The Water Bowl: Why Pilate Washed His Hands

Written on 4/16/2017; revised 4/25/2020

Bible Passage: Matthew 27:11-26

Imagine being Pontius Pilate torn between conviction and affliction, the weight of the world in human flesh standing before you (Matthew 27:23).

No question, it’s a compelling scene: A headstrong Roman official desperate to spare a man he deemed innocent versus a bloodthirsty mob ignorant to Jesus’ Messiahship.

Ecce_homo_by_Antonio_Ciseri_(1)

Who knows what Pilate must have been thinking? What convictions were racing through his mind as he procrastinated the inevitable? If only we could jump inside his head into the tug-of-war, perhaps we could make better sense of such pivotal pressure.

For now, what we can discern is realizing the mob was threatening to riot…

“…he took water and washed his hands before the crowd…” ~ Matthew 27:24 (ESV)

Now, if you think is verse is random, I get it. Without context, this is simply an anecdotal observation; however, in context, this moment carries powerful significance.

For starters, the washing of Pilate’s hands not only symbolized his personal verdict but embodied what Jesus came to do in the first place – to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7) and free mankind from captivity (Luke 4:18). In addition, it gave future humanity the opportunity to identify with Barrabas. Like the notorious prisoner, we who deserve death have been given a second chance at life to know what real death is. Accordingly, the prisoner exchange (Luke 4:15-23) can be seen not only as foreshadowing but also as a microcosm of the Cross: Jesus, the son of God, taking the punishment that Barabbas, the anonymous everyman, rightfully deserved – a man guilty of murderous rebellion offset by the one murdered for every rebellion.

Reading on, note the verbal exchange between Pilate and the crowd (v. 24-25):

I am innocent of this man’s blood¹; see to it yourselves. 

His blood be on us and on our children!”

Again, it’s hard to ignore the irony of the situation considering these people, only a week removed from waving palm branches, were declaring judgment on the one who would soon take away their judgment. In a sense, those who knew not what they did were prophecying into those who know not what they do. Though the condemners didn’t understand the power in the blood at the time, they were essentially declaring what we understand today…

Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover the sins of mankind.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but marvel at this passage’s symmetry.

‘Cause truth is: While Pilate would ultimately relent to the unrelenting on the ground (v. 26), it was God’s unrelenting from on high that used all things to fulfill the completion of his Word.

And it’s here I want to zero in on since it’s this truth, this past/present/future reality that exemplifies why we celebrate Easter.

For God so loved the world, He had the Cross in mind before he created it. For God so loved us, he was making a way before we even needed it. How sweet it is to know the same God is still unrelentingly reconciling us to himself!

My prayer for you is that as you meditate on Christ’s death and resurrection, you come into a fresh understanding not only of what Christ came to do but what he wants to do in you.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” ~ 1 Peter 4:1-2 (ESV)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” ~ Micah 6:8 (ESV)

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” ~ Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

And as you seek Him, I encourage you to pray the blood over your house and the generations to come knowing you can now receive it in joy. Unlike those pleading, ‘Give us Barrabas‘, we can now cry, ‘Give me Jesus‘.

What a way to live the new life we have.

Selah.

Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful Easter full of peace, rest, and grace.

He is Risen…

untitled2

Footnotes 

1) Some manuscripts say ‘righteous blood’

Photo creds: Pinterest, Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri & jasongoronocy.com

Kingdom Agents: The Difference Between Gifts, Functions and Vocations (Part 1)

When I say ‘vocation’, what immediately comes to mind?

The 9-5 grind, the hustle and bustle, doing anything and everything to make ends meet?

If so, you’re not alone. After all, the world loves to condition us to view work as a ‘got to’, not a ‘get to’.

Yet, as I was reminded over the weekend, our marketplace vocation goes far beyond immediacy, intellect, and [our sense of] importance. Even though the nature of our jobs may require these elements, the aim of our jobs…the aim of our calling…is to serve as a royal priesthood, as Kingdom agents functioning in personal commission.

The question is: What does this look like and how does this happen?

tenor

For starters, it’s imperative we understand the difference not only between call and vocation but gifts and function.

To do this, let’s recap the spiritual gifts as outlined in the New Testament:

*Jesus gifts (Ephesians 4:1-3) – These are part of our vocation and include ascension and equipping gifts as well as the fivefold spiritual gifts (i.e. apostle, pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet).

Note: While all are wired to shape influence, not all are wired to employ these gifts in the church/in these specific occupations. More on this in a sec.

*Spirit’s gifts (1 Corinthians 12) – These belong to the Spirit and are gifts in a gathering. Some examples include administration, discernment, wisdom, healing, and miracles.

* Community gifts (Romans 4:4, 12:4-8) – These help us function in a local body. Some examples including leadership, encouragement, service, and mercy.

list-of-spiritual-gifts

Due to word count, I’ll link these passages rather than copy/paste; however, after you read them, consider their Greek roots:

1. Romans 12:4-5 – The word for function is the Greek word ‘praxis’ meaning “practice function” and signifies continual activity.

2. Romans 12:6-8 – The word for gifts is the Greek word ‘charismata’ meaning “grace function” and signifies communal activity. In the workplace, we can know these functions as influencing functions.

In both these cases, it’s important to note the origin of gifts point to corporate functions created for unity, not individual skills and talents.

3. Ephesians 4:1-3 – The word for vocation is the Greek word ‘klesis’ meaning “calling function” and signifies the work in which a person is employed. This not only references our occupation but our acceptance of it as a divine call to a particular pathway/course of action.

In this case, it’s critical we know how vocation and calling work together. As Martin Luther once said, “Every person is capable of having a vocation”; however, our universal calling is to be a royal priesthood.

Accordingly, we can break this down as follows:

Our universal calling: Priest (1 Peter 2:9)
Our gifts and functions: Romans 12:4-8
Our vocation: Romans 12 filtered through Ephesians 4


I like how Timothy Williams, author of The Spiritual Gifts, captures the vocational aspect of our spiritual gifts: While we know there are 5 ascension gifts and 7 community gifts,  it’s important to note “each ascension gift has a corresponding functional gift.” For instance, a certain accountant may not be called to serve as a prophet in a ministry setting (i.e. a liturgically designed ascension gift); however, he can still employ prophetic insight through encouragement and counsel in financial arenas (i.e. a vocationally designed ascension gift with specific communal functions). Of course, there may be times the accountant imparts guidance for church staff in critical situations. But the bottom line is: The man of God is at peace serving the body as a financial advisor with a prophetic anointing as opposed to a prophet with financial skills. 

Before I continue, I want to share a couple quick points on ‘vocation’ and how we’re to perceive it in light of our identity:

1. Gifts and vocations are NOT meant to soothe your ego or confirm your identity. If you base ‘who you are’ by ‘what you’ve been given’, you’ll reinforce territorialism in place of influence. Don’t do it!

2. Gifts and vocations are meant to enhance a sense of intimacy. If you base ‘what you’ve been given’ by ‘who you are’, you’ll reinforce a radical dependence on God and radical equality in how you view authority and hierarchy.

3. If we see ourselves as ‘Kingdom agents’, then we’ll a) desire to use our vocation to emphasize the work cultures that already point to Jesus (i.e. redeem our work environment) and b) seek to give clients and colleagues a taste of God by ‘calling forth their destinies’ (i.e. restore people).

4. If we don’t see ourselves as ‘Kingdom agents’, not only will we risk compartmentalizing our sacred and secular lives, but we will also miss opportunities to help people discern spiritual things with their natural minds.

5. Remember we’re all co-equal in value, diverse in function. Therefore, let’s engage our vocation as a holy partnership in influencing people to discover the fruit of their work/organization and in speaking restoration to people without agenda.

Looking ahead to ‘part 2’, I want to revisit William’s quote to help bridge the gap between Ephesians 4 and Romans 12.

‘Cause truth is: If we’re to better understand the relationship between gift and function within our vocation, we’ll need to apply additional grids and principles.

*Cough, Jethro. Cough, perichoresis. Cough*

Additionally, we’ll also need to add ‘elders’ and ‘deacons’ to the pastoral cluster so we can match 7 gifts with 7 functions. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, I hope you were able to glean something out of this introduction. If you have any thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me at your convenience.

Until then, God speed on your week. May His sweet presence be fresh wind in your sails as you press into His goodness.

You got this!

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Fast Company; body graphic creds: Msinop; content written by Cameron & Steve Fry; audio voiced by Steve Fry at the 2020 Commission U Leadership Retreat on February 29, 2020

Woke Faith: A SOAP Study on Luke 7:1-10

Remember the centurion at Capernaum, the one who wows Jesus with his ‘woke’ faith?

If so, I want to take a brief minute to talk about him.

‘Cause truth is: While most read this story as faith leading to healing, we often overlook the context behind the dialogue. For instance, what led to the centurion feeling unworthy? Did he actually meet Jesus1? And what about the servant/centurion relationship? Is their bond in light of the social scene a big deal? Or is there a bigger reason Matthew and Luke included this account in their Gospels?

To be fair, we could be here all day unraveling these mysteries; for now, let’s focus our discussion on why the centurion built the Jewish synagogue and why it’s significant for marketplace leaders today.

Scripture

First, let’s dig in starting with Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)

SmallWelllitJellyfish-size_restricted

 “After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore, I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”

Observations

There are several directions we can go from here, but to me, it’s hard to ignore the overarching contrast between Jewish faith and the Roman world. Like the Hebrews and Egyptians, the Jews and Romans were oil and water linked by oppression, an expiring dictatorship, and a deliverer in waiting; however, they were also similar in demographic disparity and the need for legislation. Perhaps this is why Herod Antipas assigned centurions as royal troops exempt from army duty – to balance the frontline action with local jurisdiction.

Either way, centurions were widely regarded as the real professionals of the Roman army. As Helen Bond states in Bible Odyssey...

Most owed their position not to family connections but to their military prowess. Besides a level of command on the battlefield, they engaged in a wide range of other activities: general policing (see Acts 27:1-3, Acts 27:43), customs work, and the supervision of capital penalties (Mark 15:39). The troops of Antipas seem to have been garrisoned within towns. Although centurions are presented positively in the New Testament, contemporary scholarship makes it clear that most were disliked by ordinary folk, who regarded them as cruel, violent, and self-serving.”

However, this was not the case with the centurion at Capernaum. As v. 4-5 confirm, the centurion not only oversaw the construction of the Jewish synagogue but served as a benefactor to the community at large. This seemingly small detail carries radical significance as it proves the centurion’s goodwill was rooted in empathy and unity as well as diligence.

V. 4-5 in the Amplified drives this home…

When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly [to come], saying, “He is worthy for You to do this for him, because he loves our nation and he built us our synagogue [at his own expense].”

A couple of things stand out here:

  1. Note how ‘loves our nation‘ precedes ‘built us our synagogue‘. Based on this order alone, one can assume the centurion’s love was not only contagious before it was constructive but inspired the elders to represent him (v. 3).
  2. Note how the centurion personally funded this operation! This tells me the synagogue was not only a social sacrifice but a financial and likely physical one as well. No wonder the elders pleaded earnestly with Jesus given the centurion was actively entering into their suffering.
  3. While off-script, it’s probable Jesus carried this example into Nain (v. 11) as news of His miracles spread through all of Judea.

Application

The centurion template is a fascinating one to discuss. Whether you analyze it through an exegetical or historical lens, the story reminds us what the power of breaking walls through selfless service can do.

Consider this excerpt from Jon Bloom, Executive Director of Desiring God:

“The centurion is a reminder to us that ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). I think we will be surprised someday when Jesus doles out rewards. Most of the great ones among us will probably have lived in obscurity. Jesus is not as impressed with titles, degrees, and achievements as we are. He is impressed with those who really do humbly believe him. [As Billy Graham once said], ‘God will not reward fruitfulness, he will reward faithfulness.’ The centurion was faith-full. I want to be like him when I grow up.”

As to what we can glean as vocations, starting with the centurion’s rapport with the Jews makes sense. After all, the centurion could have easily constructed a building detached from relational foundation. But as we see, the centurion cared far more about people finding freedom than notoriety and quotas. To him, excellence was not a metric to be measured, but a sacrifice to be invested. Granted, his position offered security, but his heart could not help but share it with those less fortunate.

And it’s here, I submit, we take inventory. Like the centurion, we may struggle to champion the underdog as those in authority. We may wonder if our tasks are being effective or if our bandwidths are hindering our influence; however, as long as we lay down our lives for the sake of another, as long we seek to serve through benevolence and compassion, we will make the difference we crave. For God did not create us to ‘get by’, but to ‘let die’ the reservations and preservations compromising our generosity. Accordingly, we never have to fear the extent of our giving or the bounds of our effort since the Lord will continuously provide outlets for both.

As for our colleagues, no question there will be times of disagreement when organization feels like a lame duck sitting in a sea of chaos. In those moments you feel overwhelmed by what you can’t control, dare to ask God for what you need with a centurion’s heart:

Prayer

Lord, I know by myself I’m not worthy. I don’t ask these things out of entitlement or false expectancy. Rather, I know, as one set under and in authority, you have given me all I need for goodness and godliness at my job. I have the mind of Christ; however, this doesn’t mean I lack weakness. Though you’ve wired me with skill and creativity, I’m not immune to your healing touch… your desire to restore my inner being. Honestly, there’s so much I don’t know or understand. Yet, I know as long as I align to your will, you WILL come through. Though my faith may suffer, I know as long as I say the word, you will be there…and if you say the word, it will be done. With this as my forefront, I make these requests known to you so that your glory be known as faith expresses itself through love. To you and in you I commit the fruit of my labor and the spirit behind it. Amen.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Matthew 8:5-13 suggests ‘yes’, Luke 7:1-10 suggests ‘no’

 

Work as Freedom: Hearts of Flesh (Part 1)

Inspiration passages: Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10

Backdrop passages: 2 Corinthians 3; 2 Corinthians 5:13

Core concept 1: God has qualified us to communicate the Gospel as Kingdom influencers; however, to walk in this competency, we must receive hearts of flesh in place of hearts of stone.

It’s no secret the world bombards us with the idea success is an identity we achieve through ability. If we want to get something, we got to first become something; if we want to reach ‘x’ status, we must set an ‘x’ goal; to reach an ‘x’ goal, we must get there by ‘x’ effort, etc.

However…

37xlq2

For example, you may have a counselor’s heart, but doubt its validity since you’re not a licensed counselor. The world would say until you receive the proper credentialing, you’re not a counselor. But to God, you are a counselor because that’s what He’s made you to be. Of course, you may have much to learn and have to wait a few years until certification. But this doesn’t mean you’re not who God has called you to be.

You see, the world wants you to think it’s all about the process…that what you hope to be can only be accomplished through how you get there. But think about it: In order for there to be a ‘how’, there has to be a ‘what’ and for there to be a ‘what’, there has to be a ‘who’, right?

The question is: Who do we believe when it comes to who we are?

While the outcomes are many, by allowing God to be the answer, we can know the sweet reality that not only is our salvation secure for those who believe (Romans 10:9-10), but our purpose, our destiny,  and our future as well.

Accordingly, growth and improvement should not be seen as functions of development, but of yielding. After all, what you hope you are, you already are because your identity is not a matter of be-coming and self-refining (heart of stone thinking), but be-lieving and aligning (heart of flesh thinking).

This in mind, if what you seek to experience has already been prepared, why not enter into God’s best with a ‘yes’  than effort with a sigh? Why not accept His ‘realized new’ than take a chance missing it all for the sake of going your own way?

Core concept 2: To receive a heart of flesh is to believe God always sees the ‘finished you’. Accepting this sets us up to experience radical life in the Spirit…to be transformed through the Spirit’s inner power.

Consider this illustration from my dad/Gate senior pastor, Steve Fry (8:46-11:30)…

As created (or in this case, painted)…

…there’s amazing freedom to be found when we accept our future as known and pre-determined rather than unknown and self-determined.

Understandably, this can be challenging to accept since we often seek to control our destiny through achievement and effort. We think as long as we work hard and ask God for the right things, they’ll be given to us and to a certain extent, this is true; however, if making requests to God and modeling faith through excellence are detached from alignment, are we not craving what He can give versus valuing what He creates?

If so, dare to view present and future struggle through David’s Psalm 51:10-12 heart-cry, where he asks not only for a clean heart, but a new one! (more on this in a sec)

NewHeart-iPad

As Paul emphasizes in 2 Corinthians, we’re not changed into a new creation, we are made as a new creation. We aren’t born again through accrued improvements; we’re born again through the Spirit’s transformative power which enables us to become what God has and continues to declare. As for us, all we have to do is align to God by His Spirit and walk His appointed paths through daily tuning and reliance. In a sense, that is life in the Spirit – an ongoing presence meets power, abiding meets trusting reality with God.

Think of this way: If the Good News is ‘Jesus is alive and has set you free‘, then by extension, you don’t have to earn your freedom because your efforts aren’t the keys to your life. Instead, you can relish in your freedom knowing you don’t create it by self-effort, but discover it being present with God.

Core concept 3: Believing God sees the ‘finished you’ allows you to embrace helplessness and surrender your veils.

When Paul mentions ‘veil’ five times in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, it’s easy to assume he’s talking about revealed glory; however, when we consider v. 17 and its modern-day application, we find Paul is doing, at least, three things:

  1. He’s linking Christ’s finished work on the Cross to our finished person (to see freedom through the lens of the New Covenant is to accept both Cross and weakness as the plan for our transformation). 
  2. He’s charging the church to fearlessly turn to the Lord.
  3. He’s cautioning the body against obedience through self-effort.

Concerning point #3, it’s worth noting even when we do the right thing, if the act is rooted in fear, our hard hearts will remain since trust is self-reliant. That’s why the flip-side is so radical. To do the right thing by trusting God is to allow God’s tender heart to tenderize your own. This is evident when we turn to Jesus in moments of dependence, desperation, and/or negative thinking. When you turn to Jesus, you’re essentially abandoning fear of conviction and exposure for the sake of discovering new levels of His nature, character, and glory. It’s the ultimate ‘His fullness exceeds my voids‘ proclamation…an acceptance of God and His desire for us to know His heart out of abundance, not fear.

As mentioned in Core Concept #2…

God doesn’t want to change your heart; He wants to give you a new one! He doesn’t want to improve you; He wants to take out your heart of stone and put in a brand, new heart of flesh. 

Yes, God is able to fully restore health (Jeremiah 30:17), relationships (2 Corinthians 13:9-11), fortune (Job 42:10), strength (Isaiah 40:29), and the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12), but with our hearts, our inhabitable being, He never stops wanting to go deeper; hence why God implants new hearts in His people so the larger dimensions can contain the future ‘more’ He’ll inevitably reveal.

As for our response, remember we don’t believe the right things so we can experience the cool buzz of God’s presence. We contend for them so the glory of Lord can fill our spaces…work, church, living, family/friends, etc. God desires His created to be free from performance and fear-based systems of thinking; however, we can’t tap into this desire if we try to effort our way there. Instead, we must yield our way to His way. That’s the hope of glory meeting the Good News as modeled in our own life!

Final Thoughts:

  1. Stop trying to be a Christian and turn to Jesus regardless of how you feel
  2. Accept God’s acceptance of yourself
  3. Pain is real, but irrelevant when you consider we are his workmanship created not only for good works, but for fullness from our finished future. Side note: Combining Colossians 2:10 and Ephesians 2:4-10 is super fun!)
  4. (see graphic below)

where-the-spirit

from your effort, self-reliance, systems of performance, and the deepest of emotional hurts.

Stay tuned next time for ‘part two’ when I’ll discuss how this theology works in the marketplace. ‘Til then, praise the One with the key not only to your heart, but your future as well.

Selah.

Cover creds: Heartwell
Content inspired by ‘New Heart’ series @ The Gate Community Church

The Feel Deal: Why ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ Isn’t That Romantic

Sooo…I wasn’t initially going to write anything on this, but after cutting a pod earlier this week, I’m calling an audible.

‘Cause truth is: I’m surprised how much a feel good movie in ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ has me feeling, well, not that good.

While the film, in itself, is charming full of laugh out loud moments and clever wit, to say the film lacks irony would be an understatement.

*Spoiler alert*

For instance, when contrasting real life to rom coms, our protagonist is clear she hates happy endings since they hinge on plot convenience more than anything else.

The funny thing: This is exactly what ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ does on the issue of self-love which begs the question…

Does self-love actually exist?

To be fair, the answer can’t be addressed in a vacuum since real love can’t be compartmentalized. That said, while secular voices can only go so far in their quest not to offend, one must wonder if we, as a culture, are synonymizing love and esteem as much as we are love and tolerance.

This in mind, I want to tackle the question by un-blurring the lines between self-love/love and self-esteem/esteem. As for love versus tolerance, don’t worry. I’ll come back and do a ‘part 2’ once the right movie comes along.

Before we define any contrasts, let’s define some terms.

First, what is love?

200

For starters, the most central answer can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not [a]love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction]. And if I have the gift of prophecy [and speak a new message from God to the people], and understand all mysteries, and [possess] all knowledge; and if I have all [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love [reaching out to others], I am nothing. If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [b]to be burned, but do not have love, it does me no good at all.

Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].

Love never fails [it never fades nor ends]. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part [for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete]. 10 But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. 13 And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.”

Granted, most are familiar with this passage; however, what’s often missed is the reason why we struggle grasping it.

Consider this great DC Talk chorus

Hey, tell me haven’t ya heard? Love is a serious word. Hey, I think it’s time ya learned. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care care what ya heard. The word love, love is a verb.

…and while we’re at it, let’s hit the bridge as well…

Back in the day there was a man who stepped out of Heaven and he walked the land. He delivered to the people an eternal choice with a heart full of love and the truth in His voice. Gave up His life so that we may live. How much more love could the Son of God give? Here is the example that we oughta be matchin’ ‘cause love is a word that requires some action.

Yeah, yeah…I’m starting this exegesis with the most popular ‘love Scripture’ and one of the most iconic 90’s Christian rap songs ever. Nevertheless, the content is 100% certified truth; specifically, love isn’t love without action…without a transitive nature.

Speaking of which, allow me to get nerdy for just a second…

source.gif

In math, the transitive property is expressed as the successive members of a sequence of at least three, where if A is larger than B, and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C. Interestingly, from a theological perspective, this confirms the existence of the Trinity (more on this in a future post).

In this case, let’s use the metaphor to compare us to ‘B’ with the people we love as ‘C’. If ‘B’ (love median) and ‘C’ (love recipient) are given, then who represents A?

In fewer words, God (i.e. love giver). But the big picture point is this: The reason love exists is because there has always been a giver and receiver for all of eternity. Thus, whenever we talk about self-love, it’s only fair to reference the concept as intransitive since the act is not only internal, but immobile.

But Cam…Matthew 22:39 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Certainly, self-love isn’t a bad thing?

And to that, I’d have to agree…wait for it…in a vacuum. But as mentioned, we can’t address this topic in a vacuum so let’s zoom out further and ask another question…

Is the self-love culture conveys the same as what Scripture describes?

‘Cause when we reference the Word, we find love, in every use, to be a direct response to receiving love. For example, before we can confess God as love (1 John 4:8), we must first believe the preceding verse: “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

1 John 4:19 paraphrases this in fewer words:

We love because He first loved us.”

Therefore, the difference between self-love (culture) and loving yourself (Scripture) is one is contained and the other can’t be. One is restricted, the other depicted. One is incomplete, the other complete. One is achieved, the other received. One looks to preserve, the other looks to subserve. I could go on.

For now, let’s discuss esteem.

As Webster defines, esteem is a regard involving an admiration, adulation, and/or appreciation of another. A derivative of gratitude, esteem molds an ‘I respect you’ statement into an ‘I value you’ declaration.

Unfortunately, most learn esteem as self-esteem, taking that ‘I value you’ and reforming it into ‘I value me’. Again, this is appropriate in moderation; however, we must be careful not to abuse the practice as how we love. Reason being: like self-love/love, for self-esteem to exist, there must first be esteem and for esteem to exist, not only must there be a giving entity, but authentic community surrounding it. Put another way, the necessity of esteem isn’t rooted in feeling valuable, but in sharing praise.

As Hebrews 13:15 and Psalm 66:4 capture…

“Through Him, therefore, let us at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.” (AMP)

“All the earth will [bow down to] worship You [in submissive wonder],
And will sing praises to You; they will praise Your name in song.” (AMP)

…for praise to have any purpose, it must be expressed as unrequited adoration. For if the affirmation of self is what focuses our esteem, then what we think is love is pride in disguise…or as I like to say, a vehicle for validation.

And it’s here where self-esteem goes off the rail for many people. Yes, self-esteem has a place, but can we say it has purpose when it’s narcissistically misappropriated? For example, we see in entertainment, politics, even health, the cultural message of self-esteem being a barometer to success and worth. Ironically, the same voices are also surprised when such pathways are met by insecurity, stress, and burnout. Keep going, they say. Don’t give up, they say.

Of course, Christ in us, we see how this is done the right way. In context, we tie esteem to love through the nature of God which then allows us to see anxiety as the bypassing of holy residence to feel significant. Sadly, for most, self-esteem is and will forever be detached from its Creator, leading many to strive for desirability through skillsets, passions, even status.  How sad is it that many discover strengths without wondering or questioning how they got there in the first place? No wonder so many struggle with voids given they’re pursuing meaning without reason!

But getting back to the movie…

After our protagonist’s comatose catharsis, she finally comes to the pay off: While love is not a fairytale, it doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself.  True, the happy ending might not exist, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. As long as you’re not depending on others for acceptance, you can love yourself to determine your destiny…and at least come close to a happy ever after.

Now…*cracks knuckles*…I have much to say to this moral discount morale boost.

But being I’m already near 1300 words, I’ll be short. The problem I have with this movie (and others like it) is how it conveys love as being stronger when it’s independent.

tenor

While I agree that our sense of value should be detached from what others think, if we’re constantly generating love out of self-preservation (i.e. an egotistic approach to void filling), there’s no way we can sustain love in any capacity.

Essentially, the movie’s tagline fits the “moral” of the story.

91bYksAPWQL._SL1500_

To love yourself, complete yourself. Don’t possess your emotions, numb them! To feel esteem, don’t rely on others to affirm it, provide it for yourself. Don’t just be indifferent to what others think, but be different to what others do. That way you can love you without the sensitivity to others’ needs getting in the way. After all, love isn’t given; it’s a personal choice.

*Sighs*                                                                                                                                  *Sarcasm subsides*

I guess what I’m trying to say is…

  1. The reason we love is because it has always existed.

  2. The reason love has always existed not only points to the existence of God, but to the reality of a Godhead.

By this, we can accept the truth that though we were made for love, we weren’t made to ignite and sustain it by ourselves¹. Accordingly, as the object of love and not the subject, let’s be careful with any cultural messaging suggesting the contrary. In the same way we create because we’ve been created and design because we’ve been designed, we love because we were and are forever loved.

Again, God didn’t generate us; rather He formed and fashioned us uniquely with delicate precision before the beginning of time (see Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 49:15, Psalm 71:6, Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15). And while we can’t possibly fathom the eternity of such love, we can accept its presence as constant sovereignty living and breathing outside ourselves.

How sweet is it to know we can experience the Gospel as the greatest romance in history:

We love because we were first loved and we love because it was first given.

Finally, we can answer our original question, ‘Does self-love exist?’

In short, outside of God, loving anyone or anything is impossible. Sure, we can admire, cherish, and enjoy the people in our path and the companies we keep. But if ‘our way’ is more important than any other, we can’t possibly know the origin and intricate delicacies that make love what it is. This doesn’t mean a lost concept of love and/or esteem can’t be based in self; it just means if what’s good for us is the gravity, the epicenter of perception and paradigm, the idea of crazy, crave-able love is a mirage via the transitive property.

If a) God is love, but b) God isn’t a part of our love, then c) is what we think is love really love at all?

giphy.gif

Okay…enough preaching already; time for one last thought…

Next time you’re discouraged about a situation with no happy ending in sight, remember…

  1. You’re not alone…
  2. You’re not your own…
  3. Because of a + b, you don’t have to express how you feel to know your love is real.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. By our own means and terms
Photo creds: What’s on Netflix