Or consider the way Jesus talks about the heart worshiping him. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Mark 7:6–7). In other words, external actions—even religious ones directed toward God—are not the essence of worship. They are not the essence of love. What happens in the heart is essential. The external behaviors will be pleasing to God when they flow from a heart that freely treasures God above all things.
Or consider what Jesus says about loving and hating God in Matthew 6:24. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The opposite of loving God is “hating” and “despising.” These are strong emotional words. They imply that the positive counterpart is also a strong emotion. So loving God is a strong inward emotion, not a mere outward action.
Loving Is Treasuring
So I take loving God in the Great Commandment to mean most essentially treasuring God—valuing him, cherishing him, admiring him, desiring him. Therefore, loving him with all our mind means that our mind—our thinking—is not what does the loving but what fuels the loving. Loving God with the mind means our mind does all it can to awaken and express our treasuring God above all things.
If we equate loving God with thinking rightly about God, we jeopardize the very reality of love. If you say that fire and fuel are the same, you may not order the wood. Then the fire goes out. The fire is not the wood. But for the sake of the fire, you exert yourself to provide the wood. And for the sake of love, you exert your mind and provide knowledge.
We cannot love God without knowing God; and the way we know God is by the Spirit-enabled use of our minds. So to “love God with all your mind” means engaging all your powers of thought to know God as fully as possible in order to treasure him for all he is worth.
Where Should We Focus?
And where should our mind focus in order to know God most fully and deeply? We could focus on nature because the heavens are telling the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). We could focus on the human soul for we are made in the image of God. We could focus on the history of Israel because God calls Israel “my glory” (Isa. 46:13). We could focus on the life of Christ because he is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). Or we could come to the event where more of God is revealed than any other event in history, the death of his Son. All the other revelations of God in Christ are like rays of sun breaking through the clouds. But the death of Christ for sinners was like a bolt of lightning.
If we want to spend our minds to the fullest in knowing God to the fullest so that we can love him to the fullest, this is where we will focus. And when our thinking begins to focus on this event, something strange happens. The light of God’s glory that we meet at the cross is so strong and so bright as to make all self-exalting thinking look foolish.
John Piper, “Conclusion: Thinking for the Sake of Joy: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” in Thinking. Loving. Doing.: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind, ed. David Mathis (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 130–131.
I have just completed a series of lessons on the theme of Loving God. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.