Be Holy To Love Each Other

Ever since the publication of Unclean I've been wrestling with the relationship between holiness and hospitality. Etymologically, holiness means to be "set apart," to create a social and moral separation between the "clean" and the "unclean," between the "holy" and the "profane."

Given this understanding we can see why holiness and hospitality pull us in two different directions.

But as I argue it in Unclean, Jesus resolves the tensions by radically rethinking what it means to be holy. According to Jesus, loving God (the pursuit of holiness) is equated with loving your neighbor (the pursuit of hospitality). This is illustrated time and again in the gospels where the Pharisees achieve holiness by moral and social exclusion and separation from tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. By contrast, Jesus regularly eats with and welcomes tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes, declaring that God desires mercy (hospitality) and not sacrifice (holiness via exclusion).

In thinking about Jesus's conflation of hospitality and holiness I was struck recently by the associations made in 1 Peter about the relationship between holiness and love:
1 Peter 1.13-16, 22
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
Notice how the call to holiness--"be holy"--is connected to a very specific goal: purify yourself "so that you have sincere love for each other."

Here's how 1 Peter 1.22 is rendered in some other translations:
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,

NRSV: Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
We are called to be holy as God is holy. We are to purify ourselves.

But what is the goal of holiness? For what purpose is purity?

The purpose and the goal of holiness and purity is that we will have sincere, genuine, deep and mutual love for each other.

Holiness and purity are not the opposite of love. Holiness and purity are the cultivation of love.  The holy person is the loving person. The pure person is the loving person.

Be holy to love each other.

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13 thoughts on “Be Holy To Love Each Other”

  1. Thanks for writing these thoughts,Richard. I was discussing radical hospitality with the new minister at my DoC congregation the other day, and have been thinking about Unclean a lot since then. 1 Peter and 1 John help greatly for us to "go and learn what this means..."

    As with the Sabbath, holiness and purity are made for man, not man for holiness and purity.

  2. Perhaps holiness could be regarded as the development of a robust moral immune system. An immune system separates between the pure and impure within a person's body. However, the great benefit of an immune system is that we can safely operate in 'impure' contexts. It is the person whose immune system is shot who has to live in a sterile environment.

  3. 'Ever since the publication of UncleanI've been wrestling with the relationship between holiness and hospitality.'

    There is this amazing blog post that totally resolved this for me, perhaps you have read it:

  4. And would not love, coming full cycle, shape our understanding and expectations of purity, in that it saves us from holding others to a higher standard of purity than we do for ourselves?

    In growing up in very conservative circles, the standard that men held for women was much higher than the one they held themselves to. And Christians in general easily demanded a purity from "the world" that they easily excused themselves for breaking with a simple "Well, I have a weakness that is forgiven by grace; unlike the world that does not see the same sin as being wrong".

    This love coming full cycle is what Jesus practiced in his embracing of the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors. It allows us to embrace another without the fear of "Am I excusing this person?", while keeping ourselves totally open before God, sins and all, freeing us to be totally radical in our mercy. Radical mercy is the purity that saves a nation, as it shocks our pretended goodness and shakes the pedestals that we build for ourselves. It is while we are in shock, trying to hold on for dear life that the tax collectors and sinners enter the kingdom before us.

  5. I think that's a misleading analogy, because it leaves intact precisely what Jesus subverts, viz., the category itself of purity/impurity, of pure and impure people. When Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19b) he was speaking metonymically (i.e., kosher food = Jewish people), and thus he was declaring all people clean, all people clean (i.e., uncontaminated, and, more, uncontaminating). One doesn't need an "immune system" because (to continue your analogy) there is no disease. Thus Jesus can touch the scabby, the bloody, the dead, and cavort with whores and other notorious "sinners", rabbinically untouchable, not because he is (spiritually) inoculated but because there is nothing to catch. And what Jesus does we may all do, in fact, we are all called to do, viz., transcend the anthropological concept of boundary altogether. Hence, yes, radical hospitality.

    If this sounds revolutionary, it sure is. Indeed, it was so revolutionary that the disciples themselves didn't get it, as is demonstrated by the story of the so-called conversion of Peter in Acts 10. I say "so-called" because the more apposite title is the conversion of Peter himself, who was still thinking in terms of kosher/unkosher food (i.e., Jew/Gentile) (Acts 10:14) despite Jesus having explicitly rendered the dichotomy nugatory. And many Christians still don't get it, say, with respect to LGBT people, who are often called "filthy" or "disgusting", terms drawn -- yep -- from the discourse of purity/impurity. The only purity that now counts is the "purity of heart" of Matthew 5:8, which is an integrity of gracious intent to welcome and embrace the Other. If anything is catching, it is that purity, the purity of heart incarnate in Jesus himself (who is the iconic subject of all the Beatitudes).

    Mark Twain nailed the exclusionary distortion of faith in his delicious parody of Titus 1:15: "To the pure, all things are unpure."

  6. Thanks for the response.

    I disagree, however. The New Testament continues to employ the category of purity and impurity, albeit in a transformed sense. In the heart of hospitality—the celebration of the Supper—the language of purity is retained. Immoral persons are 'leaven' that leavens the whole lump and which must be purged out (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). We are instructed not to keep company or eat with sexually immoral persons in the Church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Other persons are described as 'spots' and 'blemishes' in our love feasts (2 Peter 2:13; Jude 12). Yet other persons are defiling 'roots of bitterness' that must be removed from the community (Hebrews 12:15; cf. Deuteronomy 29:18). The scribes and Pharisees are defiling 'whitewashed tombs' and their teaching is another defiling form of 'leaven'.

    The widespread New Testament theme of washing to remove defilement is crucial here. The point of Peter was not that there was never any such thing as unclean persons, but that formerly unclean Gentiles had been cleansed and purified, so were unclean no longer (Acts 11:9; 15:9). In Christ there is a contagion of purity. As for homosexual relations, the language of disgust and impurity is heavily in evidence in Romans 1, for instance ('dishonour', 'uncleanness', 'vile', 'against nature', 'shameful', 'debased'). 1 Corinthians 6:11 presents us with the purification of the formerly sexually immoral. Now persons of all kinds are set apart as God's holy temple. However, the temple can still be 'defiled', especially by sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:13-20).

    The purity of the new covenant is the purity of the new temple of the Holy Spirit, a purity established in the Church and the Christian by the Spirit and faith. It isn't a purity established by removing ourselves from the defiling context of the world—the purity of quarantine. It is a contagion of purity that flows out from us, like living water from the temple, nullifying all possible defilement and rendering all clean to us (and I believe that this is to be related to the new covenant work of the Spirit in particular, by whom the contagion of purity is spread). However, the temple can still be defiled by sin—especial emphasis being placed upon sexual immorality of various kinds, which is sin against our own body. This sin is not external sin, but sin that arises from within the temple itself. There are defiled persons (cf. Titus 1:15), but that defilement comes from within (Matthew 15:18-20).

  7. I disagree, however.

    Quelle surprise! ;)

    Of course I am aware of all the texts from the Bible you cite. Interestingly, none of them are from the gospels (except the last one, which I think rather proves my point, not yours). It will horrify you for me to say that they confirm to me that not all the epistles themselves have caught up with Jesus, who alone is the hermeneutical key for critiquing all scripture, but there it is. And I could go on to speak of "trajectories". But I don't think that's necessary; I think we "understand" each other. For me, it's finally a question, as Richard puts in Unclean (though in quoting Richard I open myself to being put by him in my place!), it's a question of the "will to embrace" trumping the "will to purity", and I remain unsatisfed, unconvinced that this is the case in your own theological ethics, particularly with respect to same-sex love.

    In good faith,

  8. Is not love enhanced by purity? If I struggle with lust, it is hard for me to love women without twisted motives. If I struggle with anger and bitterness, who is safe around me? If I struggle with covetousness and stealing, are your goods safe with me? It is purity that enables me to love without condition. It isn't something to make God or others like me better....that's twisting it again. It is not something I impose upon others so I can accept them. And it isn't something that I am always mourning for that which I have not yet achieved. It is not something by which I measure my self worth. But greater purity will increase the capacity to love unconditionally, and the desire for greater purity will be driven by desire to love unconditionally (and to have received love unconditionally, for that matter, which is where the ball starts rolling).

  9. Which, however, begs the question: what is purity? -- I mean, as deconstructed and reconstructed by Jesus. It is not purity as we know it, Spock. (Jesus redefines the virtues, usually in counter-intuitive, topsy-turvy ways.) Kierkegaard said: "Purity of heart is to will one thing." What might that thing be?

  10. Good question....we could hold an entire philosophers cafe around that one. It might be easier to think how we live in relation to others than to precisely define, for as we live in relation to others we are constantly having to adjust what it means to love and live. Jesus DID say "blessed are the pure in heart," and that all the commandments are summed up in "Love God and love your neighbor." It's probably best to start with the trajectory rather than the target (you can tweet that one).....if we are committed to truly loving one another (and learning to live knowing we are loved unconditionally), we'll probably end up there (and may not know where "there" is until we get there). Peter talks of how love covers a multitude of sins....I think I would rather err on the side of love that any sort of legalistic purity.....

  11. Amen, Richard.

    Jesus is holy (set apart) because of His inclusiveness, which is different to how the world functions.

  12. We are declared holy…by Jesus and for His sake (not even for our own sakes).

    Not because of anything that we do, say, feel, or think. But out of His good and gracious will for sinners. For the ungodly. People like you…and me.


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