And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment . . .
Piano tuners, I’m told, have two objectives in bringing an instrument into harmony. There’s the technical dimension of a given pitch, expressed in waves or “beats” which the tuner must listen for. The frequency of the waves must correspond to the frequency of an established pitch. But tuning also involves an aesthetic dimension, involving the resonance of two pitches together, known as an interval. The tuner has found a harmony of a given interval when the respective waves they emit are in sync. In sum, the tuner must listen to the note itself (the technical dimension) and to the note in relationship to other notes (the aesthetic dimension). His task is to hear both dimensions to bring the instrument into tune.
Commands in scripture are plentiful. Jesus summarized them all in His response to the Pharisees, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:38–40). Neither the scripture nor Jesus submits these as mere guidelines or good ideas. Commands, by definition, expect obedience.
Hearing those commands properly, though, is crucial to heeding them. For implicit within every command is a call to remember what compels the command. Like the piano tuner, we have to hear both the mandate and the motive behind it, or our obedience will never be in tune.
Sunday, Mark helped us to see that balance of mandate and motive in scripture’s commands. Paul prayed that the love in the church at Philippi would burgeon, and so fulfill their mandate to love. But such love was to be grounded in the “knowledge” of the love of Christ for them, which was the only sufficient motive for love’s mandate. As a piano string never emits its sonorous tone without being struck by the hammer, so love only rises from us when struck deeply by the love of God in Christ for us.
Why is it so crucial to hear both dimensions of a given command? For one, the apparent absurdity of some commands demands we hear His rationale. Love your enemies? Pray for those who persecute you? Our first instinct is to do quite the opposite, because our first feeling teems with fear and anger. How can we love and pray with any sincerity in that condition? Unless something tames our rage we see no purpose or profit to complying with Jesus’ command. Only when we consider His love for us, while we were strangers and aliens to Him (Eph. 2:19), hostile in mind and deed (Col. 1:21), can we see the logic of His command. How can I justify hatred for one who hates me, when God did not hate me for hating Him? Hearing His love beneath His command to love is our only hope of obeying that counterintuitive command.
An even more prevalent struggle in our obedience is not whether the command is illogical but whether it is even possible to follow. Can I ever be “strong and courageous” in the face of all that threatens me? Can I ever stare down lust, dishonesty, and partiality? Will I ever successfully navigate between the rocks of man-hating and man-accommodating? Fear, prurience, bitterness, derision—they all have their root in a belief that God is not good. But if you listen for the resonance of His love inside the tone of His command, then you will find strength to obey. That’s why Paul prays for their love to abound more and more. He knows love grows where love is perceived; and God will not fail to make His love known to those in whom He wants such love to resonate. For Spirit-infused confidence in His love enables you to choose against the sin that is at bottom a mistrust of that love. Hearing the motive beneath the mandate makes the impossible possible.
You may never be a piano tuner, but you will always have to take note of both the mandate and motive of every command. Are you listening for the His love within His command—the most resonant truth designed to compel your obedience? It’s the only thing that can sustain it.