One day a religious scholar asked Jesus which commandment, from His perspective, was the greatest. Jesus answered him, “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 mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30, NIV). Then He threw in a second one: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 31).
If you’ve heard any teaching on these commandments, chances are good you heard them taught on together. Or that the second commandment was emphasized, presented as the way to fulfill the first. That’s not entirely inaccurate. Certainly the two commandments are closely connected, particularly if Jesus found it necessary to include the second in a discussion about the first. Much later, Jesus’ disciple John even wrote in a letter that if anyone claimed to love the unseen God but couldn’t manage to love the person next to them, that person so claiming was a liar (1 John 4:20).
But while can’t truthfully claim to love God if we don’t love our neighbor, is it possible we can’t faithfully love our neighbor if we don’t already love God with everything we have and are? Jesus does distinguish between the two commands. He says the two commands together fulfill “the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40), but not that they are one and the same command. Jesus Himself demonstrably loved people, but all of His words and actions flowed out of His love for and relationship with His Father.
That’s all very well for Jesus. But how do we love a God that we can’t see?
The hypothesis behind the next OSFGroup study (starting on 2 April) is that, if practiced out of a desire to know and love God better, the spiritual disciplines are one way to foster our love for God–heart, soul, mind, and strength. That might be a surprising idea! “Discipline” sounds regimented and dull. It sounds like punishment. It sounds like it could be guilt-inducing. It doesn’t sound at all like the way to foster freely-given and spontaneous love for anybody, least of all a spiritual being Who is in many ways so unlike us.
But, just as practicing a musical instrument ultimately draws a musician into freedom and joy in making music, so spiritual disciplines can also foster freedom and joy in relating to God. Don’t believe it? Join the study and let’s find out together if it’s true or not. Let me know if you want to check it out!