“[I]t is more inhuman to love a man not for being a man but for being your son. For this means not loving in him what belongs to God but loving what belongs to you.” [On True Religion 46, 88 (New City Press)]
Ever since I read this statement, it has bothered me. Is it not alright to love someone for who they are to you? Is it not a noble endeavor to love a woman as your wife, a young lady, or a young man, as your daughter or son? To be fair to him, Augustine was concerned here with the process of healing sin-damaged human nature. This could only be accomplished through a journey toward God and adopting in increasing measure God’s perspective on all matters. It has taken some time, but I am beginning to realize that loving others for who, or what, they are to me, may degenerate into a type of utilitarianism. Their worth then becomes a product of how they function in my overarching plan. The remembrance of a human being as regarded by a good, majestic, and powerful God can facilitate needed accountability.
An assumption in play, though a mistaken one, resides behind the statement by the “master of the house”; “They will respect my son” (Matthew 21:37) in the parable of The imaging of God by image bearers is a mark of God’s ultimate ownership.the evil tenants (Matthew 21:33-41). The master of the house has planted a vineyard and rented it to tenants who were to deliver to him some fruits. Those coming to collect were radically mistreated. The sending of the son, however, expressed the conviction that the tenants would respect him because they should respect the master of the house. The master was wrong in this parable (v. 38), but the principle of a value ascribed to a person because of the majesty and authority of the one who is an advocate, was established. D. A. Carson would suggest that the sending of the son “shows the landowner’s forbearance with the wicked tenant farmers and motivated the ultimate implacability of his wrath” (Matthew, chaps 13-28, p. 452).
This perspective on love based upon loving what belongs to God in a person is primarily for believers. Believers, however, can be a witness to a watching sociocultural setting. What power for the gospel would be unleashed if we more consistently behaved in our churches towards one another out of respect for our God, and not because of what one may be able to do for us. No doubt relationships even within families could be enhanced with greater depths of love and respect. What a model for how we may treat employees, business associates, lawn caretakers, and people in general. We should indeed love one another for who we are to one another. But out of reverence for God, may our love, or our appreciation of others, grow deeper as such reverence for God helps heal our still sin-infested souls.
Maybe Augustine was on to something that has simply taken time for me to appreciate. The imaging of God by image bearers is a mark of God’s ultimate ownership. In all interaction may we as those who belong to Him through the Lord Jesus Christ be found as good practitioners and models.