A new commandment- and why God is love
"He answered and said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself"
(Lk, 10:27, Luther)
"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."
(Jn. 13:34, Luther)
My dear friends,
I give you a new law. New.
I have been walking with Jesus for 43 years now, consistently, that is, in a way that would probably best be described as "walking God's way" for 17 years. That's a decent distance to have walked with God, a long road through ups and downs. At some point, you think you've got the core messages all figured out, don't you?
But still I find passages in the Bible that I read and think, "Wait a minute, why actually...new, Jesus?"
I impute great precision to Jesus in his choice of words. In fact, I am also convinced that God preserves His Word. However many translations may have occurred over the centuries, I believe that God is in control and that what is truly essential comes through the centuries unscathed like an archaeological find.
So let's assume that's the case. A new commandment. Why is it new to love one another? I thought about this, and frankly it's amazing and actually very obvious:
If you read the Old Testament, it's all about the right way to honor, follow and love God. The very first commandment is to do that with all your heart, soul and mind. Threefold, so to speak, so that no one can claim that he has not heard that God wants to be loved. No one else, please. No idols, no foreign deities, no golden calves. I am your God. Love me! Not anything you make up, not the law, not my images in nature, me, me, me!
I can understand this call. We are also often loved for what we have to offer. And when we no longer have it to offer, we are no longer...you get the idea. Cherished at work until we screw something up massively, get sick, or finally open our mouths because every night our heads are rushing overloaded. Loved for those great dinners, for always dutifully giving the grief box. Loved perhaps for our positive, life-affirming nature. Perhaps also for always picking out such great gifts, managing the household, or leading a ministry that blesses us. Images are roles we fulfill.
But we also want to be loved for our own sake. With a deep longing within us. Often with the feeling that we will not be, that we are not recognized. Or that we know the dark sides of ourselves too well to be qualified for such love. How much more does God require pure love? Him who is absolutely lovable, in whom no shadow is to be found? What reason should His people find not to love Him?
And there we are already in the middle of the topic, aren't we? But let's go back for a moment:
In fact, only very hidden in the Old Testament is the reference to loving one another. Jesus says that in the combined commandment, "You shall love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself," all the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled.
Well. First of all, the law Jesus is talking about is the tablets of stone, the ten commandments, we need to establish that first. These are what Jesus declares to be "the law," not the hundred thousand human rules of interpretation.
Many of them came from a supposedly orally transmitted second law, the "statutes of the elders", which the Pharisees claimed to have been "entrusted" as (therefore!) "keepers of the law" as a particularly distinguished priestly caste. Jesus constantly confronts them with their interpretations and consequently ignores them. He, the Son of God, simply does not recognize them, calls them hypocritical and worse. This also explains why Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:2 ff, speaks of "not on tables of stone, but on hearts of flesh." Paul knew this and had accepted it as such.
The nine laws following the first commandment, whose knowledge I now presume, even where there is no deep-rooted Christian background- what do you actually need to fulfill them?
Oh, I'll tell you: respect. Appreciation, compassion, humility. Mindfulness. Honesty. Kindness. Self-control. Joy- in one word: love. The laws can only be fulfilled if I love. I do not steal from anyone I love. I do not kill anyone I love - neither by words nor by deeds. I do not envy someone I truly love - I rejoice with them over their success. If I really love my spouse, then no slip-up happens to me, then I am determined to stand by him even in dry times. If I love my parents, I don't want to cause them grief through my life. Not to choose criminal or bad ways ( the commandment is called in the cultural context: "Bring your parents to honor- do something with your life, don't waste it"). Oh yes, also pornography and prostitution- you know, the women- they are in a desolate situation. They are degraded, used, paid for their "service"- giving their intimacy. Often, to somehow get their children through. Often because the exit is no longer possible. If I love- I don't use them.
So far, so good, but why are the prophets also fulfilled in this commandment, as Jesus says?
Well, the prophets, they admonished and called for repentance, whenever the people of Israel had once again decided to sell out their God. For their own gain. When they lived in "forgetfulness of God".
In Jeremiah 17:9 is the biblical passage that seems to guide an entire Christendom: "Deceitful is the heart, more than all things, and incurable is it. Who knows him?"
Apparently, loving on one's own does not work out the way it is meant to. Apparently, one's own advantage, one's own comfort, one's own greed for security, for prosperity and well-being is always more important.
Amos was a prophet who stepped up when Israel really screwed up again. And what he accused was oppression, abuse of subordinates, cruelty, greed for power. Lovelessness. When God called for repentance, he always called for repentance for two reasons: People forgot that He is love, that He wanted to be loved first and foremost. The second reason was the call of conversion to...charity- through and in his love. His orders and principles- of love.
At the center of the Old Testament is love and devotion to God as the highest commandment. Jesus points out a second thing: Love one another. Love God, love one another. In this you fulfill everything you need to enter the new kingdom. A kingdom of divine love.
Christians fight their hearts, their feelings, their desires like something to be controlled and suppressed at all costs. Honestly, most Christian brothers and sisters I know believe self-control means emotionlessness and a certain form of indifference. The result is joylessness, tension, cramped efforts for perfection. Imposed cheerfulness and a permanent struggle with oneself. But you know..to love as we are instructed, we can only do that genuinely, authentically free, and without fear.
How is this possible?
Only by making the heart good.
And how does it become good? By our own efforts?
No. It becomes good only by God's law being written in the heart. By receiving a new heart, a new spirit. ( Ezekiel 36:26) And we do that - solely through Jesus. He has ransomed us. He makes the offer of the new covenant- with the Holy Spirit, with agape- with Him- and through this with a heart that can love. With a heart that has the law written on it, that we feel, that we recognize as right and good, from deep within.
We can ask that he give us the new heart. That he give us the new spirit. And it actually happens.
And so the new covenant is a covenant of the new heart, the new spirit and the new life. (cf. Hebrews). A bit supernatural, isn't it? Well, seriously, so is everything else we do. Praying and believing that God hears and answers. Blessing. Asking for protection. Does it work? Yes, yes it does.
What God does is pour divine love into our hearts. It is real, you see, not a concept. It is real that we then begin to love differently. To be different. Not by our own efforts, freely and in joy.
"A new law I give unto you."
So is our heart still "deceitful and unpredictable" when we belong to Jesus?
Breathe out. Rejoice!
No. No, your heart, your inner resonance, they are good in Jesus, through Jesus, through your resurrection in Him. But to blossom into your true beauty, you must grasp it, internalize it, understand it.
You are accepted, you are loved. You are chosen, and Jesus sanctifies your life. But to do that, we have to want to "get out of the ICU," as John and Stasi Eldredge so aptly put it in "Captivating." We have to accept that it's possible. And (acknowledge) that saved by grace doesn't mean having to stay forever in all the hurt and our inner brokenness. That it is possible to truly love God. That he really loves us. Well, us. And that we are called not only to love God, but also to "love our neighbor as ourselves."
Why are you a Christian?
I hope because you have understood that Christianity is the message of perfect love. And that in this inner attitude of heart you can find everything you need to know about your way of sanctification. It is the entrance to what is called holy romance.
"Continue, brothers and sisters: What is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure, what is lovable, what has a good reputation, be it virtue, be it praise - be mindful of this!
9 Whatever you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:9, Rev. Elberfelder)
In confidence and love,
- Are you sure your heart is good? That you have the new heart, the new spirit in you? Ask Jesus to give you a new heart and a new spirit if you are unsure. And expect him to do it. Because he is trustworthy.
- In what areas are you struggling with your feelings, desires, and yourself? Ask Jesus to meet you in those areas.
- What is love to you? And what does it mean for you to love God? Do you love him or are you afraid of him? Do you trust him or try to please him?
- Ask Jesus how he sees you. Ask Jesus if he thinks you are beautiful, if he loves you. And wait for his answer.
Dear Father. Dear Jesus. Dear Holy Spirit.
We thank you. We thank you for your infinite love and for the goal of being able to love. We thank you for our salvation and for the new covenant. Thank you for being good, Father, for seeing us, really knowing us and longing for us. Thank you that we may ask for the new heart and the new spirit, daily, always, that you want to connect and heal our hearts. Thank you that in this love there is no place for fear, but only for freedom, joy, for boundless richness of overflowing life. Jesus, we ask you: Be close to us. Open our hearts to the courage to love you more and more - not somehow far away, but with all our heart. We thank you that we can run to the Father liberated and with unveiled faces, that we are restored by you and your grace, that we can rejoice and run into his open arms, crying: Abba, dear Father. In you there is only light. In you we are safe. In you we are loved.
Jesus, we ask that we may be filled anew with your Spirit. We ask you to give us to you. We ask that you come into those areas of the heart that repel your love. I ask you, beloved friend, Father, Lord, Healer, that you be with everyone who has read this post. Accompanying, comforting, releasing. You are beautiful, and we praise you for that beauty. We thank you for teaching us to love- yourself, others, ourselves. Thank you, Lord, for being who you are.
In your lovely name, Jesus, amen.
Bible, quoted here from Luther. Taken from: www.Bibleserver.com. Bible passages as indicated.
Stasi & John Eldredge: Captivating. Unveiling the mystery of a woman's soul. Expanded edition, Nelson books, 2021, page 93.
"The statutes of the elders" Wikipedia. Google. Furthermore: Teachings by Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey.
Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey, "Jesus was not a European. Middle Eastern Culture and the Life World of the Gospels. SCM Publishers 2018. (German) English title: "Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes".
Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey, "Paul through Mediterranean Eyes. Cultural studies in 1 Corinthians, InterVarsity Press, London 2011.