Romans, Part 54

To continue my attempt to view—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord[1]—as a definition of love (ἀγάπη) rather than as rules, I’ll turn to the next item on the table I constructed: Love is…not self-serving[2] (οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς; literally, “not seek itself”).

If someone owns a hundred sheep, Jesus said, and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go look for (ζητεῖ, a form of ζητέω) the one that went astray?[3] He made it clear He was not talking only about sheep and shepherds.  Looking at children, He added, In the same way, your Father in heaven is not (οὐκ, a form of οὐ; the absolute negation[4]) willing (θέλημα) that one of these little ones be lost[5] (ἀπόληται, a form of ἀπόλλυμι).  This is Jesus’ expression of David’s confidence, Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all my days[6]

Still, I began to wonder in what sense the Father seeking his own was not self-serving or love seeking itself. I found a satisfying distinction in the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand men plus women and children.


Mark Luke


Now when Jesus heard [about John the Baptist’s death] he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place.

Matthew 14:13a (NET)

Then the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught.  He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat).  So they went away by themselves in a boat to some remote place.

Mark 6:30-32 (NET)

When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done.  Then he took them with him and they withdrew privately to a town called Bethsaida.[7]

Luke 9:10 (NET)

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee[8] (also called the Sea of Tiberias).

John 6:1 (NET)

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John took pains to place the story in space and time. In Matthew’s Gospel narrative Jesus went to an isolated place after He heard of John the Baptist’s death.[9] John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus.[10]  Mark pointed out that this coincided with the return of the twelve,[11] the apostles Jesus had sent out two by two.  The purpose of this trip was rest and relaxation for the twelve and perhaps a moment for Jesus to grieve over the beheading of his cousin.  Luke added the destination, Bethsaida, and John added the body of water traversed, the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias).

John didn’t mention the apostles’ return (or that they were sent out for that matter). John didn’t make much of John the Baptist’s death.  He was still alive in chapter three[12] and spoken of in the past tense in chapter five.[13]  John set the story conceptually, if you will.

The fifth chapter of John’s Gospel account begins with a curious healing. A man lay by a pool in Jerusalem, believing apparently that if he were first to enter its waters after they were stirred up[14] (ταραχθῇ, a form of ταράσσω) he would be healed.  At least, that’s how his answer to Jesus question— Do you want to become well?[15]—sounds to me.[16]  Jesus healed him apparently by simple command (John 5:8, 9 NET):

Jesus said to him, “Stand up!  Pick up your mat and walk.”  Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and started walking.  (Now that day was a Sabbath.)

Perhaps I should see this as a living expression of God’s grace as totally unmerited favor, but I can’t help but see Jesus as provocateur here, since the most important part of this story is the parenthetical—Now that day was a Sabbath.

When the religious leaders saw the man walking carrying his mat on the Sabbath, they said, “It is the Sabbath, and you are not permitted (οὐκ ἔξεστιν) to carry your mat.”[17]

“The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”[18]

“Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?”[19]

The man didn’t know Jesus, nor could he point Him out, since He had slipped out[20] among the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast.[21]  After this Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “Look, you have become well. Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you.”  The man went away and informed the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him.[22]

John had a long lifetime to consider with the Holy Spirit what Jesus had said and done before he wrote his Gospel narrative. He related this story of the healing of a man by a command to break the Sabbath (as the religious authorities interpreted the Law) a man so ignorant of Jesus he could not even implicate Him when the religious authorities questioned him.  So Jesus met him again in the temple, all to orchestrate an opportunity for Jesus to say to the religious authorities, My Father is working until now, and I too am working.[23]

The religious authorities reacted exactly as one would expect religious authorities to react when confronted with a knowledge of God superior to their own, if the religious authorities in question were self-serving rather than God-serving: For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God.[24]

Jesus had a lot more to say to these religious authorities (John 5:19-23 NET):

I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed.  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.  Furthermore, the Father does not judge (κρίνει, a form of κρίνω) anyone, but has assigned all judgment (κρίσιν, a form of κρίσις) to the Son, so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

I can do nothing more than listen to Yahweh come in human flesh speaking to religious authorities, THE religious authorities of the only religion ever authorized by the One living and true God (John 5:24-30 NET):

I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned (εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται; literally, “into judgment is not coming”), but has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming (ἔρχεται) – and is now here – when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment (κρίσιν, a form of κρίσις), because he is the Son of Man.

Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming (ἔρχεται) when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out – the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation (κρίσεως, a form of κρίσις, or, judgment).  I can do nothing on my own initiative.  Just as I hear, I judge (κρίνω), and my judgment (κρίσις) is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.

Here is a powerful clue to the meaning of a love that is not self-seeking: I do not seek (ζητῶ, another form of ζητέω) my own will (θέλημα), but the will (θέλημα) of the one who sent me.  Jesus continued speaking to the religious authorities (John 5:31-40 NET):

If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.  There is another who testifies about me [the Father, I assume], and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true.  You have sent to John [the Baptist], and he has testified to the truth [John 1:19-37].  (I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved.)  He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light.

But I have a testimony greater than that from John.  For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete – the deeds I am now doing – testify about me that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me.  You people have never heard his voice[25] nor seen his form at any time, nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent.  You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.

I’ll take a moment to highlight what Jesus said about the authorities of the only God-ordained religion on the planet:

1) You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent.  Contrast this to his words to Philip, John 14:8-14.

2) You study the scriptures thoroughlyit is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not (οὐ, the absolute negation) willing (θέλετε, a form of θέλω) to come to me so that you may have life.  This is utterly self-serving. For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, Paul wrote, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.[26]

Jesus concluded his discourse with the religious authorities (John 5:41-47 NET):

I do not accept praise from people, but I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me.  If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe, if you accept praise from one another and don’t seek the praise that comes from the only God?

Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father.  The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?

Here I’ll add a third item to the list:

3) If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.

In this light I’ll continue to look into the feeding of the five thousand men plus women and children in the next essay.

Romans, Part 55

Back to Romans, Part 79

[1] Romans 12:11 (NET)

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NET)

[3] Matthew 18:12b (NET)

[4] I will leave it to others to debate whether the Father’s unwillingness was limited only to the children present at the time and place Jesus spoke.

[5] Matthew 18:14 (NET)

[6] Psalm 23:6a (NET)



[9] John 14:10, 11 (NET)

[10] Matthew 14:12 (NET)

[11] Mark 6:7-13 (NET)

[12] John 3:22-36 (NET)

[13] John 5:31-36 (NET)

[14] John 5:7 (NET)

[15] John 5:6 (NET)

[16] The explanation given in the KJV (John 5:4)—For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had—has been rejected as not original to the text by most contemporary Bible scholars.

[17] John 5:10 (NET)

[18] John 5:11 (NET)

[19] John 5:12 (NET)

[20] John 5:13 (NET)

[21] John 5:1 (NET)

[22] John 5:14-16 (NET)

[23] John 5:17 (NET)

[24] John 5:18 (NET)

[25] The Father’s voice, that is: Exodus 20:1, 19; Deuteronomy 4:12; 5:24.  I assume the voice they heard was Yahweh’s, the Son.

[26] Romans 10:3 (NET)