Jesus Creed, the Harder Life

Time to return to the basics: Jesus reduced the Torah to its essence when a scribe asked him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus responded by saying there are two:

Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.

But Jesus caps this off with a profound hermeneutical reflection, one that says “I know the commands; these are the top two.”

There is no commandment greater than these.

I sometimes am told that what I call the Jesus Creed is simple, or soft-headed and mushy, or light. I know whereof such persons speak because I once thought that way. But, the more I study the New Testament and the more I examine my own life and how to live, the more convinced I am that the Jesus Creed, while it may sound simple, is the most demanding command of Jesus.

Not only that, the Jesus Creed was picked up in the New Testament by the apostles. Paul is a good example. Paul combines two words not often combined — in fact, let’s add a third word. Here they are, and they go together:

Spirit, freedom, and love.

Below you will find Galatians 5:13ff.

Now here’s my question: Can you spell freedom without including Spirit and love? Can you spell Spirit without it meaning love and freedom? Can you spell love without it meaning Spirit and freedom?

13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command [here Paul quotes the second half of the Jesus Creed“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self‑control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Diane S.

    So how is this carried out practically? Is this something that comes naturally because of the Spirit, or something we really have to work at? I’ve discovered recently through my own study that the widely held view that agape is merely benevolent deeds apart from emotion isn’t accurate. If that were the case, why does 1 Cor. 13 talk about the fact that benevolent deeds can be done apart from love? So it’s more than just white-knuckled niceness when you’re around someone you really don’t like. But how is the real thing achieved in the real world?

  • scotmcknight

    Diane S.,

    Great questions. Shaped by the gospel (life, death, resurrection, rule of Christ); shaped by one’s location in life and roles and positions (parents, children, pastors, etc); and always made concrete in the individual deed.

    In my next book, a book on Paul, I will work out the elements of what loves means. But until then I want to keep that set of conclusions and research under wraps.

  • http://www.wendymccaig.com Wendy McCaig

    In the last year I have been rediscovering the Jesus Creed at a whole new level, particularly the second commandment regarding neighboring. Like you “love your neighbor” was some kind of Sunday school slogan, not to be taken literally. But Jesus puts this right up there at the top of the list so I think we really need to wrestle with what it means to authentically love our neighbors.

    I led a group of folks on a walk in the neighborhood around our church yesterday. One of them men who serves on the leadership council said, “I have gone to this church for 30 years, but I have never actually ventured out into the neighborhood.” What if every church saw loving the community around it as second only to loving God?

    It is far easier to debate theology than it is to step outside the church and greet the stranger who lives across the street. That is what we did on Saturday and what we discovered is God is already out ahead of us, preparing the way for us to simply join in a movement of the Spirit that is seeking the shalom in our city.

    Thanks for the reminder that simple is not so easy.

  • Diane S.

    Thanks Scot – I totally understand. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of that book when it is released!

  • RJS

    I am sorry we have to await the new book to discuss love in Paul … a great topic.

    But this is an interesting post – and meshes well with what I’ve been thinking about lately. When Jesus said that the law and the prophets was summed up in what is here called the Jesus Creed he knew what he was talking about …(should be no surprise). I have had my reading of the entire OT transformed by this idea (and I’ve gone through it once and more than half way through the second time this year).

    The mission of the people of God is to love the Lord with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves. This was the mission of Israel and is the mission of the church. When we go into all the world and make disciples – this is what we are bringing people into, which means that first and foremost we have to love God and others (including most importantly each other in the church).

    At times I am not quite sure why God has done anything that he has done in the world … but I am sure that this is our mission.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    Diane (1) wrote ‘The widely held view that agape is merely benevolent deeds apart from emotion isn’t accurate. If that were the case, why does 1 Cor 13 talk about the fact that benevolent deeds can be done apart from love?’

    I can’t give a better answer than Henry Drummond’s…

    ‘[Love is] greater than giving, once again because the whole is greater than the part. Giving is only a small part of love, one of its many avenues. There’s a great deal of loveless giving. It’s easy enough to toss a coin to a beggar on the street, in fact it’s often easier than not doing it. But love is often in the holding back. A few pennies buys relief from our feelings of sympathy. It’s too cheap for us, and it’s often too costly for the beggar. If we truly loved him we’d either do more, or we’d do less. “If I give all I possess to the poor, but have not love, I gain nothing.”’

    You can download his entire essay on love – http://scilla.org.uk/files/GreatestThing.pdf

  • Marshall

    All three of those words are tricky. Lately I’ve been thinking about love in particular; it seems to me that it isn’t strong enough, since the English at least is a transitive verb: there’s a subject and an object and a separation between the two. Whereas my understanding of the Christian goal is unity, “one in Christ”. I don’t want to feel (or act out) kindliness or generosity towards by brothers and sisters; I want to understand myself in them and they in me. Then the best behavior can arise spontaneously, or if you like freely, without the constraint of Law.

    I don’t know whether agape captures that idea of identification with eg the family or not; whatever, I think the idea is entirely foreign to individualistic modernism.

  • Nik Harrang

    It seems that the starting point to loving God and others is trying to discern what “love” truly is. In our culture we use it to describe our preferences (“I love rocky road ice cream”), or how we feel around a person we’re dating (“I love her” – which often means, “I love the way I feel around her”), etc. While enjoying ice cream and dating isn’t wrong, the use of the word “love” in these contexts is not about God and others, but ourselves.

    A good friend of mine has defined love not as a preference or emotion (although these can be included, to be sure), but as a motive. It’s not only what we’re doing, but whom we’re doing it for. To love my neighbor means that I’m doing something that I believe is for their benefit. It’s not about me, it’s about doing what’s best for them at that moment (be it listening, lending a hand, sharing the Gospel, etc).

    So the question I run through my head all the time is, “What does love for God/this person in front of me look like in this moment?” If Jesus said that life is all about loving God and others, then that’s what I want to be about. (Jesus said if we love Him, we’ll obey His commands).

    What do you think? Does seeing love as a motive make sense to you? The more our hearts and minds are shaped by Scripture and a growing relationship with God, the more clearly we are able to discern what is truly loving toward God and toward others.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I heard on AFR today a lecture how about we should be cautious with love. I did not listen carefully enough, but in the intro he was saying how Jesus cautioned us about saying “Lord Lord” but not loving truly. I was very disturbed, and that may be why I tuned out.

    One of the concepts to be reconned with will be extending vs withholding love. In my current state, I cannot imagine withholding love. My athiest by spiritual wife is continually amazed that I check her car functioning and figure out he best financial opportunities despite we are within a couple of weeks of splitting. I am still upping the anty for her without her prodding. I love her. I could not imagine differently. But it is clearly harmful for us to stay together. We need more words for love in the English language.

  • Percival

    It is instructive to see how many times love is linked to knowledge in the epistles. Increased personal knowledge ups the ante. Those we barely know are those we barely need to love. This is why statements like, “I love the people of China” border on the ridiculous. You might as well say, “I love the the people in the phone book, letters L-M.” Love of neighbor means loving those whom you encounter, not those who merely live somewhere.

    Now obviously I have overstated things in an effort to provoke thought, but I believe the principle is key. Love is personal and is specific to relationship, not merely a sentimental and abstract desire for the good of others.

  • CarolJean

    Romans 5:5 The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us. Or the NSV, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

    Seems we need the Spirit to experience the love God has for us.

    We have freedom from the law of Moses yet Paul invokes the summation of the law as loving each other. Yet we can’t fulfill this love command without the Spirit producing the fruit of love in us as we abide in Christ.

    We have freedom from the sinful works of the flesh when we not only live in the Spirit but walk in the Spirit. Yeah, I can see the interconnectedness of Spirit, love, and freedom.

  • Luke Allison

    DRT,

    I know you’ve probably heard this many times, but we’re with you and we’re for you during this difficult time. Never let the “love” of the world system influence the way you love your wife, whether she’s a past wife or a present one. It sound like you’re following Jesus even in the face of loss. That’s the real thing.

  • Diane S.

    I find it interesting and maddening that something so important and foundational – the greatest virtue, the litmus test whether or not we have “passed from death to life”- is in our modern church culture the least clearly defined as well as observable.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I’m praying for your wife, children & you, DRT. May God be evidenced through your love, even though I know you must be hurting.

    Scot, this post is excellent! Thank you. [As I may have mentioned in the past...] One of the turning points for me at Fuller was when I determined to read Paul in my Greek exegesis class (1 Corinthians) as if he really were my brother, loving me as Christ loved me. The Lord was faithful and upended both my perceptions (Paul is so regularly used to attack women in ministry) and the Greek text as I read it. It was a wonderful example of the principle you noted a few weeks ago – loving the person and believing they’re sincerely loving their readers as we’re reading their words changes what we hear from them.

    I’ve heard more than one person claim Galatians 2:20, while viciously attacking and repeatedly demeaning others. They don’t seem to realize they’re revealing a betrayal of Christ and of our freedom in Christ! Lord, have mercy on us!

  • MatthewS

    A lot of people do have the mistaken impression that love is a touchy-feely concept.

    Love includes making the other person’s long-term good a priority. When someone has taken advantage of you or hurt you, it can be very difficult to step up and work for their long-term good and to leave the door open to future reconciliation.

  • Dana Ames

    Lord, have mercy on your servant DRT and his family.

    ________

    Scot, you are right; it is the most demanding.

    On another note, do you agree with translating “flesh” as “sin nature”? Why or why not?
    Disclosure: doing so irks me because it is an assumption, read into the text.

    Dana

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Prayer for you, DRT and yours. Thanks, Scot. Yes, back to basics. And it is hard. Love the link you make here, plain from scripture.

    Maybe I’m all but lost, but just to keep loving. And hopefully thus becoming more in tune with the God who is love.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    Scot … I have been pondering Jesus’ words from John when he gives the new command: to love one another as he has loved us. Does this complete and transcend the Jesus Creed — in the same way the new covenant does the old? Does it make clearer the need we have to receive God’s love well first and then respond to that love by loving one another as we have been (are being) loved? We don’t even know what it means to love God until we have received the full weight of God’s love for us in and through Jesus. I’m leaning that way, anyway….

    And, of course, this is all something best viewed with one’s purple cHesed glasses on, eh? ;)

    Your main idea remains the same — simple does not mean easy!


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