Hutchinson Island, Florida
Archive for September 5th, 2009
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you,” John 13:34
Love – Why does Yeshua say this is a new commandment? Doesn’t the Torah teach us to love one another? Isn’t that the point of loving your neighbor? What makes this particular statement so unique?
Christians have often cited this verse as the basis for an ethical principle. They have claimed that the New Testament is no longer based on Jewish legislated morality but on an eternal principle of moral action. That principle is love for each other. But this presents a problem. Childs makes the observation, “The biblical narratives are not a collection of teachings on virtue, character, and morality. In fact, the Bible amazes us by its remarkable indifference to our conceptions of good and evil. Rather its chief concern is not the doing of man, but of God. ‘It is not the right human thought about God which forms the content of the Bible, but the right divine thoughts about man’ (Barth, 43).” In other words, the Bible is not man’s attempt to develop an appreciation of the divine or a code of ethics based on the divine. The Bible is God’s thoughts about us! Attempts to derive ethical principles from the Bible miss the point. The Bible is not about ethical principles. It’s about God’s view of the human condition.
How does this insight help us? First, it corrects all attempts to come up with some kind of universal moral directive – like “love each other.” It’s popular to say that the hallmark of Christian living is love, but this is a mistake. Why? It’s a mistake because it strips away the context of life in the Spirit. It holds up an independent principle not anchored in God’s personal interaction with us. Principles of ethics are Greek-based concepts derived from human reason about what is good, but the Hebrew Scriptures are not about principles. They are about a living, dynamic, personal relationship – a relationship that has ebbs and flows, that weaves its way into all sorts of human activities and that isn’t always so neat and organized. The Scriptures are stories and thoughts about concrete, real-life events woven into the fabric of God’s interactions with us. The Bible, as Childs says, is remarkable in its indifference to our categories of right and wrong, good and evil. For example, why create the Tree? The Bible is about God’s point of view, not ours – and it does not accommodate our trivial questions.
Secondly, by recognizing that “love” is not a principle, but an event-relationship, we see that Yeshua’s new commandment is the extension of God’s point of view. “As I have loved you,” qualifies what was already there. I already knew that God loves. He loves me and He loves my neighbor. I already had Leviticus 19:18. But now I discover that God’s love embraces self-sacrifice on behalf of others. It is more than benevolence. It is costly benevolence, in character with the Son who died for me. When I find myself in relationship with Him, I realize that my life becomes an expression of His life. And so does my death. There are no limits on what God would do to rescue me. There can be no limits on what I will do to rescue you. It’s not quite as simple as WWJD, is it?
Topical Index: love, agape, ethics, principles, relationship, John 13:34, Leviticus 19:18