the weblog of Alan Knox

Schlatter on love and the community

Posted by on Sep 18, 2008 in books, community, love | 7 comments

As I mentioned a couple of days ago in my post “Schatter on the individual and the community“, I had an opportunity to skim through a few sections of Adolf Schlatter’s book The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology. Just a few paragraphs after the one I quoted then, I found this paragraph:

As soon as the concept of love becomes the central term of ethical instruction, the community’s indispensability is secure. In the isolation of the individual, love would lose its sphere of operation and wither to an empty attitude. If it truly comes to permeate the human will, a union of giving and receiving arises for which the recipient is as indispensable as the giver. By recognizing God’s will to be love, the community receives irreproachable sanctity. (287)

There is so much depth in these three sentences.

First, if we truly understand love, then we will understand that love is the central term and driving force behind our ethic. Rules and laws and precepts will never cause us to live ethical lives. But, if we live out the love of God in our lives, then we will live ethical lives. I think that the church has replaced a life of love with a life of rules. This needs to change. Jesus said that all “rules” and “laws” boil down to two similar commands: Love God and love others.

Second, love requires both giving and receiving. Many times Christians are very happy about giving, but they are reluctant to receive. We feel that receiving makes us weak or incapable. Instead, receiving is an act of love, just like giving is an act of love. If we do not learn how to receive, then we do not understand love.

Finally, love presupposes community. We cannot be individualistic and still love. It is impossible. Love requires that we take our mind off of ourselves and think about others. Love requires that we take what is ours and give it to other people who do not deserve it. Love requires that we take last place and consider others as more significant. We cannot love without community.

I love paragraphs like this one. What do think about Schlatter’s short paragraph on love and the community?


7 Comments

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  1. 9-18-2008

    I agree with you on the power of the paragraph.

    As we analyze our broken world and why it fails, there is one reason. Greed places materialism before people. All painful human interactions spring from this one. The fix is community where relationships support our emotional health. Even the world recognizes this. Intentional communities are spreading among non-believers.

    Christians have formed millions of communities. They are called churches and include para-church organizations with a more narrowed mission. However, these often do not satisfy. This isn’t hard to understand either. The letter of the law is death, but the spirit brings life.

    Obedience to law in the name of love will not meet our need for love. Love in the name of love supported by conscience living out of a conscious faith in the in-dwelling Presence of the Living God is the only way to enter into the depth of love humans need.

    For this reason, I believe Paul preached Christ and Him crucified. The whole of Jesus teachings shaped what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor. This teaching cannot be embraced without the redemption of the conscience from the greed of the world system and the renewal of the heart to life in the Spirit.

    Christian community built on and expressing authentic love from God is the only available natural world paradigm which supports the abundant life available in Christ.

  2. 9-18-2008

    Alan,

    You wrote: “Love requires that we take our mind off of ourselves and think about others. Love requires that we take what is ours and give it to other people who do not deserve it. Love requires that we take last place and consider others as more significant.”

    This is a great statement that every Christian should realize and practice. Many Christians do just that. But, I’ve been thinking lately about self-centered Christianity and the boundaries of love and sacrifice. I know many who would sacrifice a little. I know some who would sacrifice a lot. I know a few who would sacrifice everything, including their life here on earth. We’ve now reached a boundary. Mature Christians can go this far because by faith they are banking on eternity. They can afford to do this because their real treasure is hidden and buried and most likely gaining interest. Why does it seem like we are using the lost and undeserving, by loving them and sacrificing for them, in this life to our advantage when it comes to eternity? This seems ironically selfish. Yes, we love them because we want them to be there with us. But, could we love them enough to offer them to be there instead of us? What if that boundary got pushed back? I realize this won’t happen, but do we love enough to wish ourselves cut off from Christ for the sake of our neighbor? (Romans 9:3)

    This makes me wonder about the sacrifice that Christ made for us. Christ was with the Father. He came to earth and sacrificed Himself for us. He went back to the Father. Was this a temporary separation from the Father or did He give up something for all eternity for our sake? I think about that one a lot.

    -Jeff

  3. 9-18-2008

    David (ded),

    According to 1 John, we love because we are first loved by God. I wonder if we do not love because we do not understand and accept that we are already loved by God?

    Jeff,

    We know that God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. I don’t think we can understand everything about that statement, but I think it certainly help us start to understand how to love. I also think that if we only love to get something in return (even something from God), then we’re not loving yet.

    -Alan

  4. 9-19-2008

    Alan,

    I often wonder if I over simplify, so I rejoiced at the simplicity of your thought. I would have to agree with you. Love strikes us as costly and risky.We pray for love in our hearts, but honestly don’t expect it or even really want it.

    I think your reason of not understanding or accepting love from God is the reason. It begs the question of why. Why would someone not accept something as deep and rich as God’s love?

    Our selfish love of self (the bad king?), an idolatry in our soul we will not face keeps our heart from fully embracing God. The fruit of this condition? Self-righteousness.
    Endless effort to prove our love of God to God and others…to ourselves.

    It is simpler, easier, and much more dependent on God, to just believe in faith one is loved regardless of what works are done or not done. This doesn’t suggest that works will not occur. The one who is receiving the love of God and its attendant rest in the soul, begins to love God back deeply. The fruit of that is authentic sacrificial care of others seen in actions.

    Costly? Risky? Trust God to lead in it and don’t give a second thought to the ramifications. He completes the work to His ends, whether that costs me a few dollars or my life is immaterial.

  5. 9-19-2008

    David (ded),

    You said, “Trust God to lead in it and don’t give a second thought to the ramifications.” That’s the desire of my heart – usually – except when I’m giving in to my natural desires.

    -Alan

  6. 9-19-2008

    …and so we experience the struggle of our natural lives.

    If the community of believers allowed what you have just described to be an open and honest discussion without condemnation from the arena of what “should” be, how would that affect life?

    Alan, I rejoice and my heart is warmed by the depth and authenticity of what you express over here. Thank you and glory to our most Holy Lord Jesus!

  7. 9-20-2008

    David (ded),

    Yes! Exactly! As a community in Christ, we must be willing to be open and honest about our failures and our sin. Of course, that also means that we must accept others who fail as well. If not… well, then there’s really no community there in the first place.

    -Alan