Love might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of lawyers. It’s unlikely to be referenced on a lawyer’s CV, or measured by their workplace in their career. If love is mentioned in connection with a lawyer, it might be less than flattering – referencing a love of money, or status, or winning. When I told my dad I wanted to qualify as a lawyer, he asked me why they bury lawyers six feet underground. Because, he concluded, deep down they’re very nice people. That’s still one of my favourite lawyer jokes, but like the others I know it suggests that lawyers and love are distant companions.
For Christians who are lawyers, that should not be the case. Jesus was clear about the primacy of love when He was asked about the greatest commandment in the Old Testament, in Matthew 22:36. Jesus famously replied “all the law and the prophets” (v40) hung on two commandments: loving God with our whole beings, which is the greatest commandment; and loving our neighbours as ourselves (vv37-39). Of course, these remain the greatest commandments for lawyers, and this blog aims to explore them and flesh out what following them might look like in practice.
To that end, I’d like to look briefly at one other passage in Scripture that is famously concerned with love – I Corinthians 13. I’m sure that you’ve heard it at any number of weddings, and rightly so because its beauty and truth are timeless. However, with familiarity can come contempt, or at least indifference, so I’d like to take a slightly unusual look at the passage in exploring what loving God and our neighbours might look like for lawyers in practice.
In a nutshell, I Corinthians 13 finds Paul extolling the vital importance of love in making the Christian’s life and ministry meaningful. In the preceding and succeeding chapters he discusses all manner of pastoral issues in the Corinthian church, about which he gives them guidance and instruction. But what he says in those other chapters hinges on, and flows from, what he says here. All of that guidance and instruction is applying and working out in concrete situations the life rooted in, and suffused with, love that he describes in chapter 13. That life is where the Christians in Corinth need to start, and if they pursue that life then it will resolve and overcome many of the issues about which they have written to Paul in the first place.
So, to try and start exploring what it might look like for Christian lawyers to follow Jesus’ greatest commandments to love God and neighbour, living the life of love expounded by Paul, perhaps we could attempt a paraphrase of I Corinthians 13 for lawyers:
If I make the most eloquent submissions in court or sound impressive to clients or colleagues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have great intellect and can fathom all legal principles and all case reports, and if I have a sharp mind that can demolish legal problems, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all my time and energy to my career and give over my health that I may boast in my achievements, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Lawyers should be patient, lawyers should be kind. They should not envy, they should not boast, they should not be proud. Lawyers should not dishonour others, they should not be self-seeking, they should not be easily angered, they should keep no record of wrongs. Lawyers should not delight in confusion and obfuscation, but rejoice with the truth. Lawyers should be reliable, trustworthy, hopeful and consistent in loving God and neighbour.
Love never fails. But where there are stellar legal practices, they will cease; where there are eloquent tongues, they will be stilled; where there is great legal knowledge, it will pass away. For lawyers only know and speak in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a student, trainee or pupil, I talked, thought and reasoned like one. When I became a more experienced practitioner, I put those ways behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.
And now these three remain: career, earnings and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I don’t mean this as a comprehensive statement on how to be a Christian lawyer who loves as Jesus commanded. Indeed, the word that Paul uses for love in I Corinthians 13 supersedes all other loves that humans know – it is agape, the boundless and selfless love of God Himself – so we cannot hope to define it neatly or comprehensively. It defies any single description, and reaches further than we can see. Nevertheless, it is close at hand for Christian lawyers because it is the same love that we have received in boundless measure from God.
So, what difference would it make to your life as a Christian lawyer to love God and your neighbour in this way?