Thursday, 21 June 2007

Love: the fountainhead, spring and ocean

I have carried on my study through Matthew's Gospel in recent weeks. It has been wonderful and I've been struck again by the tenderness of Jesus as he comes to rescue sinners. It's been thrilling to hear him proclaim and model the coming of the Kingdom.

Alongside this, I took John Piper's recent book What Jesus Demands from the World with me on honeymoon. Piper has collected together all of the commands and imperatives of Jesus' teachings from throughout the four gospels and assembled them together. What I love about this book is the way in which Jesus' heartbeat for his ministry, for his Father's glory and for the lost thumps through loud and clear, as does his hatred for hypocrisy and external legalism.

I was particularly moved by the chapters on love. Piper homes in on one of Jesus' most famous commands: 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. Each of the parts of this short sentence are then considered: 'love', 'your neighbour' and 'as yourself'. By the end of the chapter on 'as yourself' I think I saw in a new way the radical love that Jesus calls those in the Kingdom to show. What an incredible reminder for someone who had been married just a few days!

Perhaps the one thing that I'll remember above all is the way in which Piper draws attention to the similarities and differences between Matthew 7:12 ('So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets') and Matthew 22:37-40 (where Jesus speaks of the greatest commandments - loving God and loving your neighbour - and where he adds, 'On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'). Piper explains the difference in this way:

'[In Matthew 7:12] Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets lead to and find expression in love. But here in Matthew 22:40 Jesus is saying the reverse: love leads to and finds expression in the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets are hanging on - depending on - something before them, namely, God's passion that this world, this history of humankind, be a world of love to God and radical, other-oriented love to each other.'

I find this amazing! In other words, the purpose of the Old Testament - the Law and the Prophets - is fulfilled when people love their neighbour as they love themselves: love is the anticipated response to God's Old Testament word. Matthew 7:12 makes that clear. However, the whole Old Testament was giving - it hangs upon - God's very desire that his people love him with all their heart, soul and mind and because he longs for people to love their neighbours as themselves! Piper puts it this way:

'I believe that it would not be too much to say that all of creation and all the work of redemption, including the work of Christ as our suffering, dying, and rising Redeemer, and all of history, hang on these two great purposes: that humans love God with all their heart, and that from the overflow of that love we love each other. Which means that love is the origin (Matthew 22:40) and the goal (Matthew 7:12) of the Law and the Prophets. It is the beginning and the end of why God inspired the Bible. It's the fountainhead and spring at the one end and the shoreless ocean at the other end of the river of redemptive history - remembered and promised in the Word of God.'

As I say, what a well-timed wake-up call to one entering into marriage - what a brilliant reminder of Jesus' demand for sacrificial love as I get used to putting my wife before me in everything. But also what a reminder for those of us who would describe ourselves as Evangelicals, as those who have a high view of Scripture. Evangelical Christians are so often caricatured as bigoted and graceless - in my view often wrongly, but sometimes with an element of truth. Piper's exposition of these verses in Matthew remind us that a high view of Scripture is not a replacement or a substitute for the sacrificial love embodied and exemplified for us in Christ. Indeed, a high view of Scripture should, as Piper shows, drive us with a new seriousness and commitment (with the Spirit's help of course) to a deep sacrificial giving of ourselves for our neighbours in whatever way we can. I, for one, pray that God will take away my all-too-selfish nature and help me to do so.

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