CIVILIZATION OF LOVE
The humanity in Christ Jesus is creation of a new civilization. This civilization is a civilization of love. In the Pauline letters we meet with expressions like new creation and new man. They are the clarion call for a new civilization of love. Even a casual reader of Paul’s letters is aware that the idea of a new society, established on love was at the heart of Paul’s thinking like that of any other New Testament author, following the ideal of Jesus’ Kingdom of God. This cannot but be so, because he too lived in age which awaited the outbreak of a new age. The Jewish people lived with the cherished the desire of a Messiah who fulfilled all the promises of Yahweh to their Fore-fathers and established a perfect society, where justice, peace and plenitude abounded. The Greek world, including the Romans, with their Mystery Cult and Religions thought of rebirth with their dying and rising gods. They hoped that, being inserted with their saviour-god, they could form a new humanity which would bring about radical transformation of the then existing society. That society will be a civilization of love.
Dreams of Paul for a New Civilisation: Born a Hellenistic Jew in Tarsus of Asia Minor and brought up in the Hellenistic cultural milieu, but educated in the childhood and teenage in the strict observance of the Law of Moses and traditions of the fathers, Paul too was influenced by the expectations of his contemporaries and co-religionists. However, his expectations of the new society would have remained mere dreams, had he not met with Jesus of Nazareth on his way to Damascus. His unexpected encounter with the Risen Lord transformed his vision of the old society and the world, of his beliefs and convictions. In the Risen Lord Paul encountered the Messiah. From the Risen Lord, who is the Messiah that Paul draws out the principles that should govern the society, which is committed to the building up of civilization of love.
Paul’s Experience of Newness in the Risen Lord: We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that Paul encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus. To show its extreme importance for the growth and expansion of the early Church, Luke narrates it in three different contexts (9:1-19; 22:1-21; 26:1-18). Paul refers to his personal experience of Jesus in his letters directly and indirectly. In the letter to Galatians, he has spoken of this encounter as a revelation of the Son to him by God the Father, so that he may preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 1:12-13). He also affirms at the beginning of the same letter that God the Father, who chose from all eternity , took initiative to manifest to him His Son, Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead (Gal 1:1).
It was the Risen Lord whom Paul experienced on the way to Damascus is evident from what he states in First Corinthians. Paul informs the Corinthians about the tradition of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection according to the Scriptures (1Cor 15:1-3). This was the confession formula of the early Church which he had handed over to them at the time of their baptism. He was recalling the same formula to them, since some of them raised the questions on the resurrection of the body after death. Besides the repetition of the confession formula, he also mentions about the witness of resurrection. He mentions that after the resurrection of Jesus, he appeared to the apostles and several disciples (15:4-7). While doing it, Paul also claims that he too had the appearance of the Risen Lord: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (15:8). He also gives there the explanation why he called himself “untimely born”: “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God” (15:9). Since Paul connects the appearance of the Risen Lord to him and his past as a persecutor of the Church, the scholars are of opinion that Paul is referring here to his vision of the Lord on the road to Damascus. Hence we have the assurance that it was the Risen Lord that Paul first experienced. Paul might have never had the occasion to meet Jesus of Nazareth in his flesh and blood. Even though Paul knew from the traditions of the early Church the mystery of incarnation (Gal 4:4) and Jesus’ activities in Galilee and Jerusalem, yet his basic and deep experience of Jesus were that of the risen and glorified Lord.
Encounter with the Risen Lord transformed Paul’s life. Paul confesses it, when he writes to the Philippians: “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Phil 1: 20b-21). Once he came to know of the Risen Lord, of his power and glory, he no longer claimed for his Jewish past (Phil 3:4-6). He considered them as loss and rubbish in comparison to the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ. With great boldness, he writes: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3: 7-8).
Change from old to new man: The old man in Paul changed into a new being. The Risen Lord transformed totally his being and living. What he wrote to the Corinthians about the old yeast and unleavened bread was his own experience: “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our Paschal Lamb Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with unleavened brad of sincerity and truth” (1Cor 5:7-8). Paul’s life was transformed by the love of the Risen Lord. This love was urging him to undertake great missionary and apostolic tasks, which carried with them a lot of sufferings and humiliations. He writes without hesitation: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raided for them” (2Cor 5: 14-15).
The power and glory received from the Risen Lord had transformed him in such a way that Paul did not give great importance to the earthly, Jesus of flesh. He has even exhorted his faithful to forget this phase of Jesus and think more of Jesus in heaven: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way” (2Cor 5:16). By his encounter with the Risen Christ, all other kinds of knowledge of Jesus Christ became irrelevant, because he was recreated and he was a new being. This formed the fundamental conviction of Paul: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything has come new” (2Cor 5: 17). Paul was a brand new creature within him and before others. Paul says that the Christian community at Jerusalem did not know him personally, but when they heard that he was proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy, they glorified God because of him (Gal 1:23-24). Luke in the Acts of the Apostles tells us that after his being baptized by Ananias and entrusted with mission, Paul began to proclaim in the synagogues of Damascus that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard him were amazed. (Acts 9: 20-21). We know from the Acts of the Apostles and from the letters of Paul, the actual transformation that took place in Paul. He was indeed a new man in Christ Jesus that he identified himself with Christ, so that he could say with spontaneity and sincerity: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (….).
Risen Christ – Head of the New Humanity: Christ’s resurrection is seen by Paul as the inauguration of the new humanity, because he considered it a new creative activity of God. There is much similarity between the creation process in the book of Genesis and resurrection of Jesus according to Pauline understanding. Paul insists that it is God who raised Jesus from the dead. Importance is given to the intervention o God the Father in raising the Son from the dead. There are several texts to confirm it (Rom 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; 1Cor 6:14; 2Cor 4:14; 13:4; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Phil 2:9; 1Thess 1:10). Resurrection placed Jesus in a new position with regard to the whole humanity: “(God) gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9). The new position which is a name above all other names comes from the Father who is the source of all life. Not by the Father alone this new creative activity was carried out in Jesus, it was done by the power of the Holy Spirit. While Paul assures the Christians of their resurrection from the dead, he brings to light the role of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus: “If the Spirit of him (Father) who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). What Paul strongly emphasizes is this: the Spirit who dwells in the Christians is the same Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead. The same Spirit will also be at work in their resurrection after their death. It implies too that the Holy Spirit transformed their sinful nature to the nature of Jesus Christ, which is the image of God.
The raising activity of Jesus by the Holy Spirit was also a creative activity. Let us recall to our mind what Gen 1-2 speaks of the Holy Spirit at the moment of first creation of heaven and earth and that of man. We read that the “earth was without form and void, and the darkness was upon the face of the deep; the Spirit of God (ru’ah) was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). About the creation of man, in the second creation narrative of Genesis, we read as follows: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath (ru’ah) of life; and man became a living being@ (Gen 2:7). It was strongly believed by the Old Testament people that at the time of creation of both the world and man there was the intervention of ru’ah, the breath of God, which is the equalling of the Greek pneumatos “Spirit”. This is the term which is used in the New Testament and by Paul for the Holy Spirit. The shapeless and formless void became alive from the power of the Spirit. The lifeless heap of dust became alive and was called Adam, man, by the Spirit of the Lord. The first Adam not only became alive but he becomes the continuing principle of life of all human beings. In Paul’s own understanding, the same process took place in God’s act of raising Jesus from the death. After crucifixion, Jesus lay buried in the tomb in the form of dust. It was a lifeless physical and wounded body of Jesus. God through the power of the Spirit made this dead body alive and Jesus became a life-giving Spirit (1Cor 15:45).
The Risen Lord as the New Adam: Jesus’ resurrection was the creation of a new humanity is further corroborated by Paul’s reference to Jesus as the last Adam. In the Jewish and Rabbinic traditions Adam, the first man, was not only a representative of all mankind, but also the centre of human solidarity. As Paul concludes his long discussion on the nature of man’s resurrection from the dead (1Cor 15:35-50), he quotes from Genesis 2:7: “Thus it is written, ‘the first man Adam became a living being (pneuma zōopoioun)’; the last Adam became a life giving Spirit (to pneumatikon to psuchikon)” (1Cor 15:46). So the first Adam was the principle of natural life, while the last second Adam is the origin of the new humanity derived by the life-giving principle. As the first Adam was the head of the mankind, the risen Christ is the head of the new humanity. The first Adam represents the whole humanity in its natural, while the last Adam, the Risen Lord who represents the new humanity.
The representative character of the first and last Adam is brought to light, when Paul exposes the mystery of sin and man’s redemption. Sin was brought into the world by the first Adam, while the last Adam became the source of redemption. “Therefore, as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Adam being the representative of all mankind, all men sinned in him. Death became the common tragedy of the mankind. Nobody is born into this world can therefore escape from the clutches of sin and death. Paul now applies this representative principle to Christ who is the last Adam. In the last Adam, the life-giving Spirit is the principle of all graces through the resurrection. The living giving Spirit became the source of a new era of grace (Rom 5: 15). The old humanity, founded on Adam according to the flesh was the object of God’s wrath. The old humanity was separated from God through sin, now the new humanity is reconciled to God through the Last Adam (Rom 5: 5:11).
The new humanity has its origin and its source of life in the Risen Lord. This is expounded in more detail the letters of Ephesians and Colossians. In both these letters, the Risen Lord is presented as the Head of the body. God raised Jesus from the dead and put all things under his feet. He is the Head of the body, which is the church: “…and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). Whereas in the letter to the Colossians, Paul makes further claims for the Risen Lord’s supremacy over humanity by calling him the Head, the first-born from the dead (Col 1:18).
Not only of the new humanity, but of the whole creation, the Risen Lord is the supreme authority. The whole creation both in heaven and earth are now under His reign (Eph 1:21-22). In his turn the Risen Lord will bring everything under the control of God: “’For God put all things in subjection under his feet’. But when it says ‘All things are put in subjection under him’, it is plain that he is expected who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone” (1Cor 15:27-28). The Father raised the Son through the Spirit and glorified Him as the Lord of everything, both of humanity and of creation, so that the Son may after the final victory hand over humanity and the universe to the Father. This is the final project of God in Christ Jesus. This is the fullness of time, when all things in heaven and on earth will be united in the Risen Lord (Eph 1:10).
New Humanity: The Body of Christ: In Pauline letters we meet with various images to describe the nature and structure of the new humanity in Christ Jesus who was raised from the dead. Thus Paul calls the new humanity as “God’s field” (1Cor 3:5-9), “God’s building” (1Cor 3:9-11), “the holy Temple” (Eph 2:21), “Fellow citizens and Saints and Members of the Household of God” (Eph 2:19), “the dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). But the most rich and impressive image which Paul uses in describing the nature and structure of the new humanity is the “Body” or “Body of Christ” (1Cor 6:5-18; 10:6-22; 12:12-31; Rom 12:5-8; Eph 1:22; 4:126.96.36.199-16; Col 1:18-19). Let us have summary understanding of this basic idea of Paul on the new humanity.
The first positive affirmation that is made through this image is that the new humanity is formed out of the Jews and Gentiles. This is the idea that has been exposed in Eph 2:11-22. Like the Jews of Paul’s period, he divides humanity into two sections: the Jews who were close to God and the Gentiles who were far from God. The narrow national concept of the Jewish race that salvation belongs to them alone is shattered by Jesus Christ. In the Christ Jesus the blocking wall that divided them is broken down and enmity between them is destroyed. In Christ Jesus there is only one race, one nation and humanity.
The new humanity has no racial, social, geographical and sexual barriers, even though they exist as natural forces in humanity. The concept of his new humanity is universal and is not restricted or limited to a particular race, nation and or culture. This universalistic view took hold of Paul in such a way that he repeatedly wrote in his letters: “For these there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is the Lord of all and is generous to all who call him” (Rom 10:12); “there is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Individuals, whether they belong to the Jews or Gentiles, become part of the new humanity by being engrafted to Jesus Christ. This is concretely and really carried out by faith and baptism. It is faith which makes a man righteous before God (Rom 1:17; 3:22; Gal 2:16; 3:8). This too was an audacious stand by Paul. Anybody and everybody could therefore become righteous by faith. Traditions, laws and prescriptions and ceremonial practices played no role in this new way of life. It is through faith alone that the members of this new community become sons/daughters of God in Christ Jesus, the only begotten Son of God (Gal 3:26). The sum and substance of this faith is proclaimed in Rom 10:9: “Jesus is the Lord and God has raised him from the dead. In the letter to First Timothy, this confession is a little more elaborate, but more explanative : “He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (1Tim 3:16).
Baptism is the external sign of an intimate union that is established between Jesus Christ and the individual, who is baptized. There is a total identification of the baptized with Jesus Christ who was crucified and raised from the dead: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3). Through baptism they die with Christ and rise with Christ (Rom 6:4). This message was interwoven in the very baptism ceremony that was conducted in the early Christianity. The one who was to be baptized was immersed fully in the water. While immersed under water, the person dies and is buried like Jesus without any life (no breath – sign of life- under water) and when he merged out of water, he becomes alive, thus is symbolically being raised with Jesus Christ. As there is oneness with Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is also newness of life in him. Therefore Paul states categorically: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2Cor 5:17). The whole reality of this transformation of the baptized into a new person is expressed by Paul in the phrase: “in Christ”. The baptized are by nature and being are in Christ.
The concept of the body applied to the new humanity brings to the focus also the organic structure and unity of its members. In 1Cor 12 Paul speaks of the body in relation to the various gifts of the Holy Spirit to the members of the Church. In explaining these gifts granted to the members, Paul also underlines the organic structure of the nee humanity and its function. There are various types of functions, which form its structure. They are apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healer, helpers, administrators, and speakers (1Cor 12:28). As the body has many members, so also this humanity has various members. As in the body, so also each member has a function. In this new humanity the members have their own functions. St. Paul implies here that no member is out of place and useless. On one is greater or smaller because his function in the new society of Jesus Christ. Every function within this new humanity is only a gift of the Spirit and is arranged by God according to His plan.
Civilization of Love: the New Life Style: The new humanity in Christ Jesus has a new style of life, which we can call the civilization of love. It is a life style that is built upon freedom. First of all, it is not the old way of life. It is of primary importance that the members of the new humanity have to put off the ways of the old man and put on the new man, who is Jesus Christ. The mentality or mind-set of the old style of life as well as the new mentality in Christ are clearly taught by Pau from the first moments of their faith in Jesus Christ: “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4: 22-24). The passions and vices of the old nature are to be eradicated from their behaviour. In the letter to the Colossians Paul gives a list of these: “But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col 3:8-10).
Secondly, the civilization of love envisages that the members have a capacity to discern spiritual things and act spiritually because they have the mind of Christ: “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject t o one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:14-16).
Thirdly, they should behave with the same mentality that Christ had by becoming man and undergoing the passion and death in obedience to the will of the Father. Paul asks the Christians of Philippi to imitate the humility of Christ on the Cross and evokes several attitudes that are conducive to a life of humility. Therefore, before presenting the kenosis of Jesus, Paul appeals to them: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2:1-4).
Fourthly, the members of this new humanity are characterized by freedom. They enjoy and live the freedom of the children of God. They are, as Paul writes, free from the clutches of sin (Rom 6:18-23), from the slavery to the law (Rom 7:3-6; 8:2; 1Cor 10:29; Gal 2:4.21.31; 5:1-13) and from the pangs of death (Rom 6:21-23; 8:21), because in them dwells the Spirit of the Risen Lord and is its temple (1Cor 6:19). However, this freedom is not permissiveness to live according the desires of the flesh. Paul was aware of this danger and knew that his mind could be misinterpreted and abused to the detriment of the Christian life. So he warned: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal 5:13). Paul also added immediately that their freedom should be governed by the supreme law of love: “but through love be servants of one another”.
Hence love through freedom becomes the trademark of this new humanity, which we call the civilization of love. Love is the atmosphere that prevails and permeates the new community, for they are rooted and grounded in love (Eph 3:17). Love is the bond that unites all the members of this new humanity: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). It is the most excellent gift of the Spirit to each one of the members and to the whole community as such> It is superior to the gifts of tongues, knowledge, works of miracles and martyrdoms (1Cor 13:1-4). Love is the only virtue which endures for ever (1Cor 13:8-13). This energizing force of love runs through all the members to make it active and fruitful. It is the life-sap of the whole new humanity.
Having the gift of love in their veins, the members of this new humanity have to love one another. Paul exhorts continuously the Christian communities to practise mutual love and respect each other. Let us recall some of these words of Paul to the Christians, so that we may understand the practical principles of this civilization of love. To the Romans Paul writes: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13: 8.10). To the quarrelling and group-ridden Galatians, Paul insists on this civilization of love and writes with irony: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment.’ You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. If, however, you bit and devour one another, take care that you are not summed by one another” (Gal 5: 14-15). To the Thessalonians Paul reminds that God Himself has taught them regarding the love of one another and that they are practising it in an edifying way. However, he desires that they build up this civilization of love with further attention to certain details in daily Christian living. They are: “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on on one” (1Thess 4:11-12). Their civilization of love should spread out to the whole world, and not be closed in within the Christian communities alone.
Love does not wound a brother or sister, especially the weak in community by a scandalous act, though it is lawful and permitted. By principles laid down in the new economy of salvation, there is nothing wrong to eat meat offered to the idols, but Paul advises not to do, if someone in the community will be scandalized by it. Therefore, he writes: “if your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do ot let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died” (Rom 14: 15). Love also invites the members to contribute and share their material goods with the poor, weak and needy (2Cor 8-9). They have to forgive the sins and misgivings of others (2Cor 2:8). When the new humanity is living this civilization of love, they are offering a spiritual worship that is pleasing and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1). In short the new humanity in Christ is the centre of a civilization of love.
The new society – a civilization of love envisaged by Paul has thus the point of departure in the Risen Lord. The Paschal mystery of Christ is the time of the inauguration of its period. It is time of its origin. Resurrection of Christ makes the new beginning. Christ became the life-giving Spirit, which creates in history of men and women a new society of love. By its essence and nature this new society is universal and is not closed any one in all the ages. It is formed out of every race, caste, nation, gender and class. It is a society which not governed by fear of the law, which kills, but by the freedom of love, which builds up a civilization of love. This is the highest vocation in which all the members of this new society is called. It is their God-given mission in the world.Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest