This was posted some time ago elsewhere and I wanted it on this blog for reference sake.
Thanks to all who commented and read my last note. It was suggested that I hadn’t yet proposed any solutions to the crisis in the Church. It is true, I hinted at it, and suggested that a study on Love with the same thoroughness that we approach many other doctrines would both highlight problems and offer solutions. In this note, I again only ‘hint.’
Here are some concepts that I think would quickly rise to the top of such a study.
1. The common idea that there are ‘three kinds’ of love would be refuted, if only because one of the ‘kinds,’ eros, is never mentioned in the NT AT ALL.
2. Attempts to create new kinds of ‘love’ based on the nature of the relationship in question would collapse, as the NT describes ‘love’ in the same way across many contexts.
3. Love is not a feeling. It is an action, a commitment and attitude to behave in a certain fashion. Love sometimes includes feelings but usually doesn’t.
4. God couldn’t care a lick if you love him if you don’t love your brother. In fact, you can ‘worship’ him all you like and say you love him all you like, but if you hate your brother, the bottom line is that the truth is that you don’t love God.
5. Love is chiefly marked by the willingness to lay down one’s life for another- regardless of how you feel about them.
It is often said that ‘agape’ is ‘God’s love for man,’ thus implying that it is a one way street, and some other ‘kind’ of love describes our relationship with our fellow man.
This is illustrated by beginning with #5 above and telling you in advance that in each of these cases below, the word ‘agape’ is used in each context.
The central defining statement as to what ‘love’ is:
“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
Now examine the passages that point to this model and call us to imitate it…
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Eph. 5:25
These passages are echoed elsewhere, but notice how in both these cases we are called to ‘agape’ and what this means. Even in the case where we might expect ‘eros’ to pop up in support of there being a ‘marital love’ such as Eph. 5, Paul uses agape and sets Christ’s sacrifice as the model.
That agape is meant to permeate every relationship is illustrated by Matthew 5:43-48
“I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not the tax collectors, pagans, etc,] doing that?”
Love is not a feeling- if it was, you could not possibly love your enemies!
1 Cor 13 lists attributes of love and they represent actions. Look at the list in this famous passage… patience, kindness, not boastful, not proud, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs, always protects…
It goes without saying that it is easy to say loving words but actions speak louder than words. That is self-evident, but the Bible makes it crystal clear:
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18
But what actions could possibly demonstrate our love for God in response to his tremendous gift? Is it regular church attendance? Is it a hymn sung loudly? Is it hating all the immoral people?
The Scriptures are not silent.
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us his command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
This love as we have seen involves self-sacrifice. It means putting up with rude people and being patient with loved ones even if you’re tired (oooh this burns!) or hungry. It also means being willing to give up material things to our brother who is in material need. Again, from 1 John 3:17,
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
We are not gnostics. There is nothing inherently wrong with material possessions and wealth. But our purpose is different. They represent extensions of our efforts to love people. Paul gives us a rationale for working in Eph. 4:28
“…. but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”
This brief overview of some ‘high points’ is probably not very controversial. We know these passages are there. We know that we are called to this. We know that we are forgiven for failing. God loves us- that is, he does not keep a record of wrongs. In gratitude we must pick up and try again.
My hunch is that one of the things ‘holding us back’ is the idea that it just can’t be done. But it can. A reading of the book of Acts tells us it can. I leave you with this final thought: perhaps the main stumbling block is we generate excuses for why our lives, individually and collectively, are the way they are. But the passages above are straight forward and firm and leave no room for excuses. They concern the central message as stated by Jesus himself (John 13-17) and then modeled by him for us. Finding a way to actually implement these passages and concepts on a wide scale will, in my opinion, provide the necessary strategies for fixing the American Church.
That’s it for today! More perhaps after the next round of feedback…