A Rule-of-Love

Painting by John Zurier, Sorgin.

Painting by John Zurier, Sorgin.

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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “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.  John 15:9-13

Notes from a Sermon, 10 May 2015

Jesus commands us to abide in love and keep his commandments. But this is not, it seems, merely a pre-ordained set of rules, for Jesus clarifies, ‘I command that you love one another’ (John 15:15).

New Testament scholar Leon Morris has suggested that Jesus is emphasising a particular quality of love in this teaching to his disciples, rather than proscribing particular behaviour in a set of rules, which was how the old covenant commandments had come to be treated. It is not the command to love that is new, but rather the motivation and relational centre that is new, and which we recognise as Christians as ‘the new commandment’ to love one another as Jesus has loved us.’ Morris says, ‘the meaning appears to be to make the commandments one’s own, to take them into one’s inner being.’ Hence, the phrase ‘abide in my love.’

In the first letter of John the disciple whom Jesus loved (for that is most likely who the letter is attributed to) says that our love for Christ shall be known through our keeping the commandments. In particular John had in mind Jesus’ commandment that we love one another as he loved you. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ The way of Jesus is committed relationships. Hence, it is no surprise that the monastic tradition offers us some help here, with a handy bit of language to describe the call to live by the commandment to love.

Painting by John Burier, After Paulo Shiavo 2013

Painting by John Burier, After Paulo Shiavo 2013

When a group of Christian men or women set up a new monastic order, seeking to leave the everyday responsibilities of life behind in order to fulfil the commandments in a more direct way, they inevitably set a form of guidelines which will mark out their particular way of life, based largely on the charism of a leader, like Saint Francis, or Saint Ignatius of Layola, Saint Theresa of Calcutta. These guidelines for living are called a Rule-of-Life. The Rule of Saint Benedict for example, which Benedictine monks and nuns have followed for 15 centuries, has 73 chapters, each of which contain instructions on different aspects of community life meal times and manners, ownership of property and the hours of prayer and labour.

In addition here is another phrase – ‘the rule-of-love’. The rule-of-love is more or less the opposite of a rule-of-life: it prescribes the ethos and the value of the community rather than the specific habits and actions required to express faithfulness to God. A rule-of-love is a matter of the heart. It is internalised, whereas a rule-of-life is externally imposed for the sake of community.

The rule-of-life is a vision statement, whereas the rule-of-love is a values statement.

It is the rule-of-love that is essential in our present cultural context, where the understanding of love is changing so substantially and so rapidly. Love used to be held sacred in marriage for example. Now romantic love is held up to be the ideal, boosted by Hollywood driven fantasy’s of perfect bodies and perfect lives.

Love also used to drive our social institutions – think for example of the way ‘charity’ has changed it’s meaning over the last couple of centuries. It used to mean love, now it means handing over some money somewhat resentfully.

Love used to mean commitment and obedience even in the face of death. Think for example what it meant to love one’s country and head off to war! Now, the biggest obligation n of love is to ‘follow one’s heart.’

So, should it surprise us that Christian theologians and Church leaders and faithful followers across the globe are now in sometimes radical disagreement as to what is loving and what is not? Is a couple living together before they are married breaking Jesus command to love? Is a child moving across the globe where they have no capacity to care for their elderly father and mother breaking the commandment to love as Jesus loved? Is walking past a bigger in the street failing to love?

At the moment, when we are in dismay as to what the ‘rules’ are, we must turn to the rule-of-love and follow our hearts. God has placed love into our hearts by the holy spirit, so even if we don’t have socially established norms, even then we can abide in love and make a decision to love as Jesus loved. Because love is in us. All the time. In all circumstances. If we are abiding in Jesus love, through the holy spirit, we always have a choice to turn to that love and translate it into our own love for others.

Note. I came across the work of John Burier in a 
Huffington Post article which you can read here.