19 January 2010

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

by Dan Phillips

[Concluding the series started here.]

Once while the Dear Wife and I were on a date, driving through such countryside as the blighted wastelands of Sacramento have to offer, we were talking about the personality of Christ. "Personality" is not here a typo for "person"; I mean we were talking about what sort of man our Lord was, what kind of character and traits He displayed in His days on the earth. What was it like, to know Him?

It was a good talk for both of us. Valerie said I should write a book from it. Maybe someday, and after a whole lot more prayerful thought and study.

You have to start with Biblical systematics, because systematics necessarily frame the discussion. Systematics lay out the canvas on which the portrait must be painted. And so we know that, whatever sort of person Jesus was, He was the only truly, genuinely, honest-to-God healthy human being who ever lived. He was the only truly integrated human, the only unfractured, unwarped, quirk-free, undented, this-is-what-a-man-is-supposed-to-look-like human being ever to draw breath this side of the Garden (cf. Luke 1:35; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 2:1).

So this study of Jesus will be vital for the question of this series. Because systematics also informs us that no man ever has really gotten and embodied the right integration of the First and Second command, ever (Romans 3:23; 5:12ff.; 8:7, etc.). The best we rise to is flashes and runs here and there, solely by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit bearing the fruit of Christ's character in and through (and in spite of) us (Galatians 5:17, 22-25). But it is to Jesus we must look, to see a living image of a man who really loves God above all, and his neighbor secondarily — and who got it right all the time.

What do we see, when we look to Jesus?

Not what we expect. Certainly not the Jesus of modern Christian sentimentality.

The only way to avoid doubling the length of the series is to organize my observations under two points and make them far too brief. To wit:

Jesus was all about God — first, last and foremost. First recorded sermon in Matthew is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:17). God would not adapt Himself and His will to "meet the needs of" the people; their greatest need was to adapt to Him and His will, which (given that they were sinners) meant starting with that roots-to-branches paradigm shift known as repentance.

We see this throughout Jesus' entire ministry. He was not about flattering the prejudices, ignorance, pride, and stubbornness of His hearers — ever. As His forerunner had affronted his hearers' pride (Matthew 3:2, 6-12), thus also the Lord Jesus' first audience in Nazareth were so enraged with His "insulting" message that they wanted to kill Him right then and there (Luke 4:29). So far from flattering and accommodating and contextualizing with the wolves in the Temple, He ruined their little shell-game and had them sputtering out demands to see His credentials (John 2:14-18). He called them insulting, belittling names that certainly wounded their pride and dignity, and He did it in public (Matthew 23; Luke 11:14-54).

Everything He did, whether teaching or healing or living, was part of accomplishing the work of God who had sent Him (John 17:4). For that reason, His very food was to do God's will (John 4:34). And if doing that will of God enraged His hearers, He could live with it (John 8:43).

All this was the behavior of Love Incarnate.

Jesus' display of love for neighbor was markedly un-sentimental. Some will splutter that Jesus was totally different with individuals than He was with religious leaders. But was He?

First, we must note that Jesus dealt with individuals throughout His ministry. He isn't like the leaders we spoke of earlier, who can talk to crowds, but can't deal with individuals. In fact, I can't offhand think of any time that His apostles tried to bar individuals, that Jesus didn't override them. However, His dealings with individuals was different than popularly depicted.

For instance, I'd say He was pretty rough with the Syrophoenecian woman who pled and pled for Him to help her daughter (Matthew 15:22; note the imperfect ἔκραζεν, "she kept crying and crying"). First Jesus ignored her altogether (v. 23), then He answered rather brusquely (vv. 24, 26). You and I know that love crafted His response, and served to draw out and focus her faith — but His means were light-years removed from the "My precious, precious child"-murmuring bobble-headed "Jesus" of popular sentiment.

Another woman who was amazed at Jesus — but not because of His gloppy agapē — is the woman at the well (John 4). She had a sharp tongue, but soon found that she was crossing swords with her better. And when she tried a hasty grab for a free gift (4:15), He replied, "Tell you what. Go get Me your husband, and we'll talk" (v. 16) — knowing perfectly well that He was jamming the probe right into her very sorest, most infected tissue. No Hallmark sentiments there, no kid-gloves.

Nor did Jesus use kid-gloves in responding to John the Baptist, when the latter was languishing in prison. His response to John seems quite brusque. And so He is with all doubt. While some today pride themselves on "lovingly" coddling doubt and its promoters, the genuinely loving Jesus finds unbelief unbelievable.

Jesus was no less brusque with the distraught father whose son Jesus' apostles could not heal. Jesus apparently addresses them all when He says "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?", and then tells the father, "Bring your son here" (Luke 9:41). Here we find "coojie-coojie-coo" neither for failed, embarrassed apostles nor for anxious father. (But He does heal the lad.)

And of course to bring up the apostles is to be confronted by more of the same. Jesus was patient with them, He bore with them, He loved them — but He never flattered them, and He seldom coddled them. The narrative of His schooling is one of repeatedly throwing them into choppy water well over their heads, urging them to swim better, and frankly berating them when they don't. Jesus frequently rebukes them, frequently challenges them, frequently (we would say) insults them. Or do you think ὀλιγόπιστοι ("micro-faith"; Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Luke 12:28) is a compliment?

In fact, I daresay that the very greatest display of Jesus' love for His own was, at the same time, coupled with the greatest smashing of their pride, the greatest crossing of their will, and the airiest dismissal of their felt-needs. I speak, of course, of the Cross.

Peter was still glowing with pleasure over Jesus' pronouncement of blessing (Matthew 16:17-19), when Jesus began openly predicting His coming rejection and death on the cross (v. 21). Peter took Jesus aside and began rebuking (!) Him (v. 22).

And how did Jesus respond? "My precious, precious child, blah blah blah"? Not so much. "I know you mean well, but listen"? Not really. "I feel touched that you..."? No.

How about, in front of everyone, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (v. 23). Yowch. Yet thus spake Love Incarnate.

In going to the Cross, Jesus was telling them they could do nothing for themselves. He was telling them all of their efforts amounted to zero. What's more, He was meeting none of their felt needs. They felt the need for Him to stay around, beat the Romans, and make everything peachy. He did none of that.

Yet He did do exactly what they needed Him to do, and did it at great cost to Himself.

This, by the way, is what many are itching the flood the meta with — how were any of these instances displays of love? That was my point: they weren't — as we measure love, as the RPB contingent and the cosmophiliites measure love. Love (we learn from Jesus) isn't primarily about protecting pride at all costs, shielding feelings, flattering, accommodating, avoiding perceived insult, nor meeting felt needs.

Love is primarily about pursuing what is for the highest and best good of the one loved. Love led Jesus to the Cross, when none of those He loved wanted Him to go there. Love led Jesus to tell the Pharisees what they hated to hear, and hated Him for saying, because (A) they needed to hear it, and (B) their victims needed to hear someone saying it.

That is why Jesus bore with those He treated (to our delicate sentiments) so harshly. It is why He called the apostles "micro-faith" — yet kept pushing them on in faith. Why He ignored the mother — yet, when the apostles told Him to send her away, did not do so, but prodded her again, until He brought her the rest of the way to faith. Why He rebuked Peter, but kept him, and kept with him, and kept working with him. Oh! the surgery would hurt, but oh! it was necessary.

There is so much more to be said, but I leave off here for now. It is critical for us to be challenged by these aspects of our Lord's character, as we learn to show love. But it is no less important for us in understanding His love for us. If our idea of Jesus' love for us is the amorphous steaming mass of goo fantasized by so many, we will be wholly blindsided by His rough, and yet loving, providences (cf. John 11:5-6 NAS).

Jesus' love is not like our "love."

That is why we must learn from Him, and not the reverse.

Dan Phillips's signature


G N Barkman said...

Another great post. Some real food for thought here. I hope to be able to revisit this article for it's excellents insights. Truly worthy of our meditation because Christ is the focus, and the Bible is the source of information.

DJP said...

Some real food for thought here

Thanks, GN. That's my aim - not to answer all possible questions (can't, certainly not the man for it), but to try to break some shells and stir some textually-oriented thought.

olan strickland said...

But it is to Jesus we must look, to see a living image of a man who really loves God above all, and his neighbor secondarily — and who got it right all the time.

What do we see, when we look to Jesus?

Not what we expect. Certainly not the Jesus of modern Christian sentimentality.

Amen Dan! But the postmodern, sentimental, "gloppy agape" man will criticize you for genuine acts of love which benefit your fellow man. For instance, labeling poison so that no one drinks from its container - pointing out heretics and their heresies - is viewed as unloving and cruel but is actually a high act of love with great benefit to fellow men - a point that you clearly made.

David Rudd said...

For instance, labeling poison so that no one drinks from its container - pointing out heretics and their heresies - is viewed as unloving and cruel but is actually a high act of love with great benefit to fellow men

I think this statement from Olan is a really concise way of making the right point about loving God and loving others.

I need to remember, though, that there is a difference between saying, "That's poison!" and saying, "That's poison, you nimrod!".

And then I need to remind myself that just because Jesus spoke harshly sometimes, doesn't mean I can do it whenever I want. I'm not him, and my chances of doing it at the right time and in the right way are pretty slim.

Mike Riccardi said...

God would not adapt Himself and His will to "meet the needs of" the people; their greatest need was to adapt to Him and His will.

That's a great point for fans of contextualization to digest.

Really enjoyed this series, Dan. But I didn't know you played the accordion! And when did you dye your goatee?

DJP said...

It's a long story.

mark pierson said...

Challenging. Convicting. Great insights.

mike said...

Thanks for putting in words the concept that I have been feeling for a while.
We struggle with loving enough, or correctly because we can’t agree on what love is.
We have many terms that are foundational to our faith, (faith being one of them) that we need clean up our definitions. and of course the only way to clear up a definition of anything correctly, is to look at scripture and see what those term mean to God.
Turns out that loving in God’s economy is not giving what is wanted, it is giving what is needed.

Coram Deo said...

Love (we learn from Jesus) isn't primarily about protecting pride at all costs, shielding feelngs, flattering, accommodating, avoiding perceived insult, nor meeting felt needs.


Not to hurt your feelngs, but there's a typo in your piece.

In Christ,

DJP said...


Rhesa said...

How would you relate this to evangelism? So many times we are "apologists" instead of evangelists no one ever gets knocked around spiritually.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Alway with grace ~ seasoned with salt.

Thorough. awesome. thanks.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Superb post.

"Jesus' display of love for neighbor was markedly un-sentimental."

Are there folks who object to your observation? If so, why?

Tom Chantry said...

A pastor of mine once told me, "The person who loves you best is the one who tells you the most truth." He meant much the same thing as you; focus on substance rather than gushyness. Now he didn't exactly mean to apply it this way, but as I was reading your post I thought, "It's true, the Person who tells me the most truth really does love me best - and He is my Lord."

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Always-good information, Dan, and I love it when you reference your past articles which coincide with your current articles.

You said, in The Laziness of Unbelief (and I comment now, cuz I was not here then..), "We embrace our feeling as if it were truth, and we sulk."

This is exactly what Jesus is telling us here, in your current article,"STOP listening to yourself and LISTEN TO ME." Adam and Eve did this in the garden, and we still do not listen like we should. I would love to count how many times in Scripture God tells us to listen to Him.

It may be hard to hear a rebuke at times, but "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools (Ecc 7:5)."

DJP said...


I appreciate your kind encouragement. But my conscience makes me need to say that I don't think it's thorough at all. Phil, Frank and I could all write a whole lot more about the ins and outs, and still not cover it, as I did not cover it.

But I thank you again for your kind words.

philness said...


I've been looking at these fine series through the lens of the whole MD as to whether or not it is loving to sign or is unloving not to sign in hopes to reconcile both positions. I can't help but think these series might have been sparked in a similar light.

While I think it would be a greater love to side with the MD it would incur a greater work to un-confuse the true gospel. And perhaps this is tough love.

donsands said...

Great lesson. Well done. There's endless wisdom we need to learn about our Savior.

Jesus as the perfect man, who never needed to apologize for misspeaking, or even tone, His words would have to bite us sinners a bit.
There's no way around it.

And yet Jesus revealed His affection for His friends as well by washing their feet, and especially the "disciple He loved", our Lord allows us to see His affection John 13:23-25.

Jesus makes a whipcord and beats people out of the church. And He washes the dirty feet of His disciples. Both acts of love and righteousness.

Chris H said...

I read somewhere that the wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Sound familiar, DJP? Perhaps there might be some of these thoughts about Jesus in your upcoming book?

Jim Pemberton said...

Great post!

I'll note first that Jesus seemed to tailor his response to the individual. To some he challenged by being a little standoffish. They needed that. For others he went out of his way to meet. We sometimes read where the disciples or the crowd would occasionally prevent someone from wasting Jesus' time. Yet Jesus would talk to that person anyway. You may have such events with special guest speakers or worship leaders where afterward they are inundated by a crowd and inevitably end up in a long conversation with some long-winded super-spiritual person or another. There's just no chance that you'll get to even express your thanks for a helpful message or ministry. Yet Jesus didn't seem to be that way. The crowd would press in and some poor Joe would cry out from the fringes, "Son of David!" or climb a tree to catch even just a glimpse. "No! Don't bring those children here. Jesus doesn't have time to waste on mere children. What kind of faith could they have anyway? Let them grow up some first!" (Of course that's what I imagine their attitude must have been."

But Jesus would approach some to heal them, invite himself to their house or welcome them. He didn't coddle them and he didn't frustrate them by ignoring the truth of their situation. And for every individual who came, there was a learning opportunity for those who sat by and observed.

He was not unapproachable. He was direct, but not harsh. He was not verbally abusive. He called the Pharisees and their system of corruption some hard names, but those names were not untrue.

One thing we must be careful of. Although Jesus is fully human and we can generally follow his example, he is also fully God and can do things we cannot. I'm not talking about miracles. He knew with great detail and certainty the hearts of those who he came in contact with. We do not. He is perfect and can demand and accept worship with absolute righteousness and perfect love, and did so according to the Biblical accounts. We cannot and must not.

Jay said...

Sounds similar to a book I just started reading.."The Jesus You Can't Ignore."

ltlgeorge said...

This article brought the phrase "speak the truth in love" to mind. Which takes tremendous courage for me to do at times. Guess I have a long way to grow.

DJP said...

Right there with you, George. Kind of the sun of the series: one either speaks the truth, but not so much in love; or loves, but not so truthy as should be; or does not speak at all.

Sonja said...

Dan--These posts on this subject have been very encouraging and convicting.

I'm in full agreement with you that Christ was un-sentimental as He spoke the truth. But since He is God and perfectly righteous, doesn't He have the right to speak the truth in that way?

What about saints who believe that we only speak the truth to one another without necessarily spending time with one another one-on-one or in fellowship? How can we effectively speak the truth in love if we don't first create some semblance of trust? I've seen the effects of a saint speaking the truth to someone he barely knows, only to sound like a resounding gong or cymbal (I Cor 13)and appear pious, judgmental, and self-righteous.

Shouldn't we speak the truth in love by coming alongside one another as fellow sinners saved by grace, rather than someone who has "arrived."? I think all too often we try to speak with the same authority as Christ Himself. His Word is authoritative, but how the messenger delivers and ministers with the Word will make a big difference.

Aaron said...

DJP, excellent series. I notice that this namby pamby view of love infects everthing including parenting techniques.

Ex N1hilo said...

So, let me get this straight: Winsomeness is not the earmark of Christlikeness?

JSA said...

So I guess Christ was a lot like the bloggers at Tribalogue.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Joshua Allen: "So I guess Christ was a lot like the bloggers at Tribalogue."

Hey! Don't forget to compliment the bloggers at TeamPyro too!

JSA said...

@TUD - I've seen the guys here come dangerously close to almost flirting with with namby-pamby sentimentalism. The above post could even be reflective of an inner struggle? I can identify with that.

I don't identify so much with the guys at Tribalogue, since they seem to be infallible.

DJP said...

They're certainly indefatigable.

JSA said...

@DJP - :-)