A Miscellany on Love

I have written a blog on love previously, and I’ve also written other “miscellanies” as well (see here and here). Here’s another one:

I’ve been thinking about love recently. I’m not sure why, but my mind has simply drifted to this topic. Not only am I thinking about God’s love, but also how human beings in our cultural moment speak of and define love. Here are some rudimentary thoughts.

In the Bible God’s love is his hesed (Old Testament) and agape (New Testament). Depending on the translation, hesed is “steadfast love,” or, more specifically, his loyal or covenant-keeping love. Colloquially, we could speak of this as God’s “one-way love.”[1] In the New Testament, of course, agape is sacrificial love, seen most beautifully in Christ’s substitutionary life and death.

Although well-intentioned, many people think of love as unconditional acceptance. (We do this even though as parents we know there is such a thing as “tough love.”) Is love nothing more than unconditional acceptance? The reason I pose the question is because it seems like that’s the way our culture is speaking of love. The cultural narrative appears to be that if we disagree with someone’s lifestyle we’re seen as judgmental, harsh, and unloving. Not surprisingly, therefore, people in our churches are imbibing this thinking and bringing it with them into our fellowships. Theologian Sinclair Ferguson correctly notes that this is nothing more than a secular gospel of self-acceptance “masquerading as Christianity.”[2]

I’ve noted what the Bible says about God’s love, but what about a Christian’s love—either to another Christian or to a non-Christian? Yes, we are to love others not only in word but also in deed (1 Jn. 3:18). We don’t just wish someone well; we actively seek to show care and hospitality (Jas. 2:16).

Love, however, also puts up fences and excludes. We don’t accept every teaching, but we seek to teach and conform our lives to “the pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13). When a person who proclaims to be a believer in Christ, but who, after being confronted lovingly for a period of time, refuses to repent, we are to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17), and “remove” this person from among us (1 Cor. 5:2). We “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We “walk in love” (Eph. 5:2), as Paul says. As he goes on to demonstrate, however, this involves taking “no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expos[ing] them” (5:11). This means that there is such a thing as “unfruitful works of darkness.” Do we have the spine to tell people they might actually be involved in these “works of darkness”? Or is that unloving?

For those of us who claim to believe the Bible is the Word of God, my guess is we care about how the Bible speaks of love. Are you somewhat shocked to find out that the Bible speaks of love as “the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10)? Also, take note of Gal. 5:14: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” As Ferguson perceptively intimates, “love is never said to be a replacement for law in Scripture.”[3] Thus, for the Christian who seeks to conform his or her life to the Scriptures, love is not “self-interpreting.”[4] God reveals to us what love looks like and how it is to be expressed. Just as good works “are only such as God hath commanded in His holy Word,” (1689 London Baptist Confession 16.1, see verses appended) I think we can say the same thing about love.

I’ll pose this question to my readers: Are we sometimes guilty of embracing a hermeneutic that fails to hear the note of love in the song of calls for repentance, church discipline, and the fencing of the table?

 

[1] See Paul F. M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 36; Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 24.

[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 184.

[3] Ibid., 168.

[4] Ibid.

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