I have often heard people say that we need to keep the “main thing” the main thing. And of course for most of us, we would immediately know this refers to holding on to Jesus and his life in us and through us.
In Andy Stanley’s book, Irresistible, he gives insight into one of the foundational things that take us off course. It is the way we so often let go of Jesus and what he teaches us, for the security of a religious system called Christianity.
God made a covenant with Abraham that He would bless Abraham and Abraham would be a blessing to the world. God was faithful but Abraham and his descendants were not. The system failed.
God made a covenant with Moses and the tribe of Israel with the Ten Commandments. God was faithful but Israel was not. The system failed.
Jesus said that he didn’t come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. His fulfillment made it obsolete.
Stanley’s words that explain this:
“While Jesus was foreshadowed in the old covenant, he did not come to extend it. He came to fulfill it, put a bow on it, and establish something new.”
“Jesus used his final Passover meal to announce the end of Passover as they knew it and to signal the inauguration of a new covenant. Not a covenant between God and an individual, as was the case with Abraham. Not a covenant between God and a particular nation, as was the case with Israel. This was the final one. The everlasting one. This was a covenant between God and the human race. Every person for every generation. While it signaled the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, it also signaled the finale of the covenant God established with ancient Israel at Mount Sinai.”
“God’s covenant with Israel was made obsolete the moment Jesus ratified the new covenant. This explains why the Jerusalem Council did not instruct Gentiles living in Antioch to obey the Jewish law. It was obsolete.”
“Obsolete doesn’t mean bad. God’s arrangement with Israel was a necessary step between God’s promise to Abraham and the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus.”
Jesus gave clear direction on the way forward
Jesus said two things that made clear that he was bringing something new into the world. The first was he summarized all the old commandments into two commandments: To love God and to love others as we love ourselves. Then he fulfilled it in his life, death and resurrection.
Jesus said the second thing, that is now foundational for us, at the Last Supper. Jesus told the Eleven what this new covenant would look like. At first reading in seems like this is a restatement of the commandment to love our neighbor. I improperly interpreted it in that way for years. In one of our many discussions about the Kingdom, my friend, John Gilman, helped me see the difference. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment. Love one another. As I have loved you , so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This raised the bar. For us to love others the way Jesus loves us is a far higher standard than loving others the way we love ourselves. Jesus’ statement of the new command also made clear that we have a new resource to do this – Jesus’ love in us and through us. The amazing thing is that as we let the love of God flow through us to others we get to experience this love in transforming ways as it moves from Jesus to them through us. Frank Laubach wrote it this way:
“I must give God away in order to have Him. That is the law of the spirit world. What one gives one has, what one keeps to oneself one loses.”
How we are living these ideas
Another thing that Kay and I have been experiencing is the importance of deep relationships with a few. Jesus gave this commandment to the Eleven. And as they began to experience this with each other such a loving fellowship was created that anyone with whom they had contact – even in a seemingly casual way – these people were impacted with the love of Jesus.
Kay’s natural tendency would be to focus on a few and mine would be trying to care for the many. Fortunately, her emphasis has become the priority. We don’t have to chase after the whole world – we simply love the people God brings into our lives.
Stanley went further to explain that the instructions that we find in the letters of Paul, Peter, and others are all connected to this foundational truth that we are to love others as Jesus loves us. All the issues that are addressed in the rest of the New Testament: forgiveness, serving others, caring for the poor, reconciling with others, teaching each other, and on and on – are all things Jesus did as he loved people while resident in human form on earth. As we grapple with the issues of life each day they are all resolved as we love others the way Jesus loves us.
What causes us, and other followers of Jesus, to lose this clear teaching?
Stanley writes: “Decades of mixing and matching have resulted in a version of faith filled with leftovers from the covenant Jesus fulfilled and replaced. It’s why religious leaders feel it’s their responsibility to rail against the evils in society like an Old Testament prophet. Most bad church experiences are the result of somebody prioritizing a view over a you, something that Jesus never did and instructed us not to do either. Imagine trying to leverage the Sermon on the Mount to start an inquisition, launch a crusade, or incite a pogrom against Jews. But reach back into the old covenant, and there’s plenty to work with.”
In addition, in all groups of Jesus followers traditions develop that slowly become more important than listening to the Lord as the Spirit directs us into new ways of experiencing God’s Kingdom. We get comfortable in our ruts and our insecurity makes it frightening to climb out of them.
How am I processing these ideas?
First of all, and most importantly, I am working to see Jesus’ new commandment as the foundation for how I look at Scripture and how I make decisions with Kay and others. I don’t want old covenant thinking to be shaping my life and our decisions. And as in all things of value, Kay and I are discerning with others to determine how best to live into this basic truth.
Does this thinking do away with the spiritual disciplines that have been important in my life? No, but it changes the way I think about them. To begin with, I am letting go of any credit I get from others, or give to myself, because I do these disciplines. Then because the spiritual discipline of loving others has such a high standard I am embracing the truth that the primary thing I am to do is to receive from Jesus so that his love can flow through me. So if a spiritual discipline is not helping me live into this it is not worth doing.
The final part of processing these ideas is that I am seeking to understand what role the First Testament has in shaping my thinking in ways that help me live Jesus’ new commandment. In embracing the thoughts above I don’t want to lose the value in these other inspired words. Some things that I think will be helpful:
- The Psalms provide me with words of praise that come from David and others who praise God with words that elicit praise from me. Reading them also gives me the freedom to vent about the things that anger or trouble me. Both are gifts I don’t want to let go.
- I learn, as do most of us, by listening to stories. There are so many things to learn from the good and less good ways people have responded to God as recorded in the First Testament.
- Reading the prophets underscores the things that are most important to God and they point away from empty religious practices to love for God and love for others – a precursor to the message Jesus brought to the world in a fuller way.
- Becoming familiar with the Jewish history helps to understand the context in which Jesus lived his life and spoke transforming truth to a needy world.
And as you can see, this is new territory for me so I am staying open to what it means to listen to Jesus, keeping the First Testament in proper perspective, and growing into loving others the way Jesus loves me. Hopefully, this way of thinking is keeping Kay and me deeply connected to Jesus and free from perpetuating a religious system—it is much more life-giving!