Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (18)
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14.15-17
“If we have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us, we shall have Christ himself thereby dwelling in us, and then we shall undoubtedly live like him. If that fountain of life dwells richly in us, we shall shine like him, and so shall be burning and shining lights. That we may beand behave like Christ, we should earnestly seek much acquaintance with him, and be much in secret converse with him. It is natural, and as it were necessary, for us to imitate those whom we are much acquainted and conversant with, and have a strong affection for.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
“If you love Me…” Jesus said to His disciples. “If we have the Spirit…” Edwards opined. “If…”
Do you sense the invitation to continuous introspection suggested by this language? Not “since,” but “if” (the Greek, ἐάν, introduces the mood of possibility). Do we really love Jesus? Do we love Him as He commands? Is the Spirit of God truly dwelling in and filling us, as should be the case?
Jesus and Edwards intimate the possibility of loving Him and having His Spirit dwelling in us. Conversely, they also intimate the possibility of not loving Jesus, and not having His Spirit dwelling in us. No matter how long we have confessed the Name of Jesus, no matter how many good works we have undertaken in His Name (Matt. 7.21-23), these possibilities must be reconsidered continuously, and recalibrated as indicated. Paul challenged the believers in Corinth to examine themselves, not to determine whether there was yet any unconfessed sin in their lives, but to determine whether they had ever been converted to Christ in the first place (2 Cor. 13.5).
Two questions, therefore, must be always before us as we take up the work of ministry – and before those we serve, as they pursue that work in their own mission fields as well: Do I love Jesus? Am I filled with His indwelling Spirit?
We must be able to answer these questions confidently, so that we may “be and behave like Christ” in all aspects of our walk with and work for the Lord. How can we do so?
Law and Christian life
First, we must examine our attitude toward and use of the Law of God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” Paul insisted that the mind not subject to the Law of God is a carnal mind, and cannot please God (Rom. 8.7).
Really, brethren, isn’t it about time we denounced as dangerous folly the teaching that insists the Law of God has no place in the life of faith? Isn’t it also about time that we give the Law its due in the Christian life? Since the Law is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12); since Paul insists it is established as a foundation for the life of faith (Rom. 3.31); since the Spirit teaches us both to know and obey the Law (Ezek. 36.26, 27); since Jesus said greatness in the Kingdom depends on obeying and teaching the Law (Matt. 5.17-19); since the Law marks out the path of love (Matt. 22.334-40; 1 Jn. 5.1-3) and is the very path Jesus Himself walked (1 Jn. 2.1-6); since it is the Law of life (Lev. 18.1-5) and freedom from sin, and the standard by which all our works will be judged (Jms. 2.12); since it is obvious the apostles frequently appealed to the Law to encourage authentic and Christ-like living (cf. 1 Cor. 9.8-14; Jms. 5.4; etc.); and since it is the practice of those who are truly righteous to meditate on the Law of God day and night (Ps. 1), ought we not make more space for the Law, both in our lives and in our ministries of the Word?
If you have no place for the Law in your life and ministry, how will you explain to Jesus that you truly love Him? And how will you expect to bear any spiritual fruit, exercise any spiritual gifts, or engage any spiritual power when your own mind is hostile to the mind of the Spirit Who grants these benefits?
Examine yourself: What place does the Law of God have in your life and ministry? If that place is firm and growing, then you may indeed hope to love Jesus and to have His Spirit dwelling in you. If not…?
The Law of love
But how can we know if the Law of God is having its intended effect in our lives?
As the old Celtic saints might have said: Not hard to answer. Do we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we love the followers of Christ as Christ loves them?
The Law of God marks the course of love. It trains our soul to love God, so that our thoughts are in every way captive to Jesus, our hearts desire the Lord like a thirsty hart, and our conscience is set for obedience to the Lord in every way. And the Law guides our steps so that we know how to honor God in our relationships and work, and deal with temptation in ways that enable us to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.21).
The Law teaches us how to love our neighbors, so that we think about their interests, concerns, and needs as much as our own; seek ways to flow the living-water grace of the Spirit for their refreshment; sow the life-giving Word of God into their lives by word and deed; watch over their souls with shepherd’s love; and do all things to the glory of God, as faithful stewards of all our time, treasure, and resources.
When the Law is hidden within our souls, the Spirit of God can use it as needed to show us the glory of God, transform us into the image of Jesus, and bring forth the love of God in ways appropriate to the opportunity before us (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
You cannot grow in love apart from the Law of God. And apart from love – Law-infused, self-denying love for God and neighbors – you can have no assurance either that the Spirit is dwelling in you or that you love Jesus as He commands.
The great “If” questions are resolved in the Law of love.
Therefore the first commandment teaches every kind of godliness. For to love God with the whole heart is the cause of every good. The second commandment includes the righteous acts we do toward other people. The first commandment prepares the way for the second and in turn is established by the second. For the person who is grounded in the love of God clearly also loves his neighbor in all things himself. The kind of person who fulfills these two commandments experiences all the commandments.
- Cyril of Alexandria (375-444 AD),Fragment 251
Making room for the Law
Two books can help you bring more of God’s Law into your walk with Him. The Ground for Christian Ethics is a lively dialog that shows why the Law is so important and how we can begin to make proper use of it (click here). The Law of God is a compendium matching the various statutes and precepts of God’s Law with the commandment they expound. This can be a useful addition to your daily reading and meditation (click here).
Refresh your own soul: Pray for Revival!
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Christ the Example to Ministers,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995). Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).