Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ethic of Love

A discussion on work ethics led me to pick up William Barclay’s Ethics in a Permissive Society. He was from another age: pastor, teacher, theologian, professor (Divinity and Biblical Criticism, in Glasgow), and author of the very popular 17-volume commentary on the New Testament, The Daily Study Bible. Ethics in a Permissive Society is out of print but much of what he wrote then resonates with humanity and compassion still. Barclay died in 1978.

An evangelical would find some of Barclay's liberal theology disagreeable, and I remember puzzling over his rationalising of Jesus' miracles with a bit of disdain. A convinced universalist, his views about Jesus' deity and the atonement was absolutely left field (or should it be outfield?). But he was a gifted teacher, with a way with words, and I found Ethics instructive. Here's an excerpt:
It is basic to the ethic of Paul, as it is to the ethic of the whole New Testament, that the Christian ethic is an ethic of love. That love is not an easy-going, emotional, sentimental thing. It is not something subject to impulse and motivated by passion. It is not something which flames and then dies, at one time a burning passion, at another time almost non-existent. It is not something which depends on our likes and our dislikes for other people. It is the steady, unvarying, undefeatable determination to love men as Jesus loved them, and never, no matter what they do in response, to seek anything but their highest good. It is the goodwill that cannot be quenched. This kind of love is going to have consequences.

It will dominate the attitude of the Christian towards insult and injury. Revenge will be something which – if it enters into the picture at all – will be in the hands of God. As for us, even for the man who counts himself our enemy, there will be nothing but concern (Rom 12:19,20). The pattern of human forgiveness is the divine forgiveness. As Christ forgave us, so must we forgive others (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)). He who has been forgiven must be forgiving. This will mean that a Christian will never try to return evil for evil. He will always try to overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21; 1 Thes 5:15). The Christian will practise not so much a negative policy of non-retaliation as a positive policy which by its kindness shames men into response (Rom 12:20;Prov 25:21,22).
The ethic of love, which finds its greatest expression in the incarnation and humiliation of God (Philippians 2:7-8) is indeed our only motivation for life and service. I dare say it is also the world's only hope.

Related Link:
William Barclay Trust

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