Study Guide: Focusing on the Center: Love Does Not Seek its Own

Sunday November 17, 2002 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

This week Greg focused again on I Corinthians 13:5: “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” He started this sermon with a review of the past few months.

Extended Summary:

This week Greg focused again on I Corinthians 13:5: “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” He started this sermon with a review of the past few months. The “big picture” of God’s goal for creation is that we will learn to live in the center of His love. This is not a hypothesis, but a lived experience where love comes to us by Jesus Christ. This transforms us, and flows from us to others. God is at the center. As we learned in Genesis 2 and 3, God intended us to enjoy the provision and honor the prohibition “in the center of the garden.” However, our sin has turned this intention inside out. Now we are at the center, seeking to get our own provision and thus violating the prohibition. Life becomes a stage of idols that we hope will meet our needs, but in the end, these idols fail. This week, Greg stated that another way to visualize this situation is to picture life as a circle.

As we have learned previously, when we place ourselves in the center we inevitably operate out of emptiness. To fill that emptiness we focus on the perimeter (people, events, and things). We scheme how we can control and get life from these items. Consequently, we will experience irritation and resentment because of the competition for control of these finite things. In contrast, if God were at the center of our life, the circle would look different.

This diagram illustrates that when our focus is on Jesus we let go of trying to control those objects on the perimeter. We receive life from Jesus, and therefore see people through the eyes of Jesus (II Corinthians 5:14-17). This mindset frees us from needing to control the perimeter in order to receive life. Next, Greg applied this framework to both the church and the individual.

A church marked by the first diagram seeks to experience life by meticulously defining the perimeter. Consequently, these churches spend a lot of time distinguishing between “who is in” and “who is out.” A problem with this mindset is the never-ending pursuit to differentiate between the two. For example, a particular style of clothing might be appropriate for some churches, and inappropriate for others. Yet, for some the question might not be the style of clothing, but the occasion for wearing it. For still others, the question might be not when to wear the particular clothing, but its color. Clearly, these questions could go on and on. The point is that these churches are passionate about figuring out the details of being a Christian at the expense of living through the Center, which is Jesus. Behavior like this divides rather than unites the church. This type of church community typically believes that rules change people, not relationships. Greg’s call for focusing on Jesus instead of the “perimeter” might sound scary because it opens the door for anyone to attend church. Greg responded to that concern by saying that Jesus lived without focusing on the “perimeter.” His community was full of people who did not “fit in” or who were not “respectable.” Jesus’ invitation is, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Our job is to love unconditionally and not to stand in judgment. If life comes from the Center, then we need not focus on the “perimeter.”

Greg illustrated a healthy church with another diagram. All of the components point in the same direction. What holds them together is not the perimeter, but the center, which is Jesus Christ. In a church with a strong center, the focus will be reliance upon the Holy Spirit to guide and convict people (John 16:5-15). In addition, the church leadership’s attention to casting a vision, preaching, and modeling will encourage the congregation to focus on Jesus. Finally, a church with a strong center will have a solid sense of community. Communities of small groups provide the context for people to be known deeply and compassionately.

When we apply the “center/perimeter” framework to individuals, we see similar patterns to what we saw with churches. An individual who lives with themselves in the center, operates from a “suppose to” mentality. They have countless expectations about how people should act. In their attempt to secure life for themselves, they seek to control the “perimeter.” Instead of experiencing life, people who insist on their own way become irritable and resentful. The reason for this irritation and resentment is that, in fact, we cannot control people. God has created people with a certain amount of freedom. Since God gives space to people, we must do likewise. God will transform them into the people he wants them to be.

In contrast, an individual who has Jesus in the center will love people as they are. A person who focuses intensely on Jesus will find that the perimeter takes care of itself. This person is freed from the need to control things. As we have learned throughout this sermon series, our job is to ascribe unsurpassable worth to people. It is through a demonstration of love that we can influence people. An individual with Jesus as the center will have healthy boundaries; however, that person will not live with a focus on the perimeter.

How can we be freed from trying to control people? Greg suggested that we must first repent of our desire to control. We must realize that we are not God. Second, we must intensify our focus on Jesus. Only a strong focus on Jesus will free us from concentrating on the perimeters.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Greg defined the “perimeter” as the people, events, and things that turn our focus away from the center of what life should be. When in a person’s life do these “perimeter” issues possess power? What is the result in a person’s life if they focus on the “perimeter”?
  2. Greg shared that in a person’s life whose focus is on Jesus, the “perimeter” things take care of themselves. What did he mean by this?
  3. In the sermon, Greg shared about a time when someone questioned him about his message of not judging others, and instead loving unconditionally. The individual was concerned that if the church adopted such a mindset then a standard of righteousness would be lost. What do you think about this concern?