Walking In Truth & Love
Rock of Offence Commentary
Love is discussed everywhere today. Yet, a famine of real love exists in the world. Our culture is "love starved" and the evidence is overwhelming. The "free love" movement of the 1960's has mutated into an insatiable desire for sex and intimacy. Almost every commercial on television contains it's message. Movies and television programs are filled with sexual content. Love, when misunderstood and misapplied, can be destructive. It has compromised a whole generation of precious young people.
The Bible speaks a lot about love. Jesus clearly taught that his people are to "walk in love". Yet, much confusion exists on the subject.
"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I
have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men
know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."(John
These instructions are repeated in: 1 Thess. 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11-12, 2 John 1:5. Yet, like many Biblical subjects, the principles are generally misapplied by well meaning people. There are three different types of love in the Greek language of the New Testament; Phileo, eros and agapa.
"This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."(John 15:12-13 KJV)
"Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth
another hath fulfilled the law."(Rom 13:8 KJV)
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in
love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an
offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour." (Eph 5:1-2
Many ignore these different aspects of love and apply society's humanistic understanding to what Jesus taught. Many never look beneath the surface to learn the real meaning. Society's "love" definition is usually embraced (by religious people) as God's highest priority. This popular practice allows God and his intentions toward us to be redefined. The new humanistic love is intensely relativistic and validates many wrong "religious" beliefs. These skewed beliefs are never labeled as wrong--just "different". To declare someone else's belief as "wrong" is considered an act of hate today. Many embrace this distortion of God's love as, "the new Christianity". The popular "buzzword" for this kind of love is "tolerance". And, the buzzword for those who violate its principles is "bigot". Yet, natural human love is vastly different (and inferior) than the love that Jesus and the early church practiced.
- Phileo is natural human love and is rooted in selfishness. It is conditional upon getting something in exchange. Phileo is also known as "brotherly love". When we use the term "humanistic love" in this article we're talking about a form of phileo. In our modern culture, human love is bankrupt. Divorce courts are filled with examples that illustrate this failure.
- Eros is sexual love. Our English word "erotic" originates from its root meaning. Eros also falls under the heading of natural human love. It too is self-centered, conditional and based in the emotions. Young people are especially susceptible to its trappings. Other forms of this kind of love (actually, it's not love at all) are infatuation and physical attraction. Many who are emotionally inexperienced make the serious mistake of thinking "eros" is real love because of its ability to overwhelm the emotions and neutralize common sense.
- Agapa (also agape') is the God kind of love. It is unconditional and selfless. Agape' love does not take offense and it ignores personal hurt. It always gives regardless of whether it gets anything in return. The motivation that drives agape' is the success and betterment of the person on the receiving end--even if the person is an enemy. Someone driven by agape' ignores personal wants and needs. Agape' love is designed to operate within the framework of Christ's blood covenant. Unsaved people are incapable of living the God kind of love. God's nature must be received through salvation (the new birth) before agape' is practiced effectively. When Jesus commanded us to "love one another" he used the word "agape'". His command was not directed at the world--because the world is not spiritually equipped to operate in it. Yet, they take it and change it's meaning to fit their own agenda.
A recent interview on cable news challenged me to think more about this issue. A
popular Hollywood star (now a gay activist) was defending her views why
gay parents should be allowed to adopt young children. During the
interview the host commented that her beliefs opposed the views of many
Christians. Then, a very direct question was asked: "Do you consider
yourself someone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ?" I was more
surprised by the host's question than by the answer. The guest smiled
and responded without hesitation, "Yes". She then proceeded to list some
of the teachings; Love, tolerance, peace...and so on. Yet, she failed to
mention the central teaching (the prerequisite) of Jesus Christ, "You must
be born again". This omission is strange for someone who is considered a follower of Christ! Don't think that I believe homosexuals can't
experience salvation. That wouldn't be true. Those who practice the gay lifestyle can be saved as anyone else. There are no special exceptions. Sin is sin--and all
sin separates us from God. Jesus died on the cross for the sin of
homosexuality just as much as any other. Yet, the fruit of repentance
(turning away from sin) is one of the evidences that a person belongs
to God's family. Most religious people in society want to pick and
choose their favorite Biblical teachings. They use their observance of
these "pet" doctrines as proof of a Godly life. Yet, God's salvation doesn't work that way. Any person who practices homosexuality can enjoy the blessings of salvation--if they're willing to turn away from the sin. Continuing to live the gay lifestyle while calling themselves "Christian" (or a follower of Christ) using "tolerance" and a worldly definition of love as their justification is an example of spiritual deception at its worse.
"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal,
The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the
name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Tim 2:19 KJV)
Many who cite "love" and "tolerance" as universal "world peace" principles taught by Jesus fail to understand that His words are not directed at them. The love Jesus taught (agape') isn't the same kind of love the world believes in (phileo). When Jesus commanded us to "love one another", He is talking to His redeemed people--not the world. Jesus did not teach love as a humanistic principle that brings peace to the earth. If you examine the popular peace philosophy you'll see that its principles are godless. If God is mentioned at all he is "recreated" into a generic man-made god that fits all religions--a false god. Yet, many worship this counterfeit god. One thing is clear; you can't have world peace and an absolute definition of God. They don't mix. You have to decide which ideology is the most important...and the world has decided. Look at the hatred driving the war in the Middle East--and the terrorist organizations seeking to destroy America. Their philosophy is religious to the core. This philosophy hates Christianity...and the violence that drives it is drilled into the minds of their children--the next generation. This war isn't going away anytime soon. Do you think peace can be achieved by embracing a truthful definition about who God is? Since world peace is considered the highest goal--God has to be redefined. The world, in its ignorance has no other choice. Yet, some view the world peace movement as the "new Christianity" or a religious practice that grants them admission to heaven. Don't get taken in by this foolish propaganda.
"They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being
abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." (Titus
There is another interesting article that discusses this subject, Redefining God's Love.
The Jesus Kind Of Love
The "Jesus kind of love" (agape') is at the very center of the new covenant and it carries a specific meaning. Jesus spoke of his commitment to agape' by saying, "I will never leave you nor will I ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5-6). The limited space in this article will not allow me to cover every aspect of this subject. At best, I will touch on some important highlights. Apape' love expresses itself regardless of whether it gets love or hate in return. It is totally selfless and unconditional.
Ever notice how most people love a puppy dog. It always greets them every day eagerly wagging its tail. Even though it does bad things from time to time the dog always wants to please--even when abused. People are drawn to this kind of response because the dog seems to give love unconditionally.
Jesus did not come to earth in response to anything we offered him. He didn't come because of our worthiness. John 3:16 declares that he came because God so loved the world. Jesus is moved by the same love because he is God. Listen to this incredible description of God's love by Saint Paul:
"For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."(Rom 5:6-11 NKJV)
Did you catch that? The Bible says that Christ died for us while we were his enemies? Did you ever try to talk with someone who hates you? It's frustrating because the person is an enemy and has no interest in anything you offer. Jesus gave his life to save a world full of people who are enemies. Most still have no knowledge of what he provided for them. Jesus wasn't obligated to die on the cross in the face of such ingratitude and indifference. No one from earth made this request of him. Yet, he came and died for his enemies. Love drove him to the cross. Paul declares this a demonstration of God's agape' love. It is here we begin to get a glimpse into God's love. It defies human reason.
Again, Paul speaks about the depth of God's love...
"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39 KJV)
Saint Paul, formerly a man who hated Jesus Christ and what he stood for persecuted the first century church. He was touched by God's love one day on the road to Damascus. It's commonly said of Paul, "Here is a man that once persecuted Christ's church--and now he's preaching its message! I'm sure many who knew Paul took a closer look at the Gospel because of the change in his life.
Jesus also demonstrated agape' love in a personal way--one on one. Jesus is known as the "friend of sinners". Agape' love is the reason. There is a contrast in the Scripture text below. It parallels a similar condition that exists today in some places. Notice the accusatory attitude of the religious leaders demanding the women's death...
"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." (John 8:3-11 KJV)
I'm continually amazed at the compassion and forgiveness Jesus showed common folks. And, I'm equally amazed at the anger he exhibited toward the religious hierarchy. He constantly placed them in embarrassing situations and openly condemned their hypocrisy and teachings. Some try to paint Jesus as a type of 60's "flower child" that only spoke of peace and love. Yet, the Bible reveals that he reached out in compassion and forgiveness to the common folks and insulted those that distorted the truth. We can see that the compassionate response came from his love for people and his concern over how God's character was misrepresented to them. The Bible says that Jesus saw people as "sheep without a shepherd". His anger was reserved for those who distorted truth for personal advantage and were unworthy and unfit shepherds. I believe these two sides of Jesus still exist today. God's love consists of both compassion--and a "jealousy" for truth. In the text above Jesus totally released this woman from her sin by saying, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." This is not just amazing grace--it's amazing love.
The story of the woman at the well(John 4:7-30) is another example. I won't quote the passage here for the sake of brevity. During their conversation, it is revealed that she had five husbands...and Jesus comments that the man she is now with is not her husband. This is certainly a case of adultery--but Jesus doesn't condemn her. The woman is so impressed with Jesus that she encourages all the local people to come and hear him. She explained, "Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" The Bible goes on to say that many in that city believed on Jesus because of the words of this woman--a natural born evangelist touched by God's love! Yet, she would be rejected by some churches today.
Other Biblical examples can be given that illustrate agape' love.
God's Highest Priority
God's Word speaks about one characteristic of the last days before Christ's return--"the love of many will grow cold" (Matt. 24:12 NKJV). Millions of people in the world today long for love. Yet, the desire of their heart is unfulfilled. There is a famine for real authentic love--especially in the institutional church. It is not my desire to minimize the importance of this Biblical subject. As we discussed earlier, it is one of God's highest priorities. Christians are clearly commanded by Scripture to walk in love. But, it can never hold the highest place of importance. If love (as crucial as it is) becomes our only guiding principle we initiate an evil process that voids God's Word. This allows Christ's teachings to be redefined into anything that doesn't violate the present cultural understanding of "love". Once this happens anything goes and moral foundations are destroyed. This is one factor contributing to the spiritual "darkness" in our culture today. Presently, "love" is redefined by society (and by religious people) to the lowest possible level. To many it is nothing more than a refusal to offend. If we make it our aim not to offend people and encourage them in whatever they choose to believe--then we are "loving" them. This philosophy is one of the "ways of death" that the Bible warns us about. Yet, lots of people practice it--thinking they are "enlightened" or "spiritually minded". The popular bumper sticker "Hate Is Not A Family Value" is one example of this misguided philosophy.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church gives us some insight into these Biblical priorities:
"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph. 4:15-16 KJV)
Saint Paul teaches us the correct order. Love is never thrown out. But, it is superseded by truth. It has to be. Without the superiority of God's Word, love carries little meaning. And, God's truth without being tempered by love can be presented in a way that's discourteous and overbearing. Over zealous Christians who attempt to forcibly preach the gospel (whether you want to hear it or not) is one example. These folks might mean well--but they're not "speaking the truth in love" as Paul taught. A proper minister of the gospel will conduct themselves as "ambassadors of Christ". An ambassador is never dogmatic, pushy or rude when presenting their position. Yet, they can still be firm and unwavering when necessary. Truth and love in God's kingdom are interdependent.
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."(John 17:17 KJV)
Jesus and the early church apostles continually walked in love. But, the priorities change when the truth of the gospel is in jeopardy. Do you think Jesus somehow failed to walk in love when he angrily overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple according to Matthew 21:12? Did Jesus fail to love when he confronted religious leaders with their hypocrisy and their misleading false doctrine, calling them snakes and vipers in Luke 3:7, Matt. 12:34 and Matt. 23:33? Or, when he referred to them as "whited sepulchers full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness" in Matt. 23:27? Jesus always walked in love. Yet, the kind of love he walked in is far different than the "love" the world embraces. Remember that agape' love always determines its actions for the benefit of the person on the receiving end. Allowing someone to believe a lie because you don't want to offend them is not an attribute of God's love. Yet, many ignore this fact because it doesn't fit their "unity at any cost" agenda. When God's Word is sacrificed on the altar of humanistic "love" everything else becomes meaningless. Yet, it can make us feel good! Many people tend to "spiritualize" Jesus and his words away. But, Jesus said that there is "doctrine" that belongs to God. God's doctrine is truth and it's not open to our opinions--it stands strong and it stands forever.
"Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."(John 7:16-17 KJV)
Saint Paul provides us with an example about the priorities of truth and love. At one point he confronted Peter about an unbiblical practice. Remember that Peter is a central leader in the early church. He walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry--Paul did not. Yet, Paul is motivated to take action that publicly offended and embarrassed Peter.
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." (Isaiah 40:8 KJV)
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (Gal 2:11-14 KJV)
Notice that the distortion of "the truth of the gospel" moved Paul to action. Yet, what he did is considered "an act of hate" by our cultural standards today. In the institutional church it is considered an act of "discord" or disunity. Many religious organizations interpret hate and offense as the same thing. I will not discuss why Peter was in the wrong. We'll save that for another time. My goal is to draw attention to the supreme position truth held among these Godly men and the early church. It doesn't seem to have the same meaning for us today because of some misguided ideas about love and unity...this is tragic because the error carries eternal consequences.
The Danger Of This Teaching
It is needful that something be said on the subject of truth and love. Yet, there is a danger. Young inexperienced Christians may be tempted to take this information and go on a crusade for the truth. This is always a concern. And, this concern is one reason there is silence on the subject. In the world of religion there are countless interpretations of Biblical truth. Going on a "crusade for the truth" means that you're convinced you've got it. Many years of involvement in church organizations prove that believing you've "got the truth" can be dangerously deceptive. Yet, the Bible does speak of a place where you can possess "a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:7-9). With all the different voices in the religious world--this place can be very illusive.
I've found there are two seemingly opposite tensions that exist in the life of "truth seekers". The first is the courage to stand your ground on the principles of God's Word as the Holy Spirit has revealed them to you. The second is the humility of knowing that you're capable of being wrong--especially in the finer points of Biblical truth. This humility reveals itself as a "teachable" attitude. All of us are learners--that's what the word "disciple" means. A learner or disciple must have a teacher. The Holy Spirit is the teacher of Christ's church. No Christian is exempt from being a learner--especially those who see themselves as spiritual leaders. A dirty little secret that eludes most Christians is this: Shepherds (or leaders) of God's people are also His sheep.
Conclusion--What About Unity?
Agape' love is the foundation for all Christian unity. Yet, God does not support a unity that glues various religious philosophies together regardless of their agreement with Scripture. The modern "church" engages in this skewed practice for a number of reasons. Once again, the unity taught by the Bible is not always the same one practiced by the modern church. You can say that the "world peace" philosophy has invaded the church. But, it's understood by a different name. Some call it "the unity of the faith"--a Biblical term. Yet, the unity practiced by the modern church is different. The modern unity mindset does the same thing in the institutional church that the world peace philosophy does in our culture. Since peace, elimination of offense and the survival of religious organizations are the main objectives, Biblical truth must be replaced with a watered down version that still sounds "Biblical". Like the world, the institutional church has already taken sides. Today, if a religious organization is to survive offensive teachings must end--and truth must change. The common rationale is: In order to win the lost to Christ we need to minimize or eliminate offense. A common name for this practice is "seeker sensitive". Yet, God placed offense in the Bible for a reason.
And, that's something to think about.