Love serves our neighbor, sin uses them

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” -Matthew 7:12

This text contains an imperative regarding how we are to view and treat all other people. It is a command not limited to our family members or to our immediate neighbors or to our coworkers, but to all people. It is a command so important that the entirety of the law and prophets are summed up in this one imperative.

It is an imperative that demands the hard work of placing ourselves in the shoes of others and acting for their good.  It requires us to imagine ourselves in other peoples situations and from that position to think through how we would desire people to be toward us and what we would desire people to do on our behalf. Once this has been done we are to do the very thing we believe we would desire be done to us.

This is a command and expectation of the believer that requires energy and intentionality. It is a call to kill the apathy that so often characterizes our interaction with our fellow man. It is a call to live outside of ourselves for the sake of our neighbor. It is a command to other-centeredness.

The fact that in this command is the law and the prophets helps us understand that sin does the very opposite. Sin manifests itself on a horizontal level in the singular devotion to the self and the utter lack of concern for others. Often an apparent concern for another is in actuality the pursuit of benefit received by another for the self. Sin does not serve other people it uses them as a means to another end. All sin of a horizontal nature can be understood within this light.

For example, stealing is taking advantage of another person by taking their goods with no concern for the owner. Adultery is of a similar nature. Stealing a person and enslaving them, hurting a person or murdering them; these are direct assaults on another person. This is a direct disregard for the person. This type of offense manifests a gross elevation of the self over the very life of another human being.

Jesus was the revelation of God as He is and the revelation of man as he was intended to be. In the person of Jesus we thus see a God who empties himself for the sake of serving his neighbor and a man who perfectly obeys the golden rule. The cross is the greatest manifestation of self-abasing service for the good of one’s neighbor. God does not command what He himself does not do. By the aid of the Spirit and in obedience to this command we seek to imitate the love of Jesus for all people.

What then will obedience to this imperative look like at different times and in different circumstances with the people in our lives. What will it look like to love…

  • Parents…
  • Spouse…
  • Children…
  • Friends….
  • Co-workers…
  • Church body…
  • Homeless…
  • Slaves…
  • Poor…
  • Prisoners…
  • Widows…
  • Orphans…
  • Elderly…

The God Who Justifies the Ungodly

Romans 4 is an explosive passage of Scripture. It oozes good news. Romans 3 paints a bleak picture for us all. Paul tells us we are all rushing forward to one inescapable moment—-the day we stand before our Creator face to face. A day “appointed” according to the writer of Hebrews. A day of accountability for our every word, thought, action and motive.

This is a day that Paul tells us is terrifying—because left to ourselves there is no hope. Romans 3 states emphatically that no one is righteous, not even one—there no exceptions. You and I are in the same boat—and that boat is sinking rapidly. Apart from Christ all humanity stands condemned before God and hopeless before him as Judge.

This hopelessness is highlighted by the fact that we cannot through our own energy or activity make ourselves right with our Creator. We have broken his moral expectations and commands—and that we cannot repair. No amount of striving can change it. It is into this helplessness and hopelessness that Romans 4 speaks.

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”

To the “none righteous” God provides a perfect righteousness through his Son Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection secure forgiveness and a right standing with the Father that comes to the one “who does not work” but rather believes and rests in his good work. This is good news.

God describes himself in an astonishing way in this passage. He puts a name tag on his chest that is unbelievable. He is the justifier of the ungodly, that’s who he is—this is his title, his name…it’s what he does! Ungodly is a term that denotes one who refuses to worship. God comes for this person—the sinner, the sick, the broken, the rebel.

In fact, there is only one type of individual who will be considered righteous in God’s courtroom—the one who is ungodly and does nothing, but receives God’s gift by faith! The only thing I contributed to my justification was my sin. My ungodliness is all I brought to the table. The God who Justifies the Ungodly is worthy of fierce loyalty and worship, there is none like him!

Listening: Our first duty to God and Neighbor

Two ears and one mouth, many have rightly observed that this innately places listening before speaking. We are to be hearers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together captures the first duty of human beings to God and neighbor as an act of the ear.

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.”

This is on target—listening is an expression of love, honor and respect. It conveys authentic interest, the placing of another above our concerns.

A Short Theology of Marriage

I recently wrote a paper summarizing issues of marriage, divorce and remarriage. This is an excerpt of the paper that captures the theological meaning of marriage.

Genesis 1-3 is the fountainhead of marital theology. These chapters reveal the Creator’s original marital design, the nature of marriage and the consequences of sin on marriage. Both testaments draw deeply from these theological waters.[1] In particular, Genesis 2:24 has been termed the “paradigmatic statement about marriage for Judaism, Jesus and Paul.”[2] Significantly, two of the most important theological statements on marriage are found in this text: the one flesh principle and the mystery of Christ and the church.

Genesis 2:24 lays down three marital distinctives that contain great theological import: leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh.[3] First, leaving equates to forming a new family and “giving up loyalty to one’s father and mother as the closest of human relationships.”[4] Second, cleaving to one’s spouse communicates transference of the “most fundamental of loyalties to one’s spouse.”[5] Marriage creates a new situation where all previous ties must submit to this new devotion.[6] Third, leaving and cleaving culminates in becoming “one flesh” through sexual union.[7] Language used for gluing and welding is employed to describe the permanence of the one flesh relationship.[8]

One Flesh. Jesus draws heavily from Genesis 2:24 to assert the theological significance of marriage. In Matthew 19:4-6, he teaches the math of marriage (cf, Mk 10:6-10). Marriage erases two and creates one. One husband plus one wife equals one flesh. Marriage is an indissoluble oneness created by God that reflects the union, co-inherence and intimacy of the Triune community.[9]

Christ and the Church. Paul also builds his theology of marriage on Genesis 2:24. He asserts that leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh is a profound mystery that ultimately refers to Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32). Marriage is fundamentally a gospel parable with a theological design.[10] It points to the fierce love of Jesus and the glad loyalty of his bride while anchoring a married couple in the rhythm of forgiveness, reconciliation and gospel grace.

[1]Matt 19:5, Mk 10:6-7, 1 Cor 6:16, 11:3-9, 2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:13-14.

[2]Klyne Snodgrass, “Divorce and Remarriage,” Covenant Publications (1989), 5.

[3]Craig L. Blomberg, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy: An Exegesis of Matthew 19:3-12,” Trinity Journal, 11:2 (1990), 166.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Blomberg, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy,” 167.

[6]John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, (Albany: Books for the Ages, 1998), Kindle, Chap. 2, 75.

[7]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992), 481.

[8]R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2007), 717.

[9]Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 461-471.

[10]Richard D. Patterson, “Metaphors of Marriage as Expressions of Divine-Human Relations,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, 51:4 (2008), 699-702.

What Vulnerability Creates

I have been thoroughly enjoying Richard Beck lately. I read his book on the Slavery of Death and found it to be challenging and compelling. He discusses at length the linkage between vulnerability, understanding our frailty, embracing our mortality and the possibility of love marking our relationships. Check out what he has to say.

“Notice in Acts 4 that there were “no needy persons among them.” Why? Because they shared with “anyone one who had need.” The expression of neediness in the community allowed the economy of love to flow. But in churches in America and other places where affluence poses special problems, the situation is very different. These cultures are enslaved to the fear of death and death avoidance holds serious sway. In these cultures the expression of need is taboo and pornographic. What results is neurotic image-management, the pressure to be “fine.” The perversity here is that on the surface American churches do look like the church in Acts 4 – there are “no needy persons” among us. We all appear to be doing just fine, thank you very much.

But we know this to be a sham, a collective delusion driven by the fear of death. I’m really not fine and neither are you. But you are afraid of me and I’m afraid of you. We are neurotic about being vulnerable with each other. We fear exposing our need and failure to each other. And because of this fear – the fear of being needy within a community of neediness – the witness of the church is compromised. A collection of self-sustaining and self-reliant people – people who are all pretending to be fine – is not the Kingdom of God. It’s a church built upon the delusional anthropology we described earlier. Specifically, a church where everyone is “fine” is a group of humans refusing to be human beings and pretending to be gods. Such a “church” is comprised of fearful people working hard to keep up appearances and unable to trust each other to the point of loving self-sacrifice. In such a “church” each member is expected to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, thus making no demands upon others. Unfortunately, where there is no need and no vulnerability, there can be no love.”

A Million Little Boring Things

Richard Beck, psychology and theology professor at Abilene Christian University wrote a helpful blog post on the mundane nature of following Christ. I found his perspective to be refreshing and spot on in many ways. Check out what he has to say.

I was talking to one of my students recently about the temptations of youthful spirituality, how when you are young you get addicted to the buzz of the worship high and then go searching for a more intense fix. You become a worship junkie.

From your high school youth group on being close to God is being ON FIRE! Because God is AWESOME!

That’s the temptation for youth, being trained to associate God with adrenaline and the Spirit with excitement.

What I told my student was this.

What no one ever shares with you when you’re young is that Christianity is boring. No one tells you that. That Christianity, for the most part, is boring.

No one tells you that Christianity is a 70 to 80 year grind in becoming more kind, more gentle, more giving, more joyful, more patient, more loving.

You learn that God isn’t in the rocking praise band or the amped up worship experience. What you learn after college is that Holy Ground is standing patiently in a line. You learn that Holy Ground is learning to listen well to your child, wife or co-worker. Holy Ground is being a reliable and unselfish friend or family member and being a good nurse when someone is sick. Holy Ground is awkward and unlikely friendships. Holy Ground is often just showing up.

Being more and more like Jesus is a million boring little things.

No one ever tells you that when you’re young.

Just like no one ever tells you just how risky and revolutionary it all is.

That a truly radical life of following Jesus is made up of a million boring little things.

Oh God, Help Me!

Two words—HELP ME. These words are no stranger to these lips. They are the words heard by the Domino’s delivery man on the other end of the phone when my wife Elizabeth is gone for an evening and its my turn to feed the kids. The auto mechanic probably knows my voice well—he definitely knows these words from my lips. Help Me. Tax season comes around, yep, two words.

My wife knows all too well, I’m not the mechanical guy. Most men have Honey Do Lists, I have Honey Don’ts! It’s probably best that we rent and not own. Help Me. These may be the two most common words on my mouth when I speak to God. In my falling short as a husband, a father a human-being—HELP ME. In my sin, my failure to obey, my brokenness. HELP ME. I desperately needed Christ’s help before I was a believer, and it is no different today. If you ever whisper this in desperation to God, you’re not alone.

HELP…the word occurs 187x in the Bible. It is strewn through the whole storyline of Scripture. The stories of the Old Testament are filled with individuals needing help and asking for it. We are not alone. The Exodus event is one of the most significant saving moments in biblical history. Have you ever noticed the catalyst for such a saving action? Look at Exodus 2:23.

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.”

HELP. That was the catalyst. God’s people cried to God for help, he heard them and he moved. It was no different when God’s people were in danger in the wilderness, when they took the promised land, when they were in danger from other nations, when they were in exile or any other time they were in need. They cried for help and God answered.

The Psalmists exhaust the vocabulary of help. They teach us that we are not alone, they embolden us to call for his help. The create confidence in the reality that “there is none like God…who rides through the heavens to your help” (Deut 33:26). The Psalmist poses the question in Psalm 121:1: “I lift my eyes up to the mountains where does my help come from?” The most profound answer to that question is of course, Christ. 

Hebrews 2:14-18 uses the language of help three times. It speaks of a help in the face of death, in the face of satan, in the face of sin and in the face of temptation. It is a help that requires a birth, a death and a resurrection. God helps us in Christ. He deals with our greatest needs assuring us he will help us with everything else.

If you have ever wondered: Will God help me? Does he care? Is he interested in helping me? Does he here when I cry for help? The crib, the cross and the empty tomb are God’s definitive YES! He has helped us and he will continue to help us. Let those two words move from your heart to your mouth: HELP ME. God will not fail you.