I recall many years ago being on campus when a “street evangelist” from Inter-Varsity was speaking to a crowd of students. Unlike “the preachers” that annually appear on campuses throughout the country and yell and condemn students, this man was firm in his commitment to biblical truth, but gentle in the way he answered questions from his audience. Still, some students mocked him and yelled at him. Others, like a young woman standing next to me, were frustrated by this man’s emphasis on the centrality of truth and righteousness found in the Scriptures. What they wanted was, as the woman phrased it, for him to talk about love, which was what she said Jesus was about.
Fast forward several decades and the demand for Christians to focus on love has increased exponentially. In my neighborhood, there are signs in many yards saying, “Say No to Hate, Say Yes to Love, Love God, Love Your Neighbor.” “Love makes a family” is a statement used by many to support same sex marriage. It is also used to justify many behaviors which the Scriptures describe as sin. Many unmarried couples say that living together is okay because they love each other. Love is even a reason used by some parents for allowing their children at young ages to make choices about faith, gender, and sexual orientation. And, thus, if anyone disagrees, then they are relegated to the realm of being unloving, a bigot, or a hater. Thus, love is used as a weapon against those who believe certain behaviors are unbiblical and therefore sin.
Let me say that I believe what the Scriptures say about love being the main character trait of God (I John 4:4), that we are to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39), and that love is greater than both faith and hope (I Corinthians 13:13). Yet, the greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). And what does it mean to love God? Jesus says it means to keep his commands (John 14:15). And John writes this:
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (I John 2:3-6 NIV)
What the world, and, sadly, many proclaiming to be Christians, forget is that loving God means following his commands. It is the way we act, not how we feel.
What the focus on love omits is that in the midst of God’s love is found his righteousness. Read the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.(Isaiah 11:5 NIV)
In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Isaiah 16:5 NIV)
God is love and his love is shown in abundance to sinners of all stripes, which includes each one of us. Yet, Paul is very clear that just because we are loved by God and forgiven does not give us license to do whatever feels right to us. Even though God is love, he is also righteous. A great story to illustrate this is the woman caught in adultery:
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the groupand said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11 NIV)
Jesus indeed demonstrated love toward this woman by not condemning her as did her accusers. Yet, what were his final words to her? “Go now and leave your life of sin.” In this, Jesus was both loving and righteous.
It is the devil’s ploy to mistaken love for approval of any behavior in which people choose to engage. And it’s quite clever to convince people to use it as a weapon against righteousness.
And we are seeing that play out in churches across the world. The emphasis veers heavily toward a love that accepts as okay what the Lord has clearly said is not. Is this perhaps why many churches are so ineffective and lacking transformative power, and why so many professing Christians are lukewarm in their faith?
The world has taken something that belongs to God and twisted it into a weapon before which many of us have cowered. We are so afraid of being called or seen as unloving, or labeled a bigot or hater. However, we have a much bigger weapon. It’s called the Sword of the Spirit and it is powerful. It is a weapon of righteousness wielded in love. It is the Word of God and it will be used to call us all to account for our lives In this life, it offers us the guidance we need to love the Lord by obeying him, and to love others by helping them see how much the Lord loves them and wants what is best for them.
Just as Jesus did for the adulterous woman, we love others best by helping them see their need for repentance and embracing how the Lord desires them to live. This is true love.
© Jim Musser 2019