It’s possible that the greatest “sin” in the world today (according to Facebook comments, blog posts, and social media) is intolerance. If you are against something, then you will probably be seen as bigoted, hateful, and arrogant, especially if that something is a trendy topic of debate. People are demanded to “accept” others in what the secular media calls “love,” but the moment anyone takes a stand for a conviction, he/she will surely meet fierce opposition. The angry crowd will cry out against this heretic of hate. But in truth, the actual heresies are in the popular understanding of what love is supposed to mean.
- Heresies of Love in Contemporary Culture
The very problem of the contemporary notion of love is that it’s misconstrued. Maroon 5 came out with a recent song that spoke of “love.” Here’s what the band says in a very sensual fashion:
“I really wanna love somebody
I really wanna dance the night away
I know we’re only half way there
But you can take me all the way, you can take me all the way
I really wanna touch somebody
I think about you every single day
I know we’re only half way there
But you can take me all the way, you can take me all the way”
Perhaps the problem in this debate is in semantics. For example, in the Greek language there are multiple words that express different kinds of love. But look at these lyrics, this isn’t wholesome, selfless love! This is one of the most self-centered, shallow songs I’ve ever heard. No, Maroon 5, you don’t really wanna love somebody, you want exploit her for your personal benefit. Genuine love gives, sacrifices, and works, even if it is a romantic love.
While romantic love is mistaken far too often in our cultures, so too is what some might call social or relational love – how we treat others on a non-marital or non-romantic basis. How ironic it is to see first-hand of people who act in hatred while accusing others of hatred. Back when Chick-Fil-A was receiving a lot of heat for the founder’s stance on homosexuality, a video went viral of a man named Adam Smith who went through the drive-thru line to accuse others of hatred all while he was showing nothing but actions of hatred. You can see the video here. What is so obvious in this video is that Smith was certainly not loving in any stretch of imagination. Since when does returning hate to whom you think is hateful justify your actions?
Another idea of love that is similar to the one just listed, but perhaps different, is tolerable love. I heartily recommend D.A. Carson’s book, The Intolerance of Tolerance if you haven’t read it, he treats this subject sufficiently. But essentially what has happened in our world is that our understanding on how we define “tolerance” has changed over the years. It used to mean that to tolerate something or someone, we do not agree with the person or thing causing us irritation, but we are still respectful despite our differences. In the religious realm, this would mean that I could wholeheartedly disagree with the Mormon view of Jesus Christ, even though I would still can be gracious. But that is not what tolerance has come to mean. “New tolerance” would mean that in order for me to be loving, I must agree with other people’s views about God. And although some might still testify that there can be some wiggle-room for credal statements on God, what is so frequently asserted is that the one unifying theme of the purpose all religions is love. First, this belief is not true. And secondly, this brings us back to the very significant problem I’ve already addressed: how is love defined? Love has essentially become “God” for many people, and primarily it is secularists who have made this new “God” into their own image so that the definition of love is standardized by their own agendas.
- Biblical View of Love
Let me briefly pause to say that churches and individual Christians have not helped this situation. In fact, I would dare say that most professing Christians have been duped into conforming to the contemporary views of love. The blame must not be given to non-Christians, but rather, it is churches that have failed. And the reason we have failed is because we have looked outside of the Bible to define love. Let’s consider just a few passages to build a biblical theology of love.
– (John 3:16) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” — God did not “accept” people in their state of depravity, nor did He express selfishness in His love.
– (1 John 3:1) “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” — once again, selfless, sacrificial love.
– (Matthew 5:43-47) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” — this is what a biblical view of love towards others looks like, even when we are in stark disagreement with others.
It is completely evident that love is sacrificial, it’s for the benefit of others, and it can be quite costly. Love is usually manifested through action, and it is not necessarily received by all. There are, I think, two “heresies of love” prevalent in local churches today that I would like to further expound upon.
- Heresies of Love in Churches
Church discipline is usually viewed as hateful in today’s cultures. It’s no wonder why, contemporary thought doesn’t think too highly of correction and that “harsh” word, excommunication. And when we base our view of love on things outside of the Bible, then it’s only a matter of time before that unstable foundation gets tested and torn apart. First Corinthians 5:9-13 essentially tells us to keep two spheres of relationships in mind: those within the church and those without. For non-Christians, this passage doesn’t apply, except for the fact that God promises to one day judge them. But for Christians, this is undoubtedly important. It clearly teaches that churches are to hold members accountable in their lifestyle decisions. If someone is sexually immoral, he needs to be confronted (Matthew 18). And if repentance is not reached, then that person needs to be removed. You might not think this is loving, but it is. Church leaders are acting in selfless, sacrificial ways for the benefit of the one being disciplined. On the contrary, it would be an unloving thing to passively watch other Christians destroy themselves with sin. Perhaps the heresy of love in regards to church discipline is that we simply don’t know how serious sin and repentance are. And it is a heresy precisely because some of those being disciplined might not truly be saved – you could potentially be saving their eternal lives if they repent (see 1 Timothy 1:20).
Another heresy of love in churches is the “God loves you” Gospel. Now, this is true, God does love the whole world, each individual. But that love does not eliminate his justice. The implications of this heresy are quite obvious once explained a little further. What I am communicating here is that the good news of Christianity isn’t simply “God loves you.” The good news is that Jesus Christ died on a cross for your sin and was raised from the dead so that you can be delivered from your sin and declared righteous before a holy God – this happened because God loves you, but we need to explain what this love produced. What can be potentially heretical about the “God loves you” Gospel is that we diminish the true Gospel of Christ’s saving death, burial, and resurrection. Either we neglect what Christ has done to butter people up with a warm message of “love” (and, as already inferred, that meaning in contemporary culture is always changing) or we water down the justice and holiness of God Almighty. Could a loving God send people to hell? Yes. And it’s because the Bible’s definition of love is different from the world’s. God has already manifested the greatest love ever known, but people resist and reject that love. In other words, God’s justice does not negate His love, they are both continually present. God’s love is not contingent upon man’s response.
Hopefully, I have cleared some muddy waters on the understanding of what love means. Christians might be labeled as a bigoted (the secularist’s label for a heretic), but I would seriously question if that’s always the case. I should not be required to agree with other people on issues like abortion, homosexual marriage, and other social issues – but I do love them. No, it’s not a kind of love that advocates their agendas, but it’s a genuine concern for their well-being, especially their spiritual well-being. It’s a love that is caring enough to speak the truths of Scripture, but in a way that is sensitive yet unwavering. And when it comes to the sphere of in-church relationships, it would be unloving of me to be apathetic of the holiness of others. It seems, then, that the only antidote to the heresy of love is by applying Scripture to all of life.
P.S. If your last resort was to bring up Matthew 7, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”…read the rest of the chapter. Verse 5 says that you can pick the speck out of your brother’s eye once you’ve examined yourself. You know what that’s called? Love.