understand that his mind was meant for devotion to God.
The point though, is that we all need to make a conscious choice as to whether we are going to devote our lives to Christ or not.
What, then, does it mean to love God with your mind? Someone has called loving God with our minds ‘the neurology of faith’. I like that description.
Let’s look at three different aspects which might help us to understand just what Jesus meant.
1. Loving God with Our Mind Involves Our Intellect.
The ability to reason is a gift from God, something which undoubtedly sets us apart from the rest of the animal Kingdom. Yes, we do have similar basic instincts to most other creatures, but we are also able to stop and think, to reason and analyse, and make informed decisions.
We are also able to use that gift as an act of worship, just like Mary did. Just after she is given this wonderful news she praises God in Luke 2: we know it as the Magnificat. The Latin for magnificat is ‘my soul magnifies.’ Mary chose to worship.
Psalm 8 is a favourite of many Christians, and it contains these words: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” That is using our minds, our intellect to meditate on His glory and consequently choosing to worship Him.
If God deserves our best - our greatest love, our deepest commitment and our highest service, then that applies no less to our minds.
Of course, as we well know, the human mind is capable of the most wonderful things, but it can also cause the most unspeakable evil and suffering too. It is very easy for us to abuse our minds to create thrones for ourselves, bowing before the altar of ego. That’s why it is so important to allow Scripture be our guide. Simply reading the Bible is only a start. Yes, there are some difficult passages which are hard to understand. Entire books have been written on single verses, but the vast majority of God’s Word is crystal clear. We need to apply our minds and our intellect to Scripture. The Bible is our judge, not the other way around. God calls us to use our intellect to His glory.
2. Loving God with Our Mind Involves Our Attitudes.
This is about how we view things – our attitudes and perspectives about life. Someone once said ‘A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.’ I love the way that the beatitudes in Matthew 5 have sometimes been called ‘the beautiful attitudes.’
So much of what we accomplish in life is determined by our attitudes.
When we come to faith in Christ, we receive a new mind, new thoughts and new attitudes. In fact, the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means ‘a change of mind.’ As Christians, we now think differently about life and we have a new attitude because Christ lives in us.
I can’t name this person because I haven’t asked permission to use this example, but someone I know (a Christian) had a break-in just the other night while he and his wife were asleep in bed. The burglars ransacked every room and every cupboard in the house, but they did not go into the bedroom. When I spoke to him the next day, he was quite understandably angry and upset, but in the same breath he gave thanks that the Lord had protected him and his wife from physical harm.
That is seeing life from a different, Christ-like perspective. That is an attitude of the heart and mind which says ‘It’s no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.’
Our attitudes are reflected in the things we say and do. When we choose with our minds to allow Jesus to mould our thinking and our attitudes, then His likeness will inevitably surface in our words and actions. Of course we’ll still get angry and say and do things we regret – we’re sinners remember, but the Spirit of God will continue to mould us into the people He wants us to be. It is possible for us to love God with all of our minds by our attitudes towards Him, towards others, and towards life itself.
3. Loving God with Our Mind Involves Our Will.
Choosing to love God with our minds means surrendering our wills to His. The best example of this is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” A couple of verses later He prays again, “ My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
Loving God with your mind means placing your will under His control. It’s about submission. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to make any decisions; but it does mean you’ll seek to make decisions that honour God. No decision has greater consequences than how we’ll respond to Jesus’ call on our lives. Surrendering your life to His lordship means accepting His authority over your life. We accept His rule and agree to submit ourselves in obedience to His will.
Loving God with our minds means that we make the choice to submit our intellect, our attitudes and our wills to Him. Forgiveness is a choice, and in many ways we also choose to love. Love is so much more than a feeling or an emotion.
I did a wedding a number of years ago, and the couple wrote their own vows. At a time when emotions and feelings are running high, I was struck by a phrase they included in their vows: ‘I choose to love you.’
How much more are we called to choose to love God? We live in a world where we are bombarded by lies and deception, and it takes a choice, a decision, to rise above that and to say “Lord, you chose me before the creation of the world. You gave your Son for me. So I choose to surrender my life, my heart, my soul and my mind to you.” Hebrews 3:1 says “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”
So much of the spiritual battle is won or lost in the mind, and it’s amazing how many verses of Scripture talk about the importance of the mind.
Romans 12:2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
2 Corinthians 10:5. “Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.”
Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”
And there are many others.
In Matthew 27:22, Pilate asked, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
Jesus Himself asked a question with similar implications in Matthew 16: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
These may well be the most important questions posed in the entire Bible, and they are questions which can only be answered with a conscious, willful decision.