December 16, 2017.
This is a continuation of The Divine Love series. For a full-text PDF, click here!
What is our purpose?
But what does this all say about the meaning of life? Does this give purpose to who we are? Much in every way. Though the love of Jesus we are given the opportunity to be restored to our true vocation- the original meaning of life. We can once again be true imagers of God through the example of Christ, the exact imprint of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). Once again, we can begin to be molded into reflecting God in this world and the world to come, acting in harmony with the fundamental truth.
This is, and was always, the purpose of our lives, to be imagers of God. With this, we can truly begin to understand our calling through Christ. In a way, our purpose in life can be boiled down to the fundamental truth. Consider the words of Jesus when a lawyer tried to test him.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
This is a very well-known passage, but do we truly grasp the profound teaching here? The two greatest commandments are (you guessed it!) love- love for God and love for our fellow man. How can this one concept encompass all the law and the prophets?
No evil can be done out of love. No sin can be committed against someone who you love. If I love you, I will not steal from you. I am not going to seek your harm. I am not going swindle or cheat you. If I truly love you, I am always going to have your best interests in mind. This is how all the law and the prophets are summed up in these two commands. If I have true love for you, I don’t have to worry about doing you wrong.
Why then have the commandments in the first place? Why not just list these two commands and expect Israel to fall in line? There are many things that can and should be said here, but I want to focus on our limited scope in this life. Paul says that he would not have known sin if the law had not been put into place (Rom. 7:7). We often do not know what the loving answer is in every situation. Sure, there are contexts in which it is easy to see how we are to love our neighbor. But there are many other contexts in which we simply cannot fully ascertain the outcome. I think this is where commands come into play. We must have some instruction and guidance if we are going to learn the way of love. The law was our guardian or tutor until Christ (Gal. 3:23-29), the embodiment of God’s love, came to give us the ultimate picture of love. But now that Christ has come, we are no longer held captive under the law. The law just told us when and how we were wrong. In Christ, we are being transformed into a new creation. We have been liberated from the law to be transformed in the way of love. This is our purpose in life. We are to image the fundamental truth to the world.
The way of Love.
The more I mature in Christ, the more I realize that Christianity truly isn’t about following a list of rules in order to make God happy and secure a place with him in heaven one day. No, Christianity is learning what it means to love in every situation. I am beginning to understand see my vocation through the eyes of love. N.T. Wright has, in my judgment correctly, claimed that the Western church has “moralized our anthropology.” By this he means we have turned our notion of what it means to be truly human into keeping a list of rules. But our vocation is so much larger than that, filled with so much more meaning. Don’t get me wrong, in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, we will certainly “keep the rules”- but not because this is our goal. Our goal is to love as Christ loved. The rules were only there to teach us something about love. They were never meant to be love itself.
If it sounds like I’m laying out a walk that is easier than “keeping all the rules”, let me assure you that I am not. That’s part of the problem with the rules in the first place- they cannot be comprehensive enough to cover every situation in life. They never could. That’s why religious people have struggled with the interpretation and application of scripture in our own lives. I think Jesus is showing us a better way when he brings all the Law and the prophets into essentially one command: love. Instead of looking for a rule, we must ask ourselves, “What does love demand in this situation?” I’m not claiming we will always have an answer for that, nor will we always choose the right answer. Again, I must stress that love is not a gut feeling or a subjective thought of my own. If love is the fundamental truth, then it is absolute, though we may understand it incorrectly at times. But this is why Jesus came to earth, to embody love and to show us the way of love. This is why Christians are given the Spirit to guide us in the way of love (Rom. 14:12-17). The way of love is much harder than following a list of rules- and it is so much more rewarding. Through the power of the love of God which has been poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), we truly can be transformed into the image of Christ.
This process, however, will not be easy. Choosing to walk in the way of love means walking as Christ did for us. In attempt to bring restoration and reconciliation to the world, we will likely bear the suffering that human rejection has brought into the world. One of the early messages of Christianity is one that is not too popular in Western Christianity today: Love for the world will mean self-sacrifice and suffering, just as our Lord. This is the thrust of Philippians 2:1-11. Many NT writers saw it as a privilege to suffer for the name of Christ, to bring the good news to the world (Phil. 1:29-30, I Peter 4:12-19, James 1:2-4).
I think one of the reasons that this suffering was seen as a privilege and vital to the mission of the early church is because, through our suffering, reconciliation is offered to the world. As Christians, we take some of the brunt of the evil that has overtaken the world, so that love can have its effect on people. The Divine Love calls us into a ministry of reconciliation:
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
(2 Corinthians 5:14-20)
Walking in the way of love means being patient and kind (I Cor. 13:4), counting others as more significant than ourselves and looking to the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4), and ultimately loving as Christ loves (John 13:14, 15:13). This is not an easy. However, this is how we mature in the Divine love. Let us ever seek to love like Christ, and to bring the ministry of reconciliation to the world.
One day the fundamental truth will be restored to its full vigor in the renewed creation. The love of God wishes for you to be there, in harmony with this truth. The way of love calls out for you. Will you answer?
Suggested Reading: I Corinthians 13, Philippians 2, Romans 8, II Corinthians 5.
In Christian love.
 In a Jewish context, the “Law and the Prophets” contained all the commandments that the Jews were to live by to be holy to God.
 N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion, (New York, NY, USA: HarperOne, 2016), 76-77.