Thursday, January 13, 2005

Duty vs "Overflow of the Heart"

It's 3.18am. But am having such a great session with God's word, I've got to record it!

It is the advice of many that to avoid legalism and Pharisaism, we do not minister out of duty but out of "the overflow of the heart". That’s always a good reminder: that we don't serve out of selfish ambition so as to put something on our Christian CV, nor to gain the approval of others, nor to boost our own self-confidence knowing that we are needed by others. We serve out of love of our fellow brothers and sisters because God first loved and served us.

Yet, there are many times, like earlier tonight, I am far too tired to minister. My painfully-strained eyes ache. My brain has overloaded and fried. My body begs for just an adequate amount of sleep please. My heart is no where overflowing with anything except, perhaps, the stress of having to keep this deteriorating body alive while being subject to skimpy meals, bad office air and other challenging immune-depleting conditions. Yet this study has to be written by today and sent out so that the recipient can prep it in time for discussion this weekend.

Blasphemously task-oriented handling of God's word? Fulfilling a duty for duty's sake and not for love of God or recipient? I want nothing but the best for those I serve. But there may not always be a feeling overwhelming love for them. Work-for-money takes up most of my time. By the time work for the day is completed, it is night and I have no more strength for feelings, of love or otherwise. I do not have the luxury of time, waiting to be in the mood to enjoy God's word before I start writing the studies. I have to firmly take myself by the scruff of my neck, studiously ignore that comfortable inviting soft bed, and get to work.

Yet. Yet, in the purposeful reading and studying, the wonderful word of God speaks to me, and comforts me and refreshes me, so that I think I can go on like this forever, delighting in it and delighting in God. It is 3am. Less than 4 hours before the alarm clock shrilly invades the peace and another day of toil begins. But happiness and excitement so fills me that I can't sleep. I must share this with everyone else!

Coincidentally [Greek chorus chants: there are no coincidences. There is only God working.], one of the main points from the study tonight was the relationship between blessing and obedience. In Exodus 19, God reiterates the covenant he made with Abraham back in Genesis 12 to Moses. With Abraham in Genesis, God promises blessings. With Moses in Exodus 19, God reveals a bit more about what he means: (1) he explains what this blessing will be, not health nor wealth but something far far better – a relationship with God himself, a reversal of the horrible consequences of the Fall; and (2) he introduces the concept of the fulfillment of the blessing being conditional upon the obedience of Israel. Is God going back on his word and unilaterally varying the terms of his earlier promise? I don’t think so. The obedience of Israel is a natural and necessary precondition to Israel being able to take hold of the blessing of God. In the Abrahamic covenant, God promised to deal with the effects of the Fall. In the Mosaic covenant, God illumines the cause of the Fall. The problem with the Fall was that man the puny creature attempted to usurp God’s rightful position as creator of the universe. The natural consequence of that was a broken relationship with God and the whole of creation being thrown out of joint. Therefore, if man was to have any relationship with God, he would have to relate to God properly, in the way creation was ordered. So to have a relationship with God, Israel would have to live in its right place under God and that would entail obeying him.

[Sidenote: think this also explains that Oi!-what-kind-of-proof-is-THAT? proof in Exodus 2:12. But that’s another story.]

Similarly I think, by obeying God in studying Scripture, I am plugging in to the way God made the universe to work, juicing up from the ordained source of energy and love: God’s word, so strengthening my relationship with God [Greek chorus again: strengthening your subjective relationship with God. Objectively, you are as close to God as you ever will be whether you feel it or not the day you acknowledged God as God.], from which in turn flows the ability and willingness to love others.

And so biblically it seems, from obedience naturally flows blessing. And from duty naturally flows the "overflow of the heart". Coolness.


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