“Whats” and “Whys”
We followers of Jesus talk a lot about “whats”. We discussed several of the “whats” during our summer series of messages about following Jesus. We noticed that He called His followers to become “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:18-19) and “makers of disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20) among all of the nations. We revisited the account of Jesus prediction that He would build his community of followers and that it would prevail against evil and death (Matt. 16:18). We saw His compassion and call for laborers to join Him in the “harvest” among those who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Some “whats” inform us about God’s attributes. Some “whats” exhort us to take actions.
But when we observe Jesus’ interactions with the religious authorities of the time we notice that He looks beyond their “whats”. They had great externals. But their “whys” were wanting. Their motives nullified their actions. The Apostle Paul, who had been a Pharisee with great “whats” on his resume (Phil. 3:4-6), saw things in a radically different light after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In a passage that drives the point home with a sledge hammer, Paul wrote these words to the followers of Jesus in Corinth—a wealthy, proud group…
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor. 13:1-3 (NIV)
He cites the “whats” that preoccupied the Corinthians—communications gifts, prophetic knowledge, discernment and intelligence, mountain-moving faith, and self-sacrificing giving. That’s an impressive list. If we saw people with these external traits we would probably admire them. We would likely encourage them to take on leadership roles in the community of Jesus’ followers. But if their “why” (motive) was not love their impressive “whats” would be null and void, confusing and even worthless. We’re limited in seeing “motives”. God is not.
I realize that this passage is familiar and with that comes some “immunity” to it’s shocking claims. It says that only actions motivated by love carry any value. Jesus great command and observation, restated in various ways by Paul, Peter and John in their writings, says that the way people will know that we are His followers by seeing us love one another the way that He loves us (John 13:34-35). Earlier in His radical teachings, Jesus said that this love is not just for fellow followers of Jesus, but is to be extended even to those who treat us like enemies (Matt.5:43-44).
Let’s face it, this really raises the bar on what it means to follow Jesus. Inside work is a lot harder than compliance on the outside. It’s not just a list of things to avoid. It’s not just developing habits of prayer and study. It’s not just between me and God; but gets into that “neighbor” love thing. It means examining my “whys” honestly and growing the fruit-producing motive of “love”. That will require facing and weeding out the more naturally-occurring motives of pride, self-protection, self-righteousness, people-pleasing, fear and greed. It means monitoring and owning our interactions with others for the presence or absence of love. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is ready to work in us and through us to see this fruit produced in us.
When this kind of love sprouts it is impossible to miss. It shows the presence of God’s light in the dark. It makes others wonder what has happened and why it happened. It has an unmistakable mark of something “beyond normal” that even those don’t yet understand the source can see.
Just a reminder—we followers of Jesus are the recipients of amazing love. We are called to many actions or “whats” as His followers. Our compliance with the “whats” will be of no value to us without the big “why”—love; love like His for us.
This weekend we will continue our “vision reboot” discussing worship, tell and service. There will also be a brief update on the Facility Expansion Project.
Looking forward to seeing you!