The call to love is not a choice.

tough love

Did you watch the Super Bowl this past Sunday?  Did you see the culmination point in which the entire stands were involved, holding rainbow-colored pieces of a warm and fuzzy mantra that read, “Believe in love”?  For generations, Americans have believed that simple love would solve every political and social problem we have.  “All you need is love” was written to give the world a message during the sixties, and countless love-enthusiasts pushed back against the Vietnam war proclaiming “Make love not war”.

It all sounds good in theory, but unfortunately we all have varying opinions of what love actually is, and we all have a conscience and morality by which we value justice.  Even if we can agree that love seeks a person’s best, and therefore does not necessarily give another what he wants but what he needs, people can disagree on what exactly a person needs!  Love alone does not answer all of those intricacies.

Thankfully, we have the Bible to direct and guide us.  In Scripture, we learn fundamentally that God is love (1 John 4.8).  He has been love since the beginning, and every aspect of life on Earth is a reflection of His love for Himself and His love for His people.  He uses every circumstance to work things out for our best and for His glory (Rom 8.28).  Sometimes we wish we could change our circumstances, but when we recognize God’s sovereignty and nature, we come to realize that He has something planned which we simply may not yet understand.

Because God is love, when we come to understand His love through salvation, we are commanded to love.  The apostle John is poignantly and painfully clear on the fact that when a person is saved by God, the natural response will be an outpouring of God’s love for God, for brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the lost.  He states, in fact, that if we do not love, then we do not know God:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

– 1 John 4.7-8

And this is not simply a a character assessment.  He narrows it down to even one person:

“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.  The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”

– 1 John 2.9-10

If there is one person whom we are incapable of or willing to love, then we are in the darkness.

This is one reason the Scriptures weigh heavily on our obedience and intentionality to die to ourselves and work on our salvation (Phil 2.12).  If we simply coast, we will not fight back against bitterness, jealously, envy and strife.  If we do not keep our emotions and actions in check, we will fall into those normal pitfalls and justify our wicked hearts and actions.  Anyone would hate her rapist, the murderer of his child or the one who stole his job, right?

Everytime I am tempted to justify my bad attitude, my ill feelings of another person, I remember that Jesus loved and cared for the people who were murdering Him.  If Jesus can love those people, and we are called to follow His example, then I am not justified in hating someone who stepped on my toes or who hurt my pride.  We are commanded:

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…”

– Heb 12.15

The root of bitterness is so sly.  Unless we are intentionally loving someone, hurt feelings or distrust can quickly turn to a twinge of bitterness.  And any small inkling of bitterness will only grow unless purposefully rooted out.

But does that mean we should let people walk all over us?  Are we just doormats who get taken advantage of, and we smile all the while?  No.  Absolutely not.  In fact, Scripture teaches us plainly and clearly how we are to handle sin.

First of all, Jesus commands us to love God with everything we have (Matt 22.37).  Secondly, we love one another – namely, the Church (Matt 22.39, Gal 6.9-10).  Lastly, we love a lost world, and your enemies (Luke 6.27).  The way we love God is different from the way we love other believers, and the way we love other believers is different than the way we love the lost and our enemies.  We love God by submission and absolute trust.  He is our Lord, He is in charge, and we submit to His authority and His leadership.

We love one another by pushing one another on to holiness (Heb 10.24).  Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  This means that our first and primary concern is their Spiritual well being and maturity, while our secondary concerns would be meeting physical needs:  food, clothing, a place to sleep, a job.  A brother or sister in Christ is someone who has confessed belief in Jesus Christ for salvation and calls himself a believer.  Such a person needs accountability in his walk with Christ and every day life.  We all need that.  Thus, we do not tolerate sin and we help one another conquer sin.

We love our enemies by recognizing that they have not yet understood the Gospel and have not yet submitted themselves to Jesus Christ for salvation.  In the same heart as loving our brothers and sisters, our primary concern is their Spiritual well fare – and this simply means their salvation.  Since they do not yet know Jesus, it serves us no good to fight against any of their sins because until they are saved they are Spiritually dead.  Putting makeup on dead people will not help them out eternally.  So we love them by trying to introduce them to Jesus, and also helping meet their physical needs to the best of our ability.

God is so concerned about our loving one another that He even gives us instructions for how we are to handle a person who claims to be a Christian, but yet will not submit to God’s commandments:

“But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

– 1 Cor 5.11

Jesus teaches us that if a “brother” sins against us or we catch him in sin, we should confront him privately.  If he confesses his sin and repents, then it is over and we have gained our brother.  If he will not confess and repent, then we should take one or two trusted people with us to confront him.  If he confesses his sin and repents, then it is over and we have gained our brother.  If he will not confess and repent, then we should take it to the church.  If he confesses his sin and repents, then it is over and we have gained our brother.  If he will not confess and repent, then we should remove him from the church and completely disassociate with him (Matt 18.15-17).

Repentance and humility are the key.  None of us is perfect and none of us will be completely without sin – this side of Heaven.  The problem is not the fact that we will all sin, the problem is choosing to embrace sin and an unwillingness to submit to God as Lord over our lives.  God gets to define sin, we must submit to Him.  If we do not submit to Him, then He is not our Lord and we are not saved.  Thus, if someone can be confronted four times without repentance, he is proving himself to not be a believer.

We disassociate ourselves with such a one because he already knows the truth, and it is up to God alone to work in his heart for conviction.  Thus we understand Paul’s teaching more clearly:

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside, God judges.  Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

– 1 Cor 5.9-15

We must associate with non-believers who act like the world, in order to show them the love of God and win them to salvation!  We must not, however, associate with those who know the Truth and continue to live like the world willfully and in light of confrontation.  We must be concerned with the purity of the body of Christ, because we love God first.  Again, this does not mean that we are perfect, it means that we confess and repent from our sins when we commit them and/or when someone confronts us in them.

Is it then unloving to disassociate with a false brother who is established in sin?  Absolutely not.  We do this out of love for them, to show them the severity and penalty of sin.  God does not tolerate sin, and we long for their repentance so that they can be right with God.  If they will not walk away from it, them we disassociate with them until they do.  The moment they repent, we welcome them back with an embrace – the same way the father received the prodigal son.  We should and may never disassociate with someone out of bitterness or anger, that would be sin on the part of the body.  It must always be out of brokenness, love and with a Spirit of humility, praying for the restoration of such a one.

God is love, and we are commanded to love as He has loved.  This does not simply mean making everyone happy, it means pursuing everyone’s Spiritual best.  How is your Spiritual walk today?  Are you making peace with any sin?  Are you choosing not to love anyone?  Is there anyone in your body who needs to be confronted?  Are you choosing to disassociate with someone who is in unrepentant sin for the sake of their salvation?  Or are you still friends because it’s just not that big of a deal?

Let’s love.  Let’s love boldly.  Let’s pursue one another’s and the world’s Spiritual best, and that in the way God commanded us.