I Don’t Know Anything About God

And neither do you.

What we say we “know” are items accepted on faith, communicated through scripture, written by mortal men. We accept them as inspired; we accept them as factual — but we accept them on faith.

I think it’s important to recognize that. Constantly.

Because overconfidence in what we “know” leads to an overweening pride in our own ability to interpret what we have read and accepted. Leads to arrogance. Leads to sects and parties and division and downfall.

Leads to loss of faith. Loss of faith, in favor of “knowledge.”

And I have to confess that in the past few years, my faith has changed. I hope it has matured, but I know it has changed.

I believe God exists, that He loves, that He cares, that He saves.

That means that I believe God cares in a divine way that I don’t necessarily comprehend. Perhaps even cannot understand.

For instance ….

Because I have faith in God, I have faith that God will let bad things happen to good people. He is God, and He can do what He likes in His own way and wisdom and time. I don’t know why. I don’t have to know why. If I needed to know why, I have faith that He’d have told me.

I have my own ideas on the matter, but they’re mine and they could be wrong — and ultimately they’re not important.

If they were important, I’d have answers.

I hope that doesn’t sound cynical, but I’m sure it does — especially to people who are certain that they “know” a lot about God. I think it’s just a recognition of reality.

But I also believe that God came, was and is present as human — in the form of the One whom we call His Son, Jesus — and therefore cares in a human way as well as a divine way.

Yet still lets bad things happen to good people. Lets good things happen to bad people (like grace). Lets things of all kinds happen to all kinds of people. And all the praying in the world will not sway His will if we are praying for something that is — in the divine perspective — not ultimately good for us; not something that can be within His will.

This is the God who let His Son suffer and die to give us the perspective of grace, a glimpse at eternity, a taste of blood and bread and the way that His world should be.

So we pray from a human perspective and receive our answers from the divine perspective. And the divine perspective calls on us to try to see them from His point of view. Even if we can’t do it. We must try.

Because we are also called to be part of the human answer to human prayers. Forgiving. Generous. Gracious. Kind. Loving. Self-sacrificial.

Part of the effort to make good things happen to all people. I believe that creating us, giving us His Son, showing us His grace, was all the work He needed to do; that it is sufficient. I can pray all I want to. But in the final analysis, I might as well just recognize that my prayers have (and must have) the power to change me. That’s entirely up to me.

Whether they have the power to change what He has planned to do in order to bring about good is entirely up to Him.

That’s what I believe about God. Just what I believe. Not what I know.

Because I don’t know anything about God.

And neither do you.

Why The Bible Doesn’t Legislate Song

A few possible reasons, anyway.

Of course, you need to understand that I don’t believe that singing praise is necessarily commanded in the New Testament. Nor is accompanying it when one does sing. Nor is singing / accompaniment forbidden. Singing is encouraged; singing is exemplified; that’s all. So you may need to visit some of my other posts first, before you object to the current one.

First of all, if God commanded everyone to sing with heart and voice, it would be impossible for people who have no vocal cords to obey, and there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t have vocal cords, from birth defect to injury to surgical removal due to cancer. It would also be impossible for a mute person to obey; someone whose neural network doesn’t connect like most folks’ do in the speech and communication area. God doesn’t seem to be in the business of excluding people in the kingdom described in the New Testament. He once excluded eunuchs from His tabernacle, but not from His kingdom. (It was even prophesied in Isaiah 56, a chapter which writes in the formerly exiled.) Surely there a but a few people who cannot sing in either heart or voice – and fewer still who cannot be uplifted by hearing or seeing it (as would be the case of many deaf people who still seem to thoroughly enjoy the rhythmic interpretation of ASL, for instance).

Secondly, if New Testament scripture legislated singing, that sort of law would have to get into all the details about how to sing; whether to sing with accompaniment; what kind of accompaniment is permissible … and so on and on and on. Instead, we have instructions that encourage us to sing together, praise together, build up each other. We have an example where that happened in a dark jail cell in Philippi, where required accompaniment on an instrument would have been likely impossible to obey. Christians being hunted down for lion fodder in the late part of the first century (and later) would have given away their location in the tombs had they worshiped in celebratory song accompaned by loud instruments. On the other end of the spectrum, we have an example or two in a vision of heaven where God gives each saint a harp and voice and where a cappella singing probably would not be required. Heaven is free from threat; enough harps are played that it’s as loud as an ocean or thunder. It doesn’t make sense to require instruments where they are not needed nor forbid them where they are useful.

Thirdly, there are times when people don’t feel like singing – at least, not like singing songs of joy and adulation and exuberance. Captive Israel didn’t feel like singing when dragged away from their homes to Babylon, and there on the poplars they hung their harps (Psalm 137). You can’t wring blood from a turnip. And you can’t wring songs of joy from a depressed heart. Scripture recognizes that. The Holy Spirit of God recognizes that, when inspiring such lamentations. In fact, there’s even a short book of them right there in the Bible. Paul even instructs us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Maybe our worship, its planning and expectations of others during it should recognize this as well.

Fourth, if we take the Lord at His Word to Mary through the angel or through Jesus to His disciples – that with God, nothing is impossible – then He could just as easily tune out the sound of instruments He might not want to hear today as easily as He could refuse to listen to them in the disobedient days of Amos 5:23. In fact, if there is anything that this chapter makes clear, it is that God is concerned about the hearts and lives of those who worship Him in song; if those are not right, those songs are just “noise.”

If there is anything that approaches legislation in scripture about singing, that’s it:

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. ~ 1 Corinthians 14:15

… speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, ~ Ephesians 5:19

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. ~ Colossians 3:16

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. ~ James 5:13

I think perhaps there has been so much emphasis on the imperative nature of the word “sing” (and on the interpretation of it as a command) that we have virtually ignored the modifiers which address the spirit, the mind, and the heart. Singing is not something done with just the body; the larynx, tongue, lips and lungs … the fingers, hands, arms, and feet. As worship, it is something that pleases God and expresses love and builds us up – like everything else – when it is done with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). This isn’t so much command as common sense.

What is the point of worship if it is not felt within as well as expressed without? What meaning is there in it if it is done solely as an obedient response; an obligation; a requirement to be carried out out of fear or duty or both — or just habit?

What would it look like if the spectators at a sporting event or the audience at a rock concert expressed their appreciation because they were told they had to; it was expected of them; it was customary? That it didn’t matter how well it went or how they felt about it or whether they felt anything about it – just respond or else? And they are to respond only by nodding quietly or repeating a soft-spoken approval while seated in a very restrained fashion; no applause; no standing; no variation; no innovation permitted?

Who would go to an event like that? Who would pay to go to an event like that?

(Yet we hope people will flood into our churches in droves, with generous hands doling cash into the collection coffers!)

Fifth: Maybe song isn’t legislated because song isn’t always given. In scripture, songs are given and called forth by God (Psalm 40:3, Psalm 42:8, Psalm 65:8; Job 35:10, etc.). Can God expect in return from us what He has not first given us? Perhaps the time is not appropriate for song; a time to weep rather than laugh; a time to mourn rather than dance (Ecclesiastes 3). Still, there is a time for song, and surely God knows when to give it. The fact that songs are often given by inspiration may help account for the fact that the phrase “new song” occurs so many times in scripture.

Sixth – and then I’ll step down from my soapbox and prepare to be pelted with all of the objections that can be gathered and slung – perhaps the Bible doesn’t legislate song because song has so many purposes and uses:

If the legislation required loud volume and jaunty pace, the songs of mourning would not sound right. If a song-law demanded softness and deliberation, then the exuberant songs that should burst forth from man, beast and nature itself would be defeated. If instruments were commanded for all, how could the song of a single soul walking in the woods or hanging out wet laundry be worship; if accompaniment were forbidden for all sorts of song, how could the “Hallelujah Chorus” achieve its full glory?

Like the Sabbath, song was made for man rather than the reverse. It is a gift of God to help us express what we feel toward Him and to the uplifting of others.

All right. That’s pretty much the extent of my wisdom on the matter. God’s wisdom exceeds it considerably. And that keeps leading me to the conclusion that songs of worship and praise and edification are encouraged by scripture – rather than regulated, codified, decreed, systematized, criminalized, enforced, prosecuted, sentenced and convicted.

Spirit and Truth

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. ~ John 4:24

What does Jesus mean by that: “in spirit and in truth”?

I have heard it taught – perhaps you have, too – that when Jesus says “in spirit,” He means that the spirit of the worshiper is engaged in worship, and when He says “in truth,” He means that the worship obeys God’s commands for worship.

Where does that interpretation come from?

Does Jesus use the word “spirit” exclusively to describe the spirit of an individual person? Is it possible that He is speaking of the Holy Spirit within an individual person instead – or also?

Does Jesus use the word “truth” exclusively to describe God’s commands? Does He even use it to describe God’s commands at all? Is it possible that He is speaking of truth here as the accurate proclamation of fact (as He uses it a few verses before – 4:18)?

The quote above, of course, is not isolated. It is part of a conversation with the woman at the well near Sychar, Samaria in John 4. The entire conversation is about truth. The entire conversation is about Jesus: the Truth, the Living Water, the Messiah.

As nearly as I can tell, Jesus never uses the word “truth” in John or any other gospel (or through His Spirit in any New Testament writing) to describe a set of commands from God.

He uses it to describe prophecies He shares; He uses it to describe characteristics of God’s children; He uses it to describe Himself and God’s word. His followers later use it to describe the gospel; and will speak of walking in the truth and obeying the truth or the gospel – not as a set of instructions – but as a Christlike way of life.

Not once do I find “truth” used to describe anything but the accurate proclamation of fact.

In fact, one of Jesus’ points to the woman at the well is that man’s interpretation of God’s commands are not His commands at all; where one set of forefathers or another claimed as the unique place and way of worship was irrelevant. God’s desire is worship from the heart of the worshiper, wherever he/she is. (See Isaiah 29:13 and its context … and the reason Jesus quotes it in Matthew 15 and Mark 7.)

Jesus seems to speak on one occasion in scripture of an individual person’s spirit (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38). In virtually every other instance in the gospels, a writer refers to Jesus’ spirit (which He gives up at the cross) or evil spirits whom He casts out (plural) or the Holy Spirit (singular). In the remainder of the New Testament, the same holds true; the exceptions are when Stephen surrenders his spirit at his martyrdom (Acts 7:59) and several occasions in which writers speak of an individual’s spirit (Examples: Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:34, 14:14-16).

But in the great majority of those passages in which a person’s individual spirit is mentioned, it is in the context of (hopefully) being united with the Holy Spirit. Don’t just take my word for this; check it out for yourself:

God’s desire is for His Spirit to be united with ours (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:17; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13, 2:22, 3:16, 5:18; 2 Timothy 1:14, 4:22; 1 John 3:24).

Is that what Jesus is communicating to the woman at the well in Sychar? He has not given up nor fully given out His Spirit at this point, nor has He taught His closest followers about His Spirit in those final days of His mortality.

But this is what He tells her in the verse right before the one quoted above:

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” ~ John 4:23

The time was coming; the time had come. They were right on top of it. And He says this will happen, because it is the Father’s will.

So I’ve had to come to the conclusion that what Jesus means by the phrase “in spirit and in truth” means that, in order to truly worship God who is spirit, we must be united with His Holy Spirit; we must worship as a proclamation of truth from the heart that we thoroughly believe – loving Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

And that His instruction has nothing to do with rules made up by man and attributed to God.

Why Micah 6:8 is My Favorite Bible Verse

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8

Micah 6:8

  • Because everyone who believes, also wants to know what God desires of them.
  • Because this verse tells us succinctly what God desires of us.
  • Because Jesus more-or-less quotes it in Matthew 23:23 – in Micah’s order. (What is faithfulness if not walking humbly with God?)
  • Because it puts in imperative language the very same principles that scripture expresses as most important: that we should love the Lord our God with heart (loving mercy), mind (discerning and dispensing what is justice), strength (walking is an activity requiring the strength God has given us), and soul (with God; communion of soul-to-Soul).
  • Because this is the way Jesus lived.
  • Because this is the way I want to live, and this verse makes it easy to keep that in mind.

That’s why.

And if that’s not enough, I could probably think of more reasons.

4-Dimensional Jesus

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” ~ Luke 2:52

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” ~ Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27

That’s right. He grew four ways: in wisdom (mentally, intellectually; in mind), in stature (or strength; physically; in the ability to do things to His glory), in favor with God (spiritually; in His soul), and in favor with men (socially; in His heart for others).

Because we are all created differently, each of us is going to have strengths and weaknesses in each of those four areas of life and perception. (Jeff Childers of ACU has quite a wonderful way of graphing those differences, in fact.) So, as a community of believers, we have an opportunity to grow and fill out each other’s deficits and have our deficits enriched by their gifts.

But, don’t you think God wants us to grow in all four dimensions, just as Jesus did?

(Remember Ephesians 3:14-20 from the previous post?)

Heart | Soul | Mind | Strength

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” ~ Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27

That’s Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 … and adding a few words. You won’t find “and with all your mind” in Moses’ revelation of God’s law for Israel.

But I do not believe He intended to add it to the exclusion of the other three.

That’s where much of Christianity has majored – with all our minds – to the exaltation of reason and logic above the love of the heart which is at the core of the instruction’s meaning and intent.

At the other end of the extreme, much of Christianity has majored in the love of the heart, to the exclusion of reason and logic altogether. So these two emphases conflict, without even enough common ground to stand upon while bickering about which is more God-like.

Far too little of Christianity has even minored in loving the Lord our God with all our strength … doing with our might what our hands find to do, as an old gospel song phrases it.

And that leaves the world to judge by our inaction how little of Christianity, and to what pathetic degree, has sold its “self” to love the Lord our God with all our souls.

Jesus didn’t seem to be stating this as a multiple-choice question: “Heart | Soul | Mind | Strength – Choose One!”

None of them is optional. All four dimensions are needed.

But – as I have maintained elsewhere in some thoughts about a comprehensive hermeneutic – our preoccupation as Christians with either heart or mind has been shortsighted at the very least: “If we exclude emotional approaches, we become heartless. If we exclude logical approaches, we become brainless.”

I would now like to add what I didn’t perceive before: “If we exclude action, we become purposeless. If we exclude selflessness, we become soulless.”

One-dimensional Christianity has left us conflicted, unfulfilled and largely impotent.

God created us to be four-dimensional creatures: to aspire to the height of intelligence and the full breadth of affection to the depth of our souls and then to carry out that love world-wide in time-consuming, self-consuming activity.

That was the prayer of Paul for the saints at Ephesus:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how WIDE and LONG and HIGH and DEEP is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:14-20

The four ways all those dimensions point is outward from the Center of the universe.

To see them, we need look no farther than the cross.

Meditation and The Purpose of the Law

One of the few places that I think the translators of the New International Version and The Message have come up with a wimpy rendition of the writer’s original intent is their wording of Galatians 3:24:

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

“Put in charge” was the verb form that they agreed upon to translate a noun that just doesn’t easily translate to English. That’s too bad, because taking the term from a noun to a verb strips it of the personification that Paul’s original poetry here intended.

Various other translations give it to us as “schoolmaster” (KJV), “tutor” (NASV, ASV, Darby), “guardian” (ESV), “teacher” (Contemporary) and “trainer” (Amplified). Maybe my favorite is “child-conductor,” the term that Young’s Literal Translation creates for a position in society that we no longer have.

A footnote in the Holman Christian Standard Bible argues that “In our culture, we do not have a slave who takes a child to and from school, protecting the child from harm or corruption. In Gk the word paidogogos described such a slave. This slave was not a teacher.”

“School bus driver” certainly doesn’t do it.

Even “child-conductor” makes me think of the principle character voiced by Tom Hanks in the movie The Polar Express.

I wonder if perhaps the better image is that of Boothby, the gardener/groundskeeper at Star Trek‘s Star Fleet Academy: an observer, a mentor, an advisor, a life coach helping cadets wrestle with their challenges. Never the faculty, always the staff. Valuing wisdom above knowledge; experience above rote. The paidogogos.

That’s Boothby.

What’s Boothby got to do with meditation?

Meditation on the law – I believe – was part of what God intended for Israel to do with it when He gave it. Rather than just saying to themselves, “The law’s the law; you don’t question it; you just obey it,” I think God truly wanted His people to question it.

Questions like “Why should I have to do this?” or “Why can’t I do that?” should have been legitimate. If you meditate on them, the answers inevitably lead to the conclusion: “Because God loves you. He wants the best for you. He wants you to survive, and thrive, and mature and grow closer to others and to Him your whole life. He wants you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. He wants you to love your neighbor as yourself. He wants you to seek out His ways, His will and His nature in His words, creations and His actions.”

The Lord told Moses’ successor Joshua:

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. ~ Joshua 1:7-8

And the opening Psalm in the collection declares:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night. ~ Psalm 1:1-2

Psalm 119 recommends the practice, not once, not twice, but eight times: on God’s precepts (twice), decrees (twice), ways, wonders, statutes and law. After meditating on God’s law, it becomes written on your heart (Psalm 37:31, 40:8, 119:30, Isaiah 51:7, et al.

Meditation – as well as obedience – was how the law functioned as a paidogogos.

The law was meant to bring God’s people to maturity, to wisdom, to that time when His law would be written not so much on tablets of cold stone nor leaves of perishable papyrus – but on their hearts:

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” ~ Jeremiah 31:33

Paul says that the day when obedience through heart-devotion to God’s law has come, even to the Gentiles:

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. ~ Romans 2:12-16

And that naturally leads to the context of the quote above with that elusive word paidogogos (and here I will switch to the ESV and substitute the original term):

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our paidogogos until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a paidogogos, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~ Galatians 3:19-28

So, I have to ask you: has the purpose of Law been completely fulfilled? Have God’s people matured to faith in Christ Jesus, with His law written on their hearts; having put on Christ and become sons of God? Is there complete equality among followers of Christ, without artificial divisions because of race, social status, or gender? Now that Christ has come, is there nothing further that we can learn of God from His original covenant that men did not keep?

In the Star Trek mythos, Boothby knew his place and never left it. When a cadet graduated from the Academy, Boothby’s job was done.

But from time to time, an officer would return from the far-flung stars to see him, to thank him, to seek his wisdom.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for us to go back and meditate on God’s law from time to time; to seek His wisdom and nature there. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to search out what it means and what is required to worship Him … what He has given and what He has taken away … whether He can use slaves (like Joseph) as well as kings (like David), one race (like Ruth) as well as another (like Esther), and women (like Deborah) as well as men (like fill-in-the-blank) to do His work in this world.

Perhaps we need to revisit Boothby.

Are These Commandments?

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do … But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” … “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” … “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” … “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

“… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. … Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” … “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”

“… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“Love each other as I have loved you.” … “This is my command: Love each other.”

Jesus said these things. Unless He was exaggerating, He wants us to do them. He knows that doing them will be good for us, good for the kingdom, good for others, good for the whole world.

Whether they are commandments or not.

So what would happen if we stopped fretting so much about things that we might or might not be authorized to do, and started diving headfirst into doing the things He has asked us to do – with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?

The Law of Christ

Yes, there is one – for those who would remind me (in response to my recent question “Did Christ live, teach, bless, die and live again in order to bring more law, unspoken law – or freedom from law?) that Galatians 6:2 says so:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

But what is that law of Christ?

The context of the surrounding letter to Galatia indicates that it can’t be another set of laws, commandments, rules, and amendments. There was nothing wrong with the law God originally gave – except that it couldn’t save anyone.

And the first phrase in that verse indicates that this law must be social in nature, because fulfilling it is achieved by carrying each other’s burdens.

I’ll tell you what I believe the law of Christ is.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.‘ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. ~ Mark 12:28-34, emphasis mine

In Luke’s account, the teacher of the law who had it almost all figured out, almost spoiled it by trying to justify himself and asked, “And who is my neighbor?” So, gently, Jesus tells him a story about a traveler and some thieves and a priest and a Levite and a Samaritan – a very, very good Samaritan.

This is the law that Christ embodied, and when that body was taken and beaten and stripped and tortured and crucified, He embodied it all over again.

It is the law of Christ because it far predated the teacher of the law who commended it. It was from God, and John tells us that He was with God from the beginning. God emphasized it by repeating the first part five times in Deuteronomony alone (6:5, 10:12, 11:13, 13:3, and 30:31). The second part is Leviticus 19:18, and a huge chunk of the surrounding 613 precepts of the law are devoted to teaching how one should and should not express that love. With regard to this second one, Paul tells the Romans (13:9) that:

The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And in Matthew’s account of a similar test question from Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus answers with both these fundamental precepts, and adds:

“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

You can list all of the other imperatives Jesus ever uttered, and weed out the ones that were specific to certain people or circumstances (“Go into the city and find a man with a donkey”) and call them commands all you want to – but they’re not. They will naturally fall, however, under one or both of these commandments.


Because it flows from the heart. It is the expression of devotion to God and love for others. Nothing else is regarded as a commandment in that attitude and mindset; it is an opportunity to imitate Christ, a blessing to be able to serve and give sacrificially as He gave; a gift of His Holy Spirit that empowers one to be a partner with God in Christ to do good works and to share this incredible, life-changing story.

Law can’t save. Commandments can’t save. You break one, you break the whole thing. If you look at everything imperative as a commandment, you have to do it or not do it. It’s no longer an “I get to” but an “I have to.”

“Give to the poor” but “You will always have the poor with you.”

And you can’t. You can’t do all of the things you perceive are commanded, or not do all of the things you perceive are forbidden.

So law and commandments lead to helplessness and hopelessness, but

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

That is not what He came to bring.

He came to bring opportunity, and empowerment, and freedom to be a channel of them to the blessing of others and the glory of God.

And if we see everything imperative with that setting of mind-and-heart-and-soul-and-strength, we are no longer limited by what is “authorized” by a “law of silence” somehow hidden deep in the bowels of scripture that God supposedly put there to make it more difficult to share the gospel in far-flung lands or help orphans or worship our Lord together.

Jesus came to our world to bring fulfillment to law; and something much more important, more vital, more capable of saving us than law could ever be:

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” ~ John 1:17

Submitting to Authority … or Needs?

I hope I was up to the challenge last Sunday of teaching I Peter 3:1-7 to the Singles Class at church. I took an admittedly unusual approach. I asked the men what they thought women wanted in a man. I asked the women what they thought men wanted in a woman. Then I asked the women what they really wanted in a man … and the men what they really wanted in a woman. We charted it all on the whiteboard.

And I proposed – using Ephesians 5:21-33 as Paul’s parallel take on the subject – that what both apostles were calling for in these specific passages was NOT submission to authority (which Peter had already dealt with in chapter 2).

But they do call for Christ-like, sacrificial submission to the NEEDS of others.

We looked at the chart on the whiteboard.

Sure enough, the men craved respect. The women craved expression of love.

– Exactly what the apostles recommended giving.

I exercised my option to disagree with the text of the lesson in our handouts – this particular one written by my minister’s brother-in-law. Though Promise Keepers and many others strongly advocate male authority in the home (and therefore in the church), I can’t see that it is supported in these passages from Peter and Paul.

Rather, they are describing a change in the relationship between man and God through Christ. In the old relationship, there were two: the Ruler and the ruled. In the new relationship, there is ONE BODY with a Head, which is Christ. He gave up everything to establish that relationship; to submit to our needs.

The instructions given by the Head are not for the sake of authority, but for the benefit of the rest of the body, His bride: His followers.

They are few and simple.

Love the Lord your God with everything in you. Love others as yourself.