The past couple of weeks have been filled with discussions of truth and love and how to balance the two. This article is the second part of a series exploring the idea of truth and love living together in beautiful harmony. The first part, “In Defense of Truth,” sought to understand the value of speaking the truth for Christians and determining how we are to find that truth.
Even greater than truth, though, is the command to love (1 Corinthians 13). This article will examine love and how we can truly demonstrate love to those around us.
Let’s begin with the understanding that none of us deserve God’s love. We stand firmly on the truth of the gospel that, when we least deserve it, God shows us mercy (Romans 5:8). We live confidently knowing that, though we deserve condemnation, he has chosen to give us grace and he is pleased to call us his children.
We are called to likewise love the unlovable.
Over and over throughout the Bible, we are called to love those who least deserve our love. Just as Christ loved us while we were still sinners, we are to demonstrate that same care and concern for the “others” in our lives. Luke 6:27-29 says:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.
Who is your enemy? It’s the troll who hijacks your posts on Facebook. It’s the woman who is trying to get you fired. It’s those miscreants who broke into your home while you were away on vacation.
This is not an easy calling, and Christ understands that. A few verses after he compels us to love our enemies, he continues,
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)
My personal paraphrase of this passage goes like this:
Has someone taken advantage of you? Let them do it again. Has someone hatefully labeled you? Demonstrate to them how much the label doesn’t fit. Has someone infringed upon your rights? Choose to lay down your rights. To do otherwise is to be the same as the world. If we claim to follow Christ, we must love the most unlovable of people.
We are also called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sometimes those closest to us are the hardest to love. It hurts deeply when we feel betrayed by those who bear our own name, and we are quick to push away our fellow Christians. But as followers of Christ, we must humble ourselves and choose to love our brothers and sisters.
Jesus Christ tells us “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Peter urges us to “keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8) and Paul tells us to “above all… put on love” (Colossians 3:14).
Regardless of our differences, we must resolve to demonstrate love for one another.
But what does it mean to love? There is a chasm between saying that we love someone and demonstrating that we love them (1 John 3:18).
Loving our enemies means extending them grace.
While we were still sinners - while we were enemies of God - Christ loved us and gave himself unto death for us. That is the model that we are to follow. Though it seems impossible, even irrational, that is our call.
Our hearts should break for our lost neighbors. We should be willing to sacrifice everything we have for them to understand the grace that Christ extends to us. And I can’t help but feel that if we truly cared for them, we would treat them much differently than we often do now.
I hesitate to discuss any particular topic because the discussion of loving one another is much bigger than any particular segment of our population. With the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage at a federal level, though, we American evangelicals find ourselves at a crossroads in how we approach the LGBT conversation.
Since gay marriage is a legal reality, we must ask ourselves how we as Christians should respond.
The reactions so far have tended to be either jubilation or condemnation. Both of these reactions have claimed to be rooted in love: jubilation in loving celebration of equal rights for all, and condemnation in loving concern for the souls of their fellow Americans.
For many conservatives, they see the LGBT community as falling within the definition of “enemies.” They view the gay lifestyle as one that is explicitly sinful and contrary to the call of Christ, and they want to challenge that community to live for Christ.
I don’t intend to discuss the sinfulness-or-not of the LBGT community - that topic is far beyond this piece. But when we are thinking of confronting anyone living a lifestyle that we consider sinful, shouldn’t we follow the model that Christ himself used when approaching the non-religious?
When Jesus confronted sinners throughout the gospels, he was overwhelmingly graceful. Some examples:
- The Samaritan woman at the well: Jesus engaged with her one-on-one and developed rapport with her. When he had the opportunity to condemn her for her sinful sexual relationships, he chose instead to gently guide her to the gospel - the truth that he was the Messiah who had come to deliver the world from slavery to sin. (John 4: 7-26)
- Zacchaeus, the greedy tax collector: Jesus built a relationship with him by inviting himself over for dinner. Though Christ could have called attention to the man’s sins publicly, he chose not to do so. Instead, he celebrated the man’s heart. (Luke 19:1-10)
- The woman who washed Christ’s feet with tears/perfume: In spite of her sinful lifestyle, Christ valued her heart’s zeal as far greater than that of the devout religious man who had invited him to dinner. (Luke 7:36-50)
- The unclean woman with the bleeding disorder: When she touched his robe and made him “unclean” according to the religious standards of the day, he welcomed her. When he could have condemned her for breaking the religious Law, he encouraged her and told her that she was clean. (Matthew 9:20-22)
When Christ was ministering to a person, he always began by extending him grace. Shouldn't we behave in the same way?
Rather than offering sweeping condemnation on a public platform, build a relationship with that person. Be his friend. Spend time with him. When you’re given a chance to condemn or humiliate him, embrace him and demonstrate the grace that we ourselves have been given.
Loving others isn't about compromising the truth of the gospel - it's about returning to the heart of the law. And the heart of the law begins with grace.
We demonstrate love to a broken world by showing them the grace of God.
It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict sinners of their sin (John 16:8-9). When we condemn the lifestyle of a sinner, we are taking over the work of the Holy Spirit as if it were our own. Surely the Spirit is more effective than I will ever be.
But Christ also had a confrontational side.
Particularly as he related to the religious leaders of the day, Jesus tended to be a bit more brash.
- The Pharisees: Christ repeatedly called them hypocrites for their reliance on the strict observation of the traditional Judaic law rather than depending on the direction of the heart (Matthew 23).
- The Sadducees: Christ told them flat out that they were wrong and that they’d forsaken Scripture and the power of God (Matthew 22:29).
- The religious scribes: Christ accused them of elevating their own religious traditions above the heart of God’s law (Mark 7:5-16).
- Money-changers in the temple: Christ angrily turned over their tables and told them that they’d turned the house of God into a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:15-17).
- The Herodians: Christ called them hypocrites for trying to trap him in a question about paying taxes. (Mark 12:13-17)
When religious leaders forsook the gospel - whether that was by neglecting the truth of Scripture, holding to a legalistic means of grace, or taking advantage of others - Christ boldly and unapologetically confronted them on their hypocrisy.
As we read the gospels, we see that time after time Christ condemned them for reducing the gospel to a series of rules that they compelled believers to follow.
I pray that we do not make that same mistake. Instead, let’s strive to balance truth with love. Let’s stand confident in the truth that we are the redeemed children of God. Let’s rejoice in the grace that Christ has given to us and let’s extend it to a broken world.
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.