We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.

1448178195_bff4bcd6c2_z

Jesus Did Not Teach Ethical Behavior

Image by  a2gemma via Flikr

Paul teaches that love is not rude (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). If we forget that the New Testament is about the new life given us in Jesus Christ, we easily misinterpret this passage to be an ethical injunction. We read it saying, “Thou shall not be rude.” So in sincere obedience we set about doing our best to avoid being rude. We will tend to feel good about ourselves when we are avoiding rudeness, and we will feel bad about ourselves when we find we are rude.

Of course, it is not always easy to differentiate between having healthy personal boundaries that sometimes tell people to go away, on the one hand, and actual rudeness, on the other. So to fulfill this ethical mandate, we may have to think and debate on what exactly constitutes rudeness and the specific conditions under which a behavior might look rude but not actually be rude. If there are situations in which people disagree, we might find ourselves putting ourselves on one side of the debate or the other. Indeed, if it is important enough to us, our posturing could result in factions of Christians arguing with one another – often very rudely!

Now we must notice in this scenario that we are entirely focused on our behavior, centered on ourselves, and living out of our knowledge of good and evil. We’re living out of our heads, filtering everything through what we think we know about rudeness. Most significantly, we have entirely missed the point of Paul’s teaching. For Paul’s point was not that we should try hard to avoid rudeness but that we must live in love. If you are living out of the love of God, you won’t be rude. Indeed you will fulfill all the law. Conversely, you can strive to obey a hundred rules you’ve created to define rudeness in particular situations but be completely devoid of love.

Paul’s purpose was not to get us to act different; his goal was to help us be different. And in telling us love is not rude, for example, Paul was giving us a flag to help us notice when we are acting out of love and when we are not — that is, when we are acting out of the old self and when we are acting out of the new. Paul’s behavioral injunctions are not things we are supposed to strive to perform, nor are they new universal ethical rules by which we are to try to motivate all people to live. They are evidences that disciples are participating in the abundant life Jesus came to give.

Jesus did the same thing throughout his ministry. He was not calling people to a new ethical system; he was calling people to life. When someone wanted him to settle an inheritance dispute with a brother, for instance, he responded, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). He was telling the man that he did not come to give definitive answers to our many difficult ethical questions. He rather came to offer an alternative way of living to all ethical systems. Hence, he simply reminded the man that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus was offering this man, and all people, real life. Life from God. Possessing such life would not resolve this man’s ethical dilemma, but it would put it into a new perspective.

The New Testament is not about ethical behavior; it’s about a radical new way of living. It’s about a life lived in surrendered union to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is about experiencing the transforming power of God’s love flowing into and through a person. It demands a form of holiness that is far more exacting then any ethical system. It demands a holiness of the heart that does not feed the fallen self by distancing itself from sinners but rather sacrifices itself to unite with sinners.

This kind of holiness can never be achieved through behavior. It has to be received by grace. Jesus’ ministry and the whole New Testament undermine our ethics in order to position us to humbly receive this empowering and life transforming grace.

—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 93-96.

Related Reading

What the hell are we doing here?

Meet Collin Simula. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is a part of Central Vineyard church. He is a 30-year-old graphic designer, and a happily married father of three. Collin has spent his whole life in the Church, in every denomination imaginable, from Calvinist/Christian Reformed churches, to a Baptist high school, being a part of…

God’s Goal for the World

 Helga Weber via Compfight In a world that is all about doom and gloom… In a time when we never seem to have enough… In the midst of messages that tell us that we don’t measure up… In an age when we are more interested in whether or not we can own automatic weapons than…

The Most Beautiful Truth

Jesus was God incarnate. Yet he continually referred to, and prayed to, God the Father as someone who was distinct from himself. He also continually referred to, and claimed to be empowered by, God the Holy Spirit as someone distinct from himself. And yet Jesus, along with all Jews of his time, believed there is…

Topics:

Prayer and Co-Reigning with God

God’s primary objective is a world in which free agents love God and one another. For this to be possible, people need a stable environment and freely chosen, irrevocable, morally responsible say-so. Prayer is simply the spiritual side of our morally responsible say-so. We influence things by what we do through our bodies and in…

Sinful Accusers and Capital Punishment

The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they had caught in the act of adultery (Jn 8:3-4; where was the guilty man?). They wanted to see how this increasingly popular, would-be Messiah, might respond. Their motive, of course, was to entrap Jesus (vs. 6). The law explicitly commanded that adulterers had be stoned to death…

Tags: ,

Sermon Clip: Tough To Love

Learning how to love the people in our life that we find challenging to deal with is often very difficult. This week in Heart Smart Greg Boyd looks at some biblical examples and instructions on how to love our enemies in the same way we love our friends. Full Sermon Here: http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/tough-to-love