The Link Between People-Pleasing & Deifying Our Neighbour

April 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

From Timothy Keller:

‘Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralysing and overwhelming’[i].

Easter break is over and term 2 of home-schooling is well into its first week.

I graduate in May and along with taking on the majority of the home-schooling, my goal this year has been to carefully read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

The aim of this was to stretch my undergraduate introduction to Karl Barth, with the hope of doing some post-grad study looking into political theology and the indispensable role of Christian theology in its critique of ideology.http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

So far I’ve read two, plus ‘Evangelical Theology’, a good portion of his commentary on ‘Romans’, some sermons and a range of material I needed to read in order to complete my degree.

I’m coming close to finishing the mammoth 884 pages of Barth’s Vol.1.2 of his Church Dogmatics. By far his biggest in the series, so I am thankful to be near its end and for having some time out recently to help me make progress towards finishing it.

There are many things to note in this volume.

Particularly Barth’s discussion about ‘The life of the children of God’, which involves a discourse on the command to love God and the command to love our neighbour (pp.388-454).

He points out that ‘scriptures such as John 4:24 & 1 John 4:8-16do not teach the god of love, but the love of God. The fact that God is love means not only that we ought to love but can and must love[ii]

Barth is quick to distinguish between love to God, love for neighbour and God’s love for us. For example: Love for neighbour can only be understood in light of our praise to God[iii].

‘The commandment of love to the neighbour is enclosed by that of love to God. It is contained in it. To that extent it is inferior to it.’[iv]

Barth’s distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour, asserts that, in loving our neighbour we must be careful not to deify our neighbour. I.e.: confuse the command to love our neighbour with our love for God and therefore fall into the mistake of making our neighbour god[v].

At this point in the reading, I began to wonder how idolatry, false doctrine, and even poor exegesis are easily linked to “people pleasing”.

If, hypothetically speaking, I read the text of the Bible in the shadow of the arbitrary and hostile opinions of someone like Richard Dawkins, I am tempted to read the text with a blindfold rather than without one. Because I become a slave to his hostile opinion of it and an accessory to his false claim of lordship over it. However, if I let the text ‘speak as it is’[vi], I am more than likely going to be confronted by the text, and in Barth’s words, ‘have the text read me.’

This is because people-pleasing or any demand that others, or even God please me, stands to be challenged by the love and Lordship of God. Who in the Bible summons our response to His offer of relationship. Given freely in Jesus Christ, who is actual, present and active in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly loving people, will mean we place God first in any act of responsible love towards them. In other words in showing Christian love towards others, we are called to love God in a love towards them, that is empowered by the fact that He first loved us.

Barth writes:

‘We should love our neighbour only as the people we are; “as ourselves”. We cannot meet our neighbour in a self-invented mask of love. We can only venture, as the man or woman we are, to do what we are commanded in word, deed and attitude, relying entirely on the fact that the one who commands that we – we are without love-should love, will to it that what we do will be real loving’

To love God means to become what we already are, those who are loved by Him. To love means to choose God as the Lord, the One who is our Lord because He is our advocate and representative’[vii]

This echoes what Paul means when he wrote to the Ephesian church:

‘Obey…not by the way of eye service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…’ (6:5-7)

If people pleasing is a form of idolatry then to practice it is to

‘be a slave…it is motivated by something you feel you must have (or do?) to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself…It is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something other than God’[viii] (Timothy Keller, italics mine)

Sources:

 

[i] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton p.148
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics Hendrickson Publishers p.374
[iii] Ibid, p.406 ‘it is the praise of God which breaks out in love to the neighbour’
[iv] Ibid, p.411
[v] Ibid, p.405
[vi] Ibid, p.533 ‘let the texts speak to us as it stands’
[vii] Ibid, pp.389, 452 & 453
[viii] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton pp.24,166, 171

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