Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Benefit?

bĕn' - ǝ - fĭt

1. Something that promotes or enhances well-being; an advantage.
2. A kindly deed.

Middle English origin, from Old French bienfait, good deed, from Latin benefactum, from benefacere, to do a service.

So I mentioned at the end of my first post that in a foundational way, my purpose in creating this blog is "our benefit." I want to take some time to share with you why I think this idea of benefit is an important, even foundational, concept.

This is the Law and the Prophets

In preparation for some recent teaching opportunities the Lord has given me, I've considered the Two Greatest Commandments of the Law. These are recorded in Matthew 22:37-39. An expert in the Mosaic Law asks Jesus what the great commandment of the Law is.

And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

One of the amazing things about Jesus' response is that He doesn't just answer the lawyer's inquiry about the greatest commandment. He also gives Him the second greatest, and adds an astounding commentary: that the entire corpus of everything God has revealed about Himself from Genesis to John the Baptist depends on these two commandments. Over a millennium of revelation spanning 4,000 years of history hangs on these two imperatives.

I can't quickly get over that. Jesus is intending to stun us with the magnitude and greatness of these two commandments. He is saying that they are the pillars that hold up all of Old Testament revelation. The holy, righteous, and good Law (Rom 7:12), the commandment that approaches the limit to all perfection (Ps 119:96), the Word that God has magnified above all His name (Ps 138:2), this generous disclosure of the very heart and mind of the eternal God of the universe (1Cor 2:16) hangs on two words!

And they're "like" each other. They both have to do with love. One flows out of the other. And they sum up what my life is to look like before God. And so with all my attention arrested on these two commandments, and on the absolutely ultimate statement the Lord Jesus Himself is making about them, I'm compelled to consider the nature of this love.

Even though it might seem totally backwards, I want to start with the second greatest commandment. What does it mean to love people? What does love for my neighbor look like? I submit that, ultimately, the Bible defines love for our neighbor as benefiting them. To love someone is to benefit them.

Scripture Commands that Believers Love by Benefiting

In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus gives an exposition of His command to love. In verses 27 through 31 He tells us that love for even our enemies consists in doing good to those who hate us, in asking for God's blessing on those who curse us, in praying for those who mistreat us, in not retaliating to physical violence, in not resisting the seizure of our property, in lending liberally without expecting any payback, in giving to everyone that asks of us. And then as a summary of all of it in verse 31 He says, literally, "Do to others as you want them to do to you."

Now, in consideration of all of those commands -- which I believe to be a practical fleshing out of the command to love our enemy -- the concept of doing good, or being a benefit to others, is at the bottom of what it means to love. Love is not merely a feeling of fondness or infatuation. It does indeed involve deep affection, but that affection, if properly inspired by its object, will overflow in action.

If it doesn't, James asks, "What's the point in calling it love?"
What use is it (Gk. ophelos, literally, What is the profit? What is the benefit?), my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use (ophelos, benefit) is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
Catch what he's saying. He's saying that if you're going to say you have faith -- if you're going to say you love God, and even if you're actually going to say you love your brother or sister and really desire their good, but you don't do anything to help the, to actually be a practical benefit to them, you don't love them. Your faith -- your love for God, your love for your neighbor -- is dead. It doesn't really exist.

The Apostle John says the same thing:
But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
Same thing. We can talk about loving people quite a bit. And we can even feel very emotionally touched by or taken with them. But unless we are some practical benefit to them, it's not really love. Let us love in deed and in truth.

One example of this love for our neighbor that Jesus Himself gives is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. A Pharisee asks Jesus what he needs to do to gain eternal life. Jesus asks him how the Law reads to him, and he responds with these two greatest commandments. Jesus says, "Do this and you will live." But then, wishing to justify himself, the Pharisee asks who his neighbor is. If I have to love my neighbor, well then, who's my neighbor? Surely not that sinner over there, or that tax collector over there.

And Jesus tells him this wonderful parable in which we find out, not who is my neighbor, but whose neighbor am I. The Samaritan is an example of one who loves his neighbor as himself, as he showed (Lit. did) mercy to the man who fell among the robbers (Lk 10:37). Let's examine this doing of mercy.
  • v. 33 - "He felt compassion." His love included the emotions. Can't miss this. But it doesn't stay at the merely emotional level.
  • v. 34 - He bandanged up his wounds and poured oil on them.
  • v. 34 - He put him on his own beast. He didn't pass the buck or leave it to someone else.
  • v. 34 - He brought him to a place of rest, but didn't leave him there. He stayed with him all night.
  • v. 35 - The next morning he paid for the man's financial needs and promised the innkeeper that he himself would reimburse him if he spent anything else. His concern was that the man got the care he needed.
And so again, the way in which we are a neighbor to those around us -- the way the love for our neighbor finds expression and fulfillment -- is to be a practical benefit to our neighbor in his need.

Jesus Loves by Benefiting

Not only are the people of God commanded to love in such a way that we benefit people, but the Lord Jesus Himself benefited people in His earthly ministry. We'll take a more abbreviated look at this.
  • Matthew 9:18-35 - This is a section of Scripture that in a rapid-fire sort of way presents Jesus as one who is just healing everyone in His path. The sick and afflicted and the needy come to Him and are healed -- are benefited -- one after the other after the other.
  • Mark 6:30-34 - Though Jesus and the disciples needed to rest and spend some time away from the crowds, Jesus' compassion moves Him to continue to benefit the crowds by teaching them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd.
  • Luke 22:49-51 - Benefiting even His enemies, Jesus becomes a true, practical, physical benefit to Malchus -- a man coming to arrest Him and lead Him to His death -- by healing his ear that was just chopped off by Peter.
Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself. Those who were around Jesus during His earthly ministry can certainly report of the benefit they'd received simply by being in His way. Jesus loves by benefiting.

The Father Loves by Benefiting

This is perhaps what I should have started with, because this is really the fountainhead of all love. The ground for why love is defined as benefit in human relationships is because God Himself defines His own love this way.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. ... while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His son.
Let the glory of the Gospel cause your heart to worship as we consider these things. While we were His enemies, God loved us in Christ. This is how the Father demonstrates love.

He benefits even His enemies by giving us the greatest thing He could possibly give: His Son. And His Son pays the penalty for our sin by dying in our place. The Father credits His Son's righteousness to us so that we -- who were enemies of God and hopeless to do anything about it (Rom 5:6-11), having only a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of the fire which will consume His adversaries (Heb 10:27) -- might be reconciled to Him as friends!

Think about this. Dead in our sin, cut off from the Father, with no hope of fellowship with Him for whom we were created. At that point, what is our greatest benefit? Our greatest benefit is an entirely righteous, propitiating, sin-and-wrath-bearing substitute. And that is exactly what we are given. God demonstrates His own love by benefiting us with His beloved Son.


And so to love, whether speaking of God's love for His people or God's people's love for each other, is to benefit. The love that we are commanded to have, the love that is the aim and fulfillment of all revelation, is what is driving me to write for my own blog. My deep affection for God Himself, inspired by God Himself, causes in me an overwhelming desire to be a benefit to you. I pray that He would be pleased to make it so, to His everlasting glory and our everlasting joy.

And so because I understand Biblical love this way, I named the blog with the word "Benefit" headlining. In fact, I was even considering naming it Ti to ophelos, which is a Greek transliteration of James 2:14, "What use is it?" But then I thought about whether that would benefit those who don't know Greek, and I realized it wouldn't. So Ti to ophelos is one name that didn't make the cut.

The other one is "For Your Benefit." I actually started out with everything set up under this name. And then I decided to change "Your" to "Our." There's an intentional reason for that. It's also linked to how we can benefit people, and it's a point I don't want to miss making. I'll make it in my next post.

But now, brethren, ... what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? -- 1 Corinthians 14:6

1 comment:

davideita said...

Very interested in your desire to preach and your knowledge of the Italian language