Friday, October 28, 2011

As Thyself

This past Sunday’s Gospel reading is surely familiar to all who call themselves Christian. The reading is Matthew 22:31-46.

But how many people understand what this text teaches? Sandwiched into the middle of this text is the question: “Which is the great commandment of the law?” The Lord Jesus answers more than the lawyer realized that he was asking. For the lawyer, even with all of his study of the law, knew nothing of its true meaning. The Lord Jesus answers, quoting Moses:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

I’d like to examine this beginning in reverse, since this is where we usually begin in our daily lives. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The reason for beginning in reverse is because this is how we generally function. We struggle to do for ourselves what is really the outflow of what needs to be done for us and in us. We struggle with our actions toward neighbor.

Why do we struggle in this way? Why do we find it difficult truly to love our neighbor? Is it not because of selfishness? And what really is selfishness? Why do we act selfishly? Is it not because we do not feel complete in ourselves and so we seek after and grasp after things as though they could somehow fulfill us? What is the result? Do we find ourselves feeling fulfilled? Do we find ourselves feeling satisfied? Or do we find ourselves struggling more and more to gain that which is beyond us? Don’t we find ourselves feeling empty and full of nothing but failure?

How often do we end up saying something like: “I hate myself!” and “I wish I were dead!”

But this is the exact opposite of what the Lord our God desires for us and commands as what should be for us.

Do you hear, first of all, how differently this is stated than how we often interpret it? God’s commandment is concerning what should be for us, not what we should do for ourselves. This will become more clear shortly.

The second great command is like the first. Both are concerning love. The second great command says “You will love your neighbor as yourself.” This is not an imperative but a future indicative. It indicates what will be, not what one must do. It begins saying how a child of God will live in connection with neighbor: “You will love your neighbor.” This is further defined by what absolutely must precede it: “You will love your neighbor in the same manner as you love yourself.”

Before we can love our neighbor, we must love ourselves. Thus self does come before neighbor. Because we do not rightly understand this, we end up acting selfishly. Because we do not understand the true meaning of loving self, we become selfish and unable to see beyond what we cannot make happen on our own. This is because love for self is not something that we do of our own accord but as that which naturally follows the first great command of God.

The first great command is: “You will love the Lord your God in all of your heart and in all of your soul and in all of your mind.”

Again this is future tense indicating what will be. God speaks His command in this way because He is the one who will make it happen in us. And this little word “in” carries a very big meaning, a very different meaning than the way our translations interpret this. For our translations choose to change this to “with” rather than what stands written as “in”.

This is why we struggle so terribly with love. We hear that we must love with all of our heart and soul and mind when the Lord promises that He will change us so that we love in all of our heart and soul and mind. Love is of God and God is Love. (1 John 4) When God fills our heart and soul and mind then His love fills our heart and soul and mind and drives out the emptiness that drives us to selfishness. Selfishness is not the result of loving oneself but of desperately desiring love for oneself. Since we cannot supply this love for ourselves we seek to steal it for ourselves.

But Love is of God for God is Love. Love for self comes from knowing God fully as He comes to us through His means of grace and fills us through and through with His gracious and loving presence. When the Lord has filled us in our heart and soul and mind, we love as He loves. We first know His love to us personally, and knowing His love moves us to respond in love toward Him. As we love ourselves with this love that fills us it overflows in our lives so that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is not what we do as much as what we have been regenerated to be.

This is what we must learn regarding true love. Love is not a choice. Love is who we have been regenerated to be. In Baptism God gives to us the Holy Spirit who takes up residence in us and fills our heart and soul and mind. Through this holy union God sanctifies us and sets us apart, recreating us in His image again. Notice that God does not say that He created us with His image but in His image. (Genesis 1:26-27) This image of God is Christ. (Colossians 1:12-18)

Those who have been regenerated into Christ have been regenerated into the image of God and as they begin to understand this more and more their lives begin to reflect their newborn identity more and more fully. Since God is love, this is what begins to show more and more. For as we grow in understanding what God has done for us, we respond to His love in love. As we begin to love ourselves as God loves us, it is only natural that we will love our neighbors as ourselves.

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1 comment:

Gary Cepek said...

Pastor Siems,

You wrote: "As we love ourselves with this love that fills us it overflows in our lives so that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is not what we do as much as what we have been regenerated to be."

Chemnitz, in His Enchiridion, variously wrote of the chief parts into which the entire doctrine of the divine Word can be summarized: "repent, believe in Christ, bear fruit worthy of repentance;" and "repentance, faith in Christ, and true obedience toward God;" and: "the will of God (is) that we turn away from sins, that we believe in Christ, and that we lead a holy life."

Thank you for making clear that a living faith is a fruitful faith. This is the work of the Spirit of God in His people through His means of grace. His good work, began in us, will most assuredly be carried on to our life's end, to the glory of God and our own great joy.

Gary Cepek