In response to my previous post What do you Think? Nick, concerned with the church’s apparent disregard for theology, asked the question “Why is the church starting to preach the love of God without his wrath?” Now, I think my response would have been slightly different several weeks ago. However, studying I John in my Greek class has given me a slightly different, and hopefully more insightful, perspective on this subject.
I think love often gets a bad rap, not because there is something inherently wrong with it, but because it is presented in such superficial and trite ways. However, the love of God is not superficial or trite; it is not a foolish infatuation. God, being both infinite and unchanging, possesses a love that is likewise both infinite and unchanging. God’s love knows no bounds; it never fades, and never changes over time. God’s love is constant, unlike the fickle affections of men.
Listen to the words of Paul; “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-4).”
And the words of Christ, “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 (Mark 12:29-31).”
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” . . . “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32, 36).
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).”
Clearly, love should have a prominent position in the lives of those who follow Christ and in the life of His church. To answer Nick’s question; the problem is not that they are preaching love absent of God’s wrath; the problem is that they are teaching neither.
It was love that provoked Paul’s spirit, in Acts 17, when he saw Athens filled with idols. It was love that cause Christ to have compassion on the crowds when He saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). God’s abounding love and mercy caused Him to give His only Son so that we might have eternal life. Honestly, I think God’s love, and the effect it has on your lives, should scare you. What drives the martyr to be burned at the stake in hopes that God’s kingdom might be advance through his faithful witness? What is it that drives the missionary to forsake everything and place his family in certain danger if not love? What could have driven Paul to wish himself accursed, and cut off from Christ, that his kinsmen might be redeemed, if not love? When you love Christ, His glory, His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His cross, His mission, and His people your life will look drastically different. This is clearly not the love being preached in most churches; this is a dangerous, a demanding love, and a self-sacrificing love.
If, as Paul says, apart from love we have nothing, are nothing, and gain nothing, then how does the church properly balance love and theology? First, love cannot be abstracted from theology. If theology is the study of God and one of God’s attributes is love, then our theology should drive our love. The Scriptures clearly state that God is love (I John 4:8) and when churches abandon sound doctrine, they are also forsaking their ability to love.
Secondly, throughout I John the Scriptures present a picture of the church as having three essential components, Truth, love, and obedience.
The church is relevant not because it has a popular message, a captivating speaker, or an innovative program; the church is relevant because it has the Truth, namely Christ. When the church ceases to proclaim the Truth, it becomes irrelevant and useless; such churches are merely pagan places of worship engaged in idolatry.
The churches fellowship and witness is proven genuine because of its love. We are not known as Christ’s disciples because of a title we bestow upon ourselves, but because of our love, the love of Christ in us. The Great Commission finds its fulfillment not merely in our proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, to the nations, but in our bearing out of the sufferings of Christ, to the nations. We literally share the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10) and through this the world sees God’s longsuffering and abundant love.
All of this culminates in obedience, “4 Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (I John 2:4-6).” You must not merely know the Truth; you must submit yourself to it (v.4). And by obeying the Truth, the love of God is perfected in you (v.5). That is how Christ’s disciples should live; in submission to the Truth, which perfects their love, so that their life mirrors the life of Christ.
It took me a little while to get the title but I got it now…nice.
Is what ‘Christian Churches’ (denominationally) are preaching as God’s love a heresy? If in fact you have no love without wrath because they are one in the same attribute. His being just and merciful at the same time, is it heretic to say God love’s you for who you are without preaching about this love you are describing?
How’s ignite going over there on the west side?
I am glad you got the title; I was hoping at least one person would make the connection.
Yes, describing God’s love in that way is a man-centered lie from Satan. Now, let me explain why this is so. First, our tendency is always to glorify ourselves and not God. The individuals you have described probably believe that we merit God’s love. However, we must not view God’s love as stemming from who we are, but from who He is. As stated in my post God’s love is constant because God is constant; God loves because He is God. Our God is unique in that His very nature is to love, every other world religion presents god as disconnected, unconcerned, or angry and in need of appeasement.
Second, explaining God’s wrath is a necessity. I was actually studying the other night and this really hit me because I had never thought of it this way. In Matthew 5 Christ delivers this shocking message, “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.” He then goes on to inform them that even the gentiles and tax collectors love those who love them; but they must love their enemies. Why? So they may be like their Father who is in heaven. Because God loves His enemies and He loves those who persecute Him. What were you, according to Romans 5:10, prior to being reconciled and when Christ cried out to Paul on the road to Damascus whom did He say Paul was persecuting? Why does loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you make you like your father in Heaven? Because God has manifested His love to us by sending His only Son that, we, His enemies and persecutors, might live through Him.
Therefore, the message we should be proclaiming is: “God loves you; not for who you are but because of who He is. Nothing about you could merit God’s love; as a sinner, you are God’s enemy and persecutor. However, God, abounding in love and longsuffering by nature, sent His only begotten son to bear His wrath, for your sins; so that you might be reconciled to God.” And sadly you do not hear God’s love described that way often.
Ignite USC is going, it is still in the planning stage but I expect practical ministry to begin soon. I actually have a meeting this evening concerning funding/expenses as well as forming a timetable for implementation. I just redid the website for it today (http://igniteusc.blogspot.com) so go check it out and let me know what you think. I still need to revise most of the information (mainly the one about the strategy, structure, and mission statement). But I should be loads of information on there as things advance. I will also be posting my Bible study/sermon notes on there once that begins. Please keep it and us in your prayers as this develops.
That was a really long response :)