Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Caveat and Some Applications

I'm taking a break from the regularly scheduled Repentance series this Tuesday to tack a few extra thoughts onto Friday's post on pursuing First Things first. My point there was that as we consider how to love our neighbor as ourselves, and so fulfill the Law (Mt 7:12; Mt 22:40; Rom 13:8; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8), it leads us into the discovery that we fulfill the Second Greatest commandment by pursuing the First: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Because "by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (1Jn 5:2). The way we love people is by loving God.

That is, 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. 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. Love for people overflows from love for God. And if it doesn’t start there, we have become idolaters, and therefore cannot benefit them. If your love for people starts with them, you have failed to love them, because you have failed to love Him. Just as Lewis said:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

And so we need to have this complex, brain-bending, deep-into-the-soil-of-Scripture theology undergirding our love for people. If we American pragmatists ignore this First-Things-First lesson, and tell people to just go out and love people and perform acts of service because that’s 'what Jesus would do,' we totally blow it. We pursue secondary things first, and lose both the first and secondary things.

A Caveat

Now, some people will read this and believe that I’m saying that we should forget about loving and serving people. They'll hear me saying that it’s really loving God that matters, and if you love God, you’re automatically loving people. So you don’t have to actually do anything. But that is emphatically not what I’m saying.

A couple of months ago, my wife and I took a road trip up the California coast from Santa Monica up to San Francisco via the beloved Pacific Coast Highway. That highway is exhibit A of how we can be sure that the west coast was populated after the east coast. Somebody thought enough to put a highway right next to the ocean. I mean what a beautiful drive it was. Now, our 8-hour drive was chock full of sighs, and wows, and calls from one to the other to "Look at that!" You'd think that we'd get tired of being so impressed! But that wasn't the case. The beauty of God's creation in the ocean, in the mountains, in the grass, in the rocks, in the trees, in the flowers, and in the clouds was absolutely stunning. And we couldn't help but talk about it! What we learned from that drive is that true beauty compels praise. When you look at something that is glorious, the delight it produces in you wells up into expression.

In the same way, when you behold the glory of Christ, the affections that are created in you from such satisfaction and such beauty necessarily find expression in your life. By definition, you don’t look at something that is beautiful and remain unaffected. Beauty compels action. Whether you’re proclaiming to people how beautiful and satisfying God is, or whether the glory of God motivates you to go out and serve people, it’s going to compel you to be a practical benefit to people. So don't think I'm trying to give myself and others a free pass to not serving people, to not loving our neighbor as ourselves. I don't mean that at all. My point is simply that it’s got to be in the proper order; we must pursue first things first, otherwise we’re idolaters. Our love for people must be God-centered.


So with that in mind, I want to make some applications of this First-Things-First principle. Here are some things you can do to love your neighbor as yourself by presenting to them their greatest benefit: God in Christ Himself.

the Word of God daily, because it’s in the Word that you behold the beauty of Christ. Show people that He is so satisfying, that He delightfully compels you to seek Him out in His Word.

daily, because it’s in prayer that you have communion and fellowship with God, and it’s in prayer that that relationship thrives. Show people that He is so beautiful and satisfying that He makes it a joy for you to give up an hour of your busy schedule to pray.

Be in church on Sunday, because it’s in the fellowship of the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day that gives particular expression to the glory of God as it manifests the work of God’s grace in these people’s lives, and is the pinnacle of the worship of God, which is the most satisfying thing we can do. Show people that He is so satisfying that He makes it a pleasant thing to get up at
6:30 on a Sunday morning.

with each other, because it’s an opportunity for believers to present that glory of Christ to each other, by speaking the Word to each other and even rebuking each other when we see that it will benefit each other.

And open your mouth and preach the Gospel to those who don’t know Christ, because (1) as you speak His message you savor the Person and the work of Christ that saved you, and (2) the preaching of the Gospel is how other people get saved, and how more people come to worship God as He deserves. Show people that He is so satisfying that it’s a joyful honor to risk being thought of as weird or a religious nut in order to preach this message both to strangers and to people we’ve known for years.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And out of that love, love your neighbor as yourself.


Matt said...

Love the blog, Mike! We know that If "...I have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal(1 Cor 13:1)" The kind of good deeds that we do to our brother, which are pleasing to God, are done out of love to Him with service and obedience to Him being our ultimate motivation. We perform acts of ministry out of love for God. I had not considered the quality of our love for our neighbor being derived from a better love of God. What was the context of Lewis' quote?

Mike Riccardi said...

Glad to see you here, Matt! Thanks for stopping by!

The Lewis quote comes from a letter he wrote in 1952. It's written in a kind of rapid-fire form, so there's little context for the blurb I quoted. It's number 10 on a list of 10 things he was discussing with "Mrs. Ashton."

You can read the whole letter by previewing it on Amazon. Click here, and then do a search for "earthly dearest," and it'll take you to page 429. The letter starts on 428 and goes till 430.

Thanks again for commenting!

Mike Riccardi said...

Ugh, broken link. Try this one.

Matt said...

Thanks for the link Mike. Keep up the great work here!