Marcus Aurelius said, “Just that you do the right thing, the rest doesn’t matter.” But what is that, and how can you know?
We tend to evaluate all decisions and actions based on outcomes. But we don’t control any outcomes, really, do we? We are not playing chess with God with each move causing his next reaction to how well we do. Instead, we in Christ really can know the best thing, the next right thing, the highest good. That’s what Summum Bonum – the highest good – is really about.
We can get so caught up in what’s wrong, what deserved, what will have the best result. Summum Bonum means what is the best thing right now regardless of outcome. Can you afford to do the best thing regardless of cost or consequence? What if the best thing isn’t the thing you most need in the moment? Gets tough, right?
Here’s a technical definition:
“Summum Bonum: The greatest good; the ultimate importance, the singular and most ultimate end which human beings ought to pursue.”
Check out Mark 12:28-34
Jesus was asked the greatest commandment and said the command to love God and others was the highest (making two commands one), and the scholar wisely replied they were the sum of the law.
Here’s the problem, it is close, but not fully reconciled according to Jesus, to kingdom life.
Love as law is still law. It is still trying to self justify by one’s effort, which will ultimately condemn you every time to live by it.
Paul taught that the law came so that sin might become even greater, teaching us to fall heavily on grace in Jesus Christ. The command wasn’t given to bring righteousness, but to prove we can’t ever be self-righteous. So a law of love in the mosaic sense just condemns us as not all that loving day in and day out.
But then, Jesus said He gives a new law to the disciples – to love one another. How is that different?
There is an economy of law that condemns: trying to be good enough by loving. But there is an economy of love that lacks nothing and affords selflessness. Living from Christ as our Source.
Jesus is saying to his beloved disciples that they should love from the overflow of being loved. They should live as deeply loved people not needy of love from people, but free to love them out of the love they’ve already received. It’s not keeping the law to meet our need, but loving from the fullness already ours by grace. Big difference!
Paul said we know love by God loving us with the sacrifice of His worthy life given for unworthy sinners. The Summum Bonum of life is love born of needlessness. Not trying to be a good person, not trying to justify by doing the right thing, not trying to earn or please God. Not becoming more life able by loving. Truly loving for another. It’s true love for others because only from His fullness can it be selfless, agape, unconditional love. If I love others to be who I ought, I am just being nice to get my own needs met. It’s selfish. If I love to get love back, same thing – selfish.
And the only way to love like Christ is to be so loved we need no gain or justification for loving another. In its simplest, Summum Bonum in the Christian life simply means what is truly best, instead how can I gain.
At its deepest, Summum Bonum for us in Christ means overflowing with love from God, even at our expense that Christ can afford, for others.
When I remember this, my heart swells even for those who send me hate email! LOL.
My desire is not the I would impact my family and friends but that they would know God more regardless of anything I do. My desire is for them, not me. Because that is the nature of Christ within me. That’s the impact of being truly loved and set free in Jesus.
The only way to live the best life, the highest good, is to live from God. The most enjoyable you is walking out of the fellowship of your union with Christ already yours by grace. The union is His gift of grace. Walking in sync with Him is your choice by faith. He does it, but you get to choose it, or to live out of your own neediness from the world.
If you are to know Him and experience His love and joy and peace as your own, it will be through participating in His life as He loved and edifies and encourages and calms others.
Thomas Aquinas listed a bunch of things the ancients thought of as good, as Summum Bonum, but ultimately all are fleeting except God Himself – He is your greatest good.
…to know and be known by God. To love and be loved by God. This is a believer’s reality in Christ. Paul said the greatest of all is love in 1 Cor. 13. But we cannot produce it, or it speaks of us not God. Our merit, not His grace.
Each morning in our broadcast, we say we should live every day to 1) KNOW Christ more, GROW in grace, and GO LOVE like crazy. He is the Source (we know Him), we trust Him (grow in grace), and He loves others through us (love like crazy). That’s it.
To know Him is to be free.
To grow in grace is to live from Him instead of self at center as source.
To go love others like crazy is the selflessness of His life embraced even sacrificially through you – not as martyrs – but as agents of His grace and instruments of God’s love.
To me, this is the “how to” of Summum Bonum, the summit of a great life, the highest good:
Know Him. He’s the empowering and inspiring source of life.
Grow in Him: make dependence and trust of Him the vehicle of your life. The how to of everything.
Go love like crazy. Radical availability of His trustworthiness empowers reckless affordability of His love and grace toward others.
QoD: “What might Summum Bonum/the highest good, the best life, look like today for you?”