Relevant Verses: Matt. 7:12; John 13:35, 1 John 3:18, 23
Leading Question: What thought immediately comes to mind when one hears the theme of our lesson for this week, “The Most Convincing Proof?
For those who are familiar with the writings of Ellen White, Adventism’s charismatic founder, a well-known quote immediately comes to mind: “The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian” – Ministry of Healing (1905), 470.
In the published writings of Ellen White, the first recorded use of the phrase “loving and lovable” with reference to the believer’s behavior is this one: “God would have us more kind, more loving and lovable, less critical and suspicious. O that we all might have the Spirit of Christ, and know how to deal with our brethren and neighbors! – Review and Herald, February 24, 1891. Why did it take her so long in coming to that sharp focus? Because of the tenacious and often erratic impact of sin on human beings.
The fact that our lessons on “Unity” this quarter focus on “Oneness in Christ,” suggests that the ideal of oneness comes clearest in the life and ministry of Christ. It is worth noting that the Gospels record no violent acts in connection with Jesus’ life on earth. He killed no one, he never struck anyone. Even when he cleansed the temple, he attacked the furniture, not the people (Reynolds Price). Jesus constantly used the Old Testament. It was his Bible. But he never attempted to explain the violence of the Old Testament. Even the apostles don’t seem to have as clear as focus on gentle love as Jesus did. The story of Ananias and Sapphira involved Peter, not Jesus. But now let’s turn to Scripture and explore our theme for this week.
1. Question: What does the New Testament teach as the “most convincing proof”?
Comment: From the Gospels and epistles these passages come to mind. They are all ones that include a focus on how we treat people:
Matthew 7:12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (NRSV)
Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (NRSV)
John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NRSV)
1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (NRSV)
1 John 3:23: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (NRSV)
Interestingly enough, when Jesus summarized his teaching most succinctly, he focused on his second great command: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Paul does the same thing in Galatians 5:14: For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NRSV)
2. Question: What would constitute the “most convincing proof” for someone who has a more rigorous view of God as a starting point?
Comment: Three examples can highlight the issue. One is from Scotland, one from the US, and one from Africa:
Scotland: Sister Ferrier, a new convert to Adventism from the very rigorous “wee Free Church,” told me that when she first became an Adventist, she could not appreciate The Desire of Ages at first because it was too gentle. The Great Controversy was her favorite. It took several years before she could appreciate DA. Every year, this dear sister would stand in front of the Edinburgh church, asking the saints to pray for her because she was taking her holiday to Albania and would be smuggling Bibles into the country illegally.
It was clear to all that she was deeply vexed, hyperventilating as she fervently made her request to the church members. And she was troubled when they tried to talk her out of going. “All I asked of them was that they pray for me,” she said. “And they tried to talk me out of it.” When I questioned her, she said that from her “wee free” upbringing, she had learned that whatever she found most difficult, that would be what God was requiring her to do.
United States: Donna Coffeen was hired as a teacher at a special school for young people in the Walla Walla Valley who had been convicted of a felony. They were in prison and only had contact with people when they came to this special school.
One day a young woman asked her, “Mrs. Coffeen, how often does your husband beat you?”
“He doesn’t beat me,” responded Mrs. C. “He loves me.”
After a pause, the young woman replied, “I feel sorry for you, Mrs. C. In my life, my parents beat me to show that they cared for me. My boy friend beats me to show that he cares about me, the gang beats me to show that I belong. I feel sorry for you, Mrs. C, that your husband doesn’t love you.”
Africa: A former colleague in the School of Theology, John Brunt, told of a conversation he had with a black African. While he was at the seminary in the US, he became convinced that he should go back to Africa and convince his fellow Adventist men that they shouldn’t beat their wives. He won them over and they stopped beating their wives. But then the wives began complaining that their husbands didn’t love them any more because they had stopped beating them.
In short, all the violence in the Bible may represent first steps in moving toward a belief in a God who didn’t kill anyone and didn’t even strike anyone. Even Paul presented the choice to the believers in Corinth: “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:21, NRSV)