"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Blackness Within: Piercing the Veil of Shame

The Law is summed up in this saying: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Romans 13:9

Last night I was at a marriage conference when the speaker said something that made both my and my wife's backs tighten and our shoulder muscles spasm. He said, "Ladies and gentleman, the reason you don't love your spouse is because you don't love God with all your heart. If you loved God more, you'd love your spouse more."

Ugh.

Anytime I hear someone say "Just love God more -- with all your heart, soul, and mind -- and all your problems will be solved," I want to stand up and shout, "You don't get it! The Law is never summarized or fulfilled by loving God more. The Law is summarized and fulfilled "by loving your neighbor as yourself."

If you are struggling right now in any human relationship - be it marriage, paternal, sibling, neighbor, church member, or work - you might want think carefully about why Paul never summarizes the Law with an encouragement to "love God more."

What is the Law?

When the Bible speaks of "the Law" it references all that is contained in the Five Books of the Law - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. In the Bible "the Law" is sometimes called "Moses" because the first five books are attributed to Moses.

When Jesus walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus, they did not recognize Him. Listen to what Jesus did:
"And beginning with Moses (the Law) and the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).
It drives me bananas when Christians try to artificially separate "the Law" into moral (the 10 Commandments), ceremonial (the Feasts and the sacrifices) and civil (the yearly calendar, the new moon festivals, etc...) portions, urging Christians to keep "certain parts of the Law" - depending on denominational affiliation - to show their "love for God."

The Law is not about anyone's love for God. The Law is about God's love for us in Jesus Christ. The Law - all of it - concerns Jesus Christ. In Genesis Jesus is the lamb slain for Adam and Eve to cover their sins as well as the ram at Abraham's altar.  In Exodus,  He's the Passover lamb and the Ark that leads God's children to the Promised Land. In Leviticus, Jesus is the High Priest and the Sacrifices that make at-one-ment for the people of God. In Numbers, He's the Cloud by Day and Pillar of Fire by night and the Living Water that comes from the Rock. In Deuteronomy, Jesus is the City of our REFUGE and the Law itself.  I could go on, and on, and on.... The Law is all about Christ.

Since the Law is about Jesus Christ and God's love for us, when the Apostle Paul "summarizes" the Law - or declares the Law is fulfilled - it is always a reference to the love of God for us in Christ. This is really good news for people who struggle with shame.

The Blackness Within

A person filled with shame constantly feels and hears the message "I can't..." or "I'll never..." or "I'm incapable..." or "It's hopeless..." A shame filled person is one who feels helpless to change. The best way I've ever heard it described is "a blackness within." Once a person filled with shame begins to spiral downward in relationships, there's no way out - it's all black. It's either "fight" or "flight." A shame-filled person must either control or run.

To tell a person who is filled with shame and who is struggling in his or her human relationships to simply "love God more" only drives that person deeper into darkness. They can't. "To love God more' is an encouragement that only deepens the hearers' descent into darkness. Even worse, to tell others they should "love God more" in order to repair  their broken human relationships is an absolute misunderstanding of how the Bible summarizes the Law and calls our attention to how the Law is fulfilled.

Listen to the Apostle Paul again: "The Law is summed up in this saying: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Romans 13:9). Paul does not "sum up" (Gk. ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται) the Law by saying, "Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself." Nope. He skips "loving God" completely and says the Law is "summed up" in "love your neighbor as yourself." He makes his argument even stronger in Galatians 5:14 when he says "the entire Law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself." The word "fulfilled" (Gk. πεπλήρωται) is much stronger than "sum up." The verb "fulfilled" is in the past perfect tense which literally makes the verse say "When you love your neighbor as yourself "the Law" has already been fulfilled.

This side of the cross, the Law is only summarized and fulfilled when you "love your neighbor as yourself." The question for every believer in Jesus Christ: "How can I deeply love others as well as myself?"

Lifting the Veil of Shame

If the Law is all about Jesus Christ and God's love for us (and it is), then the only way we'll ever find healing in our human relationships is not to love God more, but to learn to rest in God's love for us through Jesus Christ (the Law).

Someone has said there are five languages of love. Stop thinking about how much you love God, and start thinking about how much He loves you. Think about God's love for you in Christ according to the five languages. STOP! Change the tape playing in your mind right now. Don't even dare think about how much you love God in these next few moments and contemplate in the following verses how much God loves you!

(1). Words of affection: God says to you "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3). He declares "You are the apple of my eye" (Zechariah 2:8). God encourages us with "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous (Isaiah 41:10). John reminds us that true love is seen in God's love for us, not our love for God, for "this is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent us His Son" (I John 4:8).

(2). Quality time: "The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you, for He says, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'" (Deut. 31:8) "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). This verse from Hebrews contains five negatives - "I will never, no never, no never leave you nor forsake you." That's quality time.

(3). Acts of service:  "God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:24-25). There's nothing God needs from you. There's no act of service or devotion you can give that can make God pleased, for He is pleased with Himself. He's the One who "gives to you life, breath, and all things." He's the One who works all things "for your good" (Romans 8:28).

(4). Physical touch: "But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God really dwells in you" (Romans 8:9). It is "the life of God in the soul of man" that is your hope. He who is "in you is greater than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4). He numbers the very hairs on your head, and knows you intimately. As for us, "we now only see Him as a reflection in a mirror; but there's coming a Day when we shall see Him face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known now" (I Corinthians 13:12).

(5). Special gifts: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). "God will supply all my needs according to His riches in Christ" (Phil. 4:19). It's amazing that all the promises of God are "a resounding Yes!" in Christ (II Corinthians 1:20), so I never have to work for the blessings, favor and pleasure of God, but simply must learn to rest in the fulfillment of the Law (Jesus Christ).

A Loved Me Begins Leaking Love

When you begin to understand how much God loves you, you begin to love yourself. Think about it.  Those who are loved are the ones who come to love themselvesI'm not talking about selfishness; I'm talking about self-love. There's a difference. Jesus calls you to love yourself, because you can't love others well until we love yourself (e.g. "love your neighbor as yourself"). When you begin resting in God's love  - instead of constantly measuring your love for God - you begin to understand just how much you really count in this universe. God didn't die for worms. He died for those He chose from eternity to redeem, those He's making co-heirs with Christ. God has loved you with an everlasting love, and it is this love of God for you in Christ that is the fulfillment of the Law. It is the essence of the Law, for the Law is all about Jesus Christ.


So, when you begin to understand the Law (Christ), you begin to rest in God's love. And when you become so saturated with the love of God for you - and not so doggone consumed with your puny attempts to love God - you can't help but love others. Jesus said, "It is by your love for one another that all will know you know Me" (John 13:35). Unfortunately, many Christians don't love one another because we get in a measuring contest about how much we love God rather than teaching people to rest in God's love for us in Jesus Christ.

For those who wish to argue, "But wait a minute! Jesus said, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). How can you say, Wade, that it's not about our love for God?" Answer: Nobody loves God with every ounce of heart, soul and mind - except Christ. Nobody will ever love God like that - except Christ. This is why Christ is the fulfillment of the Law; this is why Christ alone earns all the blessings from God due full obedience to the Law. In the new agreement with God under which we all now abide (the New Covenant), God's blessings are given to us via our union with Christ, and the only way we'll ever come to the place of even beginning to learn what it means to live life fully is to focus on the fulfillment of the Law (Jesus Christ) and God's incredible, eternal, unconditional, and supremely personal love for us through Christ! When the Bible speaks of the fulfillment of the Law in the New Testament, it is all about our love for others - and our love for God is not ever mentioned - because the Law is about us coming to an understanding of God's love for us in Jesus Christ - the Christ of God who is the fulfillment of the Law!

Summary

If you are filled with shame and experiencing broken relationships, I hope that this little blog entry helps pierce the veil of darkness. The Law (God's love for you in Christ) has been fulfilled when you love others as much as you love yourself, but you can't begin to love your shame-filled self until you know how much God loves you! However, once saturated and wet with an understanding and enjoyment of God's love for you, you can't help but get others wet with love when they rub up next to you because you are leaking the only real Love that lasts - God's love for you!

Next time you feel tempted to focus on yours or another's love for God, why don't you give it a rest and give this shame-filled world some really good news.  Why don't you help pierce the veil of shame and move people out of darkness and help them discover the incredible riches of God's love for us in Christ!

21 comments:

Brînduşa said...

Well, I've never heard it explained this way, that's for sure! Your writing (and preaching too) is often a breath of fresh air. Thank you!

Pege' said...

Wade...
HALLELUJAH!!!!
BEST ARTICLE EVER!!!!!!!

Pege' said...

Wade,I am making hard copies and mailing these out with my Thanksgiving cards this year!!! WOW!!! Life changing. I remember when I was a janitor at Emmanuel many years ago. You knew I was struggling with depression. You would always greet me and stop to say an encouraging word...and then ask me If I am learning to REST in CHRIST. OH I would get so angry with you. I would tell you over and over again I had no idea what you were saying. I didn't. But God taught me what that meant. I think I am still learning although it has been many, many years ago. Brilliant article and so well communicated.
THANK YOU.

Bob Cleveland said...

Presumably well-meaning preachers, teachers and believers seem to have forgotten that, when Jesus said "Thou shalt love thy God with all your heart ... ", and mentioned thy neighbor as well, He was speaking to the Pharisees. And they were living according to Old Testament law!

His answer to them as absolutely correct for them.

But for believers, God said in Hebrews 8, with reference to the Old Covenant ... in light of the New Covenant given by Jesus ... "By calling this covenant "new", He has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear."

In John 13:34, He told us to love each other as HE loved us. "As" means "just as, even as
in proportion as, in the degree that..". That's pretty plain!

I'm sure glad you post this stuff. It's how our pastor preaches, and you two are the only ones I'm familiar with, that I've heard saying stuff like this.

Christiane said...

This is like the Franciscan model of 'attentive compassion' wherein Francis of Assisi learned that he could become an instrument of God's love poured out.

It has happened that among some Christian people, there is a gift of seeing Our Lord Himself in the suffering of 'others'. The process sometimes is known as ’embracing the leper', and in reaching out you can begin to experience the pain of those you come to help. Sometimes God has permitted Christian people to be opened to the pain of others in a new way, for a reason that is known only to Him. Many have felt it before in a transforming way . . . Francis of Assisi, and Damien of Molokai,
and even Lottie Moon felt it, and responded to it by feeding her beloved Chinese with her own food.


" . . . it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed a heart of mercy to them.”
(Francis of Assisi)




Aussie John said...

Wade,

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

How good it is to see the message of the New Covenant being spread abroad.

But,what an alarming message for those individuals, denomination or otherwise, who want to keep Christians under their control, instead of setting them free in Christ.

Curious Thinker said...

I agree with the others this is one best explanations of the New Covenant about receiving grace(Jesus's blessings) rather than being under the old law(earning God's love or blessings which in turn will enable all of us to love ourselves more and love another being out spouses, relatives, friends and neighbors as we love ourselves. God Bless.

Garen Martens said...

One of the most hurtful conversations I have ever had came at a time when I was struggling in a church leadership position. A fellow church member came to "counsel" me and told me that if I were "more spiritual" (loved God more), I wouldn't be having the trouble I was experiencing. His advice was no good then and you've spelled out the reasons it will never be any good.
Not long after that conversation, I discovered GRACE at Emmanuel Enid and my eyes have been opened. I am loved by God!

Rex Ray said...

Wade,
You’ve outdone yourself this time! Its given me a new outlook.

Pege,
Your “hard copies” should omit the extra “we” in: “As for us, “we now we see Him…”.
And in the same sentence: “…we shall Him see face to face.”

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

“coming a Day when we shall Him face to face.” :)

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Rex!

Wade Burleson said...

Great comments all - appreciate the feedback.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Thanks for saying “Thanks” but are you going to add the missing “see” in “ there's coming a Day when we shall Him face to face” ?

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

BTW, I printed 20 copies to hand out…hope I have permission. :)

RB Kuter said...

GREAT post Brother Wade! The "Law" is so misinterpreted. I sure have been one to have a distorted view of "The Law" at a time in my life. I "think" that one of the key things that God used on me to give me a better understanding of His "Law" was Psalms 1 when it says, "His delight is in The Law and in it he meditates day and night". I began to consider why someone would "LOVE" The Law that much! Then when I read Matthew 5-7 it gave me what I think is a better understanding of the true "LAW" of God. Now I really do LOVE The Law and LOVE meditating on it day and night!
Thanks again. Your post deepens my perspective more.

Wade Burleson said...

Sure, Rex! Anytime!

Wade Burleson said...

Thank you RRR for the encouragement!

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks Rex for the typo correction. I fixed it.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Off topic story:
Last night, my twin brother told what happened to him. Since he is 83 with knee replacements, he has lost ‘swiftness’ of his feet. Several weeks ago, he broke three ribs falling over a ‘parking curb’ for cars. Yesterday, his wife asked what he was doing. He rose from digging in his garden, took a step backward and lost his balance. He started stumbling backwards…picking up speed until he crashed into a large empty clay pot that folded him like a steeple…only his arms, head and feet were sticking out. He couldn’t move. His ribs hurt so bad he could hardly breathe. He yelled for his wife to help, but she couldn’t pull him out. She ran to the neighbors for help. The thought of becoming a laughing joke made him desperate. He saw a hammer and broke the pot. The neighbors arrived to see him lying with pieces of pot all around him.

Rex Ray said...

P.S.
My wife told me I misspelled staple as it would be hard for a “steeple” to be folded.

Wade Burleson said...

That's funny Rex! Both the story and your wife! :)