Someone once asked me whose message I thought was better: John Piper or Joseph Prince, two very popular Christian preachers and authors with wide followings, and two people with the initials JP (not that that’s significant).
While I’ve lately been reading and listening to John Piper, who, along with Timothy Keller and Peter Kreeft, have become compelling sources of wisdom for me, I remember answering, “No idea. Don’t see why I have to compare the two.”
Here’s why: The essential question isn’t so much whether you follow John Piper or Joseph Prince, or whether you’re a Calvinist or Armenian, or which church you go, or whether you speak in tongues or not, or whether you think Pope Francis is a great guy, or whether divorce should be allowed, or whether gays should be allowed to marry, or whether a loving God would send people to hell, or all the other contentious topics. The essential question, the question we must ask ourselves first, the question we must keep answering, is simply this: Do I love Jesus most? And if I say I do, do I live in such a way that reflects that love, particularly in how I love others?
Because the issue is “Where is my heart?”
What can we say of a man who proclaims he loves a woman yet continuously and deliberately does the things that pain her, and yet, because she once told him she loves him, keeps making claims to her forgiveness and goodness, and manipulates and pressures her into positions because of the strength of his arguments? Can we really say he loves her? What we can say for sure is this: For a man to be fine with hurting the person he claims to love, for him to claim his entitlements after doing so and to force his way, that man must love himself more than her. And that’s not love, at least not the love of the Bible, because that kind of love is life-laying, not right-claiming.
Many times I’m like this with God. I make claims to His promises yet continuously and, admittedly, sometimes deliberately, do the things that pain Him, then when life gets tough, I go back and make claims to His forgiveness and love this time, which He is generous to give. But what does this really say about me? What does it reveal about my heart?
I love myself more than God.
It reveals that I am not life-laying. I am right-claiming. Life-laying says, “I love you. Have your way – even if it’s at the expense of mine.” Right-claiming says, “If you love me, then you should deliver what I believe I deserve.”
If a person, through the ministry of Joseph Prince, truly loves Jesus and lays his life down for others, and because of this has a passion for incredible grace and generosity and forgiveness, who am I to say he is wrong? He is as right as any of us can ever be, like everyone, not knowing everything, but walking “with” the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
If a person, through the ministry of John Piper, truly loves Jesus and lays his life down for others, and because of this has a passion to teach, to strengthen the theological foundations of others, and to adhere strictly to dogma who am I to say he is wrong? Again, he is as right as any of us can ever be, like everyone, not knowing everything, but walking “with” the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
A person who doesn’t really love God will follow the ideas most agreeable to him without embracing its essential practice: life-laying love.
Someone who claims to be in the extreme grace camp, but does not put life-laying love first, will most probably be licentious, and because of this be unstable. One cannot find rest in a pattern of disobedience and repentance. I know this from experience as I have been like this.
Someone who claims to be in the camp of strict theological interpretation, but does not put life-laying love first, will most probably be proud and unforgiving, merciful only to those willing to see as they do, open to those only who think the same, and argumentative, even hostile, to those of different interpretation, especially towards those of wrong interpretation. I know this from experience too.
Yet both ways are wrong, not because God’s extreme love and forgiveness is wrong, not because strict theological obedience is wrong either, they’re actually both correct, but because we’re trying to erect teachings without the foundation of love. They both don’t stand the two tests that should show the presence of Jesus in our lives:
Test #1 is 1st Corinthians 13:4-7
Is it loving? Meaning, let’s say my belief is correct, am I patient? Am I kind? Am I envious? Am I boastful? Am I proud? Am I dishonouring others? Am I self-seeking? Am I easily angered? Do I keep a record of wrongs? Do I delight in evil? Do I rejoice in the truth? Do I seek to always protect, trust, and hope? Do I persevere?
Test #2 is Galatians 5:22
Is the fruit of the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, who I claim to love, present in me, and if so, is love, joy, peace, patience (or forbearance), kindness, goodness, and faithfulness so evident in my life?
To be honest, in times of my life I’ve been high on ideas of grace, high on ideas of theological supremacy but very thin on the proof of Jesus being inside me, which is simply the flourishing of love, and all that it truly is, in my life,
Am I More Important?
People who follow my updates will know two things:
1. I love working. I incredibly enjoy building things and figuring things out, and making things happen.
2. I’ve seriously entered into a relationship.
And sometimes these two things get in the way of each other…
After having dinner, while driving Yasmin home, she turned to me and asked me, “Am I important to you?”
It caught me a little off-guard but I answered, “Yes, of course. Of course you’re important to me. What kind of a question is that?”
She quickly followed this up with “More important than your work?”
I was reminded of this moment as I read my Bible this morning. As I sit on this lone beanbag, I imagine Jesus turning to me and asking, “Am I important to you?”
“More important than your work?”
“More important than your feelings?”
“More important than your dreams?”
“More important than your hopes?”
“More important than your honour and respectability?”
“More important than your success?”
“More important than your comforts or the comforts of the ones you love?”
“More important than your convenience?”
“More important than your books?”
“More important than your arguments?”
“More important than your safety?”
“More important than your money?”
“More important than your relationships?”
“More important than winning?”
“More important than the comments of others?”
“More important than the failures of others and how they affect you?”
In short, I can imagine Jesus asking, “David, am I more important than you? And if I am, why do you live like I’m not, as seen from how you invest your time, energy, and money, and how you respond when things don’t go your way, or people disagree, or mistakes happen, or your pride when you succeed?”
You see, love elevates the meaning of “right”. With love, it’s not enough to be able to justify ones actions. In true love, what is “right” is what pleases the one you love. If we truly love Jesus, what is “right” is what pleases Him. And if we truly love Him first, what is “right” is what pleases Him even if it displeases others, simply because we have made Him most important.
We cannot displease Him with disobedience and claim to love Him, neither can we displease Him with impatience and lack of mercy and lack of forgiveness, pride and claim to love Him as well. And we cannot claim spiritual “rightness” if do not truly love Him.
This is why, more than the practice of study, more than the practice of discipline, more than the practice of arguing, more than the practice of inspiration and encouragement, and these are all good, superior to these is the practice of humility for without humility there can be no love.
After all, if I am more important, more valuable, why then should I lay my life down for those of less value?
But Christian love says, “Jesus, You are most valuable, and so I lay my life for You, and since You ask me to lay it for others, I will do so to please You.”
And here is the most amazing part, and I’ll end with this, as I think about what it means to truly be a Christian, to be loving and life-laying, I am strongly moved by the memory of the Cross, Jesus laying Himself, saying, “David, come see forevermore, you are most important to me.”
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.