08 January 2010

"And the second is" — not in competition with it, but rather... (Part Two)

by Dan Phillips

Were this a post detailing everything I've mastered as to embodying love for God and neighbor, it would already be shorter than it is.


This, however, is not that, but is a continuation of the thinking begun in the first post. (Turns out there's going to have to be at least a third, as well.) In that post we laid the premise that Jesus identified the two premiere commandments as to love God without measure ("all...all...all"), and to love our neighbor after the surety of our self-love ("as"). We saw the fitness of those commandments, and noted their interwoven, non-detachable nature.

Non-detachable, yet distinguishable. When we get into a Biblical approach to the actual doing of love — as opposed to a sloppy, unreflecting, sentimental approach — one thing we soon learn is that there is a hierarchy to love. Sometimes I must choose among the objects of my love, or at least must alter the expression of my love accordingly.

Let's say you have a dear Christian friend. You serve and walk together for years. But your friend falls into serious apostasy. Do you stop loving him? In no way. But you may very well stop pleasing him. The command to love is not necessarily a command to please, or seek approval.

Things have changed now. Before, you could serve and encourage him by speaking the Word to him, and in other ways. Now, he might accept those other ways, but he does not want to hear the Word from you. Do you stop speaking the Word, stop bearing witness to — and unambiguously aligning yourself with — the truth of God, because your friend doesn't want to hear it?

This is where the hierarchy comes to play. Your pre-eminent love for God won't let you pretend as if God is the friend-you're-ashamed-of, or as if He were a minor player in your life, or as if your life were explicable apart from Him.


But it is also and still your love for your friend that moves you to insist on continuing to "hold the line," as it were; continuing to speak the word, to bear witness to God's truth. I think this is what Paul means when he prays that the Philippians' "love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment" (Philippians 1:9). Love must have a hierarchy, and it must be Biblically wise and discerning.

So your straying friend needs God's truth more than he needs to see a movie with you, or chat about the Dodgers, or about nothing at all — in other words, to pretend that nothing of consequence has happened. Not that every other word has to be a Bible verse, but you won't let the central issue be swept aside. Because you love God, and because you love him.

Now, in those cases, clearly your love for God informs and shapes your love for your friend. Were the order of the commandments reversed, you'd have to tuck God under a basket, so as to please your friend.

And, I would suggest, if anyone does just such a thing, he has practically reversed the commands, even if he has not formally done so.

Here's one place where the rubber meets the road, then: if one love challenges the other, Jesus' priority provides the answer. If I must lose the approval and closeness of a friend in order to please God, I do it.

Ditto a whole bunch of friends. Ditto an organization, a society, a denomination — in fact, if it comes to it, [Your name here] contra mundum is an option.

Yet it isn't always clear; and even when it is, I'd argue we tend to be really wretched about keeping the balance where it should be.

Which I intend as the focus of the next (and, I hope, last) post.

Update: this way to part three.

Dan Phillips's signature


23 comments:

SandMan said...

Love must have a hierarchy, and it must be Biblically wise and discerning.

Seems like this compliments Frank's post from yesterday.

Looking forward to round three.

Jon from Bucksport said...

Excellent article! Thanks Dan! I have been noticing recently that we often confuse discernible parts for separate parts: like when we artificially separate justification and sanctification. Thanks for the reminder that these two great commandments can fall prey to that. Similarly, we cannot be sanctified unless we are already justified so we must let Love for God direct our Love for Others. To draw the analogy again, we often allow Love for Others masquerade as Love for God even as we allow some form of outward change impersonate a justified life.

Mike Riccardi said...

Here's one place where the rubber meets the road, then: if one love challenges the other, Jesus' priority provides the answer. If I must lose the approval and closeness of a friend in order to please God, I do it.

Right! And what's awesome is that, Biblically speaking, when you "lose the approval and closeness of a friend in order to please God," you are actually in that act loving that friend. It may not feel loving to them. The world may tell you that you're out of your mind if you think that that's loving.

But what you're really doing is practically manifesting to that friend that God Himself is worth more than anything to you. You lift up the sweetness and the sufficiency of Christ by acting like He's sweet and sufficient.

The best Biblical example of that that I can think of is David in Psalm 27:4. The one thing he desires is to behold the beauty of Yahweh, and, in fellowship, inquire of Him or meditate on Him in His temple. I see that singularity of focus, and I'm benefited by a glorious, uplifted vision of God. I see his all-consuming desire to just behold the beauty of God, and I am thereby helped to see God more clearly, treasure Him more fully, and enjoy Him more fully. And that is my greatest benefit! To know God!

So I think it can properly be said that David loves me as himself by loving God above all else and displaying that love for God to me. So in the same way, when we think that these two commands are competing and we rightly choose the first over the second, we should be encouraged as we recognize that the very act of choosing love for God over anything else is loving our neighbor.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "If I must lose the approval and closeness of a friend in order to please God, I do it."

By and large, I think this is true. Very true. And probably not exercised nearly enough as it should be.

However, I can imagine the Enemy pushing this sentiment too far with some folks who are perhaps too predisposed towards Phariseeism or Legalism and using it to cause unhealthy division in the Body of Christ and to damage the Gospel Witness.

Need to be careful not to succumb to the Enemy's desire to tilt a believer towards either error.

DJP said...

Cool screen-name.

David Rudd said...

TUAD,

to take your thought a step further, I should never use my love for God as an excuse to act unlovingly toward my neighbor.

to do so would be terribly unloving toward God.

Rachael Starke said...

Wow Dan. You've no idea how timely this is. I have a relationship that's been badly broken for almost three years now that's largely to do with this issue - what does it mean to love one another as Jesus has loved us?

But it's one thing when someone is embracing apostasy - they suddenly embrace another faith, or abandon their family but still claim Christ, etc. But in my case my friend's error doesn't seem to be that big. She just seems to have remade the very definition of love and forgiveness in her image and definition.

I've tried in a variety of ways to put our collective focus on Jesus - to try to agree about how He loves, and let Him define how we love eachother. But she refuses, hits me with the "my consicence is clear" canard, and even hangs up on me the minute I try and bring it up because she thinks my doing is so is unloving and she won't permit me to. Then, after she's hung up on me, she'll still call back a few weeks later and leave chirpy messages asking how we are and how life is and that she loves me. She thinks that's love.
And I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm unloving because I don't return her calls.

And that's what I wrestle with. If I don't talk with her about sufacey stuff, or quit sending her birthday presents, I'll be accused of being unloving. But if I'm reading you correctly, that's not true. I hope I'm reading you right - First John gets really hard to read when you're in the middle of something like this.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"TUAD,

to take your thought a step further, I should never use my love for God as an excuse to act unlovingly toward my neighbor.

to do so would be terribly unloving toward God."


Precisely, David, precisely.

Much thanks for your pithy and concise summation.

love God... said...

Ah, my favorite subject! Loving God!

Thank you Dan for not reversing the commands. The first and greatest commandment has been my soapbox for awhile...unfortunately when I talk about it to "believers" I usually get blank stares...not too many people interesting in loving God with all their everything.

But they do like to talk about their neighbor and what they're doing for their neighbor and how some Christians are mean to their neighbor!

Thanks again for bringing it to the forefront.

philness said...

Two disciples were casting nets.
Two disciples were mending nets.

Jesus peacefully & successfully un-isoloated each of their skills and showed the balance.

biblegeek said...

"after the surety of our self-love" is not a commandment, but an already existing reality. Jesus doesn't say "as you feel good about yourself." A self-conscious and saved sinner needs to "feel good" about being accepted by God in Christ. However, everyone does love himself in the sense that is related to loving one's neighbor - taking care of his needs, as you are so consistent in taking care of your own. That is what Christ is talking about, not about reassuring yourself about your self-love, whatever that is. Jesus said, "Deny your self," too. But that is neither "hate yourself" nor "feel bad about" yourself. Self-denial is the very opposite of what Adam and Eve exhibited in eating the forbidden fruit. Self-denial is refusing to follow one's own self=pleasing inclinations and obeying God's commandments out of love for Him (back to the first one). Thanks for "listening."

DJP said...

Right. That's what I said; also in the first post and meta. Two commands, not three.

NoLongerBlind said...

@Rachael:

You said "First John gets really hard to read when you're in the middle of something like this."

Careful, or you might start attracting some Magesterium proponents to this blog!

=;^P

Barbara said...

C'mon, open this box up wider -there are some hurting Christians coming out with this. I'm with Rachael, except in my case it's my dad, who incidentally is also a pastor (and has been for most of my life). He saw the radical nature of my conversion two years ago and praised God for it...until I stood on Scripture and rejected the egalitarian, essentially Christless, fuzzy-wuzzy beliefnet version that he has come to embrace, and he despises the whole idea of that which I find most beautiful in Christ. The fact that I stand on Scripture and don't turn to the philosophies of the age, and that I hold some of the things he sends me up to the light of the Scripture, infuriates him to the point of lashing out at me at times.

Love one another; honor your parents; but don't even eat with such a one who calls himself "brother" and lives in immorality, but that doesn't apply to the world because then we would have to go out of the world - but in the buckle of the Bible Belt, everyone calls himself "brother". So we're left with the question about what to do about all this slippery shape-shifting stuff that pervades the spirit of the age and the children of God who are constantly confronted with it by those whom we are commanded to love?

Van said...

In the comments of the first post in this series I told of a friend in the Army who couldn't find the starter on a Hummer. He was fortunate that day because he knew who to ask for help. He had observed me actually fixing things once or twice. As Christians, we often know the theory of what should be done, we just don't see many others actually doing it so we don't know who to ask for help.

The real conflict for me in sorting out the hierarchy of love has always been when it involved those I considered authority figures. Loving God first and foremost when it puts me contra parents, pastors, or elders is not something that I would even know who to ask for advice. The balance of loving God and neighbor has probably been the greatest source of soul searching and heartache for me since I became a Christian.

You don't suppose that we ended up with the Athanasian Creed just because Athanasius worked out for himself what it meant to love God, and wrote it down to ensure he remained consistent as he practically loved his neighbors?

Rob Bailey said...

I resemble that first sentence.

M. Stevenson said...

Dan,

The subject matter of your posts is very timely. I have a similar scenario to Rachael, in which I recently had an exchange of words on facebook with some friends from a former church. What started out as a somewhat light-hearted exchange turned south when I replied with some counter-objections (using bible verses), and a third party was offended by my having rebuked the other person. While I was a bit defensive, I was not mean or abusive, nor did I misuse the Scriptures. But the whole mess caused me to look carefully at my own words, and examine my use of them--whether or not I was being meek and gentle as I was attempting to correct and rebuke. (I wish I were more like Christ in this!)

The other scenario in my life is this: my neighbor is a single mother whose daughter goes to school with my sons. Last year I volunteered to watch her before and after school while the mom worked, as a way to minister to her and her daughter. Every morning she ate breakfast with us, the little girl got a dose of Proverbs along with my own kids.

Around election time, as we discussed politics somewhat, I learned that my neighbor had an abortion a few years prior, and admitted that she avoids going to church because she feels like she's being judged.

This year the mom has lost her job, and now she's expecting another baby and will be moving in with the father this summer, so our time is nearing an end. So of course I'm going to ask you and your wise readers HOW. How do you meekly and gently tell your neighbor that she is following a path that is headed straight for the wrath of God while not coming across as condescending and judgmental? (I'm reminded of Christ and the woman at the well.) Anybody out there havO actual conversations that they can use as examples?

Bobby Grow said...

I agree, there is a way to love God and your neighbor as yourself. And in principle what you've said here is just straightforward obvious scriptural reality.

Sometimes the problem with being "truth-tellers" is that that can become justification for being a jerk. We need to 'speak the truth in love', so not only are we to stand for the truth in our words, but our attitude, when standing for the truth is just as much involved. These are twin truths of standing for the truth --- not just "what" but "how."

Mike Riccardi said...

How do you meekly and gently tell your neighbor that she is following a path that is headed straight for the wrath of God while not coming across as condescending and judgmental? (I'm reminded of Christ and the woman at the well.)

One of the things that has helped me when dear brothers of mine have brought my attention to sin and weakness in my life is just being explicit about the reason why they're telling me. They would tell me that they love me, that they desire that I see and enjoy Christ (which they know is my greatest good and benefit), and they think that making me aware of things that stop me from enjoying Him as my greatest satisfaction is what God calls them to do out of love for me.

I'm not sure that the goal is to not come off as condescending and judgmental. Reality (and human depravity) is such that the Gospel will be perceived that way to many. I'd be willing to bet that the woman at the well (at least at first) thought that Jesus was condescending. "Give me a drink, You worship what you don't know but we worship what we do know."

The goal, then, is to not be condescending and judgmental. And that has to do with our motivation... why we're going to confront our neighbors with the truths of the Gospel and the inconsistency of that Gospel with their own lives. It's got to be out of love, out of a desire to serve them. And, like I said before, I think that love and that desire to serve can be expressed by actually saying that. "I know it might not seem like it, but from the bottom of my heart what compels me to tell you these things is love for you. I want you to know that I bring these things up -- even though they're painful -- because ultimately I desire good things for you."

I'm by no means an authority on this, but hopefully that's helpful. May God give us the grace that it might be so in all our lives.

CR said...

M. Stevenson,

Sounds like some of these scenario questions might be answered by Dan's third post. Maybe Phil and Frank will "call-in" sick and Dan will get to conclude in the next post. :=)

Seriously, probably hard to deal with your question in comment format. Sounds like your neighbor is not a Christian? If that is the case, then, this is real important: the biggest problem with your neighbor is not that she had an abortion a few years ago (even though it is egregious), her biggest problem is also not that she is moving in with a guy who is not her husband (even thought it's wrong), her biggest problem is her relationship (or lack thereof) with God. Whatever may be true of her whether she is happy or miserable (most likely miserable), whether she is moral or immoral (in her case immoral) she is not living for God's glory, therefore she is a sinner. The fact that she is not living for God's glory that comes before her prior abortion and immoral relationship with this guy. Start with her relationship with God, in other words share with her the gospel.

Secondly, make sure you really pray about this before you talk to her, ask the Lord to open her heart. Specifically, pray that the Lord would regenerate her. Your neighbor will reject the gospel if she is not born-again.

Thirdly, make sure you take any logs out of your eye before removing a speck in your neighbor's eye. I say this because, well, one, my pastor preached a great message on it this morning, but we tend to be very forgiving of ourselves, and we tend to think that the Lord only sees the ungodliness and unrighteousness of others, but we think He doesn't see our own unrighteousness. So, it's important to do that first, so that we can see clearly and be gentle but firm with others.

Even though your time is nearing to end with her because she is moving, if you can continue the friendship with her, then you can give her the gospel. It's not always possible to do that in one fell swoop. Don't rush it and pray. If the Lord doesn't use you, she may use someone else.

You asked for "actual conversations" as examples. Here's a link. Scroll all the way to the bottom and there are two videos. It has a before conversation which is a bad example and a after conversation which is an good example.

The Pilgrim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Violating two rules (4 and 5) in one comment... well, I'm sure it's not a record. But it's also not okay.

M. Stevenson said...

Mike,

Thank you for those comments, especially

"I know it might not seem like it, but from the bottom of my heart what compels me to tell you these things is love for you. I want you to know that I bring these things up -- even though they're painful -- because ultimately I desire good things for you."

I do feel as though the past couple of years my husband and I have demonstrated our love for her in practical ways (helping shovel snow, sharing from our garden, watching her daughter, having her over for dinner), and the reality of her moving increases our urgency in the matter of sharing the gospel. We did have a "near-gospel" conversation when the abortion issue came up: I talked about how the guilt that she felt was good, in order to bring about a change in her life/repentance, but it essentially wasn't the whole message of the gospel and perhaps the soil still needed to be worked.

And CR, I am especially thankful for what you said about prayer. I know that for me, that is probably the biggest piece that is missing from the equation on my part. I think about what I want to say to her, and even practice having conversations while washing dishes or folding laundry. But to be honest, I haven't REALLY prayed for her! And I am going to begin to do so, and trust the Lord to accomplish His will through me.