Summary: Jesus calls us to love to a way of living and being and acting out of a foundation of the revealed, enacted love of God for us, which we then strive to delight in and live out of.
Doing what we love
January 15, 2012
Last Sunday I began by asking us to create a list of some fictional characters that are well known and generally admired by our culture (show list). Then I asked for some adjectives that we might use to describe these characters, and we brainstormed a great list (show).
Then I made a simple observation: as I had thought might be the case, the adjective (loving) was nowhere on our list. It simply was not one of the words that came up when we started to think about the characteristics of these widely-admired fictional characters. And I used that as a bridge into a conversation about how we understand love from both the perspective of Scripture and from the perspective of our culture, and the thrust of it was that our culture tends to understand and speak about love as an emotional state, whereas Scripture tends to speak about love as a certain way of acting and being which has an emotional component, yes, but which is not actually that emotion.
So there, if you weren’t here last week you are now caught up and if you were here you are now refreshed.
It was not my intent last week to be a culture-basher. I worry a little bit that it sometimes comes across that way, when really it is not my intent. Rather, my intent is to contrast, illuminate, and invite us to actually step back a bit from our culture and actually carefully consider what messages it is saying, what places it might be squeezing us into its mold, and what areas our culture and the Kingdom of God differ. The question that very naturally follows from that is obviously: does our way of living more demonstrate the values of our culture or the Kingdom of God? Who is shaping us – God or our world?
It is a significantly different question from what do you believe. It is relatively easy to believe in Jesus nowadays, assuming by believe we mean intellectually agree with a group of propositional truths. Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Sure. Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross? Yes, I think that is historical fact. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? This one is a little more of a stretch for a lot of people, but we can still say okay.
But. Intellectually agreeing with a particular set of propositional truths is not really what matters. Now don’t string me up by my toes just yet - it does matter, just not as much as we think it does. See, there is something that matters more, and that is that we live by the values of the Kingdom of God. How we live matters more than intellectual agreement with a set of truths.
I’m going to come back to that in a moment, but I’m in danger of losing some of you as you assume you know what I’m saying. Some of you might assume I’m saying it doesn’t matter what you believe – I am not saying that. Some of you might assume I’m saying you can believe anything as long as you act the right way – I am not saying that either. And some of you might assume I’m saying that believing the right things isn’t really that important – I am not saying that. I spent a total of 7 years of full time study learning and diving deep into the things that we believe, of course I value that and believe it is important.
What I am saying is this: we’ve got the order wrong. We decided/been taught/assumed that believing the right things is the most important, and the rest (ie: living according to the values of the Kingdom of God) is something we’ll always struggle to do, and we expect to fail, and it is ok if we aren’t really making that much progress because well I still believe in Jesus, and besides there is lots of forgiveness available if I just ask. Hopefully I’ll change, but even if I don’t it is ok because God will just smile and forgive me again.
It is a product of the Enlightenment, Descartes’ I think, therefore I am, and of our educational system that almost exclusively focuses on cognitive development. There are unfortunate roots in our misunderstanding of the Protestant Reformation’s rallying cry of by faith alone. And it is only getting worse, the new economy is the knowledge economy; where what you can do or produce is not nearly as valuable and lucrative as what you know.
And yet, it is not new. It was a problem 2000 years ago – in fact, one of the great problems the early church faced was from a group of people who believed that the right head knowledge was all that mattered – they even went so far as to say that what you did in your actual physical body didn’t matter at all, because only the truth and the beliefs in the mind mattered. So they went so far as to indulge their physical bodies in every sort of perverse and sinful pleasure, on the basis that they had the right knowledge and that was all that mattered. I sometimes wonder if the North American church is not smack in the middle of a similar heresy today and hardly noticing.