Humans are weird. And most of us realize the added mix of total depravity explains some of our weirdness. Sin even affects believers and causes us to partake in irrational behaviors. One peculiar action we do is our inaction because someone else does it wrong. I’ve engaged many people who balk at the encouragement to love others because worldly people, some associated with that other political party, encourage the world to love others. The world has its own definition of love including characteristics like: lust, self-love, condone everyone else’s desires, don’t tell someone she is wrong, and of course tolerance (which ironically went away after the last presidential election).
I join in the choir of disgust at the world’s definition of love. But I’m not shocked at all. Believers who understand Romans 1:18 will not be shocked when unbelievers act like unbelievers. Why? Because we cannot expect unregenerate people to act like regenerate people. So what confuses me is when people balk or push back on the exhortation to love others. I hear, “Oh, you want me to love, that’s the liberal’s response!” . . . Well, I have bad news for those who think like this, “You’re influenced by the world. Not the Word.” The world, what you’re trying to avoid, is influencing you to deny biblical exhortation. Simply not acting like the world does not mean acting biblically. We can deny the world and Word’s definition of love at the same time. So, why allow the world’s wrong use of a concept to influence us to not love? Instead, we need to fight for love because the world needs to see and hear about the Savior’s love!
love is a command
In this world filled with false understandings of love, we as God’s children need to double down and commit over-time to love. Instead of only running from what is wrong, we need to ask, “What is right?” and commit to it. I don’t want my neighbors’ wrong views about an issue to prevent me from acting faithfully to our Lord.
Consider this small offering from Scripture:
- “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
- “This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:7).
- “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).
- “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that you should love one another” (1 John 3:11).
- “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14-15).
- “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18)
Not only are we called to love, but teachers need to make sure their teaching points people to this action, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Augustine says, “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (On Christian Doctrine 1.36.40). God places great significance on love.
What is love? I think it’s important to highlight, the following indicates love is primarily an action. Paul says,
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 a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Love is built upon the character and actions of God. Scripture ties our love for others into His character. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). There are a plethora of other Scriptures, but this one suffices. Love is from God. We know, experience, and rely upon His love. As His children, we live it towards others to honor Him!.
Stuart Scott, in The Exemplary Husband, summarizes biblical love as, “A selfless and enduring commitment of the will to care about and benefit another person by righteous, truthful, and compassionate thoughts, words, and actions.”.
Notice, love is primarily an action: Love is “A selfless and enduring commitment of the will to care about and benefit another person by righteous, truthful, and compassionate thoughts, words, and actions.”
Notice the rightful biblical recipient to our love: Love is “A selfless and enduring commitment of the will to care about and benefit another person by righteous, truthful, and compassionate thoughts, words, and actions.”
Notice how love should be practiced: Love is “A selfless and enduring commitment of the will to care about and benefit another person by righteous, truthful, and compassionate thoughts, words, and actions.”
Bound in love are other biblical truths, tied directly to our Lord’s character: humility, patience, righteousness, truth, compassion, kindness, action, speech, and prepared actions. To act and know biblical love is to dive into an ocean and while tasked to drink at the same time, all of it. It is an overwhelming concept we must pursue.
Love and Truth
I have a second favorite response to love. “But sometimes you need to speak truth.” The appropriate internet response to this is a GIF or meme, I’m convinced of it . . . not really. This response is unfortunately culturally acceptable among conservative churches, of which I fit into. Listen, if you’re reading love as an action devoid of truth. Or truth as an action devoid of love, you’re missing something here. These concepts do not dwell on opposite ends of the spectrum like conservative and liberal do on the political scale. These concepts should be husband and wife, one flesh, best friends who dwell together.
Our love is guided by the truth, the character of God, and the cross of Christ. But our truth needs to be bathed in love too. When you speak truth to a person, you are speaking to edify, reconcile, encourage, and exhort. Many Scriptures tell us the way to do this is through gentleness (Gal 6:1-3; 2 Tim 2:24-26; Eph 4:1-3; Rom. 2:4). God does not condone being a jerk. “But Jesus flipped over the tables in the Temple.” Yes he did. I’m constantly reminded by my repentance that 1. I’m not God in the flesh 2. I’m not in a Temple confronting false worship and 3. Those other verses indicate to me I’m to speak with gentleness and love. Scripture not only talks about the content of my speech, but also the manner of my speech. So it is only speaking truth when the way I communicate exemplifies biblical speech!
Love is essential when engaging others. Without it, we are nothing. Deny love in your truth and you’re just a noisy gong and a clanging symbol.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Living in a results driven world creates impatience for us. We think we love, don’t get the results we want, and then try a different (unloving) tactic. But this fails. Our love must be long-suffering filled trusting the Holy Spirit to act when He deems it right! The object of my love may never change, but I will be held accountable for how I love regardless of the “results.” Paul exhorts us,
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:8-13).