Are You Free to Love God & Neighbor?
Paul tells us to “redeem the time.” (Ephesians 5:16 KJV) Our time is in need of a rescue. The two marks of the life of freedom are a love of God and neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40) If a calendar is full of activities excluding the love of God and the love of neighbor, that calendar is a slave master and will wear subjects out. A calendar that frees someone to love will have liberated times for rest. No one can liberate their time by working harder; time can only be liberated by grace. Grace is necessary because it’s not merely work that needs to be liberated. There is a work-behind-the-work.
The work-behind-the-work is the need to seek approval. As long as you are in need of approval, you will be driven by a compulsion to work that will enslave your time and inhibit your relationship with God and your neighbors. Approval seeking necessarily draws all of the attention to the self. A mind preoccupied with self-approval has no room to entertain the other. The approval-seeking mind filters every life experience through a self-evaluating lens. The work-behind-the-work keeps a person from spiritual rest. Even if a body is at rest, the mind cannot rest until it has received the approval it longs for. God’s grace gives rest to the work-behind-the-work because the basis of the gift of God’s approval is on Christ’s work alone.
Jesus says to everyone who is weighed down by expectations, “Come to me.” (Matthew 11:28) With Jesus it is always “come to me,” not “go to God.” This is God’s grace. Jesus is saying “come to me, I have come for you.” We can never go to God and say, “Look at my work.” We can only go to God and say, “Look at Christ’s work for me.” Jesus gave us his approval and nailed all of our disapproval to the cross. (2 Corinthians 5:21) When we accept Christ’s gift of approval, we can finally rest from the work-behind-the-work and begin to redeem the time.
Jesus says, “Take my yoke” and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:29) The Pharisees had written extensively about how someone “should” obey the law. This writing was referred to as “the yoke.” No one likes to be “should on.” The weight of all the “shoulds” in life is a heaven burden to carry on our shoulders. (Matthew 23:4) Not only do others “should on us,” we too often “should on ourselves.” The work-behind-the-work is trying to be who you should be, without the complete and finished work of Christ. Jesus was who you should be on your behalf. The yoke of Christ is easy because he has already carried the heavy burden for you. The Pharisees dove so deeply in to the law of God that they lost sight of God himself.
Jesus has not called us to merely know deeply, but to live deeply. In Matthew for Everyone, N.T. Wright says that Jesus was “discovering that the wise and learned were getting nowhere, and that the ‘little people’ – the poor, the sinners, the tax-collectors, ordinary folk – were discovering more of God, simply by following… Jesus.” In Matthew 12:1-6 Jesus illustrates his point with a real life scenario. The learned and scholarly Pharisees wrote about all that “should” be done on the Sabbath. Jesus does not live as the Pharisees said he should. In this real-life illustration, Jesus applies the great commandments of Matthew 22. Any law that does not produce love of God and love of neighbor is not from God. Jesus and his disciples were farming and preparing a meal on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them that David did something more outrageous when he was hungry and yet was not condemned. Jesus is teaching them that people matter more. Jesus also pointed out that Temple worship increased on the Sabbath. Jesus is teaching that God matters more. (Matthew 12:1-6) Any application of God’s law that does not produce the love of neighbor and the love of God has failed. The Sabbath rest was not about a bondage to the law, but the liberation of the loved. (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Jesus reminds us that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12:7) In other words, Jesus desires love, not religion. Micah told us what God desires. God does not desire a loveless religion; God desires that we “do justice,” “love kindness,” and “walk humbly” with our God. (Micah 6:6-8) While religion will always “should on you,” God gives his grace. Your religion is whatever you are working at to receive your approval. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus gives rest. Jesus says, I have worked for you, so you can rest. (Matthew 12:8) The grace of Jesus is the means by which we redeem the time. When we have been approved of once and for all by Jesus, we can rest from the work-behind-the-work.
If you could get rid of the work-behind-the-work (approval seeking), what opportunities for neighboring would open up? Approval seeking keeps drawing the mind to the self. Once your approval in Christ sets in, you are free to think about your neighbor and God. As you begin to think about your neighbor, you will easily find the time for little acts of love. Once your approval in Christ becomes more real, you will have more time available. Your time will be rescued and you will be free to love.