Faith Relationships


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Many years ago, I was part of a loose ongoing discussion about which was more important in following Jesus: love or obedience? Both play a key part in one’s life with Jesus, but which comes first? It might sound like a trivial issue because following Jesus seems hard enough, however, remember that your starting point radically impacts the quality of your life in Christ.

One church leader was convinced it was all about obedience first. “Do and the love will come.”  Others approached it oppositely; “Love is first, then obedience that follows will be authentic.”

The real question is what did Jesus teach?  Obedience first, or love?

During Jesus’ time, there were two schools of thought regarding following God. One, led by Gamaliel (a great rabbi of the day), taught righteousness through obedience.  His grandfather, Hillel taught piety through love. Let’s see what Jesus taught.

In Matthew 5 Jesus is talking to Jews when he says… 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus starts out quoting a rabbinical teaching everyone knew about. It came for Hillel. ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Then, Jesus adds to that. “But I say to you,“  In other words, “In addition to what Hillel said, also love your enemies. 

Love my enemies?  You have got to be kidding!  Loving my brother-in-law, my girlfriend’s dad, or her kid brother is hard enough! Now, Jesus wants me to love my enemies.  Come to think of it, in comparison, perhaps loving my friends and relatives is easier than loving someone I hate. Who can love his enemy?  That’s impossible!

And that is exactly Jesus’ point!  On your own, you cannot love your enemy, but out of your conversational relationship with Jesus, you can. Jesus loving your enemy through you. 

Jesus seems to side with Hillel’s approach of loving over obedience but takes it one step further; to the impossible.

When Jesus says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, ” he tells us that love is the higher and right calling and the only way you can love as such is by your heavenly Father.

“This is impossible!” You shout in defeat.  Is it?  Humanly speaking, yes, it is. What Jesus was challenging his listeners with was their need for total dependence on their heavenly Father. 

This is not about you or me trying harder. Jesus is not saying you become a son of the Father by greater obedience.  He’s calling us sons of the Father through unconditional love.

Without condition. It’s easy to love when those you love walk in the same way as you do. But, when someone contradicts you, when they are belligerent towards you when they call for your demise, Jesus says to love them and pray for them.  

When I resist Jesus’ call it reveals my heart.  I want an easy Jesus. I may agree love is over obedience, but I want easy love.  

So, I avoid conflicts. I ignore your pain. I unfriend you on social media.  Coward that I am!

It’s quite obvious Jesus had the worst enemies.  They wanted him dead. And we all know the outcome. Jesus crucified. Yet, he loved them through death.

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” 

That is love. It’s the same love we are called in Christ to live.  Out of such love, authentic obedience will come. 

So, are you a doer guy or a loving dude?  

What happens in the next 24 hours will reveal your heart.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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