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I recently asked my students, “What do good Christians do? What behaviors should be expected of them? What practices are prioritized in their lives?” They wrote their answers on the board: go to church, tithe, read the Bible, pray. After we compiled our list, I had them cross out all the ones that also described the Pharisees. We lost about 90 percent of what they wrote! There’s not much that separates most Christians from Pharisees.

The practices that remained had something to do with living in Christ’s love and sharing him with others. In other words, what really counts in the Christian life is summed up in the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31).

While we know loving God and others is essential to Christian living, what does this mean in everyday life? How can we love God like that and how can it possibly be commanded? Is love by coercion really love? “You have to love me or else” sounds more like a conflicted boss or insecure boyfriend than the words of a gracious God.

The only way this command makes sense is that he loves us that way first! He loves us with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. There is no passion, depth, brilliance or power greater than that! So, of course we are going to love him back. As Isaac Watts said, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, love, my all.” With that settled, we must now ask what loving God this way looks like.

I’ve developed a working theory of spiritual love languages. My premise is that everyone has a primary spiritual love language based on one of the four parts of the Great Commandment: heart, soul, mind and strength.

Heart: These are the passion people. They are the ones who love to sing, raising their hands in worship and are the first to stand at the first stanza. They pray and praise fervently with God’s love bubbling from their hearts.

Soul: These are the contemplatives. They love spending time alone with God in reflection and silence. They tend to be meditative, lovers of nature, poetic. They love to journal insights gleaned from rich reflections.

Mind: These are the thinkers — the theologians. They love to dig far beyond surface meanings to uncover truth. They love to study, analyze and unpack Scripture and delight in uncovering hidden treasures in the text.

Strength: These are the doers — the movers and shakers. They are the common-sense folk who roll up their sleeves and get the job done. Visionary leaders are often found in this category, along with activists for social justice and public concerns.

I’ve presented this publicly on a few occasions and have been amazed to discover that every time, approximately 25 percent of the audience placed themselves into each category. What does this mean?

  1. It is very likely that one of these four is your primary love language and that is a special gift. You do not need measure up to another person’s preferred pathway for loving God.
  2. It is important to refrain from judging others who express their love for God differently than you. If you are a heart (passionate) person, those who do not share your exuberance may love God just as deeply in their own language. If you are a soul (contemplative) person, not everyone is refueled by solitude like you. If you are a mind (thinking) person, exegeting a passage doesn’t turn the crank for everybody. If you are a strength (activist) person, be patient and grant space for those who aren’t ready to roll up their sleeves yet.
  3. Let your primary love language take the lead, but the other three should be singing harmony. Don’t neglect the ones that are not as natural for you. You may be surprised at what you discover. After all, in the Great Commandment, each of these is joined by the word “and” not the word “or.”

You can use these languages to love other people as well! We love God and others best by being who we were made to be.

Mark O. Wilson

In 2017, Mark O. Wilson joined the faculty of Southern Wesleyan University as assistant professor of Discipleship, Multiplication & Renewal. Prior to this he served for 26 years as senior pastor of Hayward Wesleyan Church. He is the author of two books: Filled Up, Poured Out and Purple Fish.  Mark and his wife, Cathy, have five grown children and live in Central, South Carolina.

Read more from Mark O. Wilson.