Friday, December 08, 2006

" yourself..."

I continue to be amazed, humbled, perplexed, aggravated, and encouraged by Piper's latest release What Jesus Demands from the World. If you are looking for a good book to purchase for someone that you love -whether they love Jesus or not - this would be an excellent choice (unfortunately I don't receive any royalties for my endorsement!)

This morning I read about how to love my neighbor with the same commitment I have to my own well-being. The second greatest commandment, or the "royal law" as James calls it (2:8) is the command to "love your neighbor as yourself." It is the two words "as yourself" that are absolutely devastating in the command. The desire to please one's self, the motives of self-preservation and self-satisfaction, are at the root of every human desire. In reality, the desire to please or satisfy oneself is not a sin; it becomes sin when we seek the satisfaction of self, as Piper puts it, "apart from God and apart from whether others find their happiness in God."Essentially, what Jesus demands from us in the royal law is that we would seek and desire for others what we seek and desire for ourselves. This, we know.

But what was striking about the reading this morning is how precisely Piper puts his finger on why we struggle to seek for our neighbor the same things we seek for ourselves. In other words, we don't seek comfort for our neighbor the way we pursue if for ourselves. We don' t put forth the same energy and effort for the joy of others than we do in the pursuit of joy for ourselves. As believers, most of us know this is Jesus' expectation and demand. So why don't we do it? If Jesus' demand is that we seek the same things we seek for ourselves for others - and with the same urgency, zeal and passion that we do in the pursuit of our own satisfaction, why don't we do it?

"This is very threatening and almost overwhelming, because we feel immediately that if we take Jesus seriously, we will not just have to love others 'as we love ourselves', but we will have to love them instead of loving ourselves. That's what it seems like. We fear that if we follow Jesus in this and really devote ourselves to pursuing the happiness of others, then our own desire for happiness will be preempted. The neighbor's claim on my time and energy and creativity will always take priority. So the command to love my neighbor as I love myself really feels like a threat to my own self-love."

This is precisely why we often fail to uphold the royal law in the way that we love our neighbor. Loving this way is a threat to our own self-love, self-satisfaction, and at times, self-preservation. And when we fail to honor the royal law, we are, in actuality, sinning by failing to love God appropriately. The reason for this is the truth that the first command ("Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength") actually sustains the second commandment. Loving God appropriately makes loving your neighbor as yourself possible because it removes the threat that your own happiness is compromised in the pursuit of the happiness and joy of others.

How is this so? When we love God in a way that fills up our heart and gives us deep meaning and satisfaction, we demonstrate that ultimate satisfaction is found in God and in God alone. All of the things that we pursue in self-love - joy, security, hope, love, acceptance, significance - are found in God through His Son Jesus Christ. And once Jesus has satisfied the root longings of the heart, it is easy to live in a way that pursues the satisfaction, preservation and joy of others because all of your longings have already been met in Christ.

What does this mean practically? It reveals that when I fail to love my neighbor as myself, I am not seeking my satisfaction in God through Jesus Christ. This is a stinging rebuke because I like to tell myself that I really find my happiness and significance and joy in Jesus more than I often do in reality. So one way to measure whether or not I am genuinely loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is in the way that I love my neighbor as I love myself. But this is slightly deceptive when observed by onlookers because it is entirely possible that I could give the appearance of loving my neighbor with the same energy with which I pursue my own happiness, and yet the motive for this love be my own self-satisfaction apart from God, a pursuit fueled by the applause or admiration of men. So, my love for my neighbor isn't a full-proof indication of my love for God because we must always consider the intentions of the heart. But nonetheless, it is an indicator because rarely will men pursue the well-being of others with the same earnestness with which they pursue their own without their hearts first being captured and captivated by Jesus.


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