The Great Commandment: Heart and Mind

My favorite Frank and Ernest cartoon displays one frame. A newly hatched chick stands with egg shells at his feet and with a small piece as a cap on his head: “Wow! Paradigm shift!”

Paradigm shifts can be hard to come by, especially when it comes to the “heart” of the Bible.

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart…” (Deut. 6).

In our culture, we refuse to understand the “heart” of the Bible. An old television commercial, featuring a famous NBA player, focused on a hand pointing at his head and a voice saying, “You’ve got it up here but you’ve got to get it in your heart.”

What we Westerners divide apart, the Semitic mind of the Bible holds together, so that the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states,“‘heart’ became the richest term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature.”

That totality includes not only the emotions, upon which we so fondly dwell, but also the mind and the will. What we spend our time thinking about, what we dream of, what we deliberate over, what we choose to do, what we desire—these are all seated in the biblical “heart.”

Thus, when we come to the New Testament (NT), where the common Language of the Empire was koine Greek, all quotations of the Great Commandment include the word “mind” (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29; Luke 10: 27). It is not that something new was added, but that the word “mind” was needed so everyone could understand the all-encompassing scope of the commandment to love God. “A striking feature of the NT is the essential closeness of kardia (heart) to the concept nous, mind…

“The meaning of heart as the inner life, the centre of the personality and as the place in which God reveals himself to men is even more clearly expressed in the NT . . .

“The heart of man, however, is the place not only where God arouses and creates faith. Here faith proves its reality in obedience and patience (Rom. 6:17; 2 Thess. 3:5).”*

[That obedience shows itself in loving God with all our mind.]

*The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. “heart”

–From Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies


‘The Love Chapter’

Sad to say, most Christians read a great passage like “The Love Chapter” as if it stands alone, oblivious to the fact that Paul wrote a letter not chapters. First Corinthians, like the rest of the New Testament, stood without chapter divisions for over a millennium….


To divorce the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians from the rest of

the letter is to do violence to God’s word. This clouds our

understanding because it betrays the context. Regarding rules for

study, Haddon Robinson on Radio Bible Class is fond of quoting one of

his seminary colleagues: “Context is king.”


So, let us look at the context of love in First Corinthians.

Paul describes some of the qualities of love in verse four of

chapter thirteen: long-suffering, kind, absence of envy and

of parading itself, not puffed up. Being puffed up described

the Corinthians themselves (5:4). This attitude allowed them

to overlook sexual immorality in their midst. Paul tells them

that not only are they proud, but they have not “mourned”

(5:2) over this sin. And in chapter 8, he rebuked them:

“knowledge puffs up; but love edifies” (v. 1).



When we hear those ringing words, “love . . . does not

rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (13:6, italics

added), we should recall the Corinthians’ sinful condition in

chapter 5—their disobedience, displayed by their toleration of

blatant sin in their fellowship. Here, Paul calls for stern measures

of Christian discipline so that they can celebrate Christ’s

sacrifice for sins “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and

truth” (5:8, italics added). The concern expressed in the first

citation (13:6), taken in the context of the letter, should draw

our minds back to the problem confronted in the second citation

(5:8). Note the concern for truth in both passages.


Today, it would be a safe assumption to say that the

majority of Christians, including leaders, turn this Scripture

on its head (instead of turning the world up side down—there

goes Murphy’s law again). Many Christians seize upon words

like “love is patient and kind “ and use them to undermine the

Scriptural commands regarding rebuke and discipline which

are to be implemented in the face of disobedience. Again, this

false premise results when we resist holding together those

things which the holy conjunction gives us, things like love

and obedience.


We forget that there is only one God who has given us

his word, which both declares “love is patient and kind” and

commands “remove the evil man from among you,” all in

the same letter. When Paul gave the Corinthians that command,

he was quoting Scripture itself (Deut. 17:7, LXX).

Such discipline served God’s gracious, loving purposes so

that “all the people shall hear and fear, and not act presumptuously

again” (Deut. 17:13, KJV). God does not desire “that any should

perish” (2 Pet. 3:9); he calls all to turn from their sin; but when there

are those who continue in their willful defiance of his commands, for

the sake of the health of his bride, his people, he will not tolerate it.

Earlier, Paul had asked the Corinthians, “Do you (plural)

not know that you (the congregation) are the temple of God

and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (pl.)? If anyone

defiles the temple (the congregation) of God, God will

destroy him. For the temple (congregation) of God is holy,

which temple you (pl.) are” (1 Cor. 3:16, 17).

God’s concern here is for the health of his Body, his

church (assembly) in Corinth. Love and obedience are the

keys to this congregation’s well being.


Today, this concern is lost among many evangelical

Christians. We so emphasize personal salvation that we

diminish Christ’s concern for his Body, his assembly of

believers wherever it may meet. To use a phrase of Elton

Trueblood’s, we make small what Christ made large. Why?

Again, we dispense with the holy conjunction, “and”—this

to our detriment. If we are to be whole and holy, we must

remedy our neglect. Otherwise, we will never get out of one

of the traps set for us by the spirit of our day—the trap of


Too often, as American Christians, we have fallen for this

potential heresy. But as one Christian radio commentary put

it, “The spirit of individualism is one of the false gods of our

modern age . . . it presumes the individual person is the final

authority in his or her own life.”



This individualistic spirit is not new. Paul exhorted the

Corinthians, “Love . . . does not seek its own (lit., the things

of herself).” He also wrote this as a direct command: “Let no

one seek his own” (1Cor. 10:24). This command addressed

the wrong attitude which stemmed directly from the

Corinthians’ misshapen view of Christian freedom. They

displayed this attitude with their slogan, “All things are lawful

for me” (6:12; 10:23).


The Apostle exhorted the Corinthians to replace their

self-centered focus with a God-centered one. “Flee sexual

immorality . . . you were bought at a price; therefore glorify

God in your body” (6:18, 20). He turned the focus from self to

love of neighbor: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s

 well-being” (10:24). “I say this to your shame . . . brother goes

 to law against brother, and that before unbelievers”(6:5,6).


Just as Paul could not, Christians who love cannot

remain silent when face to face with fellow believers who

are departing from the narrow way. Though Scripture mandates

that we speak up, this imperative sounds off-key to

generations that have allowed the faceless Zeitgeist to

explain away God’s word through today’s fads.


It is not that Earthly Wisdom sings about love in, let’s

say, the key of E, while the Word of God sings about love in,

say, the key of G. This analogy will not work. Rather, we

hear two very different songs; while some of the words do

overlap, the dissimilar tunes ring out with a horrible clash

(that is, if God’s people are singing their song, because the

those of the world are certainly singing theirs).

The key question for us, as Christians, is, “Why are we

deaf to this dissonance?” Well, there is a breeze blowing in

our ears. The prevailing winds lull us to sleep as context is

blown away.


–From Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies

Copyright 2004 by Michael C. Snow

Of Ponds and Pitfalls



Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.--2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)


Too often, we hear fellow Christians talking about “what this verse means to me.”  There certainly are verses that do have a special place in our hearts, which have given great comfort in times of crisis or direction out of aimless wanderings— this blessing , we may confidently hold unto. But if we become me-centered rather than Christ-centered, we quickly close the door to understanding as we quench the Spirit’s guidance.

Still, God in his great mercy bears with us in our immaturity.

As a child growing up in the Ozarks, Erasmus’ parents forbade him to take part in any skinny-dipping in the local ponds. As a teenager, Erasmus felt the conviction of a verse in James (1:2) which, in the King James Version, speaks of “divers temptations.” Perhaps “divers lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3) served to strengthen his convictions, and “divers diseases” (Mark 1:34) might have instilled enough dread to keep this young man out of the pond! But, being unfamiliar with Scuba diving, what would he have thought about “divers weights” and how would “divers colours” fit into the scheme of skinny-dipping unless it was winter tide and he was thinking of the color, blue?

We may make light of silly interpretations to expose our weakness. We, however, must take care not to make light of conviction in a boy indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But his understanding of this particular Scripture verse is not to be an example that we strive to follow. Rather, the example highlights one pitfall along our path as we read Scripture.

Though God bears with us, “the smoldering wick he will not quench,” immaturity is not our goal; nor are subjective interpretations of Scripture to be the guide that we follow.

If we continue on this post-modern path of subjectivism, of giving equal weight to each of our own opinions about what a verse of Scripture teaches, then we are reinforcing the secular claim that there is no absolute truth (which, of course, is an absolute claim and utter nonsense). If “what this verse means to me” becomes our standard, then we have nothing to say to the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses about their heretical teachings. After all, select verses of Scripture mean something different to them. And, in this new age, who are we to question their interpretations?

Against today’s subjectivism, we must clearly declare “that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). As The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states, “no prophecy of Scripture is to be interpreted by any individual in an arbitrary way.” If we are ignorant of its full meaning and simply think of prophecy as limited to predicting the future, we will lose our way here. But prophecy encompasses bringing the mind of God to bear upon the present situation. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly reminded God’s people of what the word of God had already revealed to them. The prophets vividly reminded them and called them to return to God and obey his ways. They called them to repent.

When Peter wrote that warning quoted above, his concern centered on the parallel between “false prophets among the people” and “false teachers among you; who will secretly bring in destructive heresies . . .” (2 Peter 2:1).

Peter warned us about arbitrary interpretations of the prophecies of Scripture by any individual. This warning, as we see from the parallel that he drew, also applies to arbitrary interpretations of the teachings of Scripture. And the specific point we must see here is that we are not to interpret and apply Scriptural teaching  in some arbitrary way which is awash in the philosophy of our own day.

The path that avoids that deep pitfall of arbitrariness lies alongside our familiarity with Scripture. (There can be none of this picking and choosing of verses without our awareness of their context.) To walk that path requires discipline. Step by step, we must regularly read God’s word and study it with the diligence of true disciples.

Adapted from Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies