Completed by the Spirit Part 13: Not of the Letter, But of the Spirit

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

This is the 13th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Love is a repeated theme for Paul.

While we have seen pre­vi­ously in this series that love ful­fills the law and that God’s love is poured into us by the Holy Spirit, let’s look at how Paul describes that love. In 1 Corinthi­ans 13, Paul writes:

[1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clang­ing cym­bal. [2] And if I have prophetic pow­ers, and under­stand all mys­ter­ies and all knowl­edge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove moun­tains, but have not love, I am noth­ing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

First, let’s note that in accor­dance with love being some­thing poured into us by the Holy Spirit, that love is not some­thing that would be described by Paul as “prac­ti­cal benev­o­lence. In fact, he cau­tions, “If I give away all I have … but have not love, I gain noth­ing.” Love is not the result of our actions; rather it is a God-given, Spirit-provided qual­ity that impels actions in the believer.

It is that same Spirit-provided love that forms the out­work­ing of the New Covenant ethic.

Paul writes to the Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans, “[9] Now con­cern­ing broth­erly love you have no need for any­one to write to you, for you your­selves have been taught by God to love one another. …” (1 Thess 4:9)

Paul thanks God for the Colos­sians’ “faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, [5] because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colos­sians 1:4–5), echo­ing the faith … hope … love pat­tern of 1 Corinthi­ans 13, Romans 5, Gala­tians 5,Eph­esians 4, and 1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 1 and 5.

In his beau­ti­ful dis­course on the min­istry of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in 2 Corinthi­ans 5, Paul tells us in verse 11 that “the love of Christ con­trols us.”

And in his prayer for spir­i­tual strength in Eph­esians 3, it can­not be more plain that that a liv­ing faith draws its basis from love:

[14] For this rea­son I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every fam­ily in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that accord­ing to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strength­ened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to com­pre­hend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that sur­passes knowl­edge, that you may be filled with all the full­ness of God. [20] Now to him who is able to do far more abun­dantly than all that we ask or think, accord­ing to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through­out all gen­er­a­tions, for­ever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:14–21)

Love is not the result of our obe­di­ence to the law.

Love is not pro­duced by works of the law.

Our love of Christ – whether that phrase means to have the love He has, or to have love for Him, or both – is what ful­fills the law escha­to­log­i­cally, and there­fore that love is essen­tial to the not yet that we seek in the now as we strive to be holy in our lives.

Indeed it is that dual love of God and love of neigh­bor that comes from a cir­cum­cised heart that finds the roots of the New Covenant in the scrolls of the Decalogue.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 14: The Very Stuff of New Covenant Ethics

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