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Augustine, in The Confessions, addresses a profound and simply prayer to God: “O God, command what you will, and give what you command.”

I think what he captures in that short cry is becoming increasingly more important to my understanding of how God intends to draw us into a full and rich experience of intimate life. And I think it is when I miss the simple insight of Augustine’s short petition that keeps me faltering in my journey with Jesus.

Where do I see this? In the response that arises in my soul when I hear Jesus speak–through his Word, by his Spirit, to my soul. For example.

Jesus calls us to forgive those who have wronged us (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-22; Mark 11:25). And I hear those words. I know what Jesus is calling me to. And I often respond, “I can’t do that! I don’t feel ‘forgiving’ toward that person. That’s not in my heart.” And I act as if Jesus is commanding something that he is not or will not or cannot also provide. He calls me to forgive and I resist.

Jesus calls husbands to love their wives and wives to respect and value their husbands (Ephesians 5:33; Titus 2:4; 1 Peter 3:7). And we hear those words. I know what Jesus is calling me into in my marriage. But it is easy to respond, “But she (or he) isn’t loving me. I’m not getting from my spouse what I deserve. It doesn’t feel right to just love without reciprocation. I just can’t do that.” And I act as if Jesus is commanding something of me that he is not or will not or cannot also provide. He calls me to my role as spouse and I resist.

And behind all such resistance is the thinking that something has to happen in me before I give into the call. And it is there that my thinking might just be a bit off.

Maybe Jesus issues such calls and extends such commands because it is in the command that the empowerment comes. In other words, it is because it isn’t me to live that way–it isn’t in me to love or forgive the way he intends–that Jesus commands it. He commands what he does in our lives so as to make possible our living the way he wants us to. For apart from the command it just won’t ever happen.

Perhaps we can picture it this way.

Why does Jesus command Lazarus to arise and come out of the tomb? Yes, Lazarus is dead. But why the command? Jesus is not suggesting Lazarus consider “becoming alive.” Jesus is commanding what Lazarus needs. Lazarus needs to live, so Jesus commands, “Lazarus, arise!”

Why does Jesus call the man with the withered hand to stretch out his hand? Because the man’s hand is withered. Jesus is not suggesting that the man think about whether he wants his hand restored. Jesus is commanding what the man needs. In such instances, Jesus commands what cannot happen apart from his command–the very command is Jesus’ means of bringing about the end he intends.

Maybe it is in hearing and responding to Jesus’ call that the very thing I think I lack will be found. Maybe it is in the giving in to the call of Jesus that I will discover that what he is commanding he is also providing. Maybe it is in the inclining of my heart to affirm what he is calling for that I will realize that the reason he commands such seemingly impossible things in my life is that without the command I will never be different.

The past few posts have explored the idea of non-reciprocal living. Doing life in such a way that we aren’t, fundamentally, living for what we can get from others. Where by leaning into the life that Jesus shares with us, we learn to love and give and serve “expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35; see the previous posts about “non-reciprocal living”).

Reading carefully, it became clear that Paul was calling the followers of Jesus in Philippi (and that includes us), to never do anything from selfishness–looking out for our own interests (Philippians 2:3-8). Although it sounded extreme, it’s clear Paul invites and anticipates that we would be able to live “Christ-like” by thinking about our living the way Jesus thought about living. (See “A Closer Look at Non-Reciprocal Living.”)

But does anyone really live that way? Sure, Jesus may have loved and served “expecting nothing in return.” Yes, Jesus might have given his life for us not looking out for his own interests. (After all, Jesus was God! But, I’m not!) Does anyone normal person really live this way? Can someone really live like that?

To help the Philippians understand the call to this kind of life (and to help us!) Paul offers a couple of examples to his readers. He mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus, men with whom the Philippians would have been acquainted. Look at what he says about them (drawing on Philippians 2:19-29):

Of Timothy, he says . . .

He is genuinely concerned for the welfare of others. He does not seek after his own interest as so many others do. His one priority is the benefit of others and the priorities of Christ Jesus. He serves for the furtherance of the Gospel. He has demonstrated this attitude over time–he has “proven worth.”

Of Epaphroditus, Paul writes . . .

He is a worker and “soldier” for the faith and good of others. His concerns were for the hearts and lives of others, even when suffering physically himself. He longed for the good of others. He risked his very life for the furtherance of the work of grace in the lives of others.

What does this mean? It means that Paul’s call to do nothing from selfishness is not unattainable, that Paul’s longing that we adopt a way of thinking about life that mirrors Jesus’ own attitude is not a “good idea” but not the way people really live. By grace, because of the Spirit, through their connection with Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus and Paul (and others!) have lived non-reciprocal lives. And by grace, because of the Spirit, and through our connection with Jesus we could live that way too.

Jesus invaded our world to rescue us. He clothed himself with human nature to reach and redeem us through his life and death and resurrection. Even those who don’t fully “get” the Gospel, have some grasp of the idea of Jesus “coming to earth” to do something. And seeing that, helps us understand his non-reciprocal kind of living–and how that kind of life that he lived is to be our example.

Paul calls our attention to this in his letter to Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

When read honestly, the language here sounds pretty extreme. Specifically . . .

“Do nothing from selfishness.” Selfishness is simply “self-interest.” So, Paul says don’t ever do anything out of self-interest. Really?!? Never do anything from self-interest?

“With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Come on, Paul! Why not “regard others as important as you regard yourself”? Isn’t it a little over the top to insist on considering others as more important than we regard ourselves?

“Do not look out for your own interests.” (Here I have an issue with the translators. The word “merely” is just not in the text that Paul wrote. I think the translators are toning down Paul’s seemingly extreme language.) So we are called to not look out for our own interests. Period. (And the same translators add “also” to the next phrase: “. . . but also for the interests of others.” Paul simple wrote “Do not look out attentively for your own interests but look out attentively for the interests of others.”)

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Now we’re really sounding extreme! Paul suggests that we should have the same attitude, same way of thinking about ourselves and our lives, that Jesus did in the incarnation.

“[Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant . . . he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Paul brings this not-thinking-about-oneself to a climactic point in helping us see Jesus clearly. The attitude we need to “have in ourselves” is just like Jesus’ attitude where he set aside his own rights, embraced servanthood, and humbled himself to the point of death. Now that is extreme.

So here’s the root of non-reciprocal living. It’s found in Jesus. And we’re invited into Jesus’ own heart-attitude.

He settled into living as a servant of others, humbly laying down his life for the good of others. He did this not looking out for his own interests. What was good for those he came to love took precedence. He wasn’t looking for them to reciprocate. He was intending to lay down his life for their good. He didn’t do this selfishly, for his benefit. He regarded others as more important than himself . . . to the point of dying.

That’s pretty extreme. And that is the life we are invited into.

Jesus has invested time over many years with these men. They have travelled together, labored together, taken meals together, faced challenges together. He has taught them, comforted them, empowered them, led them. Now he sits with them around a table in an upper room to share a Passover meal with them–something he most likely has done more than once in their journey together.

As he sits there with them, he knows. In a few hours they will all abandon him. They will pray together, but before the evening is out they will all scatter, abandoning him. Most will simply flee their separate ways when trouble comes. But that one, Judas, has already made arrangements to sell Jesus out to those who are seeking his death. And the one sitting near him, Peter, will publicly declare with oaths that he doesn’t even know the man named Jesus from Nazareth.

None of them will give back in relationship with Jesus anything like the love and attention and affection and kindness and grace and service that he has lavishly poured out on them. Having taken so much from him, they will leave him alone. And he knows this.

That is what makes what happens in that upper room so marvelously helpful in understanding what it means to “follow Jesus.”

Jesus knowing that his hour had come that he would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. . .  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. (John 14:1-5)

Jesus loved his own, loving them all the way “to the end.” Jesus served them by washing their feet because the need was real and he was willing to serve them. Jesus washed the feet of those who would abandon him. Jesus ministered to those who would deny and betray and leave him. Jesus was free to live in the kind of love that we are called to extend to one another because he was living in a non-reciprocal relationship with his disciples.

Jesus was going to be who the Father wanted him to be–who he wanted to be–regardless of how these avowed “close friends” did or did not reciprocate. Jesus was going to love freely, give freely, serve freely, expecting nothing in return.

He looks so much like his Father doing that! (Luke 6:35)

Conversations over the past weeks have touched on . . .

Delight in Jesus

Cultivating passion

Enjoying God

Finding our hearts captured by Jesus

Pressing beyond just “going through the motions”

Not only are such thoughts on my heart, but they are continually coming up in conversations I am having with other friends and followers of Jesus. So, I continue to discuss and explore and to think and to pray about just how it is that we can encourage growth in delight in Jesus in our own souls and the lives of our friends.

As I think about these things, I keep coming back to a few things that Jesus said.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

There is a progression evident in these words:

Treasure is what draws the heart. The heart drawn pursues the treasure. The treasure obtained results in joy.

If I am not vigorously running after Jesus it is because I am not tasting joy. If I am not tasting joy it is because my heart is not finding in him what it wants. If my heart is not finding in Jesus what it wants it is because I do not see the treasure that he is. This is not a “magic formula” for joy in Jesus, but it is real progression that we all experience.

I can not “will” joy. Nor can I merely “intend” my heart to pursue Jesus in joy. So given this progression how can we cultivate joy in Jesus?

We can fight to see the treasure that he is. We can be attentive to what he reveals about himself, be alert to how he shows himself in life and in Scripture. We can watch to catch a glimpse of glory and grace and splendor. We can make much of Jesus in the presence of our friends. We can mutually magnify all that Jesus is. We can, by looking, raise Jesus’ “treasure quotient” in our hearts and as we do that . . .

We will see Jesus as “treasure-ful.” Seeing Jesus as “treasure-ful” we will run after him. Running after him as our treasure we will find him to be “all that”. And finding Jesus to be “all that” we will experience life with him as joy.

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