He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. - 1John 4: 8-11 (NKJV)
Perhaps no subject causes Christians to abandon their Bibles faster than love. No subject makes us rush to the world for definitions, understanding, and excuses like that of love. I am not suggesting that love has to become some compartmentalized, rationalized, and thoroughly vetted concept. I am just suggesting that as we are to do with everything, that we look at love through the prism that is the Bible. We do this so we can gain God's perspective and wisdom. I have written before about romantic love in this same light but for today, let us look more at phileo love, that is, brotherly love. It is how we are supposed to treat each other as Christians. It is fellowship love. It is a fondness rooted deep in the shared belief in Jesus Christ. As the devil is so good at twisting our thinking, he does so with love as well.
Love as God intended it to be is not agreement. Let me say that again. Love does not mean agreement. The first cry of the false teacher is to shout out "disunity" or "unloving!" This desire for "Kumbya Christianity" is eroding doctrine to the point that there is so much leaven in the house of God we cannot be distinguished from the world we seek to save people out of. It is not unloving to point out error. It can be done in an unloving manner or with unloving motives but the act of staying true to doctrine is in fact part of the definition of what our love is supposed to be about. Rodney King once quipped, "can't we all just get along" and the resounding answer from Scripture is - no!
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. - Ephesians 5: 8-11 (NKJV)
Beloved, sometimes people wonder why exposing false teaching and prophets is so important to the Lord. Why is mentioned so much? The answer is simple. God does not want any to perish and the falseness of doctrine is leading millions of people to hell. When you preach cheap grace that requires no repentance, then precious few will be saved. When you preach earthly prosperity, church bound purpose, or seek to be relevant to a dying world, then precious few will be saved. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto the salvation of men. That is the power. But when we favor non-confrontation over the difficult discussion of sin we are in fact stripping the Gospel of its power. I see pastors all the time bragging about how many people gave their life to make Jesus their friend. Fantastic, now try and get them to make Him their Lord. The "friend of God theology" may make for great kumbya moments and warm fuzzy feelings but woe to the buddy Jesus crowd when it comes time to separate the sheep from the goats. The most insulting thing though, is to then turn around and call that love and the person who dares to speak the true Gospel, as being unloving. Let us unpack the key verses today, where God does some explaining about love for us.
Too many Christians enjoy quoting verse eight alone. Without the proper context it is easy to contort what love is really supposed to be. Verse eight is indeed powerful. God is love and if we do not love we cannot claim to know God. But the true power is found in the context that explains how that love is manifested towards us. What is this great concept of love that God has for us and how did He show it? Did He send us a dozen roses on valentines day? Does He only speak to us in hushed tones and flowery speech? Does He show His great love for us by blindly agreeing with whatever whim our nature seems to wish to follow? The answer to these is an obvious "no" yet how often are these our qualifiers for the worldly love we seek and chase after? What are you giving me? How are you speaking to me? Do you tell me I am right even when I am wrong? Beloved, God has a higher standard.
We discover from the context two very important distinctions about the sacrifice of Jesus, which is the embodiment of the love God has for us. First of all, He did this so that we might live through Christ and secondly so that Jesus would be our propitiation for our sins. The context concludes by saying that if this is how God loved us - it should be how we ought to love one another as well. Not with candy hearts and cupid arrows. Not with blind agreement and kumbya. But with the understanding that love is rooted in two distinct issues - are we living through Christ and have we allowed Him to be the propitiation for our sins. These are mutually dependent beloved - not mutually exclusive. You cannot live in Christ without having Him be the appeasement to God for our sinful state. In more simpler terms, God is not your friend until He is your Lord.
Wait a minute preacher! That's not what I have been taught! I sing Friend of God every week! Yes and that is exactly the point of this. The people who sell you a Christ that never deals with your sin problem is not selling you love. They are selling you a powerless caricature of God. A guy you can sing and dance with on your way to hell. This is why doctrine is so vitally important:
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. - 1Timothy 4: 16 (NKJV)
By continuing in correct doctrine, we assure ourselves of the salvation of those who would listen. Conversely, preaching false doctrine will save no one. Because only the Gospel has the power of God unto salvation.
So yes beloved, God is indeed love. That love was manifest when He sent His only Son to die for the propitiation of our sins; so that we may live through Him. That is love. That is the definition of love. That is how we are to love one another. Being intimately concerned about whether we have indeed repented and given our life to Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we can be found living through Him. It is not to hold each other's hands as we skip merrily down the broad path to destruction. If I know you are driving off a cliff how in the world do I show you love by telling you everything is going to be OK when it clearly is not going to be so? That is not love - it's cruel.
It is cruel to hold the keys to salvation and hide them in your pocket for fear of offending someone, or for the sake of building earthly kingdoms and treasures. It is cruel to offer someone a relationship with a false god, based upon false doctrine, that will save no one. It is time to put down our earthly understanding of love and pick up Scripture to guide us. We cannot claim to know God and not show love towards others. Not show genuine concern about their position in Christ and their confession for the forgiveness of their sins. That if we see someone leading them to hell that we lean in and share the real Good News with them. That God loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to die in our place to appease the wrath of the Father. Keep your chocolate hearts and empty poetry. THAT is love.