One of the more enlightening moments in the recent Labor Day talk, which I’ve good-naturedly entitled Not Ready To Give An Answer, was when we were told that those of us who preach incessantly about love have succumbed to a feel-good religion involving no real sacrifice or cost; a cheap gospel that is all about making you “prosperous and healthy and wealthy and wise.”
“And so as I hear about so many people who were raised in the church, people who are no longer wanting anything to do with the church they were once a part of, seem to have bought into a type of gospel that says “Jesus wants you to be happy” and “Jesus wants you to be joyful” and “Jesus wants you to have love” and “Jesus wants you be be peaceful” and solve all your problems and make you prosperous and healthy and wealthy and wise, and all of this. I’ve heard this before. And that’s right around the corner from this kind of garbage.” (Approx 1:33:55)
It struck me that we are obviously working from vastly different definitions of love. If you understand love to be just a feeling, it makes perfect sense that it is broken by “having opinions and expressing them strongly.” That could hurt someone’s feelings. If one believes that love is merely an emotion–warm fuzzies that make you feel good–then it’s no wonder there is such a disconnect on this subject.
The old song that says the “gospel in a word is love” makes absolutely no sense inside the framework of a works-based theology. With legalism, I am constantly focused on myself; am I performing up to snuff, am I doing enough, am I sacrificing enough, am I, am I, am I? It’s all about me earning my reward. But if love is an active, self-sacrificing force that moved God himself to come to earth and suffer and die for his rebellious creation, then love is not about me, or how I feel, is it? Perhaps the problem, then, is not that I believe in a cheap gospel, but that they believe in a cheap love.
This emasculated view of love is sacrilegious to me; almost blasphemous, given that John–the disciple whom Jesus loved, by the way–says that God IS love. In mathematical terms, that’s a big equal sign: GOD = LOVE. I’d choose my words carefully before mocking a word like “love,” because that is cheapening God himself, not to mention what he did on the cross.
In fact, Jesus taught that the Greatest Commands are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, the Greatest Commands in all of the Law of Moses revolved around love; or more accurately, upon it hung all the Law and the Prophets.
Could it be that God really is in the “feel-good religion” business after all? Or maybe–just maybe–there is more to this iceberg called love that is lying massively under the surface, ready to sink ships, tear down strongholds, and humble the proudest of captains?
The Greatest Commands, it turns out, are hardly the lightweight “feel good” health and wealth drivel they are made out to be. That is a straw man, easily defeated. There is plenty of that cheap love on the market, but that’s not what you’ll find on these pages. What you’ll find here is the notion that love is quite expensive, and not at all just a feeling. Love your neighbor doesn’t merely mean like him, or even “be nice” to him, but care for his wounds, take him back to the Inn, and pay the bill, all with the right frame of mind. Try doing that when you’re running late for church. No, if we think love is all about fluffy niceties, we have truly missed one of the weightiest and most life-altering points Jesus ever made: to think outside of our own self-interest.
Love is not cheap. In fact it is the most costly thing one can acquire. It is virtually everything we need to know about following Jesus, from relationships with family, to God, or unbelievers, or spouses, or bosses, or detractors. And none of it cheap or easy:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Do you mean to tell me that complying with a bunch of extra-Biblical rules, like going to every church function religiously, or wearing nylons on Sunday, or being confronted by your children about your unbiblical doctrines; you mean to tell me that those petty things can hold a candle to love in the grand scheme of things? Are they sacrifice? Is that the cost you think you’re paying to get into heaven? Is that what Jesus means when he says to carry your cross?
Cry me a river, but being asked hard questions is not persecution for the cause of Christ. Perhaps our values are a little out of whack. I believe deeper things, like love, are of much higher value in the kingdom than performing all the made-up outward works you can burden your members with. The deeper things of God do not consist of complying with elaborate rules for travel, or nuanced dress codes, or the marital sex police. The deeper things of God are the spiritual things taught by the law written upon our hearts.
Out of love, we may be called to endure petty things, like family giving us the cold shoulder, or people reproaching us as “enemies of Christ.” If we would get out of our cieled houses, we may even be called to endure weighty things like being tortured in a Chinese prison. Or let’s not forget that out of love, Jesus came and died a tortuous death, for our sakes, while we were yet sinners:
Romans 5:8 – But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Love is an action word, a verb: to love. When we love unconditionally and self-sacrificially, we are continuously serving others from the heart, not because we want to go to heaven, not because we think we’re going to hell if we don’t. Because we love. Period. Love is the motivating force behind all that is good in the world, because it is the motivating force of God himself. All that is good comes from God, remember that?
This pesky little subject of love comes to prick our conscience in so many ways when we let its rich meaning sink in: Love is not self-seeking. But wait a minute, I thought I was supposed to be working my way to heaven? Isn’t self-interest behind that? No, it shouldn’t be.
I’m not good because I want to go to heaven, although of course, I do want to go to heaven. I’m good, or at least I try to be good, because I know God, and his love is at work in my heart. It’s why I foster children, because my wife and I love them and want to give them a loving home. It’s why we adopted children. Not because we want to avoid hell, or earn heaven. It’s scoring me no points. It deserves no pats on the back. It’s just showing the fatherless a small measure of the grace that God has shown to me. God blessed me with a loving family, and it’s the least I can do to share it with someone who’s never experienced such a thing.
The irony is that people who might mock me as preaching a “feel good” or “do good” religion (who don’t know me or my life or my heart, by the way), are the very ones who approach Christianity with the first question of “What’s in it for me?” Heaven, right? But isn’t it possible to pursue heaven selfishly, like the young professional willing to step on everyone else on the way to the top? Yes, we can, but no, we shouldn’t. That, of course, is self-defeating. In the revolutionary teachings of Jesus, even the pursuit of a worthy goal like heaven itself can be done in an unloving, i.e. self-seeking manner.
Let that sink in. It’s true, isn’t it? How many relationships have been unlovingly and unnecessarily thrown under the bus in the so-called pursuit of heaven? Is that love? WWJD, indeed. We can follow all the “commands” we think we see in Scripture, yet if they are performed flawlessly, but without love, they are as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. They are a meaningless noise to God, a smell of incense that is really just a stench in his nose.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Consider this. Do you ask someone’s forgiveness on Saturday night because you want to be free of sin to take the Lord’s supper (a mistaken idea, but follow me here)? Do you do so because you want to go to heaven? Because you don’t want to go to hell? Do you wait until Saturday night so you can be sure you haven’t missed anything for Sunday? Or, on the other hand, do you drop what you’re doing and reconcile with your brother as soon as you realize you’ve offended him, asking his forgiveness because you love him, and care about the relationship, and want to mend it if you’ve truly wronged him? There’s a world of difference, isn’t there? One is self-seeking. The other is love.
Love is not pursued out of a sense of self-satisfaction, or even self-preservation. I don’t love because I want to go to heaven. Nor do I love because I don’t want to go to hell. I love because I want to show people the source of the love I know, this love that passes all understanding. I love because I know God, the source of that love, personally.
So, after all of this, what’s in it for me? Why should I drop everything to follow Jesus? I am confident that I can leave my fate in the hands of a just but loving judge, who knows my heart, and has agreed to listen to our advocate and reconcile his sacrifice as payment in full. We sing the old song, Jesus Paid It All, but do you believe that, brothers? Or do you believe he paid it once, a long time ago, and we’ll have to pick up the tab for the rest, with 2000 years of interest, adjusted for inflation?
Legalism tries to earn what no human can earn for themselves. It is by definition self-seeking. How much time and effort is spent reflecting on one’s own past sins in an effort to remove guilt, instead of embracing the forgiveness offered at the cross that frees us to love and to serve without constraint? A grace-centered, love-centered theology leaves the “what’s in it for me?” question in God’s hands, and seeks to serve others like Jesus did, with no expectation of being loved in return. THAT, my friends is a costly sort of love. Let’s not cheapen such a sacred word.
Love, and the lack of it, appear to be at the root of every single wrong present in the church today. Most people lacking love, have difficulty showing it to others. Know this is true from personal experience. And so we should not be terribly surprised the lack of love the church displays to others and their children is a direct result of the lack of love they experience due to the fact they are trying to earn it and you never can!!! If they simply accepted the fact that God loves them despite all their flaws, and in spite… Read more »
Yes, exactly. That's why I am less interested in all the doctrinal debates it would be so easy to get caught up in on this blog than in this one topic. Fix a doctrine, you've got hundreds more to fix. Fix love, and virtually everything else falls into line. It changes motives, behaviors, relationships, exegesis, everything.
Kevin, what you wrote is simply wonderful! Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.
I was seeking God back in the 70's. Giving my heart to Jesus a few times and wanted to learn more about the Bible. Well, along came a Stanton COC and I went to a class and I was baptized out of fear, not because I loved Jesus for his sacrifice as previous times. When I heard that class all I could think of was my babies burning in hell. All I did was from fear of God and man. I have a friend that told me I was from a legalistic religion which I though was silly but I… Read more »
Glad it's starting to make sense, Loraine! It's exciting, isn't it? Love is the "secret decoder ring" of the Bible. Without it, nothing makes sense. With it, everything falls into place, just as Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 wrote.
A few weeks ago my husband was reading Rom.9:3. He was so convicted by what Paul was saying.."For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsman according to the flesh"! WOW! Think on it! He so loved his family, his Israelite brethren that if it were possible for him to give up his relationship, his salvation SO THEY WOULD KNOW CHRIST, he would give it!!!!
THAT IS SACRIFICIAL LOVE!
Great point, Teresa. I hadn't thought about that before. Fits perfectly with the idea that our motivation for every thought and every action should not be our own reward, but our love for God and man.
Amen! Thank you Uncle Kevin that was very well written. I have many times heard of the coc members putting us down for our view of God=Love. This was uplifting to read and right on track with God=Love. Be very careful coc in how you down play, or turn your noses up toward our view of Love because you are turning your noses up and down playing God Almighty and what He is and has done for us!
Thank you Thank you Kevin!
Yes, and I think biggest wake-up call about mocking the preeminence of love is to understand that it cheapens the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. What he did out of love was nothing compared to what we can do by following all the rules. Uh huh, right.
Love is not simply the Eagle on reverse side of the coin. It is the coin. Our works are what we do with the coin.
"I know you love me if you obey my commandments"…we can't obey without knowledge of what Jesus wants. We can't know what God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit wants us to do in mind and action without guide lines. The guide lines are the word of God. The word of God is the gospel, doctrine, or commandments. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. But you have to be righteous for this to be given us and we can only be righteous by following the footsteps of Jesus.… Read more »
Anon 1:04, I hear you, but can you list for me Jesus' commands you are so concerned that I obey? Your passage comes from John 14. Read John 13 through 15 in their entirety, along with 1 2 and 3 John, and you'll see that John is repetitively redundant, over and over, emphasizing what Jesus' commands are. 1. We love him if we keep his commands2. His commands are to love And by "love" I mean the godly, active sort of love; the action word, not the feeling. John 13:34-35 – “A new command I give you: Love one another.… Read more »
You are correct in that it is easy to say, "I love my brethren", but love is deeper than just words, it is actions. I see one of the biggest things that my congregation lacks is empathy. Paul wrote: 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;… Read more »
Thanks Linda n Kevin. I truly feel self pity led me away which also is selfish ness.
When we looked to the church for support it was taught. "ask not what the church can do for you, but what you can do for the church".
What is not being taught is that it is every single member's responsibility to bear one another's burdens and to help the weak. When teachings are done like this the congregation becomes indifferent towards each other. Every member is responsible to seeing the needs of each other whether physical or spiritual.
The Intrusion Falling, hurting, darknessjumbled, scattered. can't breathe. Help So much pain. isolated. alone. but somehow…comforting, familiar, unchanging.. safe? but then.. a gentle breeze. lifting. comforting. light. what is this? who is this? Why? grounded. organized. planned. oxygen. Lifefor me? I'm unsure. anxious. wanna run. gotta run. HIDE! But in each hiding place it happensthe lifting, loving, lighta persistent, consistent, fightagain, and again, and again. Slowly, ever so slowly. I becomea little more sure. maybe. just maybe.I don't have to hide. I can stay? Be? Be comfortedBe liftedBe loved Be covered in his life-saving blood.Be surrounded. Be victoriousBe HIS. And… Read more »
I pray you are out of there and never go back. Our loving God never meant for you to suffer in a dead cult. You deserve love,kindness,friends, and a beautiful life.
Anon 9:12 Good for you. Awesome you escaped the oppression of Merie’s cult.