Biblical Love And Its Practical Effects
Years ago, I penned a version of the following for a church newsletter. Since then, I have become all the more convinced of its validity. Here I need to qualify that becoming more convinced of the truth of what I’m about to say hasn’t simply been an exercise in speculative theology. Rather the premise has been solidified, according to God’s sovereign grace, through personal experience. At many points, through painful personal experience.
The premise is this:
It matters how we ultimately define the words that are so commonplace in the Christian vernacular. It matters a lot.
Unity. Grace. Truth. Love.
These are beautiful, weighty, biblical words. And yet, there is an insidious trap that entails using a word apart from its biblical definition and implications. When this occurs that word becomes, at best, a silly caricature. It becomes an empty shell of its intended beauty, complexity, and substance. At worst? It becomes a weapon to be carelessly wielded in the hands of the oft (but not always) unsuspecting fool. Perhaps this observation seems unloving? Allow this to serve as a case in point.
The Bible is replete with the word love. We see that love is one attribute of God’s very nature (1 Jn 4:7). This reality is on full display in God’s revelation of Himself through the giving of His law. In the first table of the Ten Commandments God commands love for Himself (Ex 20:1-11), whereas in the second table He commands love for one’s neighbor (Ex 20:12-17). The Lord Jesus reiterates the command to love God and others (Matt 22:34–40; Mk 12:28–34; Lk 10:25–28), perfectly personifying and displaying the love of God at the cross (Jn 3:16, Rom 5:8). Indeed, it is at the cross where the mysterious and incomprehensible tension of God’s perfect justice and His perfect love are most fully displayed (Rom 3:24-25). God’s love for us in and through Jesus should be the fuel that propels our love for others (1 Jn 4:19).
For Christ’s followers, we see that it is, in fact, our love for one another that reveals whether we truly belong to Him (Jn 13:35).
Christian, this deserves a sober pause. Look at these words in 1 John:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 Jn 4:20
The Bible just said that we testify to whether or not we are truly God’s redeemed by whether we love other Christians. Can it then be overemphasized how important it is for us to fully understand what biblical love looks like?
What does it mean to love one another? Is it mere politeness? Certainly, the biblical definition of love amongst God’s people is not devoid of kindness. Or of patience, or gentleness, or a spirit of forgiveness (1 Cor 13:4-8). Biblical love is all of these things. But is it more?
C.S. Lewis once famously said “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness”. If you are a parent (and have been one for more than a second) you should be able to relate. There is a splendid and godly solemnity that resides within the soul of a dad or a mom, ready to confront anything that could seriously harm or kill his or her child. Imagine a father indifferently watching his toddler stumble step toward a busy street. Imagine this father saying or doing nothing to prevent his child from stepping into certain death, or perhaps only mildly inviting the child to turn and come away from the danger. Now, imagine the utter insanity it would be to commend this father’s behavior as “loving”. It’s a dramatic example to be sure, but it illustrates the point - sometimes (read: often) love looks like stern confrontation.
The Apostle Paul would agree with Lewis’s assertion:
“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14).
Paul’s love for Christ and his love for Peter compelled him to rebuke Peter sternly (and publicly) for his Christ-dishonoring hypocrisy. And God saw fit to inspire Paul to write this awkward but loving exchange down in scripture.
For God’s people, loving one another is a life-on-life, oftentimes messy, undertaking. Life in the Body is a contact sport. More than mere civility, more than mere acquaintance, the “for our ultimate good” sanctification (Rom 8:28) that occurs within Christian community is often, by God’s design, uncomfortable. God has bound His people together in Jesus so that we might be shaped into His image. Sadly, there seems to be no shortage of cautionary tales of local churches plagued by a lovelessness that is characterized by things like infighting and gossip, the clique mentality, or domineering leadership.
For some of you who are reading this, these aren’t simply impersonal anecdotes - you’ve lived out and endured these scenarios. And yet there are other perhaps more subtle marks of lovelessness amongst professing Christ-followers: Apathy masked as kindness. Cowardice masquerading as graciousness.
Some might imagine a “loving” environment as one where nothing difficult is ever said and where conflict is never present. An environment that is nothing but affirmation and inspiration. The biblical picture of love, however, shatters this misconception. Genuine Christian love doesn’t nod to me politely as I drift into danger. Love doesn’t turn a blind eye of passive indifference to sin (in general), nor does it refuse to confront me with Christlike sternness when my particular sin is on display.
As G.K. Chesterton once said:
“[True biblical] Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind”.
Might our churches be filled with those who are bound together in the perfect love of Christ (Col 3:14) to glory of God the Father.
Christ is All,
Jon Bloom - Struggling To Love Article
Marshall Segal - Rebuke As Love Article