We began this series with two posts on the Great Commandment of Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The first post identified “love” for God as the Vision of faith. Next, we treated “all” as the basis for spiritual Integration—the call to love God in every aspect of life. Now, we have Nurture in v. 6: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” It establishes spiritual life.
How? With “these words” as content for “your heart” a Spirit-to-spirit reality forms. Think, for instance, of how “words” and “heart” unite when a mother whispers love to her newborn. Or, as a couple share a mutual “I love you” for the first time. These heart-to-heart moments go beyond words. No exegesis is needed to explain them. And we, too, are invited by God to have a heart-based communion with him. Paul wrote of this. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” [Ro 8:26]. This Spirit-to-spirit reality bonds believers to God.
The Bible, then, offers more than collected ideas-about-God, or lessons-to-live-by. Instead it invites heartfelt responses: a life of trusting the one who speaks. The prophet Jeremiah shared a tender counterpoint to this when God told him to buy a silky garment. A waistcloth, worn next to the skin. Then God sent him to a distant land to bury the cloth by a river. After some time God sent him back to collect it, but by now it was ruined and useless. God’s point? It expressed his grief. “This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen” [Jer 13:10-11].
This disclosure that the LORD wanted Israel to be his “praise and glory” reveals his affective disposition. And it surprises us! As we read elsewhere, God’s eternal triune love comes to us as an overflowing, outward impulse: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” [Jn 17:24]. This love is God’s defining quality, and he shares it through words as well as through his ongoing providential embrace of all who belong to him.
Yet people, then and now, still “refuse to hear my words” because of stubborn “hearts.” As Paul wrote in Romans 10:8-9, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The Spirit uses God’s tender words to elicit faith in hearts: Spirit-to-spirit. But disaffected hearts are dead to this.
Why doesn’t his love work? If God shares his love in writing, shouldn’t it capture us? Yes, but too often it doesn’t! Why not? There’s no easy answer. Perhaps because we treat words mainly as tools. Language normally transmits ordinary information, questions, and requests. Yet we all reserve affective or “heart” words for special moments. And God means for his words of love to be included here! But from Adam onward God’s words are regularly reduced to be doctrines, and with this, they’re made into duty-driven “religion”—meant for our minds, not our hearts.
There’s more to it, of course. Let’s consider two key challenges. The first is the moral tension of the fall. The linkage of words-and-hearts had an inaugural moral context with Adam in Eden. God’s words to him in Genesis 2 were clear, “you shall not….” Yet, Adam ignored these words in chapter 3. Why? Please read the episode. Then turn to John 8:31-59 for Christ’s primary moral insight. Jesus invited listeners to “abide in my word” to “know the truth”—truth that offers freedom from Adam’s original sin. Both the fall and salvation are word-based. Yet, like Adam, this audience balked: dismissing Jesus’ words they eventually tried to kill him. Their response, Jesus told them, revealed a spiritual paternity: “If God were your Father you would love me.” And, lacking this, they displayed a reverse spirituality, “You are of your father, the devil.”
Jesus expanded this moral opposition by also contrasting “the Truth” and “the Lie.” The latter is the devil’s turf because, as Jesus said, he’s “the Liar” who speaks only in lies [8:44]. His deadly, constant aim is to deceive. Jesus, against this, offers truth. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” [3:16].
The contrast in using words reminds us of our first pictures—of a mother with her newborn infant, and a couple exchanging words of love. God’s gift of words expresses his being. He seeks Heart-to-heart reciprocity. As in his search for “a man after his own heart” [1 Sa 13:14]. Such heart-language reveals the eternal word-based bond of love in God the Father for the Son through the Spirit. From this font the Spirit invites faith in us as “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” [Ro 5:5]. This has an eternal basis.
That basis is the eternal communion of the Father and Son. The “Word” establishes this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [Jn 1:1] Every feature of this communion is affective—heart-based—as mutual love. But if God’s mutual love is despised, God’s jealousy comes alive. Thus Psalm 2 warns us to repent and “kiss the Son.”
This contrast crystalizes a broader moral problem. One of the devil’s lies is to elevate creation above the Creator [in Ro 1:25]. Humans, following this, reverse the place of the Giver and his gifts. Sometimes by objectifying God: to treat him as a set of “doctrines” to be studied, but not a being to be loved. Or by treating gifts as idols—whether career, family, property, or wealth.
Jesus calls us to an alternative life in his vine analogy. We’re meant to “abide” in faith-and-love. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love …. just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” [Jn 15:7-10]. Faith gives creation a proper place.
A second obstacle to God’s word-based nurture is pride. Ironically this begins with Satan’s hatred of humans. Satan sees us as dirt, unworthy of divinity. This demonic commentary surfaces in Eliphaz’s message to Job. “Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth” [Job 4:18-19]. Adam, we recall, was made from the earth. And so was Jesus, in his humanity. Gnosticism—an “anti-Christ” movement—shared this dismissiveness. For them matter is evil, and spirit is good. Yet Jesus came in the humility of human flesh, born in a manger, and dying on a cross. All of this is upside down by the measure of human pride, a pride that adopts Satan’s point of view. And so too the Bible is dismissed as too human. It’s an awkward book, with odd stories, bloody sacrifices, and long lists. But, in truth, only it offers the life-giving love of the beloved Son. Humility, then, is a platform for faith and salvation. In Abram becoming Abraham; in Simon becoming Peter; and in Saul becoming Paul.
In sum, God’s words and Word offer us a view of real life shaped by a love for the Son. And the Word nurtures souls in a progressive Spirit-to-spirit work. The first promise of redemption came in Genesis 3:15, crystallized in Jesus, and culminates in his wedding with his gathered people at the end of Revelation. Nurture, then, is the substance of God’s love through Jesus, by his Spirit.