What is Christian Love?

By Dolores Kimball

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. Not gooey, pulse-pounding sentimentality, but real love as defined by God. We hear a lot about love, but actually see very little of it. We talk a lot about God's love, but do we really understand it? Passengers on the Christian Love Boat — those who say "forget the rules and regulations. Just love one another!" — can be harsh, judgmental, and unloving toward those who don't meet their love standard. I have heard, many times actually, the love-ites deride other Christians, especially conservatives such as John MacArthur, with a viciousness that surprised me. And I don't surprise easily any more, even when Benny Hinn says of Macarthur, "I would like to take my Holy Ghost machine gun and blow his brains out."

And yet these very people would be the first to passionately declare that love is the highest and noblest of virtues. But is Christian love to be limited to only those who agree with us or those who don't invade our comfort zone? Where does loving our enemies fit? When it comes to being judgmental, no one takes a back seat to the love police who judge others on the level of "love" they perceive within them. There is simply no excuse for "unloving" behavior or discourse, at least as the love-ites perceive unloving. What are we missing here?

In his book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton writes: "Not long ago, I also came across a passage in John Calvin's work where he observed that many of his Roman Catholic friends were also reacting against the rules and regulations of their youth by saying that we just need to love each other. 'As if that were easier!' Calvin exclaimed." Indeed. But is that not the mantra of the post-modern love-ites? Forget the rules and just love one another? The problem with saying we don't need to follow the law, just love God and one another, is that according to Jesus, love for God and one another is the very epitome of the Law itself!

Consider Jesus' response to the question about the greatest commandment: "Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40, emphasis added). Did you get that? All the Law hangs on the commandments to love God and one another. So by saying all we need to do is love, we are condemning ourselves to the ultimate legalism and placing ourselves in danger of the judgment reserved for the Pharisees who believed they were justified before God by their righteousness. But the Pharisees' righteousness was only a self righteousness, the kind God abhors.

Horton goes on to say, "It is hardly good news when people tell us that God required a bunch of rules [in the OT] but now tells us just to love him and each other. Defined in this way, loving God and neighbor is a lot harder than following a few rules." I would add that it is not just harder, it's impossible. That's the bad news for which the gospel is the good news. "Just love one another" is not the gospel; it is exactly the holy command of the Law which we are utterly incapable of keeping and which we all fail to even begin to fulfill. Loving one another and God is the essence of the Law, and our failure to keep it is the essence of sin. But God's love toward us is the essence of the Gospel. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

I suspect that when the love-ites cry "Just love one another!", what they are really saying is "Just love ME!" American Christianity has become so me-focused that we myopically filter God's truth through the lens of our self-adoration and see Him as only a merciful, forgiving God who will turn a blind eye to our sin as long as we profess to love Him and others. But that is precisely what we cannot do. Only the love which comes down from God and is poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5) can open our eyes to His holiness and justice and the good news that His wrath against sin has been mitigated in Christ. This is the true meaning of love and it has nothing to do with our ability to love. It is entirely God-focused — from Him, through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:36), and it alone enables us to love Him and love others, even the unlovable, just as He did.

Image Credit: honorbound; "heart bible"; Creative Commons

comments powered by Disqus
Published on 4-4-12