GIVING BACK TO GOD
BY: HARRY R. FOX, JR. –
Editor’s note: The following are comments given by Harry Robert Fox, regarding Galatians 2:20 and John 15:5 and Matt. 25:14-30.
In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul says, “I am” (KJV) or “have been” (RSV) “crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in” (RSV) or “the faith of” (KJV) “the Son of god, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine and ye are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”
My intention in this connection is to articulate at least something of what may be implied in these two verses. What is meant by the idea of Christ living in me or through me? Does this imply that I am simply a conduit through which Christ lives out His life through me? Or am I more than a conduit and therefore, have a part in the results of “Christ living in me?” An answer to this is, I believe, to be found partly in the “vine and branches” metaphor in John 15:5. This metaphor is living and organic rather than mechanical and inorganic. And when it is seen together with the intensely personal and intimate truth of Galatians 2:20, we are enabled to get a better understanding of both of these verses. If we are to be thought of as branches in a vine, then we can see that there is a two-way flow of life: the “sap” flowing out of the vine into the branches and a reverse flow of the results of photosynthesis back into the vine and roots.
This is quite in line with I John 4:19, where we are told that “we love (Him) because He first loved us.” The sap which flows out of the vine into the branches is primarily God’s unconditional love which creates in us a responsive unconditional love for Him as well as for our fellows. And this love for God and others will inevitably be “colored” (or “flavored”) by our unique, personal individualities. In other words, what flows back to God and to others will not be simply His love, but also our love. And our articulation (or testimony) of this two-way relationship will have on it the stamp of our personal individuality. Take for example the testimonials of the writers of the New Testament. Although Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter and James all give expression to the reality of God in Christ (and in them), the marks of their individuality is so indelibly stamped on them that we can easily recognize the differences in those expressions: we can know when a text is from Paul rather than James, or from John rather than from Matthew, Mark or Luke.
I know that in my personal experiences in relation to others, it has never been enough for me to hear someone say that he or she loves me “with the love of God.” I want to know that it is also their personal love for me, and vice versa. And so it would seem to me that the same is true for God in relation to me and His many other children. I doubt if He is satisfied simply with getting back from us His love unaffected by our personality. Along with His love for us, He must surely want our personal love and admiration for Him (not that He can’t live without it). And the reason He doesn’t need our love is because, per Luke 6:35-36, He loves us “not expecting anything in return.” But this doesn’t mean that He wouldn’t like to have something back from us or that what we give back to Him would not be of value to Him. This, I believe, makes connection with the vine-branches metaphor. For, in Jesus’ discussion of this, He says that the Father as “vinedresser,” looks for fruit on each branch and thereby implies that He experiences disappointment if a branch fails to bear fruit. This would further imply that God wants (even if He doesn’t need) for His “investment” in the branches to produce “results.” Such an expectation (which envisions the possibility of failure) would be unnecessary if each branch were merely an impersonal conduit. For then, the looked for results would always be automatic: no branch could ever fail to produce “fruit.” But such fruit would not be PERSONAL.
This fact makes connection with Christ’s parable of “The Talents” in Matthew 25: 14-30. There we are told that “a man going on a journey…entrusted to (his servants) his property.” and distributed it “to each according to his ability.” Here we see that God’s investments are made in persons with diverse “abilities.” From some people, He receives back more than He gives. But from others, He receives back only what He invests: nothing more. From what Jesus goes on to say in the parable, it is clear that God definitely prefers those from whom He receives back more than what He gives to them. It is of great interest to me in this connection to note that the servant in this parable who failed to give back to his master more than what had been given to him, behaved in this unproductive manner due to a faulty view of God. He saw God as only a “hard man” who “reaped where (He) didn’t sow” and “gathered where he did not winnow;” and was therefore afraid to risk investing what had been entrusted to him.
All of this tells us the importance of being exposed to who God really is: the God of unconditional love, grace and mercy revealed to us in the authentic Gospel of Christ.
GIVING BACK TO GOD [Harry R. Fox, Jr.] 1