27 January 2010

The Concrete Way

by Frank Turk

God is glorified by a lot of things. For example, God is glorified in nature by the fact that He created it, and it speaks about Him. (Rom 1:19-20) God is glorified in the fact of man’s creation (Ps 139) – not just in an ontological sense either, but in the continuous sense that every one of a man’s days are written out by God’s plan. God is glorified by the fact of the Bible (Ps 119), and that God has bothered to speak to people for their own good.

But there’s a way in which God is glorified which, I think, we overlook pretty regularly. And I have a passage of Scripture about that which I’d like to present and discuss:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
You all know that part, right? It’s a redaction of Deu 6 and Lev 19 – but not in such a way which harms Scripture. Jesus says so Himself – if the lawyer who was testing Him lived this way (loving God and loving men), he’d be all set.

Think about that: for Jesus, it was enough to say that loving God greatly (with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind) and loving men particularly (that is, the same way you love yourself) to warrant the inheritance of eternal life. There’s no mention there of resurrection or repentance, is there? Yet Christ says, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Was Jesus preaching “sloppy agape”? Where’s the Glory of God? Where’s the law, and man’s inability? Doesn't this conversation intimate a synergistic view? How could the lawyer who was testing Him be “correct” to say that the Law demands love -- in the right way, and two different kinds of love to be sure – and that this is enough to gain eternal life?

Here’s where that story goes, for those of you who haven’t read it lately:
But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"

He said, "The one who showed him mercy."

And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." [Luke 10, ESV]
Now, think on this: the matter of loving God as it is manifest in loving people is what is at stake here. The lawyer asked the question “who is my neighbor” to “justify” himself – that is, either to demonstrate that his first question was not a trap, or to demonstrate that he is not himself a fool for asking a ridiculously simple question.

So the matter of “who is my neighbor” is about how we keep the commandment to love God and love our neighbor. And in that, Christ [as Luke tells it] gives us 3 examples of men who have some relationship with God and with an actual person.

You’ve heard this sermon before, I am sure: the priest avoided the man; the Levite avoided the man. But the Samaritan did not avoid the man. It seems like a kindergarten Sunday school lesson, I am sure, but let’s think about this for a minute. In John 4, the woman [a Samaritan] at the well said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, John makes clear) That is, the Samaritans worship God apart from the Jews, and the Jews think that because of this, there is enmity between them – the Samaritans are rather less than lovers of God.

But it is the Samaritan who, as Jesus says, “proved to be a neighbor”.

Look: I haven’t jumped ship here. I’m not saying that Jesus endorses the idea that it doesn’t matter which god you worship as long as you do nice things for people. I think what Jesus is saying is that even a Samaritan who is not a Levite or a priest can prove to be a neighbor, and in that why can’t the priest and the Levite prove to be a neighbor? If they love God, they ought to be loving their neighbor.

Consider it: the Levite and the priest have the temple, and its sacrifices – but what do those things cause them to do? The Lawyer can cite the Sh’ma, and connect the admonition of the Sh’ma to obey God and His law to the broad command of Lev 19 which says, frankly, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself in a concrete way. Don’t lie; don’t steal; don’t cheat; care for the poor from your own portion; do not take vengeance, and do not do injustice in court. But Christ tells him that loving God requires you to love people. You can't be doing the former unless you are doing the latter.

So the matter of the temple is not at stake; the matter of Unitarian inclusivity is not at stake; the matter of Christology is not at stake; the matter of synergism vs. monergism is not at stake. What is at stake in this example is whether we can say we love God if we do not do what He has said to do – specifically, to love your neighbor. That is, the matter of rightly obeying all the Law as the Law presents itself is at stake.

See: God is glorified when we love. That may seem somewhat uncontroversial to some people, but there’s a reason God is glorified when we love: it is because God loves. The fact – the indisputable fact of the Bible – is that God loves men, and that love is glorifying to God.

So yes: God’s wrath is glorifying to Him. God’s Justice is glorifying to Him. God’s Holiness is glorifying to Him. But God’s Love is also glorifying to Him because it is as great as His Holiness. It is as great as His Justice. It is as great as His Wrath.

And it is glorifying to Him when we show it to others. We can show them His Wrath by walking them through the Law, and through Revelation, and by presenting the Cross as the object of His wrath. But if we do those things and omit the Love which is evident in those things – evident because it seeks to set aside wrath by mercy, and patience, and a public declaration – what have we done? What kind of God have we declared? Without calling anyone any names, does this put us in danger of making the same kind of mistake Jesus accuses the religious leaders in Mat 23 of making -- neglecting the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness as things people do?






27 comments:

Don said...

This is one area I have to work on in my life. It is also the most prominent issue with much of today's visible church.
I'm gonna go take care of my log in the eye now...

Later
Don

donsands said...

Nice post. I shared this parable the other day with a person.

Jesus knew how to say things that would last forever. His Word is true, eternally true.

"We love God the most, when we love the least of these." -Glen Kaiser

Rob Bailey said...

I was reading James this morning. You two would get along great.

lawrence said...

Excellent.

Fusion! said...

I think I hear a little Ronald Nash there, God is all his attributes at once. If you saw Stetzer's blog this week, there was issue over Jim Belcher's understanding of missional, that it leads to a social justice gospel of good works and that leads to liberalism and that leads to the dark side (true quote!)But I think this is the heart of what a lot fo these peopel are trying to say. I hope that for those who don't believe the church plays some role in loving the outcast, will heed these words. I know I've been convicted and encouraged in the last few weeks with the situation in Haiti. But as someone once said, jugement begins at home. I live in an area where it is becoming more and more prevalent to see child sex slavery, and people living in tent citites because they've los their homes. I have a sneaky suspicion that it shouldn't take an earthquake to reach out to them.

Frank Turk said...

FusionFrank for the score!

John said...

Dude. Awesomeness.

Robert said...

Just as Paul said, the greatest of these is love. Which of us wants to be a noisy gong? I have to remind myself of this (with a lot of help from my wife) all the time. I have to remember who the enemy is when I refute false teaching or reprove a fellow Christian. Satan is the evil one and we were all at one time or another enemies of God, chasing after the fleshly desires of this world. I pray that we will all act more in love every day so as to follow Jesus' example better. Then we can shine like a light on the hill.

Thanks for the reminder.

David Rudd said...

frank,

i really appreciate this great demonstration of how to focus on the love of God without sheepishly ignoring the truth about God.

well done!

Stefan said...

Amen, amen, amen, and thank you.

Jesse said...

Frank,

I agree with what you wrote about the importance of love to both God and neighbor. I wonder though (not in a rhetorical sense, but I am honestly asking)if that was the point of this parable. I have heard it taught that the point of this parable is to show the impossibility of loving your neighbor with all your heart, and that the Samaritan was not a picture of what we should do, but a picture of how we should live IF our goal was to work our way to heaven. In this sense, it is comparable to the "sell all you have and give to the poor" to inherit eternal life kind of response, and Jesus's "go and do likewise" was not meant as an encouragement, but as a way to show how impossible it is to get to heaven except by grace.

Have you heard that take on the parable before? What are your thoughts?

Brad Williams said...

Frank, if I agree with you, will you flesh out your love for me by buying me that sausage burger? I could get after that thing.

Frank Turk said...

Jesse --

One thing I have to say about Jesus vs. us is that we are always a little too eager to make everything Jesus said into one of the 5 solas, or at least totally conformed to one of the 5 solas. In this case, the Good Samartian has to then be not about how or whether to love your neighbor (a matter of sanctification, not justification) but twisted to be about how depraved man is and therefore unable to please God.

As I am wont to say, "Pheh."

The cause of this incident -- if we take Scripture at face value -- is, "a lawyer [who] stood up to put [Jesus] to the test" -- so we are viewing one of the many rounds of "stump the Messiah" which takes place in the 4 Gospels. The cause of the incident is that the lawyer was trying to prove Jesus wasn't all that.

Jesus' response to his question pretty much annihilates the lawyer and his question as he cites Moses straight-up, right? And the question is not, “How am I saved by the Law?” The question is, if I can be so bold as to paraphrase a lawyer from 2000 years ago, “Since the law is full of commands of greater and lesser significance, which command is the most significant, Jesus?” That is: in some sense, the lawyer is asking Jesus for a way to interpret the Law by understanding which command(s) are most important and (therefore) which are the least. This is not about how works save us: it is about what the works which the law commands look like.

Without getting too far self-distracted off your question, my take on this incident is that it’s a snapshot of the relationship between God and Israel when God takes a moment (again) to explain to Israel what the Law is really about. I mean, it’s not like God hasn’t previously given them Deu 6 and Lev 19; it’s not like God never before said, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos 6:6) The point of the Law is not to show how shart you are or can be: the point of the Law is to show how you belong to God. The literature in the OT most notably related to this is the Wisdom literature like Proverbs – which is literature which assumes God’s covenant and then points out how one should live if the covenant is true. It’s really, really good advice – not crypto-calvinistic systematics which say, “well: do this,” but means “yeah, but you can never do this because of total depravity and your dead heart.”

So Jesus says, “Hey: if you love God (he gives a litany of ways, but he could have said “in spirit and in truth” and meant the same thing without quoting the OT), and then you love people because you love God, you have gotten the whole law.”

But that’s not good enough for the lawyer – it’s too simple. So he asks the follow-up to justify his question – “yeah, but who is my neighbor?”

Listen: when my kids do that to me, we start talking about being teachable, and about listening with a heart open to wisdom rather than personal desires and preferences. But Jesus – because he’s God, and he’s Good – tells a story which, in effect, says, “If even a Samaritan can understand who his neighbor is, surely you who have the law and the temple can understand who your neighbor is.”

It’s fine that we say that the Muslim does not worship Jesus and the actual God of Abraham – but when the Muslim understands how to love our neighbor better than we do, it’s time to start over with our systematics with the basics: Love God, Love people. He who does not love his brother (the brother he can see) and says he loves God (one he cannot see) is a liar.

Period. End of story.

Frank Turk said...

Brad --

Only if you're dying on the side of the road on my way home from work. Or they deliver to your house.

Fusion! said...

Thanks Frank :) You too continue to surprise me. By the way, I live in the Inland Empire in California lot sof shadiness cna happen in those big deserted areas.

And that sausage burger is giving me diabetes just by looking at it.

Jesse said...

Thanks Frank. That was helpful.

Rick Potter said...

This (loving my neighbor) has been one of the hardest things for me to do. I have said in other comments as much. I have asked what it means to love God. I have struggled with it as one of my main failures. But, having read for many years here, and in reading here today, the way is becoming very clear to me. Yes, I am dim witted in this area. But I am growing because of your (Pyromaniacs) efforts. I have been enriched both mentally and spiritually by these admonitions. And, I just want to say thanks.

Frank Turk said...

Rick --

Mostly I'm preaching to myself, so don't feel like you're the only sinner in the stew.

SamWise said...

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel." (Exodus 19: 5-6 ESV)

The purpose of our salvation is to be a witness to the nations about God's love shown to us in Messiah. This is in the heart of the Law and is the heart of the Law (before 20th chapter even!).

Israel was not treasured to be hidden under a bushel basket but as a witness of God's grace that would be available to all nations ultimately in Messiah (as a City on a Hill).

Does it not strike you that strangers were allowed to join Israel through conversion (as well as slaves captured from other nations) and that there are procedures for those conversions within the Law!

We need to not make the same mistake about strangers as Israel made! We need to preach the gospel and allow the Lord Holy Spirit to do His converting.

This is best shown by loving our neighbor (even the strangers) as we love our selves (again in the heart of the priestly Law (Lev 19) by preaching the gospel to ourselves as well as our neighbor!

Thanks Frank!

In the Lamb,

B Barnes said...

I hope I'm not going too far off base with this question, but would this apply to the guy you see at the off ramp, with the sign saying he's going somewhere or needs money/food. I've always wondered if it's wrong not to help when we feel it would put ourselves at risk from the person we're helping.

or is that the modern day equivalent to, "and who is my neighbor?"

SamWise said...

Having worked with the down-and-outs before, you need to discern whether the sign holder is a "professional" or not.

Some will always choose their way outside of society (can you spell "unibomber?"). Others are legitemately down.

"Professionals" play on guilt about seeing someone obviously needing help. It's fair to ask questions about how they got where they are and can they do something for themselves?

One option is to offer food for some small chore say picking up some litter (right there beside the road) to save their value (image of God and doing unto the Lord).

Money is never wise as it may contribute to some substance that the Lord would not approve of.

Either way, we need to share the gospel as we do all the above and thank the Lord..."There go I but for the grace of the LORD!"

In the Lamb,

csun goc said...

Sam,
I agree, but only to an extent. I think Israel was called to stay in the land and eradicate poverty from their midst (Deut 15), and by doing so they let their light shine, and the nations of the world would come and be converted (Deut 4, 1 Kings 10, etc.)
The church, on the other hand, is the opposite. Israel was to stay and transform the culture, we are to go and preach the Gospel to the world.Israel was to show indiscriminate compassion to the poor in their midst, and Christians are to meet the needs of the poor in the church.
The only NT example of the proverbial guy on an off-ramp is in Acts 3, and they refused to give him money (or make him pick up trash first). But just two verses earlier Christians sold all they had and met each others needs.
I don't want to undercut the force of Frank's article; we are to show love to all people because God loves all people. But to relate that to Israel's mission is to dilute the uniqueness of the commission given to the church, and to undercut the difference between how Christians should respond to the poor in the church vs. the poor in the world.

Jesse said...

Sorry Sam. I posted that last comment under the wrong log in.

donsands said...

"Christians are to meet the needs of the poor in the church."

Amen. And to do good to all people really.
I like how the Church has sent millions of dollars to help Haiti.

This is my thinking on the people of God, and I know I may be wrong:

I see the People of God from Adam, Noah, Abram, Jacob, and Moses onward as His elect loved ones. Whether Israel, or the Church, and especially when God returns (Rev. 21), God wanted to "tabernacle with His beloved children. Not that all God's children are God's children.
There will always be tares within the wheat until the Harvest.

And I do think you are correct that israel was established in such a location that this small nation could be a shining light of who the Lord was, the One true God, Yahweh.

I always am learning here at Pyro.

Jesse said...

Don,

There is also a NT example of the church (like Haiti) responding to a disaster: the famine in Israel. And when Paul raised money from other Christians, it was for "the saints in Jerusalem."
And this gets back to the Israel/church distinction. Israel met the needs of the poor (enemy, alien, stranger, slave) in their midst, and transformed their culture. But in the church, the world will know the love of God by how Christians love each other.
Do good to all people, but especially to those in the household of faith.

donsands said...

Thanks you Jesse. Very sound words.

vickilovesboxers said...

Please guys, do not think me irreverent--I read every word of the article and it was good--but I just HAVE to know what is on that beautiful breakfast sandwich!