Written by Sam Logan
Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00
In the previous two blogs, I have tried to present reasons why and how we should love those with whom we disagree. I have suggested that, on the model of how Jesus loved us, this even includes those whom we think are sinning.
But there are some biblical cautions about this kind of love and these must be considered as well. [However, it is intentional that I am identifying only two ways NOT to love while I listed three ways TO love.]
I return to the story with which I began.
Stan Duncan, a pastor and columnist for the Huffington Post, recently cited the following story with approval:
I've been encouraged by the words of a Baptist preacher friend from Dallas who once told me that when he dies and stands before St. Peter at the pearly gates, and he hears a list of his lifetime's sins, he expects to hear a long list. But when all is said and done, he said he would much rather be judged for being too open minded than too closed. "If I'm going to make a mistake," he said, "I suspect God would rather it be a mistake of loving too many people into the kingdom than too few."
And this was Rev. Duncan’s conclusion from that story:
I was present the year our church passed the resolution affirming gay marriage, and it was tense. After rancorous study and debates, the majority finally concluded that no matter how much one might argue the differentness of gays from straight people, they couldn't quite be convinced of the wrongness of it. How could God create human beings and then tell them not to love one another? [Emphasis added]
Does the Scriptural command to love one another require us to affirm whatever behavior those others exhibit?
No, it does not.
And here are two reasons:
1. Scriptural love must be honest love.
In none of our relationships do we make the assumption that love involves endorsement of everything that the one we love does. Neither did God’s love for us (“while we were yet sinners”) involve His endorsement of all that we were doing (“while we were yet sinners”). Indeed, it may be argued that meaningful, appropriate love must involve a genuine care and concern for the one we are loving and, if we believe that the behavior in which that one is engaged is wrong, we would be unloving NOT to communicate that belief.
Of course, we always need to remember point 1. in the first blog in this series – “What I THINK is sin could be no sin at all.” Humility, especially in interpreting God’s word, must be a hallmark of each and every Christian. But biblical humility does not mean the abandonment of all convictions and all beliefs. Even as we must remain open to “further light” in understanding of the Word of God, we cannot jettison all that we do believe; if we were to do that, then there would be no warrant for the kind of love for which I have been arguing in these blogs.
Back to Dostoyevsky again, this time with a focus on Ivan, the intellectual among “the brothers Karamazov.” Dostoyevsky puts into Ivan’s mouth one of the most famous of all statements in literature – “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Of course, many have tried to show the error in Ivan’s logic, but he does have a point, a point which leads him to kill his father (which serves as a powerful symbol of the ultimate Parricide).
But my point is really a simple one – if I start jettisoning my convictions just because I am finite and sinful and might be wrong about any one of those convictions, then, sooner or later, I could very well come to the conclusion that murdering that abortion doctor is acceptable. But if I should hold to my beliefs as long as I continue to see those beliefs taught in Scripture, then humility does not require me to abandon those beliefs simply because others, even others whom I love, don’t see those beliefs taught in Scripture.
Indeed, and this brings us back to the matter of honesty in love, to the fact that it would be unloving NOT to continue to oppose, in those whom I love, behavior which I think, on the basis of my present understanding of Scripture, is ultimately harmful.
This is a widely accepted principle in most parts of our lives – if a loved one were abusing prescription painkillers, I would be regarded as an “enabler” if I stood by and did nothing. If a friend seemed consumed by bitterness because of perceived mistreatment by others, I would cease to be a “friend” if I did not seek to bring about a change in his perspective and attitude. And the same principle holds when applied to those whom we think, based on our present understanding of Scripture, are wrong in areas like racism, abortion on demand, and gay marriage.
All kinds of cautions are needed here, but I have tried to provide those cautions in my second blog in this series. Arrogance and mean-spiritedness all too often do characterize the responses of Christians when we see what we think is sin. That is one reason why I structured these blogs as I did. It is only when we take very seriously the Scriptural mandate to love and the Scriptural description of what Christian love is that we may proceed to oppose behavior which we think is wrong. Blogs one and two provide the context for blog three, and not the other way around.
But, in the end, we must reject the notion, as presented by Rev. Duncan above, that, if we really love someone, we will never oppose whatever they want to do.
2. Scriptural love must be focused first on God.
Here, finally, I get to quote my MOST favorite author, Jonathan Edwards.
In his Treatise on Religious Affections, which I happen to believe is the greatest book of any kind written by a human being, Edwards seeks to describe those characteristics which are often THOUGHT to identify genuine Christians (but do not) and those characteristics which really DO identify genuine Christians.
Edwards begins Section 2 of Part III of his Treatise with this statement:
The first objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest.
At first glance, this statement may seem innocuous and perhaps even a bit pedantic. But as Edwards goes on in the next several pages to unpack his meaning, the truly revolutionary nature of the statement becomes clear. After discussing at length the tendency of all of us to love God primarily for what He has done for us or for those whom we love, Edwards makes this remarkable statement:
Whereas the exercises of true and holy love in the saints arise in another way. They do not first see that God loves them, and then see that he is lovely, but they first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view, and the exercises of their love are wont from time to time to begin here, and to arise primarily from these views; and then, consequentially, they see God's love, and great favor to them.
Edwards here is talking about the motivation for our faith in Christ and about everything else in our spiritual lives. The true mark of genuinely gracious affections is that those affections are truly and primarily focused on the Triune God, not on the benefits we may receive from exercising faith in Him. If there is no sense at all that my most fundamental reason for placing my faith in Christ is that He deserves it, then there is the very real possibility that my faith is what Edwards calls “counterfeit.”
Of course, there are blessings for the child of God . . . far more blessings than we could ever imagine! But if those blessings are what I am really after, then I am not really seeking first the glory of God. And that is what Jesus Himself told us we should seek first (Matthew 6:33).
In the context of the subject of these blogs, how did Jesus Himself put it? When questioned about “the most important commandment of all,” Jesus responded this way:
The most important is, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.
The lesson I take from Edwards and, far more important, from Jesus Himself is that, though it is the second most important commandment of all, “Love your neighbor” must always be subject to our love for and obedience to “the Lord our God.” If God has given a command, we do not love our neighbor appropriately if we ignore that command, even in the name of love for that neighbor. In other words, we should NOT love our neighbor in any way that suggests that that neighbor is more important than God.
Of course, we must always be sensitive to point #1 in blog #1 – “What I THINK is sin could be no sin at all.” Humility is an incredibly important part of truly “gracious” love (see Edwards, Affections, III., 8. and III., 9).
But, as stated in point #3 of blog #1, we also must remember that disagreement does not necessarily make love impossible. In fact, the greatest love is often shown in the context of such disagreement –
But God shows His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).
It wasn’t because He had decided that we were sinless that God make the supreme, loving sacrifice for His people. In fact, it was because we were sinners, that “God so loved the world.” That must be our approach to those whom we think are sinning, to those with whom we disagree. Here, one more time, are our marching orders:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan