Jesus Versus Paul: The Greatest Love?

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.
John 15:13 (NIV)

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* unusual 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 and would put this kind of love in a category of its own.

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.

I know this may seem minor to some of you, but when a ‘mere man' one-ups the ‘Son of God’ in defining the highest pinnacle of love, then that is somewhat of a big deal.

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 they don'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.

*Edit based on a reader's comment

Written by J. M. Green