Biblical Views of Love

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The concept of love in the Hebrew Bible reflects the development of biblical texts over a long period of time and in changing social and cultural contexts. Furthermore, the Hebrew Bible includes many types of literature: poetry, prophecy, wisdom, law codes, and narratives. Hence to assume that a concept of love can be abstracted or systematized from the rich and varied literature of the Hebrew Bible is misleading. A unified fundamental meaning of the Hebrew word-stem ''to love'' can hardly be determined because the concept covers a broad field of meaning ranging from preferences (''for he loved the soil,'' 2 Chron. 26:10) and proverbs (''Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it,'' Prov. 15:17), to the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs (''Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves,'' 3:1), spousal affection (''Isaac... took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her,'' Gen. 24:67), and friendship (''Jonathan loved him [David] as his own soul,'' 1 Sam. 18:1), to God's love for his people (''When Israel was a child, I loved him,'' Hosea 11:1), for individual Israelites

(''Jacob... the offspring of Abraham, my friend,'' Isa. 41:8), and occasionally for non-Israelites (''who loves the strangers,'' Deut. 10:18).

The setting for these many expressions of love is God's love for Israel manifest in their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The constant refrain is ''I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery'' (Exod. 20:2). God's choice of Israel is not dependent upon Israel's qualities but rather only upon God's love revealed in God's action (Deut. 7:7-11): ''It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you____It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out from the house of slavery.'' God's election of and covenant with the people places reciprocal obligations upon them: ''Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him. Therefore, observe diligently the commandment -the statutes and the ordinances - that I am commanding you today.''

Personal and social relationships are therefore rooted in the covenant and God's lordship: ''You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord'' (Lev. 19:18). The love commandment forms a fundamental ethical norm for the social relationships of the Israelites. The neighbor is not just the fellow Israelite but also the non-Israelites who were already living in the land but were not integrated socially and religiously. The situation of these ''aliens'' is comparable to that of poor Israelites -neighbors to be loved, i.e., treated with respect and justice. ''The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God''

(Lev. 19:34). The Israelites are reminded that having experienced the condition of being aliens, it would be inconsistent to oppress aliens living among them. The self-communication formula - ''I am the Lord'' - that follows the injunctions of Leviticus 19 expresses both divine command and enablement.

Although some of the prophetic writings suggest that God's love is universal, extending to all peoples, the Hebrew Bible does not actually speak of the love of God reaching out beyond Israel. The command to love the alien appears to refer to the resident alien. Jenni states: ''In contrast to the NT, the commandment remains limited to the 'compatriot'... and does not yet comprehend the whole ethic of communal behavior as a governing principle, as is already the case in the first part of the double commandment of love (Deut. 6:5) in relation to the behavior toward God.''

The love relationship between God and Israel established by the deliverance from bondage in Egypt forms the repeated theme of the Hebrew Bible. It is frequently expressed in injunctions to righteous relationships; love and justice are interwoven. The Psalms, for example, continually present the intimate relationship of love and law, love and righteousness: ''O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides'' (Ps. 26:8); ''He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord'' (Ps. 33:5); ''As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me'' (Ps. 40:17); ''For God will save Zion... and those who love his name shall live in it'' (Ps. 69:35-36); ''He chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves'' (Ps. 78:68); ''The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked'' (Ps. 97:10); ''Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob'' (Ps. 99:4); ''I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and supplications'' (Ps. 116:1); and the long Psalm 119.

The God of Israel expects not just a portion but all of Israel's love: ''Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might'' (Deut. 6:4-5). Love to God is not wordless rapture, but is reciprocal and capable of expression. Hence, God's commands and prohibitions shall be kept ''in your heart,'' and publicly expressed and passed on to the next generation. ''Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates'' (Deut. 6:7-9).

Moses makes it clear to the people that the relationship with God is not just a past event but a continuing, contemporary relationship. ''The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today'' (Deut. 5:2-3). As with any relationship, the partners are expected to remain faithful. ''I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments'' (Deut. 5:9-10).

The biblical text goes on to narrate a rocky history of this love between God and his people. Time after time, the prophets warn of and then explicate the social and political catastrophes resulting from the people falling in love with false gods. These adulterous relationships, the breaking faith with the covenant, are evident in the oppression of the poor, the widow, and the orphan. The specifics of such self-aggrandizement in place of loving the neighbor as oneself are sharply and succinctly detailed in the book of Amos.

Marriage imagery for the relationship between God and Israel is developed in a startling way in the book of Hosea.

God tells Hosea to take a whore for a wife, and to have children by her as a parabolic action and metaphor for Israel's infidelity and God's faithfulness and love in spite of that infidelity. God's love for Israel is presented as a shocking defiance of convention. ''Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord'' (Hosea 1:2). ''The Lord said to me again, 'Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods...'' (Hosea 3:1). Israel's life arose out of God's love, a love that even as Israel falls into adultery cannot be turned aside. ''When Israel was a child, I loved him, . . . The more I called them, the more . . . they kept sacrificing idols. How can I give you up,...?... I will not execute my fierce anger;... for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath'' (Hosea 11:1-9). Els notes that marriage imagery signifies the personal quality of God's love, and that Hosea in chapter 11 ''comes near to saying that God is love.'' Israel deserves destruction for faithlessness, yet God's love remains steadfast: ''I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them'' (Hosea 14:4).

While the people may not always remain faithful to God, God remains faithful to them. God's love is not eroded by the vagaries of human response but is the nature of God. ''For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you'' (Isa. 54:10); ''I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you'' (Jer. 31:3). The prophets reiterate God's ''gracious deeds... according to the abundance of his steadfast love'' (Isa. 63:7). The future, according to Jeremiah, holds the promise of a new covenant. ''It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt - a covenant that they broke, though

I was their husband, says the Lord____I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more'' (Jer. 31:31-34). The sovereign God who in his love relationship to Israel tolerates no third party, is at the same time ready to be entirely Israel's life.

What then is Israel's life in love with God to be? It is clearly not a life of sentimentality or ecstasy but rather an ethical life. The idea of a subjective feeling of love for God is rare. The Bible as a whole does not advance the mystical religiosity that permeates classical Greek religion. Likewise, the Bible does not promote mystical union with God through the rituals of nature religions. The Hebrew Bible records ongoing attacks on the Canaanite fertility cults revolving around Baal worship with its phallic symbols of pillars and its sacred prostitution. ''You must demolish completely all the places where the nations whom you are about to dispossess served their gods, . . . Break down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their sacred poles...'' (Deut. 12:2-3; cf. also 2 Kings 23: 4-15). Unlike the ancient Near Eastern divinization of natural forces with the assumption that sex is a primary principle of generation in both creation and divinity, the Hebrew Bible does not attribute sexual characteristics and functions to God. In the Bible, humankind does not ascend to God by any means; rather, God chooses humankind. The article on love by Giinther and Link echoes the contrast of eros and agape mentioned earlier. ''In the OT [Old Testament] man can never ascend to God; in the Gk. [Greek] understanding of eros he can.''

God's love to Israel judges as well as forgives Israel's aberrations from the divine standards of justice set forth in the commandments (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:6-21) and summarized in the phrase ''you shall love your neighbor as yourself'' (Lev. 19:18). Verse 34 adds the ''alien'' to neighbor: ''you shall love the alien as yourself.'' The broad semantic range for ''neighbor,'' generally meaning a person of the covenant community, gave rise to extended discussions of its meaning as may be seen in the lawyer's question to Jesus, ''Who is my neighbor?'' (Luke 10:29). The ''alien'' (also ''sojourner,'' ''resident alien,'' ''stranger'') usually meant a non-Israelite living in Israel. The love that requires accountability includes that between parents and children. ''Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them'' (Prov. 13:24).

Love to the neighbor is not only the grateful response to God's love for Israel, it is also commanded in two specific texts: Deut. 10:19 and Lev. 19:18, 34. Thus love to God and the neighbor is far more than an emotion; it is behavior. Love to the neighbor as oneself is a communal ethos that in principle summarizes and extends individual commandments. This love, understood as mutual solidarity within the community, is directed to the adult citizens and requires them to protect the dignity and substance of the ethnic group.

The prophets never tire of proclaiming responsibility to care for the least in the community. ''Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow'' (Isa. 1:16-17). True worship is not ''solemn assemblies'' and ''offerings,'' but justice. ''I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; . . . But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream'' (Amos 5:21-24).

Jenni makes the point that the reference to self-love in Lev. 19:18, 34 ''is simply presupposed as the norm'' not ''as a dangerous temptation one must combat through self-denial.'' Love is self-explanatory; persons are referred to what they already know. In contrast, then, to the Western cultural interest in introspection and conscience, the biblical reference to self-love appears in the pre-Freudian context of covenant rather than emotion and self-regard. In his extensive study of Lev. 19:18, Mathys persuasively argues that this is the correct insight into the famous friendship of David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1, 3; 19:1; 20:17; 2 Sam. 1:26). Jonathan, the son of King Saul, is the one who initiates the pact to protect the future king, David.

We mentioned above that biblical religion continually sought to separate (the root sense of the words ''elect'' and ''holy'') itself from the fertility and mystery religions of its context. In relation to love between persons the Hebrew Bible strips sexual relations of the numinous religious character that Israel's sexual-mythical environment attributed to them. In contrast to the Baal religious orientation, the Bible celebrates the joy of sex without supernatural baggage. Sexual relations are not means to self-transcendence and ascent to the divine or by sympathetic magic means to influence the fertility of crops and animals upon which agricultural peoples are so dependent. Sex is not a divine principle but simply part of the creation. Again, in contrast to the mythologies of the ancient world, the creation stories in Genesis 1-2 declare God made humans in two sexes to be companions. Woman is created as the fit partner with man, with human dignity, equally blessed by God (Gen. 1:27-28). The strength of sexual attraction is clearly set forth in such stories as Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 24:62-67) among others, not to mention Jacob who spent 14 years serving his future father-in-law in order to win the hand of Rachel (Gen. 29:18-30)! The biblical celebration of sexual love is famously expressed in the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. The Song of Songs echoes ancient Egyptian love poetry in celebrating the sensual pleasures of human sexual relationships. Medieval efforts either to moralize and allegorize away the erotic dimension of the Song of Songs or to link sex to salvation distort the poetry.

At the same time, while human love is not spiritualized it is ethical. The intoxication of sexual love, ''better than wine'' (Song of Sol. 1:2, 4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:13), is not an excuse or reason for adulterous behavior. ''Rejoice in the wife of your youth, . . . may her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord, and he examines all their paths'' (Prov. 5:18-21). That no one is above the law, including the king, is clear by the judgment of David for taking the wife of another, Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11-13). The God whose covenant manifests his steadfast love to the people, expects the people to be faithful to that covenant love and in turn to manifest it in relation to others. Consonant with this orientation, the institution of marriage is not constituted primarily by love as an emotion but by faithfulness to the covenant of marriage.

In the New Testament, as in the Hebrew Bible, love is grounded in God's self-revelation. Leaving aside historical questions of Jesus' self-understanding, his words, and the event of Easter, the New Testament texts present Jesus as the definitive revelation of God's love (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:8-10). On the eve of the crucifixion, the Fourth Gospel presents Jesus saying to his disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you____You did not choose me but

I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The love that is expected of the disciples has its basis and its model in Jesus' love to them. The commandment to love is part of a comprehensive theological conception of love that is modeled on God's covenantal love and the response to it presented in Israel's fundamental confession: ''Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might'' (Deut. 6:4-5).

Again, the biblical commandment to love the neighbor is not contingent upon spontaneous personal affections, religious transformation, or the lovability of the neighbor, especially if perceived as an enemy. The commandment to love is a commandment precisely because it is rooted in God and is God's continual word of judgment and reconciliation to the human failure to love. In the words of Victor Furnish: ''When love is presented in the New Testament as the sovereign command of a sovereign Lord, then it becomes evident that it is the divine love alone which is regarded as the measure and meaning of love's claim.'' Furnish continues, ''Therefore, to hear that love command is to be called to repentance. . . . Yet because the infinite demand of love formulated into this commandment has its origin and context in the infinite love of God, the one under command knows that he stands not only under judgment, but under grace. The command discloses not only the depth of man's sin and the seriousness of his alienation from true life, but also the depth of God's forgiving love and the seriousness of the divine purpose to save.''

Jesus' continuity and discontinuity with his religious tradition appears throughout the New Testament. For example, his emphasis upon love for God reiterates his Scripture, the Hebrew Bible. Jesus replies to the question of which commandment is the greatest by combining Deut. 6:4-5, cited above, with Lev. 19:18, ''You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'' ''On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'' (Matt. 22:40; cf. Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). At the same time Jesus directs love of the neighbor beyond cultic restriction and beyond the circle of compatriots. To the old question of who is my neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Whoever is in need is the neighbor. The tradition is further shattered when the religious people, the priest and Levite, do not help but the alien Samaritan does what has to be done for the wounded man.

The implication of the parable that God's love includes everyone, including notorious sinners and enemies, is spelled out elsewhere. The account of the woman sinner who anoints Jesus' feet with oil (Luke 7:36-50) connects love and forgiveness: '' 'her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.' Then he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' But those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' ''

In the demand to love one's enemies, Jesus radicalized the law. In a series following the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), Jesus sets forth the demands of a new age with the formula ''You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times____But

I say to you.'' The old age forbade murder, the new forbids anger and disparagement; the old age forbade adultery, the new forbids lust; the old age posited controlled retaliation, the new promotes non-retaliation. The series ends: ''You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, . . . For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?'' (Matt. 5:43-47). The parallel in Luke reads: ''If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, ...Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful'' (Luke 6:32-36; see also Rom. 12:14-20; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9).

According to Piper, there are not sufficient sources in either Stoic-Hellenistic literature nor in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish literature to establish any of these literatures as the origin for the command to love one's enemies. His analysis of the Sermon on the Mount argues that the essential historical origin of the command to love one's enemies can only be possible as part of the proclamation of Jesus. ''That which sets the early church off from its environment . . . is that which it has in common with Jesus.''

The new demand to love even one's enemies is set in the context of Jesus' proclamation of God's love and mercy that in forgiving sins creates a new situation that enables love to others including outcasts such as lepers (Luke 5:12-15; see Lev. 13-14) and ''tax collectors and sinners'' (the former collaborated with the Roman authorities and thus were viewed as treasonous and exploitative; the latter is a collective term for those whose work made them ritually unclean). Jesus' answer to the question put by the Pharisees and scribes, ''Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'' is ''Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'' (Luke 5:29-32). This agape love is distinguished from the love of friends that is reciprocal, mutual liking, by its gratuitousness or disinterestedness. That is, agape love is not dependent upon results.

God's love presented as forgiveness and mercy is not just his disposition, a kind of divine ''stock in trade,'' but it is an ethical love that demands and well as enables. God's unconditional love for sinners calls sinners to respond with unconditional love for others. God's love, Jesus proclaims, creates a new situation, new responsibilities as well as possibilities. The New Testament writers apply this love to Jesus himself; i.e., Jesus the one who proclaims the love of God becomes the one who is proclaimed to be the love of God. Hence love of the least is love of Jesus and neglect of the least is neglect of Jesus. At the Last Judgment, the nations will be separated ''as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.'' ''Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' '' The righteous are clueless and the King then says, ''Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'' The King then addresses those at his left hand: ''Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'' The unrighteous are equally clueless, and are told: ''Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me'' (Matt. 25:31 -46). The essence of faith in Jesus as the Christ is that it is active in love (Gal. 5:6).

In his letter to the Romans, Paul emphasizes ''God's love poured into our hearts.'' ''God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us'' (Rom. 5:5-8). Indeed, Paul proclaims, ''we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord'' (Rom. 8:37-39).

Consistent with the other New Testament writings, Paul's understanding of ethics flows from his conviction of the priority of God's love. ''[O]ne who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments . . . are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law'' (Rom. 13:8-10). ''[T]hrough love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' '' (Gal. 5:13-14). ''So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith'' (Gal. 6:9-10). It is of interest that Paul rarely speaks of love for God. Rather, the agape that flows from God is directed to service to the neighbor.

The question now is, what is that service to the neighbor? What is the content of that love, agape? It clearly is not ''wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, . . . envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness,'' nor is it gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, pride, ruthlessness and heartlessness (Rom. 1:29-31). ''Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends'' (1 Cor. 13:4-8; cf. Gal. 5:18-26; Rom. 12:9-21). Love is at the same time God's action toward humankind and the human answer to it.

God's love liberates the person from that calculating frame of mind that accompanies human efforts to attain success however defined. The freedom of the Christian, Paul reminds his Galatians, is not the occasion for self-aggrandizement but the fulfillment of Lev. 19:18. ''For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' '' (Gal. 5:13-14; Rom. 13:8-10). Furthermore, Paul does not limit this to the Christian community; it is a universal responsibility derived from God's saving activity: ''So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith'' (Gal. 6:10; cf. Rom. 12:9-21). Within these parameters, the believer is to love in the concrete circumstances of his or her life, ''testing everything'' to figure out what the good is in the particular situation that will build up the person and the community (1 Thess. 5:21).

One New Testament letter, according to Theissen, that provides a powerful model of early Christian ethics based on love is the letter of James. For the author of James, the commandment to love is inextricable from treating each person, including those outside the Christian community, on an equal footing. The biblical injunction to love the neighbor as oneself is understood in James to entail the renunciation of one's rank so that love is more than merciful condescension to the needy or deference to the superior.

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ''Have a seat here, please,'' while you say to the poor man, ''Stand there,'' or ''Sit at my feet,'' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

The commandment of love implies the commandment of impartiality, of equality, ''for God shows no partiality'' (James 2:11).

When James refers to the socially and economically marginalized as ''brothers and sisters'' he is conferring upon them a fundamentally egalitarian status that he intends literally and not in word only. ''If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead'' (James 2:15-17; cf. Rom. 2:13). It is important to note that James is not speaking of requests by the needy but rather the very existence of poverty that must incite response. Furthermore, the community as a whole is to alleviate need wherever seen; this is a collective work to which each contributes. ''Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world'' (James 1:27), that is, the ''world'' as socio-economic hierarchy opposing God's equitable love (cf. James 4:13-5:6). That such love was understood to be counter-cultural may be seen in the Gospels' ''great reversal'' theme where the first shall be last and the last first as well as in ''the Magnificat'' (Luke 1:46-55) where Mary speaks of the humbling of the powerful and the lifting of the lowly; the feeding of the hungry and the exile of the rich.

Similar conviction is expressed in 1 John 3:11-23:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. . . . We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death____We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us [cf. John 3:16] - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

A more comprehensive review of the New Testament writings concerned with ''love'' would further emphasize what we have already seen in these selected texts: love (agape) is first of all God's gift and then the responsibility of Christians. Without the transcendent theological understanding of love, the ethical meaning of love would lose its enabling foundation. Love as community with God is the driving force and creative origin of the concrete, demanded love to others. The English language may promote a tendency to linear thinking about this relationship of God's love to love of the neighbor. Hence, our reflection may be enriched by recalling how another language, in this case German, provides word plays that hold these loves together and suggest their dialectical relationship. In German, ''Gabe'' means gift and ''Aufgabe'' means duty or responsibility; note that ''gift'' is embedded in ''duty.'' Likewise, in the set of words ''Wort'' (word), ''Antwort'' (answer), and ''Verantwortung'' (responsibility) we may play with the relationship of God's Word, human response and responsibility seeing the centrality of God's Word in human answer and life.


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