Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Our Benefit?

In my last post, I started writing about why I named the blog the way I did. I discussed this concept of benefit in the context of Jesus' command to love our neighbor as ourselves. The conclusion that I reached was that, Biblically speaking, to love is to benefit. The love that receives the title of the Greatest and Second Greatest Commandment, the love that sums up the entire Old Testament revelation, the love upon which all the Law and the Prophets hang, the love that is the aim and fulfillment of all God said in His holy, righteous, and good Law, can be defined most foundationally as benefiting the one you mean to love. And that, I wrote, "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."

"...a benefit to you." And yet, the name of the blog is For
Our Benefit. Why did I include myself there? Why did I create the blog under the name, "For Your Benefit," and then change all the headings throughout the page from Your to Our?

Well, to be honest, my first "gut-reaction" reason was a bad one. I thought, "Saying, for
your benefit makes it sound like I've got all this godly wisdom that you need, and so I'll be pontificating to all you little spiritual light-weights." That's not what I was trying to convey, but I thought that that would be how it might be received. And the reality is, I don't have anything that I haven't been given (1Cor 4:7), and that I myself don't need repeated over and over again (Phil 3:1; 2Pet 2:12-15). So I didn't want to sound overly pious and arrogant by suggesting that that wasn't the case.

But the reason for the change goes deeper than that. There is something additional and intentional that I was intending to communicate by including myself in the category of the ones benefited. And that's what I want to take time to consider in this post. And I'll consider it still in the context of the Greatest and Second Greatest Commandments.

So, to love someone is to be a benefit to them. We saw that the Scripture commands believers to love by benefiting, that in His earthly ministry Jesus Himself loved by benefiting, and that, ultimately, the Father loves by benefiting. So we are to love our neighbor. We are to benefit our neighbor. But what does it mean to benefit someone?
How do I benefit my neighbor?

God’s Love for Himself is the Source of His Love for People

To answer that question we must look again to how God Himself benefits the objects of His love. And we remember that Romans 5:8 tells us that God demonstrates His love toward us in that
Christ died for us sinners. God demonstrates His own love by benefiting us with His beloved Son. Or, to say it another way, God demonstrates His own love by benefiting us with Himself. So in our helpless and cursed situation (i.e., spiritual death), God considers what would be the greatest benefit to His people. "How do I love them? How do I most benefit them? What would be their greatest benefit?" And the answer He comes up with, marvelously glorious in its simplicity, is: "Me.

"I'll give them
Me! I'll cause them to know Me (Jer 31:34)! I'll cause them to love Me (Ezek 36:26-27)!"

He understands Himself to be our greatest benefit! Now, if we want to know how to love anybody, we must learn from God what love is and how to do it.
And God says, “To love is to benefit, and I am everyone’s greatest benefit. The way I benefit people is by giving them Myself." Based on that, then, I submit that God’s love for Himself is the source of His love for people. That is to say that, ultimately, what moves God to any of His acts of love for people is a deep affection for, a supreme estimation of, and a chief regard to Himself, and nothing else.

Some Scriptures that are
so sweet to me, that give me much peace and much gladness, are the following. They teach that the source of God's love for people (i.e., redemption) is His love for Himself.
  • Ezekiel 36:22-23 - Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name..."
  • Isaiah 48:11 - For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
  • Isaiah 43:25 - I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake.
  • Titus 2:14 - ...who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
In these magnificently sweet passages, God declares that He is the end in His act of redeeming His people. It's not for our sake, it's for His own name's sake; it's to procure for Himself a purified people. What motivates Him to love us -- to benefit us by wiping out our transgressions -- is His own chief regard for Himself.

But wait! Is that loving? Is that even OK? Did I somehow just blaspheme the love of God? Did I just call God selfish? Or ego-maniacal? And doesn't the Bible say that love "does not seek its own" (1Cor 13:5)? Is God's love sinful, or morally corrupt, if He considers Himself before us?

My response is: it would be
sinful and unloving for Him to do anything else.

Why? Follow me here...

God is the One who is most infinitely worthy of regard, worship, and adoration. To regard, worship, or adore anything other than what is most worthy of those things, is idolatry. Therefore, if God does His loving out of anything but a chief regard to Himself, He becomes an idolater. At that point, He fails morally. He ceases to be holy, and therefore ceases to be God. And that would be
bad news for us. We would have no hope if that was the case (cf. 1Cor 15:19).

But that He
is absolutely committed to worshiping that which is most worthy of being worshiped means that He is holy, that He is God. And that is Good News for us. There is solace, there is comfort, there is rest to be had in the knowledge that God is motivated by Himself to love us, and not motivated by you and me to love us. The latter necessitates a system in which we must earn God's love. The former is the foundation for the Gospel of Grace.

The fact that God does
everything to magnify Himself is loving to us, because He is what gives most satisfaction to absolutely everybody everywhere. Think about it. If someone were to say, "I'm going to commit my life to doing something that will put on display the greatest and most enjoyable thing that could ever be witnessed," we wouldn't accuse that person of being ego-maniacal. We would say that person is laboring for our benefit.

And so the love of God declares: "I'm going to work all things so that you see what is the most joyfully thrilling, soul-satisfying thing for you to see: Me."

:::Deep breath:::

So what does that have to do with how we benefit people? Well, consider this:

If God’s love for people is God-centered, our love for people must be God-centered.

If God’s love for people consists ultimately in a chief regard for God, then our love for people must consist ultimately in a chief regard for God.

If God’s love for Himself is the source of His love for people, then...

Our Love for God is the Source of Our Love for People

I believe that this can be seen simply by recognizing that the first commandment is the first and the second commandment is the second.
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.’”
"The second is like it." The second is like the first because the second flows out of the first.

So how is our love for God the source of our love for people? Well, remembering that God defines love as benefiting, and He proclaims Himself as everyone's greatest benefit, the way we can most benefit people is to give them God.

But what in the world does
that mean? How do I do that? How do I give people God?

My answer is:
Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
Catch this. How do we know we love God's people? How do we know we love our neighbor? We love our neighbor when we love God!

We're taught elsewhere in Scripture to seek this (i.e., loving God) as our chief end. We're told that as we do this "all these things will be added to us."
  • Matthew 6:33 - Considering the greatest commandments as commandments needing to be obeyed, Jesus says just to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness. Be consumed with loving God with all that you are. And all other things – which are summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself” – will be added unto as you just seek Him first.
  • Leviticus 19:14, 32; 25:43 - As a grounding for commands to benefit their neighbor, God continually says to Israel, “You shall revere your God.” Reverence for God is the basis for loving one’s neighbor.
  • Luke 10:38-42 - Martha is worried about many things. Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part.
  • Colossians 3:1-4 - This command to be so consumed with heavenly things because that is where Christ is, is the ground for all of the practical directives on how to love each other from 3:12 all the way to the end of the body of the letter in 4:6.
  • Psalm 27:4 - Aren’t you benefited by David’s singularity of focus there? I see his all-consuming desire to just behold the beauty of God, and I am thereby helped to see God more clearly, treasure Him more fully, and enjoy Him more fully. And that is my greatest benefit! To know God! So it can properly be said that David loves me by displaying to me his love for God. That is how we are to love our neighbor!
This is why the first commandment is first, and the second is second! This is how love for people flows out of a love for God. When we are so consumed with the glory of Jesus Christ, when He becomes our All in all, and when our hearts are captured to just seek Him first, in our satisfaction we proclaim Him, and our lives tell the truth about His sweetness. We manifest the glory of God, because our lives are a product of seeing Him. And we prefer Him more than we prefer the deceptive satisfaction-substitute that comes from sin. That is loving the world. That is benefiting the world.

Because the greatest good that can be done to the world is to see Jesus Christ. And when we esteem Him rightly and prefer Him, we present Him to everyone around us as He is: as supremely desirable, supremely beautiful, supremely attractive, supremely compelling, supremely preferable. To be satisfied in Christ, then, is to love the world; because we present to them what gives them most joy and what is most satisfying. When we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, in that we love our neighbor as ourselves.


So how does this overlap with why I called the blog "For
Our Benefit" instead of "For Your Benefit"?

My answer is: when I set out to seek your benefit -- the benefit of my neighbor -- I cannot do that unless I am seeking to benefit you with God Himself. And I cannot benefit you with God if I am not presenting Him to you accurately. And I cannot accurately present a supremely beautiful, consummately enjoyable, all-glorious, all-satisfying God to you
without myself rejoicing in Him, marveling in His glory, and being satisfied in Him. And those things are my greatest benefit. I cannot benefit you without seeking first my own benefit in Christ Himself. And so, this "
overwhelming desire to be a benefit to you" which overflows into this blog becomes my benefit as well.

And so there you have it. After two long too-long posts, I hope I've communicated the reason for the blog's name. It is my desire to benefit you all as I am benefited by Christ. I also hope to benefit from your interaction in the comment threads. I hope you'll leave a comment or two to that end.

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.
- Psalm 27:4 -

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
- Psalm 73:25-26 -


olan strickland said...

Amen Mike! Until God has become to us our very great reward (see Genesis 15:1) and we have been transformed from self-centered, self-loving, and self-ruled sinners into God-centered, God-loving, and God-ruled saints, the Gospel has been of no effect (or you could say benefit).

Your exposition of the two greatest commandments is spot on.

Mike Riccardi said...

Thanks for commenting, Olan. Your words are a great encouragement to me.