When I log in to my online bank account I can see in one simple page what my obligations are and even the obligations the bank has towards me. There can be quite a list with credit cards, lines of credit, secured lines of credit, overdrafts, mortgages and consumer loans. All of these can be confounding and confusing at times. When I try to explain the difference between a Canadian RRSP, RESP, RDSP and TSFA account people’s eyes just sort of glaze over. Then there is mortgage terms, amortizations, interest rates, open/closed, fixed/variable it can be overwhelming.
In Canada we have an insurance company that offers a “One” plan. You get one account that is a loan against your home where all your money goes in and out of that account. There isn’t a different savings account, chequing account, and a mortgage account. It’s nice that any money you have is already put against your loan, it isn’t isolated in a savings account doing nothing. It radically simplifies one’s financial obligations by rolling everything in to one account with simple terms. I know lots of people who have gone that route because it is so simple.
Like the confusing array of financial options and obligations the obligations of religious life can be complicated. We often find ourselves striving to meet the obligations and expectations of others. Our employers, governments, friends, family and churches all expect different things from us. Some churches are particularly good at laying down the obligations. I remember, not so fondly, a long heart tugging speech by a leader at a Baptist church trying to guilt people to work in the nursery. It is easy to walk away from a church meeting feeling like the duties have been piled up on top of another.
- Come to church, small group, Sunday school, business meetings, prayer meetings and retreats
- Be dressed properly for church
- Do your devotions
- Don’t work on Sunday (unless its church work)
- Leave your problems at the door and bring the sacrifice of praise
- Volunteer in the [insert ministry here] ministry
- Make sure your house is clean before having people over
- Adhere to the membership covenant
Sometimes what twists us up even more are the obligations we feel are owed to us. When someone doesn’t act according to our expectations it easy to get upset.
- This sermon was supposed to be over 20 minutes ago
- Why won’t people help me out with the youth ministry
- I helped Frieda with women’s breakfast but she won’t help me Helga’s shower
- The youth pastor isn’t doing enough for my kids
- I’m just not being fed here
What if I could offer you the gospel One plan. One obligation, simple, easy, and with God’s help eminently doable!
Owe nothing to anyone–except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These–and other such commandments–are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
(Rom 13:8-10 NLT)
Whenever I read this passage I have to sit and ponder the ramifications of it. What would it look like if I had no obligations to anyone except an obligation of love and that covered everything?
It is radical in a couple of ways. In the gospel of sin management there is very little divine empowerment over sin. In the absence of faith in Christ we and the people around us construct all manner of habits, obligations and expectations to motivate us to behave well. We are afraid that if we leave the confines of these external motivations that our life will plummet down a gaping chasm of sin and self-destruction. In order to manage our inclination toward darkness and evil we must submit ourselves to the expectations and obligations of moralism and religious institutions.
By reducing all these obligations to a gospel “One” plan it puts us in a tough spot because no one naturally loves everyone. If our obligation is to show up at church, look right and volunteer then we are OK because we can manage that. Love is a completely different ball of wax. Love, by definition, cannot be faked. Paul isn’t asking us to do something but to become someone that instinctively and inherently values others so much that they put others above themselves. Becoming loving isn’t something we can just do. We need the love of Jesus to melt away our hard hearts and give us ones that are responsive, flexible and uncalloused.
If we become untethered from a whole host of religious obligations will we grieve the heart of God?
Jesus wasn’t offended when he observed people that didn’t fulfill their religious obligations. He was concerned that some were sick and needed a doctor. He did seem pretty frustrated with his disciples when they just wouldn’t “get it.” What irritated Jesus the most was the obligations and rules that religious leaders placed upon people. Some of these rules did not flesh out the heart of God but actually obscured and prevented people from living out what God cared the most about.
The obligation to love puts all other obligations in a new light. If we love one another we might just want to meet together to encourage and support one another.