2-2 "The Love of Christ Constrains us"
At the time we learnt the Gospel, either through studying literature or through regular contact with other believers, it's quite likely that Christianity was in a sense a hobby for us. In our spare time we read (e.g.) lessons of a correspondence course, or attended Christian meetings. There were other things which we gave priority to in our lives, and Christianity was one of those 'extra' things in life. But then we were baptized. We died to the natural life, and therefore the only life we have is the life which we are given by reason of our association with the resurrected Lord Jesus. And therefore our spiritual life must be the central thing in our existence- not a hobby. As I dried myself off after my baptism, I opened my Bible at 'random', and came with marvellous appropriacy to Prov. 23:26: " My son, give me thine heart" . And Paul taught the same: " Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). " The love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that (Christ) has died for all (believers); therefore all have died. And He died for all (of us), that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised...therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old (life) has passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:14-17 RSV). " I was co-crucified with Christ (Gk.): nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me" (Gal. 2:20). And " The love of Christ constrains us" , it shuts us up with no other real way to move, as the Greek implies.
If we are controlled by the love of Christ in dying for us, if we realize that we died in association with Christ's death, and the life we have is only because we are united with Him... then we cease to see our Christianity on the hobbyist level. It's not a hobby; it's not even a full time job. It's our life. As Dennis Hingley once put it, in his manner, " the Truth should be the very atmosphere that we breathe" . And Moses likewise, on the very last day of his life, assembled all Israel by their tribes, and with a voice no doubt cracking with emotion, pleaded with them to understand that there's nothing like the God of Israel and His Truth, and it must therefore be at the very centre, at the very core, of a man's soul: " There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun...who is like unto thee, O people saved by Yahweh...Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day...for it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life" (Dt. 33:27,28; 32:46,47). " The love of Christ constrains us" .
" Holding the head"
Spiritual intensity is something alien to our natures. Israel and the early church are clear Biblical examples of this; they treated God and His Truth as a hobby, something they believed in and studied in their spare time, a social club, a kind of spiritual insurance policy against the time of trouble or death. Paul lamented how many believers failed to " hold" the head of the body, Christ (Col. 2:19). Israel were plagued with poisonous snakes, and the only way of being healed of the venom rising up within them was to look in faith at the bronze serpent, lifted up by Moses on a pole. The Lord Jesus taught that the pole spoke of His cross, and the intense, desperate gaze of the Israelites, as they felt the venom rising up within them, pointed to our faith in His work on the cross (Jn. 3:14). Israel were not sitting there watching telly or reading novels, occasionally glancing up at the pole to make sure it was still there. It was for their lives that they desperately dragged themselves (despite their plague) into a position where they could see the pole, and fixed their gaze on it, surrounded as they were by the mighty snakes. Gazing at the pole was no hobby for them. It's as if the Lord takes a snapshot of those men, as it were, and presents it to us as a picture of how our lives should be centred upon Him. Paul demonstrates that our Lord Jesus is at the very centre of the whole cosmos, the whole of creation (Eph. 3:15; Col. 1:16,17); and he says this in the context of appealing to us to likewise centre our thinking on the Lord Jesus, knowing that " The love of Christ constrains us" .
The Lord himself spoke of how He expected this of us; and He put it in language which He surely knew would arrest attention: " If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters...he cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:26). He's a demanding Lord- and reflection on His life and death for us shows that He has every right to be so. Notice how the Lord Jesus uses the figure of polysyndeton- i.e. repeating the word " and" when there's no grammatical need to, in order to build up the impression of how many different people we must be prepared to break with. His message is plain: the Lord Jesus must come in front of every human relationship, or else we are not His disciples. And it isn't just human relationships that must be sacrificed; it's " houses...lands" (careers, cars, we might say) as well (Mt. 19:29). It has to be seriously asked whether our community, especially the younger generation, are prepared to be the Lord's disciples; whether they have given up these kind of things for His sake. He must be the Lord of our lives, the master passion and controller. Christ's love constrains us. These sort of demanding words are so common in the Gospels that they almost slip our notice. There can be no serious doubt what He's saying: He has no room for passengers or part-timers. As far as He is concerned, it can't be a hobby.
The usual excuse for not reading Scripture daily, or remembering the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread as He asked, or meeting with brethren and sisters etc. normally goes along these lines: 'I've nothing against these things. But after all, we're only human beings, Christ understands that, He knows we have to get on with the things of this life'. To which so many passages in the Gospels reply: 'Yes, the Lord does know exactly what everyday human life is all about; and He expects you, in these daily things, to make decisions which consciously sacrifice what you could get for yourselves in life'. And to which Paul replies: " The love of Christ constrains us" . Consider the parable of the great supper (the Kingdom). The servant goes out and invites people to the supper. They each make excuses which on a human level seem perfectly reasonable. One man was on his way to inspect some land he had just bought; another man was on his way (Gk.) to prove his new oxen; if they were no good, he had the right to get his money back (1). It seems, humanly, a bit unreasonable to go up to a person right in the middle of doing something important in daily life, and say 'Now stop that, come to a supper'. The third man assumed Christ would understand why he couldn't respond: " I have married a wife, and therefore (of course, as you'll appreciate) I cannot come" . After all, even the Law said that a man was free from military obligations after his marriage. But " the master" was " angry" with those men (Lk. 14:21). What Moses' law conceded to men, the Lord Jesus wasn't necessarily ready to concede (and his attitude to divorce was similar).
Just seeing the outline message of the story, through half closed eyes as it were, it's clear what Jesus was driving at: 'What you may think are perfectly acceptable, legitimate excuses for not responding to my call, I'm afraid I don't think are good reasons at all. If you've been invited to the wedding of God's son, you must put this in front of everything in your human life'. And surely the Lord intended us to take His story further: we've not only been invited to the wedding as guests, we are the bride herself- so how much greater is our responsibility to respond. If this is God's attitude to ungrateful guests, how much worse in the case of an indifferent bride? It's not a hobby, it just can't be; not just a passing phase in our lives for a few years; none less than the Lord Jesus Christ, the exalted, peerless Son of God, has chosen us as His very own, has died for us to redeem us unto himself, and is pleading with us to respond. We have responded, although when we first started to learn about these things, it was like a hobby, something at the periphery of our lives. But now we have grasped the wondrous truth of it all, it must be at the very centre. So high is our honour that we have a responsibility to God which the world generally doesn't have. For it is only for those who have accepted the cross of Christ that it remains always true: " The love of Christ constrains us" .
A Deceptive God
And this leads me on to a serious issue. If we continue to treat our spiritual lives on the 'hobby' level, God isn't indifferent. When you or I meet a brother or sister who clearly show little interest in daily studying the word or in making the Truth the central thing in their lives, we may be sad, we may gently plead with them, but at the end we can't do anything else. " At the end of the day" , we say, " it's their problem, I can't do any more" . And it's tempting to think that God sees things likewise. But He doesn't. He isn't passive to such indifference. He actively does something to those who treat their relationship with Him as a hobby: He actively deceives them. The evidence for this is presented in Study 6.6.
God worked false miracles at the time of AD70, according to 2 Thess. 2:9-11. This means that the 'miracles' claimed by Pentecostals and the like may be actual miracles; God allows them to be done because He wishes to deceive such people. The Bible is likewise written in a way which almost invites us to misinterpret it. The casual Bible reader may open Matthew 4 and conclude that the devil is a person who lives in deserts and tries to stop people being righteous. And if he flicks over to Rev. 12, he will think that the devil is a dragon who was thrown down from Heaven: because that's what the Bible says. But we know this is actually not the case, if you read the records carefully. Many times I can recall conversations where I want to say: 'Yes, I know that's what it seems, I agree; but the general teaching of the Bible, under the surface, is quite the opposite. But until you give your heart to wanting to find God's truth, that's how you'll always see it'. Thus the superficial Bible reader will be deceived by God's word into believing things which are a false Gospel; a system of understanding which has an appearance of the Gospel, but which is actually an anti-Gospel (cp. 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6). The fact that so many apparently sincere Bible readers are so wrong shows that there is a power of delusion at work greater than those people just making a few mistakes in their Bible exposition. After all, how can we believe in a 'trinity'? The Bible is so clearly against this idea. But millions read their Bibles (after a fashion) and believe it. The super-human power of deceit which is at work is from God. The hobbyists, the part-timers, those who in their hearts are not wholeheartedly committed to God's Truth, are deceived.
Such deception can be frequently seen operating in the weak believer. Daily Bible reading is skipped, the breaking of bread forgotten about (for those in isolation), prayer pushed into the background, meals gulped down with no further thought for the Father who provides, self-examination never thought of... and yet the brother or sister feels they have come to a higher spiritual level, whereby as they understand it (e.g.) God quite understands if we marry out of the Truth, or (e.g.) they come to the 'realization' that actually friendship with the world, or total commitment to our careers, is really serving God, or that really, doctrine doesn't matter and other churches are quite acceptable. And so their real fellowship with God slips away, but they are convinced that actually they are spiritually growing into a higher relationship with God. God, working through their deceitful natures, has deceived them. For this reason the Truth is in one sense the most dangerous thing in the world. It can destroy us, blow us apart; God can terribly, terribly deceive us, until at judgment day we gnash our teeth in white hot rage against Him and ourselves (Is. 45:24). The Truth is precious, very precious, we must hold it like diamonds. For it will gloriously save us, or miserably destroy us.
The Centre Of Our Souls
I'm writing all this primarily for those who have recently been baptized. As we hold on over the years, the logic of endurance becomes the more apparent; " Lord, to whom shall we go?" rings in our minds the more (Jn. 6:68). The thought of quitting becomes answered the more readily by appreciating that " The love of Christ constrains us" . And yet there is the temptation that because for many years we have known nothing else apart from the Christian life, the fire of real spirituality and sacrifice, the spirit of the cross, can burn low. Our religion can become a fondly loved hobby, full of precious memories of fine friends and moments; but the Lord Jesus Christ, the one for whom the true Israel hopes and longs, the fire of what God's Truth is really all about, can cease to be at the very centre of our souls. As we come to know ourselves better, as we observe the habitual patterns of our nature, our secret sins, we tend to make excuses, we become generous spirited towards our own humanity, spiritual 'growth' becomes just a scratching around on the surface of our natures. This isn't easy for me to write, and it can't be easy for you to read it. To a man and to a woman, these things hit altogether too too close to home. " My son, give me thine heart" stands true for you as well as me. We must grow in our realization of the enthusiasm of God for our salvation. Consider how the Father ran unto the pathetic son and fell on (Gk. violently seized) his neck and kissed him (Lk. 15:20; the same Greek as in Acts 20:37). Or consider how Christ interprets our often distracted, sleepy and half-hearted prayers " with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26), a description which is evidently intended to be connected with His sufferings on the cross (Heb. 5:5-8). The intensity of His prayers then is just the same as when He intercedes for us now. Prayer and confession of sin simply can't be part of an offhand, part-time hobby-level religion. The enthusiasm of the Father and Son for our redemption from our sins and spiritual indifference means that we simply must be wholehearted in response.
There are things we must do, under the sun. We must work, we must service our car, prepare our food and eat it, I must wash my clothes out tonight... but the temptation is to allow these daily necessities to obsess us. All too often we make the excuse that because we are human, surrounded by human needs, we can't dedicate ourselves wholly. Our natures seem to suggest a fear of being too committed; we are almost embarrassed by a high level of commitment. To give up an over-demanding job or course of study, to move down the property ladder rather than up it, resigning our holiday in Hawaii for a visit to the brethren in Ghana; these sort of things are somehow embarrassing for us, even within the context of the response of our brethren. And subconsciously, we remind ourselves of this fact. We don't let ourselves go in commitment. Yet the Kingdom age is described as a keeping of Sabbath. The Sabbath was a release from the everyday things of life, the need to search for food (in the wilderness years), to work, from doing one's own pleasure and speaking words which relate to one's own earthly desires (Is. 58:13,14). It is therefore fitting that in our present experience of life, these necessary daily things will not obsess us; and if we may be made free from them, we will " use it rather" . Sodom was condemned for this revelling in the legitimate daily activities of life- attending and organizing weddings, eating, drinking... So let's drive away our nervousness at the idea of serious commitment; we are a priesthood, the centre of our lives is the service of God, His tabernacle is what we camp around by night and carry by day. Let's not make the mistake of so many, and pass off this personal priestly responsibility to others. We are a nation of priests. " The love of Christ constrains us" , each and every one. The commitment implied in this needs to be pondered. We must look seriously at our spiritual life. If it is not central to our lives, our spiritual exercises are blasphemous, and will be judged as such. For example, if we break bread without due attention, we drink condemnation to ourselves; like Israel, their " solemn meeting" became " iniquity" , their incense (cp. our prayers) became an abomination to God (Is. 1:13). We can put too much emphasis on works, on doing things. It's where our heart is as we sleep, as we travel... " With no eyes for anyone but Jesus" (Heb. 12:2 Moffatt). The love of Christ for us demands a total response. He told His men to go and do His work and " salute no man by the way" , to not even go to their father's funeral but do His work. He may have been exaggerating to make the point; but the point is there: single minded devotion is what He asks.
Of course, we've given only one side of the coin; our salvation is ultimately by pure grace alone rather than willing ourselves onto higher levels of commitment. And yet that doesn't militate in any way against the truth of what we've presented above; the Lord Jesus expects us to serve Him and Him alone, as Yahweh likewise expected of His people under the Old Covenant; to put Him above all else in our lives. If we realize the extent of God's grace, His pure grace in translating us into the Kingdom of His Son even now , regardless of our works (Eph. 2:9; Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 1:9), then we will realize that it's not a hobby, it simply can't be. We can't serve two masters (Mt. 6:24), we will either love God with all our heart, or (in His eyes) hate Him. If we appreciate this, we won't want our relationship with God to be on a hobby level. It can't be like that, ultimately; the Kingdom, 99.99% of our future, will be purely spiritual, and therefore the Hope of the Kingdom must be the centre of our present existence. Isaiah realized this when he said that the total devotion of the righteous now is because ultimately, devotion to God's ways will be what eternity is all about: " The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee. With my soul have I desired Thee in the night...for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Is. 26:8,9). We must come to appreciate this; that in real terms, the Lord can't be only part of our lives. And as we do, He will become, quite artlessly and naturally, the master passion of our souls. " The love of Christ constrains us" will be written all over us.
(1) There may be the implication that the three people said " I cannot come" with the implication 'I can't come right now, but later'; and the Greek could bear such an interpretation. The master's comment at the end suggests that he knew these people would later turn up at the supper, but he would refuse them entry: " For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper" (Lk. 14:24). There are often connections within the Lord's parables; in this case, the men who were so busy with daily life that they turned up at the wedding later would connect with the story of the other wedding guests who didn't have enough oil, and who later turned up at the wedding feast- again, only to be barred entry.
(2) This sheds light on the question of whether homosexuality is a natural, God given instinct. According to Rom. 1:21,27,28, it is an attitude of mind given by God to those who wish to go this way. Homosexuals who claim to have a 'natural' bias this way are therefore telling the truth; but they have been deceived by God into the position they are in. Their 'natural' feelings are therefore no excuse.
(3) Listed in my The Last Days pp. 284,5 (London: Pioneer, 1992).