“Rock on”: Fulfilling the bidirectional royal law
We are a peace church because we are first and foremost a Jesus church and Jesus leads us in the way of peace. We care about justice because we care about Jesus and he cares about justice. We care about reconciliation and we care about the Word of God in print because we want to get to know the Word of God in person.
Jesus is at the centre of who we are. And as we continue to keep Jesus central and steward the clear and simple message of Jesus, we give that back to the rest of the body of Christ as a gift and make us all healthier.
Love is the fruit of the Spirit
I want to talk to you about love as reflected in the fruit of the Spirit and other passages of the New Testament. The Spirit’s work in us is the work of love. To the extent that we work against love, we are working against the work of the Spirit in us, and to the extent that we recognize and identify love, we are moving in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
Most scholars agree that when Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit, it doesn’t just start with love. Love is the fruit of the Spirit and what follows are eight descriptions of what love is like. Similar to 1 Corinthians 13, this is a representative list. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and you’ll begin to recognize it when you see joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness, gentleness and self-control.
I have over the years become increasingly convinced of love’s centrality in our worship of God and how he calls us to worship him by loving others around us. It has become increasingly import to me to identify that and to call myself to that kind of love as a form of worship.
It seemed to me, growing up, that my priority was to get my relationship with God right. I would do that by spending increased time focusing on my vertical relationship. When I finally got that right, there would be overflow on the people around me. I would learn to love others well, but I needed to first come back and make sure I studied Scripture privately, prayed privately, meditated privately. It became my emphasis.
The second commandment
As we grow, we are encouraged to have those times of private spiritual expression, but Jesus was the first to begin to challenge me to go beyond this. It was the way he joined the two great commandments together into one when he was asked by a religious leader what is the greatest commandment. The greatest commandment – singular. Jesus said it’s to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. I picture the religious leaders who asked the question saying, thank you very much, and going to leave. Then Jesus says, and the second is like it.
The second? What second commandment? He didn’t ask for the top two, he only asked for one. But Jesus wouldn’t just give him one and leave it alone. What’s the one great commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37–39).
And then Jesus says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). He ties them together with a kind of bidirectional spirituality reaches up and reaches out. If we forget to reach out, we are not authentically reaching up.
As the apostle John writes, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars” (1 John 4:20). John doesn’t say you’re unbalanced. He doesn’t say you need to grow in your love of your brother and not just love God. No, he says if you say, I love God, but you are not loving your brother or your sister, you are a liar. The two need to come together. Don’t say you love God and not love those around you who are reflecting God’s image, his likeness.
It is as though Jesus knew the religious impulse would be to so prioritize God that we could use religion as an excuse not to love others around us.
Jesus said to love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got. That’s your one mission on the planet. But without a bidirectional focus, we could use that love of God to excuse everything from blowing up ourselves and others, to torturing people, to burning heretics at the stake, to launching into wars not only against other religions but other tribes within our own religion.
There’s so much anti-Christ behaviour we can participate in in the name of the love of God if that’s all we focus on.
And not just violent behaviour. We could focus on God so much that we ignore those around us.
How could you argue with more time with God? More time in meditation, more time in prayer, more time in personal study; it just seems so holy. But Jesus says, I won’t let you get away with that. You’re going to love God and you’re going to love your neighbour as yourself and if you don’t do the one, you’re a liar about the other.
Beyond the ethic of a rock
My daughters attended a day camp that included children with mental disabilities. As I dropped off my girls in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon, I used this summer camp experience to reinforce what it means to love in the way Jesus says to love.
I told my daughters, “I want you to go there and initiative love. Love is not just not doing bad things, love takes the initiative to do good things to others.”
I tried to explain this to in a way they could understand it. They said, “Oh yeah, we’re polite.”
It’s more than being polite, I told them. It’s not just about being nice. Love goes beyond that.
They said, “Well, we won’t say anything bad.”
It’s not about not being bad, it’s about doing good. It’s about seeing the person sitting on the outside by themselves and initiating kindness to them. It’s agape, a Greek word meaning the choice to relate to someone as valuable.
I think that’s why kindness is in the fruit of the Spirit, not niceness. Niceness is not doing rude things, but kindness initiates.
I gave them an illustration. When we got out of the car, there was a big rock. “Is that rock loving anyone?” I asked them. “No, rocks don’t love,” they answered. “But is it doing anything wrong to anyone?” I persisted.
They got it. The rock isn’t being rude or unkind, it’s not hurting anyone’s feelings, it’s just sitting there. Rocks don’t do anything bad; they just don’t do anything good.
That summer we decided on our Cavey family motto: “Rock on.” Go beyond the ethic of a rock. This is the love we see in the fruit of the Spirit.
This is what Anabaptists has been teaching me in the last few years.
A new commandment
It’s not enough to just not be bad; to love is to prioritize the care of those around us. This becomes our worship to God so much so that in the New Testament, we find the apostles do a fascinating thing. Remember that bidirectional spirituality?
Just before Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit, the apostle Paul writes: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment” (5:14). A single commandment. And then he lists the second commandment: love your neighbour as yourself.
Didn’t Jesus say the law and the prophets hang on these two commands? Paul goes straight for the second. He does the same thing in Romans 13:8: “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Peter does the same it in 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” James, the brother of Jesus, calls it “the royal law” (James 2:8).
We find no instance in the rest of the New Testament of the apostles quoting the bidirectional law. What makes them think they had the right to edit Jesus? When Jesus said these words, he was speaking to one who was not yet a disciple, someone who needed the challenge to come to God first.
But to his disciples, to those who have said, “I love God and I am willing to give up whatever it takes to follow him,” Jesus says, Now here’s how you will do that. Your life will be about loving others as you love yourself. For the rest of the New Testament, that becomes the command that fulfills the law for us.
That’s what Jesus says to his disciples in John 13. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” Not new as in the first time I said it, but new as in the first time it stands alone. He says to his disciples, don’t work out your love for God as a separate thing. You will work out your love for God by obeying this new command: love one another. Jesus says the same thing in John 15:12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The resurrected Jesus says to Peter, do you love me, Peter? Do you really? Well, if so, feed my sheep (John 21:17). This becomes the renewed emphasis of Christ.
The parable Jesus told of the sheep and the goats can be summarized by saying the way we love and worship and serve Jesus is by loving and serving those people around us in need. So, we do not parse out “this is worship and this is service,” “this is worship and this is evangelism.”
It’s all worship. We worship when we sing, we worship when we pray, we worship when we leave this place and this conference is long over.
The worship just continues and flows and flows and flows as we relate to others around us. Our religion is not a thing we contain within a holy place and a holy space with a holy priesthood. Our religion is relationship. It’s worked out in how we love those around us.
And so, my brothers and sisters, I would like to leave you with a final thought.
The church becomes a laboratory for us to experiment with what it means to love God by loving each other with likeminded people. Because when we leave the church and we try to love people outside the church, sometimes people understand and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they receive it as a gift from God and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they cheer for us and sometimes they mock. But the church can be a safe place where we can develop our skills at loving.
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (1 Peter 4 10).
We are stewarding God’s grace to one another. He trusts us with his grace apportioning it out to one another. What a privilege. What a responsibility.
As a Western evangelical, I knew of the priesthood of all believers. I interpreted it to mean as a priest, I don’t need anyone else, it’s just me and God. I could be the priest of my own relationship with God.
But I think, for a Hebrew, to talk about the priesthood of all believers would not be as individuals connected to God, but as priests to one another. We confess our sins one to another. We steward God grace to one another. God has given you someone else’s grace – and given them your grace. God wants to reveal truth to you and encourage you and nourish you with his grace. He could just do it individually but that would separate us.
Instead God gives it some else and says, now go find it. And he gives her grace to you and he says, come together. Be stewards of my grace to one another so that as we come together and learn to love and serve one another.
We’re experiencing more and more of the grace of God in our lives. What a privilege this is just to be the church.
So I encourage you to go get your grace. And go and give your grace. Through this giving and receiving of grace, we will develop our ability to love and to love well.
And so with these words, I close: rock on.
Bruxy Cavey of Canada spoke on Saturday evening, 25 July 2015 at Assembly 16. Bruxy is the teaching pastor of The Meeting House, one of Canada’s largest and most innovative churches. A member of the Brethren in Christ, Bruxy is an author and speaks extensively around the world.