Authority, Law, and Love

Much of the discussion over my authority posts of a few weeks back centered on the question, “Do I have to?”  Everybody agrees that the Bible says certain things.  All the disagreement emerged over the extent to which those commandments, examples, etc. are binding on us today.

Perhaps the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question.  “Do I have to?” implies coercion, the enforcement of a law on an unwilling subject, and for disciples of Christ, that’s a shoe that should never fit.  For Christians, the right question ought to be, “Should I want to?” 

When I was a child, I obeyed my father.  Certainly, he required me to obey, and I feared the consequences of disobedience.  However, my relationship with him wasn’t marked by fear.  It was marked by love.  I obeyed him because I loved him and wanted to please him, and the latter produced a far more complete obedience than the former ever could.  Even as an adult, when I no longer had reason to fear my father at all, I chose to live in a way that I knew would make him proud.

Shouldn’t this be the model for our relationship with God?  Yes, we acknowledge His authority.  Yes, we fear His punishment for disobedience.  Primarily, though, we obey Him because we love Him and want to spend eternity with Him.

The primary characteristic of fear-based obedience is minimum-seeking.  Fearful people want to determine the least amount of obedience that they must offer in order to escape punishment, and that is precisely what they will offer.  They will construct an obedience checklist that is as short as they think they can get away with and riddled with as many exceptions and trapdoors as they think they can include.  They will check off all the boxes on their checklist and then flourish it as proof that they have done what they are “supposed to”.  That’s what fear does.

Love isn’t like that.  Love doesn’t ask, “How little?”  Love asks, “How much?”  Love gazes intently into the character of the beloved, looking for every indication about what will please the beloved, and then goes out and does everything that it can.

Do I believe that 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 requires us to lay by in store on the first day of the week?  I do.  However, in practice, I don’t give because I’m required to.  I give because I want to.  I believe in the work that my local congregation does, and even more to the point, I believe that God is pleased with that work.  I want to participate in anything that makes God happy, so that’s what I do.

I see that 2000 years ago, God’s representative told God’s people that they ought to lay by in store on the first day of the week, with the strong implication that they will please Him if they do.  Is that situation exactly like my situation?  Of course not.  No first-century situation is.

If I were a fearful minimum-seeker, I might try to use those differences as a reason not to do the same thing today.  However, I’m not a fearful minimum-seeker.  I’m a loving God-seeker.  I give every first day of the week because in my judgment, it is more likely to please Him than any other course.  If somebody can show me that some other method of giving is more likely to be God-pleasing, I’ll do that instead.

Is it possible to search the Scriptures intently, seeking out every nuance of the pattern of churches 2000 years ago, purely out of fear?  Sure.  I don’t doubt that some people do, even though such a search is self-defeating.  Fear by itself never can produce obedience to the first commandment of them all.

I think it is far more likely, though, that an honest quest for the pattern will be impelled by love.  Those churches pleased God, I want to please God too, so I will, so far as it is possible, do what they did in the spirit in which they did it.  Again, that’s what love does.

However, love does not disregard the pattern.  Love does not contemplate with apathy the things that pleased God 2000 years ago.  Love does not cry out, “Do I have to?”

Instead, that is the voice of indifference.

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