According to the famous Whitney Houston song, the greatest love of all is to love oneself.
Travelling back in time long before Grammy awards were handed out, we find that Jesus, (according to the Gospel of John), had a different idea:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.Well at least Green recognized that Jesus was teaching something different that what our culture says so he gets a point there. It all goes downhill from there.
John 15:13 (NIV)
But, the Apostle Paul (not-surprisingly) had his own take on it:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Romans 5:7-8, 10 (NASB)
I find several things interesting about this. First, I have to side with Paul on this. I know he usually comes across like an arrogant know-it-all, what with his self-declared apostleship and talk of trips to the Third Heaven, but when he’s right, he’s right. Dying for one’s enemies, for those who are unworthy, is a hell of a lot more nobler and impressive than dying for one’s friends. Friends mean something to you. An act of self-sacrifice for a friend, while admirable, is not unthinkable, but dying for an enemy is a very strange thing indeed.
What I find most interesting that J.M. Green (who wrote this post) thinks that Jesus and Paul are saying contradictory things to one another. I should point out that he later changed the post to say that dying for one's enemies is "unusual". Let's look at the context for John 15:13.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. - John 15:9-17
It should be obvious that Jesus is not talking to the same audience as Paul was talking to. Jesus was talking his followers and admonishing them to love one another. And they were all Jesus' friends (except Judas). Paul was talking about the love Jesus has for all us.
So, sorry Jesus, but Paul wins this round. You really should have thought that line through a bit more carefully (or at least, the gospel writer who placed that line of dialog in your mouth should have). That sort of easy mistake tends to undermine the idea that you were supremely wise. And, if you truly had foreknowledge, you would have known that Paul would come along and trump your pronouncement.
Interesting how Green gives Paul's context but not Jesus' context. Either he is ignorant or dishonest. Also Paul did not say the dying for your enemies is greater than loving your friends. He was saying that Jesus showed His love for us in that he died for us inspite of us being His enemies. Green is still Jesus' enemy. Green is arguing that Jesus did not tell us to love our enemies. Is there a single scripture that tells us not to love our enemies? Not a chance. In fact we have the opposite. Jesus said:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Matthew 5:43-45
I know this may seem minor to some of you, but when a ‘mere ma’n one-ups the ‘Son of God’ in defining the highest pinnacle of love, then that is somewhat of a big deal.
Paul didn't contradict Jesus here. I would argue that no where did Paul contradict Jesus. Atheists will have to do better than this to prove this canard.
The other interesting thing is how often the teachings of Paul are at odds with the teachings of Jesus. Oh I know, the letter to the Romans was written decades before the Gospel of John and all, but still, these kind of discrepancies in the ‘amazing unity of the Bible’ should give Christians pause. But, sadly it doesn’t seem to. Perhaps another time, we will take a look at some of more pronounced differences between Paul’s gospel, and that of the Jesus he claimed to have been personally selected and tutored by.
Written by J. M. Green
Poor J.M. Green Of course an outright contradiction should give us cause in accept Christianity. The
Debunking Christianity: Jesus Versus Paul: The Greatest Love?