Loving, Learning, and Living (Part 1)

Every day I attempt to live my life as Jesus would live it, but I mostly fail. To attempt to live like Jesus would is to learn how to love Christ and everything that is represented in, by, and through him.

Yet what I just said can sound stationary: to love, to learn, to live. These sound like actions that are completed by doing them only once. The real challenge is to make each of these verbs more expressive and continuous in the way they “feel.” The challenge is loving, learning, and living.

My calling is to promote these three verbs in everything that I do. By doing this, my aim is to add value to people and to the kingdom of God.

In the next two posts I’m going to explore how loving, learning, and living are related to each other. In this post I’m going to make the case that the three are inseparable.

Love God, Love People

By Jesus’ own definition, the Christian life involves loving both God and people (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus also gave instructions and examples for how to do both.

In Luke 10 a learned man (an “expert in [Mosaic] law”) approaches Jesus and askes him, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” Like the master teacher that Jesus is, he responds with a question so that he can draw the answer out of the law expert. The answer Jesus receives from him is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the right answer.

But this learned expert who seems like he should already know the answer this his own question then asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is the famous story of the Good Samaritan.

Contemporary readers can easily miss the point about the Good Samaritan. Part of Jesus’ point was that the most unlikely person possible helped a Jewish man who was physically hurt and in need. And why was a Samaritan, of all people, such an unlikely helper? Because the Jews and the Samaritans purposefully avoided one another. In fact, they hated each other.

Jesus as the Example of Love

The Good Samaritan story would have made its mark on the law expert. After all, Jesus is pointing out that even the Samaritans are this (alleged) expert’s neighbors. Jewish teachers in the first century usually used the term “neighbor” to refer to a “fellow Israelite.”[1] But Jesus extends this understanding of “neighbor” to include people that the first-century Jews considered non-Israelites. When he does this, he shows one way to love God “with all your mind,” which was part of what the law expert said was the way to inherit eternal life.

Here’s what I’m getting at: Jesus was willing to take an unpopular opinion about the status of the Samaritans as “neighbors” to the Jews. It reminds me of when Aristotle said that it’s sometimes necessary to honor “truth above our friends.”[2] To love God “with all your mind” can involve following the truth where it leads, even if the destination isn’t a popular one. Clearly this can take an immense amount of courage.

Jesus believed what he was communicating about the Good Samaritan. In other words, he thought that to “love your neighbor as yourself” means transcending the dividing line between people-groups to help somebody in need.

But the divide between the Jews and Samaritans wasn’t just a racial one. It was also, in part, an ideological one. In John 4 we catch a glimpse of this. In that chapter we see Jesus interacting one-on-one with a woman in Samaria. (Pious Jewish men in Jesus’ day wouldn’t have dreamed to interact with a Samaritan woman, especially on her own turf!) From that interaction we learn that the Samaritans thought that Mt. Gerizim was the proper place to worship God, rather than in the Jerusalem temple (as the Jews thought).[3]

This ideological divide between the Jews and Samaritans stretched back a couple of centuries before Jesus and this Samaritan woman met. That means it is also part of the background to the Good Samaritan story. As such, it seems that, in order for the Good Samaritan to help the hurt Jewish man, he had to cross a deep ideological divide as well.

Several Christian writers in history thought that the Good Samaritan could be allegorically identified with Jesus himself.[4] That’s not the point that I’m making here, since that would make the point of the Good Samaritan story about Jesus, rather than about what a “neighbor” is supposed to be.

However, I am pointing out that Jesus did what the Good Samaritan did when he interacted with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus crossed racial and ideological divides in order to change a woman’s life. He is the ultimate example of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the sort of example I want to follow.

The Love of Learning

Even though I say that, I realize that actively loving God and others like Jesus did isn’t easy. It puts me at risk. That’s because it exposes me to the ones that I am loving, which in turn means gaining the passive ability to be affected by them.

One way that I can be affected by others is through learning. Love prepares me to learn in both individually and community-minded ways. And that’s a risk worth taking.

On an individual level, love-driven learning allows me to do several things. First, it allows me to have a passion for the subject that I’m studying. The thing is, I simply can’t imagine myself devoting a lifetime to learning a subject without loving that subject. It’s something I’ve got to have a passion for. Second, love-driven learning allows me to treat others’ ideas charitably and respectfully. There’s a variation of the “Golden Rule” that love-driven learning drives me toward: Treat others’ ideas the way you would like your ideas to be treated.

Learning never stays at the individual level, though, because what I learn ripples out to the various social spheres I’m involved in. What I learn, how I learn, and who I learn from all shape who I am. And who I am is obviously who people interact with.

Community-minded learning, like all love-driven learning, is risky. For example, learning in an academic setting can mean that I become blinded by the “furniture” that comes along with my discipline. Scholarship can be less like moving into an empty apartment and more like moving into a fully-furnished home.

Learning within a community also quite inevitably leads to disagreement. The real challenge is to learn how to disagree amicably. However, when learning is love-driven, this challenge becomes more exciting than daunting. Why? Because disagreement can lead to discovery.

Learning-Driven Living

Just as learning is love-driven, living is learning-driven. There’s a reason that cartography still exists: Maps need to be remade to reflect geographical changes that take place over time. A map has to be made up-to-date to reflect changes.

Who a person is right now is like the map: only a snapshot before any later changes take place. Living means the map has to be remade. Living means changing and adapting my life.

But just like learning, living can also be risky. Living inevitably involves some pain, and likely suffering as well. Pain and suffering come along with human existence.

Suffering is a major theme in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation. But suffering is never the end of the story. The exalted Lord Jesus promises the Christian who overcomes suffering and evil the right to sit upon his throne (Revelation 3:21; cf. Matthew 19:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:2-3). His people will rule and reign with him, provided that their faith doesn’t fail.

The Music of Life

Loving, learning, and living might sound like separate actions, but the fact is that each of them occurs with the other. They are like three notes that make a chord. If you listen hard enough, you can hear each note. But if any note is “off,” the entire chord won’t sound right.

Love drives learning, learning drives living, and living drives back to loving again. And when the three occur together, as they should, they allow the believer to grow in faith.

I find the following excerpt of a prayer (commonly attributed to St. Richard of Chichester) to be especially applicable:

Day by day, day by day,
O, dear Lord, three things I pray:
to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly,
follow thee more nearly, day by day.

See, love, and follow. They are the same three notes as learning, loving, and living. All three have to be played in harmony if I’m going to grow in my faith, as I’ll discuss in the next post. And it will take a lifetime to learn how to play them in perfect harmony.

 


Footnotes:

1. Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 207.
2. Nicomachean Ethics 1.6. Quoted from Jonathan Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle, 2 volumes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 1732.
3. Keener, 260.
4. See Arthur A. Just Jr., ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
5. Enchiridion 3.10-14.
6. Institutes of Elenctic Theology Topic 15, Question VIII, section vii. Quoted from George Musgrave Giger, trans., Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997).

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