New Commandment (Sermon)

This was a sermon I gave at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville AR. It was about love, and why love is so important to the spiritual life:

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Life of the Trinity: Self-giving love

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Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his Theo-Drama IV: The Action, has an excellent (beware, Balthasar is deep!) explanation of the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. For him, life in the Trinity is the starting point of all theology.

In explaining the life involved inside the Trinity, von Balthasar centers on the “generation of the Son” by the Father. This, to him, is the starting point of the Trinity; it explains and reveals everything else.

Balthasar explains the “generation of the Son” as the eternal action of God the Father in giving of himself in love. Because God is love, he is constantly pouring himself out in love. As a result, this pouring of oneself out demands a Beloved — this beloved One is the Son, who is eternally begotten as a result of the Father’s eternal love.

von Balthasar explains*:

The action whereby the Father utters and bestows his whole Godhead, an action he both “does” and “is”, generates the Son. This Son is infinitely Other, but he is also the infinitely Other of the Father…

So, God the Father’s outpouring of love eternally generates the Son. And this outpouring is such that the Son is eternally begotten, and other than of the Father (other in Person, one in substance).

von Balthasar goes so far to say that,

God the Father gives… his divinity away in such a manner that it is not merely “lent” to the Son: the Son’s possession of it is “equally substantial”

And so, God the Son, as God the Father’s beloved, is consubstantial with the Father. von Balthasar describes this outpouring as the “kenosis” (emptying of oneself) of God the Father. He gives of his divinity, empties himself, such that the Son is equal with the Father as a result of that love.

von Balthasar then explains that the Son, as a result of this love, cannot help but give back:

It follows that the Son, for his part, cannot be and possess the absolute nature of God except in the mode of receptivity: he receives this unity of omnipotence and powerlessness from the Father. This receptivity simultaneously includes the Son’s self-givenness… and his filial thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the gift of consubstantial divinity.

What Balthasar explains is that as the Son receives this “powerless” outpouring, this kenosis, of God the Father, he cannot help but give of himself in an act of eucharistia (thankfulness). And so, the Son pours of himself in kenosis back to the Father. Thus, the Father and the Son give of themselves to one another eternally.

Consequently, this expression of kenotic love between the Father and Son is the Holy Spirit. He is the unity of love between the Father and Son.

Balthasar says that the Spirit is a

seal of that self-expropriation that is identical in Father and Son… [He is] the pure manifestation and communication of the love between Father and Son

So this is the life of the Trinity. It is a Lover, a Beloved, and Love which seals the two. We may call the Trinity a kenosis of love. For each person empties himself for the other. The Trinity is radically other-centered. The Father gives, the Son receives and gives, the Spirit seals and glorifies the other two.

von Balthasar goes on to explain that this doctrine of the kenotic Trinity is the starting point for the rest of Christian doctrine. The doctrines, broadly, of creation, covenant, and cross, are all seen as coming from the Trinitarian life of God.

von Balthasar explains,

We spoke of a first “kenosis” of the Father, expropriating himself by “generating” the consubstantial Son. Almost automatically, this first kenosis expands to a kenosis involving the whole Trinity. For the Son could not be consubstantial with the Father except by self-expropriation; and their “We”, that is, the Spirit, must also be God if he is to be the “personal” seal of that self-expropriation…

This primal kenosis (Trinitarian life) makes possible all other kenotic movements of God into the world; they are simply its consequences. The first “self-limitation” of the triune God arises through endowing his creatures with freedom. The second, deeper, “limitation” of the same triune God occurs as a result of the covenant, which, on God’s side, is indissoluble, whatever may become of Israel. The third kenosis, which is not only christological but involves the whole Trinity, arises through the Incarnation of the Son alone: henceforth he manifests his eucharistic attitude (which was always his) in the pro nobis [for us, in place of] of the Cross and Resurrection for the sake of the world.

This is a favorite passage of mine, because in it, Balthasar ties Christian theology to the life of the Trinity.

For Balthasar, creation itself is seen as an over-pouring of Trinitarian love, in which God creates and gives of himself to free agents. Creation, for him, is “a new ‘kenosis’ on God’s part, since he is thereby restricted, implicitly by creaturely freedom and explicitly by the covenant with its stated terms”. In giving implicit freedom, and explicit covenants, God is thereby binding and limiting himself (even limiting his own freedom) to his creation. Thus, the creation is an act of self-giving love from an overflow of the Trinity itself!

On a deeper level still, the cross is an expression of Trinitarian kenosis; because in the cross, Jesus pours himself out — he empties himself (Phil 2:7) — on behalf of mankind. He gives himself as a sacrifice for the sin of mankind, which is a pleasing aroma to the Father (Eph 5:2). Balthasar explains that the the Son’s surrender to death on the cross is a “representation of the Father’s trinitarian, loving self-surrender”. This fits especially with Christ’s words: if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Thus, when we look to the cross — this kenosis of Christ, this atoning surrender — we see the Father in his essence.

And so, Trinitarian self-giving love — kenosis — is the grounding of all Christian theology!

*All quotes come from section III, C, 1

1 Corinthians 13: A Still More Excellent Way (Sermon)

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This is a sermon I gave at Fellowship Bible Church, in Batesville AR.

Description: In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is trying to explain to the Corinthians church What Maturity isn’t, and What Maturity is. It falls in the middle of a discussion Paul was having over the issue of spiritual gifts, where the Corinthians had inadvertently made tongues the “end all” of Christianity. For Paul, to equate maturity with gifts was a misstep. And so he describes the “still more excellent way” of love

Listen here: 

Mount Moriah (part 2): The Only Loved Son

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The other day, I wrote a small post on Genesis 22. You can read that here. I’d like to continue meditating on the implications found in Genesis 22, where God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac. In my previous post, I focused primarily on the fact that a substitute was provided on behalf of Isaac. In this way, Isaac’s life was saved, and the death was passed to the ram instead. This is a historical continuum found all throughout scripture, and it climaxes in the substitution of Jesus for the sins of mankind.

But now I want to look at Abraham’s love for his son Isaac. Three times in the text, God calls Isaac Abraham’s only son (v. 2, 12, 16); and two of those times, God refers to him as Abraham’s only loved son (v. 2, 16). All this focus on Isaac as being the only beloved son of Abraham is meant to illustrate how hard it was for Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice to God. Of course, Isaac is not simply Abraham’s only sonButIsaac was the promised son (Gen 12, 15). Isaac was the son through which all of God’s promises to Abraham (and the world) would be realized. Only ten chapters earlier, God appeared to Abraham and promised that through his seed, the nations of the earth would be blessed. The problem was, his wife was beyond child-bearing age. They were unable to have a natural-born son. In Genesis 15:2, Abraham offered his slave as an adopted son — God said no. Then in Genesis 16, Abraham decided to have a son by one of his servants, Hagar. While this was a technically a biological son, it was not by Sarah, so God said no to that as well. Finally, God miraculously gave Abraham and Sarah a son in Genesis 21.

So, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only loved son, he meant: “offer the very promised son that I gave you” — the very one that would bring blessing to the nations! God wanted Abraham to give this one up. To Abraham, Isaac was much more than a child. This son was an encapsulation of all of God’s promises concerning Abraham and his descendants.

This was a hard thing to ask of Abraham. And yet, when Abraham is asked to give up Isaac, he never once questions God. In fact, Abraham is astonishingly deliberate in his obedience. When God told him to kill Isaac, Abraham got up early (Gen 22:3), gathered his materials (22:3), and went immediately to Mount Moriah (22:4-10). Never once did he doubt God. In fact, Abraham trusted that God would provide (v. 5b, 8). The amount of forced obedience involved in going to sacrifice Isaac is absolutely incredible. It was so incredible, that when the angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, he said: “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son” (Gen 22:12). Abraham’s fear and love for God was placed in the context of his willingness to give up Isaac. What a love Abraham had for his God!

But we must also remember that God stopped Abraham from doing this — God provided a substitute for him. And so, Abraham did not have to go through with sacrificing his only son. And God did this because Isaac was not the ultimate son. He wasn’t the ultimate promised seed from whom would come blessing. The substitute of the ram pointed to a better son; and this was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16).

In fact, we are told in John 3:16 that Jesus is a fulfillment of Genesis 22: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. What this means is that as much as Abraham was obedient and willing to give Isaac, and as much as he had love for God, God is the ultimate Father proving his love for the world by actually giving his only Son. And this means that God’s love is infinitely greater.

Can one even comprehend the unfathomable love the Father had for the Son? As much as Isaac was chosen, Christ was the ultimate chosen one one, chosen even before the foundations of the world (1 Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8). He is the ultimate Son who brings about the blessings promised in Genesis 12 (Gal 3:16). He is the true Israel who brings God’s people back from their wanderings and blesses the nations (Is 49:5-7). The love that God had for the Son was eternal, glorious, and perfect (John 17:5). And yet God, in his overwhelming love for the world (kosmos in Gk — this communicates God’s love not just for people, but also for the entire created order), actually gave his Son up as the true sacrificial Lamb (John 1:29). Abraham’s love is but a small glimpse of the love of God for sinners!

In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:8 that God proves his love for us by giving Jesus as a sacrifice. He asks in Romans 8:32 (no doubt thinking of Genesis 22!): if God did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not give us all things? What Paul means to say here is that there is no greater love found in God than the gift of Jesus. So while Abraham loved to the extent of being willing to give up Isaac, God loved to the extent to actually giving up the eternal Son; and not only for one person, but for the entire world.

What love God has for sinners!