The Greatest Commandment: God, Others, and Self

Sometimes I hear the greatest command summed up as “love God and love others”. That misses the only person in the whole world who isn’t included in those two categories, self. But Jesus did include loving yourself in the greatest commandment,

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Matthew 22:37-38

Paul echoes this in Ephesians 5:28-29, “28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church”

God doesn’t want us to get so caught up in loving ourselves that we get self-centered and fail at the first two greatest commandments in Jesus lists. I do wonder though, if we avoid talking about the love of self for fear people won’t handle it very well. What can happen is people end up feeling pretty beat up, guilty and lacking a biblical concept of God’s love for them and a healthy love for themselves. Maybe that is just so obvious that I am the only guy in the room that hasn’t picked up on that.

Praying Like Paul

I am touched and motivated by this prayer by Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21. We prayed this payer over our LIFE group tonight,

“14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

I am going to start incorporating this into my intercessory prayers.

Freeing Up Time to Overcome the World – Get Rid of Foolish and Harmful Talking

Brian’s comment got me thinking…what if we took these words from Paul (below) seriously…if all the hurtful, harmful and attacking things said by Christians to other Christians on the internet (even in person) were put aside and that time used for real, useful and biblical kingdom purposes? I cannot help that more lost people would be saved, the church would be healthier and the world would have a better opinion of Christians. So, why not?

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” – 1 Tim 1:3-7

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Eph 4:29-32

These aren’t suggestions. These are imperatives/commands. What is more, God tells us what happens if we don’t obey this. We grieve the Holy Spirit and wonder away from the truth. I cannot imagine anyone wanting those consequences…and yet the hurtful things continue to be said. How much love do we have for those we disagree with?

Exchanging Sensuality for Sensitivity

The world we live in tries to immerse us in the endless pursuit of passion and sensuality. Sensuality is not a word we use often but it is a worthwhile word to understand. It means “unrestrained indulgence in our sensual pleasures.” (Dictionary.com). While that is seemingly appealing from a worldly point of view it is lethal to our spirituality. What I am not saying here is that life as a Christian is to put an end to anything that brings us happiness or pleasure. What I am saying is that a full out, no holds barred pursuit of passion and self-gratification results in the death of our souls.

Paul said it like this,

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” – Eph 4:17-19

What Paul is saying here is that a life that chases solely after pleasure and unbriddled passion does something to us on the inside. It changes our hearts and our minds. It makes it harder to draw close to God and others. It makes our hearts darkened because our hearts are so full of self that there is no room for anyone or anything else. Paul says living like this results in an exchange of our Christ-like sensitivity for worldly sensuality. It leaves that person empty and wanting more but never fulfilled.

Our world has replaced sensitivity with sensuality and the result, when given enough time and enough exposure to the heart, is a fatal condition.

Paul continues,

20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Eph 4:20-23

A life that solely pursues passion is a life that, in that moment, is unable to pursue Christ or understand Christ. Paul says that our walk with Christ necessitated the putting off of the old way of living (for corrupt sensuality) and be made new in the attitude of our minds to be made new and righteous and holy. In doing so, our sensitivities return because we are no longer self-seeking but have emptied ourselves of unrighteousness and filled ourselves with holiness.

A few questions to consider:

  1. How do you think the world tries to blind us with sensuality?
  2. What void do you think the world is trying to fill?
  3. How can we address people who are in that state to show them there is something more fulfilling?
  4. In what ways have you personally struggled with this and what have you found helpful to regain your sensitivity?

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How to Make Bible Study Practical – Perspective Issues 1

It is important, whether young or old, that we continue to tool and equip ourselves to study the Bible. So what I have to offer here on studying the Bible may be old news to some of you but hopefully there will be something for everyone. One of the driving forces in my Bible study has been the ongoing responsibility of producing curriculum for our small groups. When you are constantly writing material to be used in small groups there is a tremendous burden for it to be biblically sound and applicable. This is studying the Bible for the benefit of someone else and comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility (James 3:1). The reason I start by bringing that up is that I believe there are a few things that has taught me about studying the Bible that would be beneficial to share with anyone out there who is still reading this blog. You can’t study the Bible to help someone else grow without it profoundly (and firstly) helping you grow.

Information/Transformation:
When we study the Bible we aren’t studying for information‘s sake although that is the first level we take in God’s Word. When you read the Bible you aren’t reading it to make bullet point lists to fit nicely on the page. You should be reading the Bible for the sake of transformation. The two (information and transformation) have to go hand in hand. You should never have one without the other. We aren’t studying a self-help book here. We are studying the Word of God. What we have between the covers of this book is what God thought would be important enough to reveal to us and have written down so that we could have faith in Him and live changed lives. So before we talk how to’s it is important to talk perspective.

Now for a little more on information leading to transformation…what we believe absolutely impacts how we live. Let’s say you don’t believe in God. You don’t believe in eternal life. When you die, you are dead. Forever. Would that drastically change the way you are currently living your life? Would it change your morality and ethics? If you change the guiding principles of someone’s life you will ultimately change their behavior. That is because what we believe impacts what we do. Information leads to transformation.

All those guys with letters after their names would say it like this – the indicative drives, or leads to, the imperative. Indicatives are just statements. God is love. Jesus is Lord. We are saved by grace. Those are indicatives. Imperatives are commands and in scripture they typically follow after indicatives. The reason for that is God usually gives us the reason why he wants us to live a particular way. Let me give two often cited examples of this.

Example #1 – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
If you learned or memorized the ten commandments as a child you learned that they started at Exodus 20:3. But if you back up a verse, before God tells them anything about how to live or what commands (imperatives) to follow, he gives them this indicative as the basis for their obedience, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…You shall have no other gods before me” (command #1). God understands the natural progression of how we think about things and what leads to us living them out. That only makes sense because He made us to be like that. I am glad he didn’t just give us a bunch of lists of truths or rules and expect us to get it. Instead he has delicately interlaced the two together in His Word and ultimately lived it out through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Example #2 – Ephesians
I first heard this from Dr. Oster at Harding Graduate School. The book of Ephesians is split very purposefully into two halves: Chapters 1-3 & 4-6. The first half is full of indicatives, truths about God, Christ, and our relationship with them. There is only 1 imperative/command in the first half of Ephesians and that one is a command to “remember” what God has done for us. So even the lone command is a command pointing us back to the indicatives. There are something like 41 imperatives in the last three chapters of Ephesians. What’s the point? Before Paul gives them all the commands they first have to understand something about God.

Let me bring this back to Bible study. When we study the Bible the end game is our hope that studying this book will result in a changed, more Christ-like life. That means we are studying for application/transformation. God wants scripture to change our lives. We should want that too. In order to have the basis for understanding and living out those transformative principles we must first have the information/indicative that gives us the background for why these things are important so that our actions and attitudes can be informed by the truth.

Let me end this post with one practical “how to” lesson on what all this means for how we study the Bible. I have said this on the blog before but here it goes again. If we want to apply scripture to our lives we have to know what it says. If we are going to know what it says we have to read or hear what it says. That means that before any of these things even matter we have to act. We have to make the move. We must pick up our Bibles, ask God to guide us and transform us, and study.

New Small Group Lesson Series – Paul’s Prison Letters

I just posted a series of 16 lessons on Paul’s prison letters. We are wrapping these lessons up in our LIFE groups and I wanted to share. You can find them here, in the small group lesson page or in the Bible class archive

Ephesians 5 – Husbands, Wives, and Mutual Submission?

I am in the process of writing small group curriculum for Paul’s prison letters. The text in focus right now is Ephesians 5:21-6:24 and part of that is Paul’s “household code.” Paul mentions three sets of relationships in chapters 5 & 6 that each have two parts: husbands & wives, children & parents, slaves & masters. Paul makes the point that in no relationship does only one party have an obligation to the other. All relationships are reciprocal and place requirements on both parties.

First, Paul calls on all Christians to view each other with an attitude of submission (5:21). Paul says that Christians should submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. That means that out of respect for Christ we love each other and see each and every Christian as someone Jesus died for. Because of that, we don’t abuse each other or take advantage of one another. We don’t always have to have our way on everything because other people are too important to just run over.

In 5:22 wives are told to submit to their husbands. There are a lot of opinions on what is going on in these verses. Is Paul starting out with the broader concept that all Christians are to submit to each other (5:21) and then starts going down the line of who is to submit to whom? If that is the case, wouldn’t you think he would say, “Wives, you submit to your husbands and husbands submit to your wives. Because as we all know all Christians are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

But it doesn’t read that way. Is it possible that all Christians are to submit to each other as a general purpose but not always in reciprocal or exactly equivalent ways? If you follow the interpretation that Paul is writing that all Christians are to submit to each other in the exact same ways: wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters we would very quickly see that the second two pairs don’t work out so well. Which then puts into question whether it is really intended in the first example as well (wives and husbands). The next thing you notice is that, although the husbands aren’t specifically told to submit to their wives, I think they are given the more difficult task (feel free to rebuke me kindly if you disagree on this as I can only see this best from a male point of view). 5:25 says the role of the husband is love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ loved the church so much that he gave himself up for her. Christ died for the church because of his great love for the church. Men…treat your wives with that kind of love and desire.

This is more than jumping in front of a bullet or pushing your wife out of the way of an oncoming bus and letting it hit us. Just as Christ’s giving of himself was more than 6 hours on a cross so is a husband’s obligation to self-sacrifice for his wife a one time event. In fact, I think it is actually easier to jump in front of a bullet or a bus than to live each day in a self-sacrificial way. So, while husbands are not specifically told to submit to their wives, their leadership is characterized by total self-sacrifice.

What is more, when men lead their families with that kind of attitude (which I am still very much working on myself, by the way) then it will certainly make the wives obligation in 5:22, to be submissive to her husband, that much easier. So I am not so sure that this passage teaches mutual submission in the sense that we all submit to each other in precisely reciprocal ways but that as we each fulfill our role as God has defined it that behind it all lies an attitude of love, sacrifice and submission. It just shows up differently as differing roles are being lived out.

What is your take on the concept of mutual submission?