Tag Archives: biblical teaching

Love your neighbor? Love your enemies? What does this mean today? 

The greatest two commands for all christians: Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). As Jesus says, “there is no greater command than these.”

Not hard, right? 


The Luke version of this story tells us that the one questioning Jesus about keeping the law follows up with a self-justification question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Like him, we want to know just who we have to love. But of course, just a few verses before (6:27, 35) Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to do good to them who hate us. So, whether enemies or neighbors, we are called to love both.

Let’s admit that some neighbors are pretty easy to love. Tomorrow I am leaving for Rwanda to love my Rwandan neighbors. But you know what, it isn’t a hard thing to do. Besides the 23 hours of travel to get there and being away from my family, I can’t say it is much sacrifice. I’m given far more honor there than I deserve. The weather, food, and company are hard to match. If love is a sacrifice, this is hardly love.  

Some neighbors are hard to love. They don’t treat us with the honor we think we deserve. They ask for things and don’t give back. Even worse, some neighbors hate us and seek to harm us.

Think for a minute: who do you find it hard to love? Is it a near (actual neighbor) person? A far person (a politician or person who represents an ideology you hate)? Have them in mind yet? Now think about what it means to love them. Since love is both doing things for someone and NOT doing evil to them, consider both the positive and the negative sides of your love. 

Here’s some examples: What does it mean to love ISIS fighters? Do we pray for them even as we highlight victim stories? What does it mean to love Barack Obama (if you are opposed to his presidency) or Donald Trump (if you are opposed to his desire to be president? Do we gloat at their failures? Getting closer to home, what does it mean to love a person on the other side of you in the Same Sex Marriage Supreme Court ruling or in the race debates? What does it mean to love the person who swooped in and took your parking spot? 

A Few Thoughts on What Love Means

Some might think that “love your neighbor/enemy” means never speaking up when wronged, never seeking justice, never making a stink. It does not. period. You can love your enemy even as you seek justice. Speaking the truth can happen…IF…it is done in love. So, what does speak the truth in love mean? 

  • Making sure that truth spoken is really true. Not exaggerating the flaws of the other; not engaging in slipperly slope argumentation. Straw men and exaggerations are not true. 
  • Making sure that love is the agenda for the truth. Speaking up for the sake of destroying a person’s career is not love. Though, speaking up to protect victims is love and to stop a person’s sinful behavior is also love.

Loving your enemy means being willing to forgive even before the forgiveness is sought. Of course, seeking and offering forgiveness does not mean justice and consequences for evil are not felt. But it does mean that I do not participate in an “eye for an eye” or vengence. As we remember, vengence is God’s to wield. 

Finally, loving your enemy is not merely avoiding revenge but requires us to “do good.” How do we seek the welfare and the peace of a city (or a person) who does not consider our needs or treat us fairly? 

Hard questions, but let us seek to be a community of people known for insane love of victims and perpetrators, willing to tell the truth and to see the prosperity of those who do not love us in return. 

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Justice, love

Ever heard a sermon on Leah?

At this weekend’s conference Tedd Tripp is preaching on Jacob, Rachel and Leah and the matter of heart longings. I think this may have been the first time I have heard someone given an extensive reflection on Leah’s situation. For those of you unfamiliar with this biblical story, Jacob works 7 years for his future father in law in order to marry the younger, more beautiful sister Rachel. On his wedding night he consummated his marriage and discovers afterwards his heavily veiled wife is not Rachel but Leah. He must work another 7 years for Rachel.

Imagine the experience of being Leah. You know he wants someone else. He many even have called you by your sister’s name during that first night. The text says that God saw the Leah was unloved. Her first three sons are named by her in such a way to illustrate her hopes that she will be loved for giving Jacob sons. Her fourth son gives Glory. She appears to no longer pine for Jacob’s love.

Imagine that experience. We could focus on Jacob’s willingness to work 14 years for his first love. We can focus on the deception in the story. But imagine the loneliness of Leah. Imagine a husband who is wiling to have sex with you (and you bear him sons) but who clearly loves someone else more.

Tedd closed by reminding us that Judah, Leah’s son, is the one of Jacob’s son who is in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Notice that God favors Leah in spite of her pain.


Filed under Biblical Reflection

Expectations and the will

We’ve been thinking a bit about expectations this week. Now, when our expectations fail to be met, we have a couple of less than optimal options;

1. Slide toward despair and anger. A passive response to not getting what we hoped for.

2. Find new ways to get what we expect or want (and, if necessary, justify our actions in case others think we are selfish).

On this second point, my pastor preached last Sunday on Judges 18 (The tribe of Dan looking for a reason to take a land not offered them by God). He listed several ways (tongue in cheek) we can become good syncretists (having the appearance of Christianity but operating on unbiblical principles). They are worth repeating as we may find that we actively seek to justify willful behavior so that we get what we want. I don’t have his list in front of me so I’m going on memory here:

1. Start going after what you want but then on the way ask God if he’s going to bless what you are doing

2. When you get an answer, be sure to read any ambiguity as supporting your own interests. Don’t consider that the person telling you that God is favoring you might be off his rocker (the priest was not following the Law because he was allowing Micah to have idols as well).

3. When you see that you can be successful at grabbing something not yours, assume that success means that God is in it. Assume might makes right.

4. If a better deal comes along (the priest or seeming success of Micah and his idols), assume the better deal is a good idea and grab all you can.

My pastor did a better job with these and I’m not doing justice here to his creativity but I do find that it is so easy for me to justify my expectations, find ways to fulfill them–even if I know God is not in it. Some examples I see from others:

1. Justifying rage towards children because they are rebellious

2. Justifying sexual sin because God wants me to be happy

3. Justifying overeating/undereating because celebration is good/too many people overindulge

4. Justifying withholding love because others aren’t doing their fair share

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Cognitive biases, conflicts, deception, Desires, Psychology, self-deception, Uncategorized

Divorce & Remarriage V: Divorce on Demand?

In chapter 5 of Instone-Brewer’s (I-B) Divorce and Remarriage in the Church we come to Jesus’ reactions to the “any cause” debate raised by the religious leaders. I-B suggests that prior to the time of Jesus, divorce was only allowed for failure to provide clothing, sex, and food–and could be initiated by either a male or female (I am suspicious as to whether women really could initiate divorce…). But by the time of Jesus’ ministry, Hillel, a popularized the “any cause” divorce by his mis-reading of Deutronomy24:1. Hillel and his followers proposed two grounds for divorce: sexual immorality and “any cause” based on some fault other than immorality. I-B reports that women were in favor of the “any cause” clause. If a woman was divorced for immorality (or allegations thereof) she could be killed or at minimum lose her rights to her marriage inheritance. But the “any cause” divorce was quietly done and mean she would probably get some of her inheritance. I-B suggests that Joseph’s plan to divorce Mary quietly followed the “any cause” clause,

Joseph did not want to put Mary through the disgrace of a public trial, so he decided to use the quiet “any cause” divorce that did not require any proof of wrongdoing. Matthew considered that this would be the action of a “just man,” because Joseph could have ensured that he didn’t have to pay Mary’s marriage inheritance if he had decided to prove her guilty of adultery in court. (p. 57)

Countering Hillel was Shammai and his followers, who only saw sexual immorality as a reason for divorce. I-B reports that this controversy “was a matter of huge public debate” (ibid). So, we come to Matt. 19:3 where the rabbis ask Jesus his opinion on the matter. Is it lawful to divorce for any cause, they ask. I-B does not think that our commentators and translations get it right. The rabbis are not asking Jesus if divorce is okay but if “any cause” divorce is okay–based on his reading of this contemporary debate among the rabbis. But what of Mark 10 where the text doesn’t include the “any cause” type language? Here I-B suggests the analogy of someone asking if it is okay for a minor to drink. Here we all understand the question is about alcohol and not drinking liquid. I-B suggests the audience would never consider that what Moses enacted as law would be unlawful. Divorce is allowed, but is “any cause” divorce allowed?

Jesus ignores the debate and tells both groups their mistake per I-B. But when he directly answers, Jesus supports Shimmai’s position and rejects the “any cause” divorce.

I-B points out that most biblical scholars get hung up on the meaning of porneia and miss the context of the rabbinical debates of the day. Jesus, says I-B is only answering the specific question of how to interpret Deut 24:1 and NOT nullifying the other legitimate reasons for divorce that we looked at in previous posts (abandonment, failure to provide food, clothing, and conjugal love). Jesus answers the question at hand but focuses on marriage rather than divorce. I-B again uses the illustration of telling his wife to “just wear the dress” and having her think he means she shouldn’t wear shoes.

The rest of the chapter considers some other parts of Jesus’ teaching. He supports monogamy and when the rabbis try to suggest Moses commands divorce, Jesus retorts and says that Moses allowed it but did not command it (verse 8). I-B suggests that the rabbis heard the “because of your hardheartedness” like this: They heard him quoting Jeremiah 4:4 where divorce and stubbornness are mentioned together.

Jesus thought that people were being too quick to divorce, so he reminds them that Moses meant divorce to occur only when there was “hardheartedness”–that is, a stubborn refusal to repent and stop breaking marriage vows. (p. 63)

I-B reports that the disciples’ response reveals the bombshell of Jesus’ teaching (verse 10). If its like this, maybe it’s better not to marry.” Jesus is radical by suggesting that marriage was optional. Apparently, Jews always saw it as compulsory due to the command to be fruitful.

So, Jesus denies the “any cause” divorce and even suggests that attempts to divorce are not valid and therefore remarriage is an act of adultery. If you are following along in the book, be sure to re-read I-B’s summary of what he thinks is going on in Matt 19 on pp 65-66. He also reminds readers that the Gospel accounts cannot possibly contain all that was said but are shortened to get to the main point.

Mark wrote first and abbreviated the debate as much as possible, but Matthew wrote later, when the debate was more or less over and was less well known. He knew his readers might get confused, so he helped them out by putting a few details back in. (p. 67)

So, what do you do with these proposed ideas about the context in which Jesus is speaking? Are you suspicious that the church could have missed this context for so long? Even I-B raises this question and promises to answer it in a later chapter. If you do use this lens (that Jesus rejects the any cause divorce but supports the sexual immorality cause) then I think it begs the question whether Jesus would agree with hardheartedness as a cause for divorce as well (which I-B wants to have at the bottom of all appropriate divorces; we should forgive even adultery, but divorce only when stubborn refusal to repent is the issue). If that was his point, why was this not clearer in the text. On the other hand, contumacy has long been seen as the cause for divorce (excommunication) from the church. One is not cut off from the church because of any type of sin, but because of a pattern of stubborn refusal to repent and turn.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, christian counseling, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage, Sex, sin