The Fork in the Road: In Reply to Guy (On What God Wants)

[Moved and expanded from the comments]
Guy asked,

But what “commands” specify how we are to love God? Does love for God collapse into love for neighbor?–IOW, that’s the only command God expects us to obey as a means of showing Him love? If so, why did Jesus put love for God as the greatest command and love for neighbor second?

Guy,

Interesting, very thoughtful questions. Following Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, we should note that Jesus came to set right both our vertical and horizontal relationships –

* Love God/Love neighbor
* Faith expressing itself through love
* First 4 commandments and last 6 commandments

“Faith” sets our relationship with God right by acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Messiah — but also in acknowledging the crucifixion and thus the character of God as revealed in the cross. Faith shows us why we should love God.

The prohibition on idolatry is a corollary of the fact that Jesus is Lord — and we can have no other gods before him.

However, the prohibition on graven images and the enjoining of the Sabbath are never repeated in the New Testament and no longer apply — unless we allow the graven images to become idols. (That is, graven images that interfere with our love for God are sinful.) After all, the pictures of Jesus that adorn our children’s classrooms are quite literally images — but the kids don’t worship the pictures.

Love for God means we obey his commands — right? But every time we see that stated, we’re told that the command is to love one another.

That’s because God wants us to be restored to the image of God — and the image of God is Jesus on the cross. Love and service for others is to be like God and so to be restored to his image — and that means love for God transforms us into people crucified for others.

(1 John 4:20-21) If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

(Gal 2:20)  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Rom 12:1)  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

(Eph 5:1-2)  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(1 John 4:7-10)  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t expected to love God. Rather, it means that what he wants is our love — not ceremonies and rituals. And he wants our love for him to be turned out toward those he loves.

I mean, you can’t love me and hate my kids. In fact, I’d rather that you love my children than love me. I think all fathers feel that way, and God does, too. (Obviously, he wants both, but he’s not about to accept worship from someone who hates his children.)

Notice also that when the scriptures consider the assembly, the purposes we are given are stated in horizontal terms — edify, encourage, comfort, strengthen each other (1 Cor 14; Heb 10:24-25). God even takes our worship and pushes it toward his children. They need our service far more than he does. But, of course, our service for others is service for God, because it puts us in mission with God, doing for God what God wants done.

Love me? Come cut my grass. Clean my study. I mean, do for me what I want done, and I’ll appreciate it far more than if you stand outside my study and sing to me.

God isn’t an affection-starved, egocentric being begging for attention. Rather, he is a perfect being hung on a cross for our sins — in hopes that he’ll draw us to him so we can be transformed by his Spirit into loving, serving, humble people, that is, people who are just like him.

And yet we still worship him — not because we fear his anger or because some imagined law commands it. We love him so much we have to worship him. It’s not about commands. It’s about love.

Indeed, we live in the in-between times between the dawn of the kingdom and the full realization of the kingdom — and when we worship, we anticipate the perfected reality we read about in the Revelation — where God is continuously worshiped.

There is, you see, this amazing thing. As God humbles himself on the cross through Jesus and draws us to him and to be like him, we want to worship him. We feel compelled by the Spirit and the gospel to worship in Spirit and in truth.

And a bunch of commands found in the Patristics and somewhere between the lines would take all the joy out of it. The Spirit and God’s love shown through Jesus are really quite enough.

You see, Paul really meant it when he said the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Gal 5:6).

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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18 Responses to The Fork in the Road: In Reply to Guy (On What God Wants)

  1. Jay I am guessing you are not going to answer my questions in the thread http://oneinjesus.info/2010/03/17/dialogue-with-c

    I was hoping you would not be like every other progressive I have had a discussion with. I have answered your questions, but you refuse to answer mine. Perhaps you just missed my questions or maybe you opened another thread I am not aware of answered them already. If so please point me that thread.

    Thanks.

  2. But what “commands” specify how we are to love God?

    fits to a different question someone posted:

    Where do we draw the line?

    and also to the answer:

    Where God drew the line.

    For those who want to know what is expected from them this is like being sent from Pontius to Pilate (is this figure of speech known in English?).

    For me it is the question whether we are to follow a list of commendments or love Christ. Jay gave a good list of verses that focus on relationship. And this is my approach, too.

    If you obey my commands (plural), you will remain in my love. … You are my friends if you do what I command (= Whatever I command) … This is my command: Love each other (= this sums it up). (John 15:9.14.17)

    If we speak of loving God and the neighbor, we speak of the summary and the attitude we need, but not of the details. We also speak of what God looks at first:

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a thenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. (Mt 23:23 – almost to the end)

    If we focus on a list of commands we might miss the point. We might continue singing a-capella, we might meet every First Day to break unleavened bread. and other things that are mint, dill and cumin compared to the more important things.

    And even if we discover it as a command that we HAVE to be merciful, we will miss the point:

    If I give all I possess to the poor … but have not love, I gain nothing. (1Cor 13:3)

    But on the other hand Mt 23:23 does not end where I stopped quoting it:

    (Mt 23:23 continued:) You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.

    So being true and faithful in tithing wasn't the problem the hypocrites had. But if you start with tithing the seeds of cumin, mint and dill, then you will be so very busy with counting and weighing all of this, that you will have no time to even think about the more important things.

    I am convinced that's why our Lord starts with love. Let's start with the attitude. But then: "If you love the Lord you will love his holy commands. … If you love the Lord, you will love His will for you." (Keith Green)

    … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Mt 28:20)

    To the first question: "What commands specify how we are to love God", does not aim at the principle or summary (as I understand it), but to the details.

    The answer is: All commands, everything He has commanded. If we love the Lord we will not pick and choose what we do and what we don't do. We will strive to learn His will (note: teaching (!) them to obey) and to do it. If we are to compile a list of His commands, I think it will always be incomplete, but maybe just a few of them:

    We shall not store up treasures on earth
    We shall share with the needy
    We shall not look lustfully at other women
    We shall keep the marriage covenant faithfully
    We shall not repay eveil for evil
    We shall love our enemies
    We shall not swear any oaths (no "pledges of allegiance" either)
    We shall keep our word
    We shall not curse and swear
    We shall be friendly towards all people
    We shall not judge others
    We shall deal with the beam in our eye
    We shall not be like the hypocrites
    We shall pray, give alms and fast before God

    That's just an excerpt from the sermon on the mount (chapter 5-7 in Mt), and it is just a fraction aof this "everything" He has commanded. This everything continues in the writings of His chosen Apostles upon whose foundation the church is built (Eph 2:20), and includes orders and regulations for church as well (e.g. women are not allowed to teach men).

    If we go by the list, we will faint and despair. We will create and nourish rebellious spirits who somehow feel that this list is hard and cold (which it is without love). Progressivism or Liberalism is (in my opinion) a counter reaction to this burdensome list approach, conservatives are accused of (often called legalism, but that's not really fitting).

    And once both sides are engaged in a debate, the questions quite often revolve around whether we do have to do or don't have to do a certain command. I hate to say it, but what bothers me most about progressive churches (we have one or two of them in Germany) is that they abolished the biblical order of headship. But actually even conservative churches find their way around certain commands.

    If we really love the Lord, we won't do such things. And if progressives strive to keep everything our Lord has commanded us out of love for Him, then even conservatives will appear like antinomians … I'd like to see this ;-)

    Alexander

  3. Jerry Starling says:

    "Love God and do as you please!" – Augustine of Hippo

    If you love God, it will please you to please Him.

    Jerry

    committedtotruth.wordpress.com
    <a>

  4. David Himes says:

    Jesus proclamation of the Two Greatest Commands was not his own, but rather quotations from the Mosaical Law, answering a question from a Jew.

    When juxtaposed with 1 John 4 and John 13, it seems obvious that John 13:34 most clearly represents Jesus' point of view regarding the greatest command: Love one another, as I have loved you.

  5. Guy says:

    Jay,

    How are ceremonies and rituals antithetical to God wanting our love? When God prescribed various ceremonies and rituals to be performed by the Jews of the OT, did He expect them *not* to perform such motivated by love? Were such ceremonies and rituals enjoined by God not in any sense designed to be expressions of love for God? (You also say you'd much rather i clean your study than stand outside it and sing to you. Why then does God ask for ceremony in the OT? And not just ceremony, but *so much* ceremony?)

    Further, another conflation has arisen, i think starting with Jerry's comments. There is the matter of *people* and their ability to keep various commands, and there is the matter of *commands* and under which of the two greatest commands they fall. Yes, it's true the scriptures say that a *person* cannot love God without also loving neighbor. But my question concerned *commands*–are there any commands which are expressive of love for God which are not expressive of love for neighbor?

    There are commands which express love for neighbor. And they express love for God insomuch as keeping any of His commands expresses love for Him. but the content of the command itself regards the well-being of neighbor. Perhaps, there are commands which in content express love for both. But i'm asking about another category, commands which in content when obeyed express love for God. Are there such commands in the NT? (Or put another way, is it possible for a person to love your neighbor and *fail* to love God? If so, what is it that person would be neglecting to do?)

    You also say "it's not about commands, it's about love." Can commands not be obeyed lovingly? Can a person not be lovingly eager to meet their obligations?

    –Guy

  6. Nick Gill says:

    Or put another way, is it possible for a person to love your neighbor and *fail* to love God? If so, what is it that person would be neglecting to do?)

    Of course that's possible. You fail to love God by rejecting Jesus as Savior, and/or quenching the Spirit, and/or by taking your life back off the Rom 12:1-2 altar where we worship God.

    Why was there so much ritual (if you notice, there really wasn't that much, but whatever) in the OT?

    1) The Law is a prison warden (Gal 3:23) designed to keep Israel under control until the time was right for the Messiah. Prisons have lots of rituals. Free people have lots of traditions, too – but their rituals are open to growth and change.

    2) The Jews were one family. One Middle Eastern Semitic race, sharing a common culture and common ways of expressing devotion and passion. They worshipped with the same heart language. One worship tradition is appropriate for one race. The gospel is meant to set up Jesus-centered communities in every <a href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+28:18-20&version=ESV&quot; rel="nofollow">ethnos – race, people group, culture, nation. No single form of expressing devotion to God is commanded in the New Testament, precisely because different races and cultures express devotion in different ways. Thus, Paul never answers worship questions by laying out the proper forms, but by saying "Build up one another" and "keep things decent and orderly."

    Yes, commands can be obeyed lovingly – but there will never be enough commands if you expect to prove your love by a list of commands. Every day presents unique situations – every worship gathering presents unique situations. What will you do when a spiritual emergency arrives? Whip out your manual and try and find the subparagraph that gives the particular legal guidelines?

    No – all the Law that will ever matter was written on your heart when you became a Christian.

  7. Nick Gill says:

    Actually, let me modify that slightly – I'm not sure you CAN truly love your neighbor without loving the God who made them. You can be really nice to them, but to love them just as Jesus loves them? (Jn 13:34-35)

    Can't really do that without loving God.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Guy,

    You ask such interesting questions!

    How are ceremonies and rituals antithetical to God wanting our love? When God prescribed various ceremonies and rituals to be performed by the Jews of the OT, did He expect them *not* to perform such motivated by love? Were such ceremonies and rituals enjoined by God not in any sense designed to be expressions of love for God? (You also say you’d much rather i clean your study than stand outside it and sing to you. Why then does God ask for ceremony in the OT? And not just ceremony, but *so much* ceremony?)

    First, it is, of course, true that the new covenant is not the same as the old. There are parallels, and there are certain elements of the old that remain: love God, love neighbor, etc. But God certainly never intended to replace the Mosaic covenant with one built on the same pattern. http://www.wineskins.org/filter.asp?SID=2&fi_

    Of course, if God had commanded that we undertake various rituals today, well, that's what we should do — he is, after all, God.

    But before I wrote this post, I read every post-resurrection verse that mentions "worship" or "love" and "God" in the same verse. Those that speak to how to worship God or how to love God are all relational and push us toward love of our fellowman in response to the crucifixion.

    And it's the inspired text that repeatedly tells us that the fruit of Spirit are loving attitudes, or that love is the greatest command and the most excellent way, etc., etc.

    You see, the reason I say what God wants today is love and not ritual is because he simply doesn't command ritual. It's that simple. The commands just plain aren't there.

    But because we come to the text asking how to worship, rather than asking God what he wants from us, we "find" instructions in incidental references, silences, and such like, and find ourselves forced to invent a strange way of thinking and reading just to have "commands" for how to appease God on Sunday mornings.

    And I do mean "appease." The churches I once attended prayed for God's forgiveness for any errors in worship at least 6 times (opening prayer, "main" prayer, prayer for bread, prayer for juice, prayer for offering, closing prayer). In each one we asked for forgiveness and that our worship be found decent and in order. We were afraid — so afraid that we weren't sure we even remained saved from the opening prayer to the main prayer — while worshiping God.

    God radically changed the system —

    (Jer 31:31-33) "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, " declares the LORD. 33 "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.

    The new covenant "will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers."

    Rather, the new covenant takes us back to the covenant with Abraham — faith being credited as righteousness (Rom 4, Gal 3). And there was no temple and no rules for worship — just a faithful but deeply flawed man walking with God and forming a community dedicated to God.

    And this is why the epistles simply do not establish an order of worship or required ritual. It's just not there.

    Now, why did God then require elaborate ritual under the Law of Moses? I don't know. Likely it was because the people needed that kind of ritual to feel like they had a relationship with God. It was a primitive society leaving a deeply pagan Egypt.

    But why didn't God have Abraham build a temple? Or go to church weekly? Or even sing God's praise? That, to me, is an even more interesting question.

    Now, I am big on the assembly. But it's just critically important that we get shed of the lie that our relationship with God centers on the assembly. It does not.

    The marks of the church are its love for each other, the Spirit, and its unity in the faith. And they're not much of a mark if people have to go in a church building to see them.

    No, the marks are only marks when the church is the church outside the building — where it's participating in God's mission. Then the marks will become evident to a world that is desperate to see the marks.

  9. Guy says:

    Jay,

    i believe i find myself in agreement with everything you've said here.

    i certainly don't think God meant to establish a covenant designed just like the last. i misunderstood you though to be making a stronger claim that there's something inherently unloving (or perhaps a-loving) about rituals and commands.

    i get concerned because some people speak as though the OT was somehow bad or flawed or poor or weak or contrary to godly values. Whether abolished and obsolete or not, the OT is every bit a product of God that the NT is. If ritual or command is somehow antithetical to love, then we have to deal with the fact that our God designed an entire system that is some how unloving in its design. If we're going to bad mouth the OT in these kinds of ways, then it seems we draw near to Marcionism which i can't fathom is a desirable place to be.

    i definitely agree with you that a huge mistake of 20th century CoC-ism (and really protestantism since the reformation) is that the procedural structure of the assembly is the focus of Christianity. i think that's spot on.

    However, i don't think that when conservatives express concern over wanting their "rituals" right (we want to conduct the LS in the exact right way or pray or sing or whatever in the exact right way)–i don't see how there's anything inherently unloving in that project. That is, unless there's something inherently unloving in Jewish priests wanting to conduct a sacrifice in the exact right way or wear the exact costume God specified when conducting tabernacle or temple rituals. But God did design a system with plenty of rituals and commands–the same God who sent Christ into the world. That's why, while i can see how the NT can be very different in nature from the OT, i don't see how that means commands and rituals are somehow by their very nature antithetical to love or the proper motive. When i read you say things like "it's not about commands, it's about love," it makes me wonder what you're implying about God's design of the OT.

    –Guy

  10. Pingback: The Fork in the Road: On What God Wants, Continued « One In Jesus.info

  11. Clark Coleman says:

    "I definitely agree with you that a huge mistake of 20th century CoC-ism (and really protestantism since the reformation) is that the procedural structure of the assembly is the focus of Christianity. i think that’s spot on."

    The irony in the Church of Christ today is that those who don't think the worship service should be our primary focus cannot keep their hands off the worship service. On the one hand, it is not the church inside the building that matters. On the other hand, we cannot fulfill the Great Commission, save our own children, etc., unless we add instruments, choirs, and so on.

    If there were truly one group that had as its primary concern the organization and name and worship procedures of the church, and another group that said they are not really concerned about those details but just want to ensure that we get out of the church building and evangelize and engage in benevolence, then the two groups would coexist quite peacefully.

  12. Mike Ward says:

    Does anyone actually believe that "we cannot fulfill the Great Commission, save our own children, etc., unless we add instruments, choirs, and so on," or is this just a straw man?

    I worship at a church that has neither instruments nor choirs. However, we do fellowship with Christian Churches that have both. Most traditionalists and moderates seem to object to even that.

    I object to the notion that churches which add instruments are causing division. Did the mainline churches cause division when they added multiple cups and fellowship halls? Or when they stopped teaching passivism and post-millennialism?

    I find the traditional position seems to be basically that past invovations are acceptable, but now we need to stop innovating, and anyone who doesn't continue to follow the pattern as it has existed since around 1950 (not 33 AD) is being divisive.

    I appreciate the fact that the conservative position is actually based on the belief that specific innovations like instuments are themselves unscriptural. However, whenever their faith in that conviction is shaken, traditionalist almost always resort to arguing that the innovation is wrong simply because by its nature as an innovation it is divisive.

    (Never mind the fact that all of the so-called innovations have been practiced for hundreds of years–soon to be thousands in some cases.)

    This is very week argument. Either God condemns instrumental music in worship or he does not. If not, there is no point in trying to find some excuse for condemning them anyway.

  13. Guy says:

    "passivism"–ouch, that was a jab if i ever heard one. i'm guessing "pacifism" was intended.

    =o)

    –Guy

  14. Clark Coleman says:

    In answer to Mike Ward, it was certainly not a straw man argument. When people reveal their motivations in this argument, it is often clearly stated that "we are losing our children" because of our musical worship style, and visitors will think we are odd so we will not grow, etc. Have you not seen these arguments?

    Ask yourself this: If every church on earth sang a capella, do you think we would still have "progressives" trying to introduce it into our congregations? The whole point is that our old style is supposedly holding us back from ecumenical unity and numerical growth.

  15. Clark Coleman says:

    Alexander Bansar wrote: "But on the other hand Mt 23:23 does not end where I stopped quoting it:

    (Mt 23:23 continued:) You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.

    So being true and faithful in tithing wasn’t the problem the hypocrites had. But if you start with tithing the seeds of cumin, mint and dill, then you will be so very busy with counting and weighing all of this, that you will have no time to even think about the more important things."

    You are contradicting yourself and the scriptures. Read again what Jesus said: "WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE FORMER." The Pharisees should not have neglected their tithing, but they should have added love to it.

    But today, we are constantly presented with the false dilemma: either we are full of love and grace, or we take obedience seriously. Jesus said we can do both. You start out sounding like you understand this, by making a point of quoting the last part of the verse separately, but then you contradict it by saying that those who obey strictly "will have no time to even think about the more important things." Jesus disagreed.

  16. Mike Ward says:

    Clark,

    I worship at an acapella church, and I haven't heard anyone pushing for us to become instrumental even though we do fellowship instrumental churches. Maybe if I was at a church that was thinking of adding instrumental worship I would have heard this argument before, but as it is I, have not.

    I do know there are a lot of progressive Christians who believe it is possible to fulfill the great commision with or wothout instrumental music, and I still suspect this is the predominate view of progressives though I certainly could be wrong about that. I know only that this is the predominate view among those that I know.

    I don't know the answer to your other question, but there was a time when all churches were acapella and yet instrumental music was eventually introduced so I suspect if all churches were acapella today instrumental music would eventually get introduced again. That's just a guess.

    I don't really see the point of this question. Neither answer has any bearing on whether not instrumental music is sinful or not.

  17. To Clark

    You are contradicting yourself and the scriptures. Read again what Jesus said: “WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE FORMER.” The Pharisees should not have neglected their tithing, but they should have added love to it.

    Actually that's what I meant. I just said (or tried to say) that we can be so occupied with counting and weighing cumin that we might end up having no time or vision forthe weightier things. That's because I tried to imagine what it means to be really exact in tithing cumin: You have to count each of the tiny seeds …

    But I am totally with you. I really don't agree with this attitude: We focus on love and forget about the lesser rules. That's really not what Jesus taught.

    Alexander

  18. Jay Guin says:

    Clark,

    My view is that instrumental music is no more inherently sinful than the church building or the hymnals. All can be done in a sinful way. None is sinful by its nature.

    But I'm not greatly concerned with seeing our churches become instrumental. Rather, I'm profoundly concerned that —

    * We reject the false doctrines that lead us to see instruments as sinful — as this error pops up in countless places and has divided countless churches. The Regulative Principle divides God's people and therefore is an enemy of the Christ.

    * We reject the false doctrine that those who use instruments are damned or subject to a lesser degree of fellowship. In my view, this violates the book of Galatians, top to bottom, by teaching another gospel.

    But it's fine to be a cappella. My church is a cappella, but we plainly teach that instruments are no barrier to fellowship or salvation.

    It's not good enough, in my view, for churches to find "unity" by hiding from the subject, because the doctrinal errors that lead to these false understandings of worship keep us from cooperating with fellow believers and divide God's household — a sin no one should have to answer for, because it's a big one.

    Worse yet, our legalism is driving our children from Jesus. Not the singing, but the legalism behind the singing. And you can't talk about our legalism without talking about the music. That's just the way we are.

    Finally, many congregations are in places and pursuing God's mission in ways where insisting on a cappella music interferes with seeking and saving the lost. That may not be true everywhere, but it's unquestionably true in many settings.

    I recently spoke to a church planter who oversees church plants across the country. His organization supports both instrumental and a cappella churches. I asked whether the instruments make a difference. At first he said no, but as we went through a list of his plants and how well they were each doing, the ones that were having the most success at converting the unchurched were the instrumental churches.

    That may be because of the instruments or it may be because these churches have a theology that allows them to worship in freedom (Gal 5:1). Pick your theory, but there's objective, measurable evidence that church plants do better when they aren't required to be a cappella.

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