Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Truth about Love

Photo courtesy of kaniths
It should be no surprise to any of us that love is, perhaps, the most oft quoted attribute of God. This is for good reason. 1 John 4:8 tells us as much, "for God is love." Indeed, one cannot conceive of any other attribute of God without first considering His unending, unconditional love for His creation. God loved enough to create us. He loved enough to give us free will and when we used that free will to disobey Him, He sent His Son, whom He loved, to die in our stead. The Gospels and the message of Jesus are replete with the command to love, not only those who love us, but even those who do not. To try and comprehend God or His Word without looking through the lens of love is the acme of foolishness. However, it has come to my attention that God's love, and our concept of the godly love we are to display, has been tragically perverted over the years.

Recently, I have seen the transformation of godly, biblical love into a love that would never tell someone that which they do not want to hear. That is, if I truly love someone I would never confront them about sin or wrong doing because that, in short, "isn't very nice." Also, if I am to preach and act in love it would never cause division between myself and someone else, or a group of people. My dear friends, if we only take the Gospels into consideration we find that such is not always the case. Furthermore, I believe that if we strip true love of its ability to address sin and transgression we are, at the same time, stripping both the Old and New Testaments of the basis of their power and robbing the good from the news.

Here is the way I see it. Jesus Christ always acted in a loving way. He could do no other. While He was on this earth He ministered to a wide variety of people and showed them the love of the Father one-hundred percent of the time. However, His love was not always received as such. His love for the religious elite of the time required that He address the sin in their lives and the bankruptcy of their religion. This, in the end, led to them calling for His execution. By nature, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is going to be divisive because it meets the sin in our lives head-on. Never will it leave us their hopelessly dangling over the chasm of hell though. As the Gospel hurts us as it cuts away the deep seated patterns and habits in our lives it also heals as it transforms us into new men and women in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul is very clear, along with the rest of the Bible, on what love really is. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines it in this way;

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account wrong suffered, does not rejoice is unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Most of us are familiar with that passage and it is often the subject of the homily in a wedding service. The commonly held beliefs about love are certainly present in this definition; kindness, humility, forgiveness, patience, endurance, etc. However, what many people want to pass over are the more unpleasant aspects of this cornerstone attribute. Notice that love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. Love, true love, does not gloss over sin and wrongdoing. It forgives it, but it does not pretend it does not exist. The brand of love that is being sold by the world, and a great number of Christians, is a cheap kind of love. It is cheap because it is more akin to kindness and it is far easier to carry out than godly love. Sometimes the most difficult thing for us to do is tell someone they're wrong. Yet, at the same time it is also one of the most loving things we can do.

Imagine for a moment that we are granted the opportunity that the rich man and Lazarus were given. That is, to see through the great divide between heaven and hell. I wonder how many people will be in hell wishing that someone they knew had not been so "nice" to them by withholding the truth about sin and salvation, and instead had loved them enough to tell it.

I suppose the root of this problem is that there are basically two camps within Christianity. Those who believe the Bible is God's Word and accept it as authoritative, and those who do not. If we say that the Bible is the truth then it is clear that God's love for His people has not always been pleasant. You see, it was because of God's love that He sent Israel into exile so that they could learn to follow and worship Him alone. It was because of God's love for humanity that He offered to withhold His wrath from Sodom and Gomorrah should just a few righteous people be found. God loved Saul so much that He was willing to put him on his back and blind him for three days in order to prove Himself to the future missionary. The ultimate example is, of course, God sending His Son to suffer the punishment that was due to all of us. Needless to say, I doubt Jesus felt very loved as He hung on the cross that day.

I understand that many may disagree with my assessment here. They may say that I preach the love of Christ and then do not show it with my actions because I am willing to make the claim that God calls certain behaviors sin. I say that it is because of my love that I make such claims.

Now I must turn my attention to those who do agree with my definition of love but use it as a weapon of torment and torture rather than a surgeon's scalpel. Just as there are those who cheapen the definition of love by ignoring the truth, there are also those who ignore the compassionate aspects as well. We have seen far too many so-called Christians waving signs with slurs and terms of hatred towards those who are blatantly sinful. While some of what they say may be true the manner in which they say it is far from the grace of Christ. True love understands that we are all sinful and has compassion on those who have not yet experienced the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ. True love recognizes that I am only able to love because God first loved me. He does not love me as a result of my personal righteousness or that fact that I am not _____________ (fill in your favorite type of sinner). He loves me because 1) He created me, and 2) because of the Christ in me. Godly love admits that none of us are "lovable" on our own and we are all susceptible to sins of various strains. Knowing that we reach out with the honest, tender love of our Savior.

There are a great number of people who would still call me hateful even after this explanation of my position. For those, I have nothing further because it is not true love that you are after. Why? I believe it is because it is easier and more expedient for you to say that I do not have love than it is for you to deal with truth about it. If you want to fill churches to capacity then that is fine. Continue to tell everyone that God loves them (true) and has no moral standards (false). People will feel soothed and, to them, religion will be serving its purpose as a warm blanket when one is ill. Yes, churches may be filled and public opinion may rise but heaven will be gaining no new citizens and the road to hell will be paved with your good intentions. Finally, you may not think I am very loving, and that is your right. However, I am going to continue to seek the affirmation and guidance of God Almighty and if I can, in some small way, show His brand of love to the world then I will be satisfied.

Godspeed,
Christian

2 comments:

Charlanne said...

Amen, amen, amen!

Nana said...

My kind of pastor!