It is the wide love of God for us that leads us down the narrow road of love.
That’s the bold assertion that we made last Sunday as we launched into the last segment of Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount through our new series, The Right Way. We zeroed in on the radical breadth of who God loves, how God loves, and why God loves- and what that should mean in the lives of those of us who have received that love through Jesus. We learned that God’s life changing love is available to all– which means that ours should be too, including (but not limited to)…
- Those of other racial, ethnic backgrounds
- Those of other religious faiths (or no faith at all)
- Those of other political opinions
- Those of other economic statuses
- Those of other moral convictions and lifestyles
- Even those who have wounded us deeply
This list is undoubtedly uncomfortable to consider- and even more so to put into practice. But as we said on Sunday, while it may be improbable, if the Gospel is true it is not impossible! After all, if a holy God can love rebels like us (and the Cross of Christ proves that He has), then surely His love can flow through us into the lives of anyone in this world.
But this raises a tension for us, doesn’t it? How are we supposed to love those with whom we deeply, profoundly disagree? I’m not talking about petty disagreements, but the “heavy” stuff of life- matters like the sanctity of all human life; the nature of marriage, family, and sexuality; the appropriate response to social and economic injustice; the authority of the Bible; and the truthfulness of the Gospel. How can we reconcile God’s command to love like He does without compromising core level convictions in the process? Is this even possible?
I believe God’s answer to that question is a resounding yes– but to get to that yes, we’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
I firmly believe that when it comes to the issue of “love”- and what “counts” as “love”- we’ve been sold a lie. This is a lie that I believe originated in secular thinking, but has deeply infiltrated the thinking of many in God’s church. What is it? That love equals agreement, acceptance, and affirmation. In other words, “If you love me, you’ll agree with me, accept me without hesitation, and affirm my choices without question.” We see this kind of thinking play out most explicitly when it comes to questions of sexuality, but I believe it informs the way we think now about just about everything.
The lie itself probably shouldn’t surprise us. But what is truly tragic is to the degree to which supposedly Bible believing, orthodoxy affirming followers of Jesus have bought it without question, and have abandoned centuries of consistent Christian teaching and veered into questionable- and I believe destructive- territory, all because they’ve adopted an insufficient definition of love. What we must come to see is that a “love” that merely agrees, accepts, and affirms without question or evaluation is actually profoundly unloving– and ultimately ungodly.
The way I see it, we’ve missed the boat on this thing in two directions- both of which arise from this same poisonous root. Some in the church have blurred the lines between right and wrong, between truth and error, between sin and righteousness. Others, to the opposite extreme, have taken those lines- as revealed in God’s Word- and used them as weapons to insult, exclude, and elevate themselves over others in self-righteous judgment. But in both cases, the same lie is in play- in the former case, if I love you then I must agree with you, and in the latter, if I disagree with you I don’t have to love you. So what, then, is the alternative to these two “ditches”? Again, as it always is, the Gospel is our guide. Consider…
- God makes the truth clear- and so should we. God doesn’t play “hide and seek” with us on issues of right and wrong. While His Word may not address every potential nuance we face in life, it is decidedly not lacking in clarity on the big questions we face on a day in, day out basis. It is critical as the people of God that we understand this revealed truth well and express it clearly as we have opportunity. Now we must be humble here, recognizing that while God is infallible, we are not- which means that we need to keep pressing in for rich understanding and right application.
- God demonstrates active love toward those who reject His truth- and so should we. At one time, all of us rejected God’s truth- apart from His gracious intervention, “there is no one righteous- no, not one!” And yet God was gracious, kind, and compassionate toward us- so much so that He sent Jesus from heaven to earth to pay the price for our sin and provide us an opportunity to repent of that sin, and to trust and follow Him. As 2 Peter 3:9 declares, “God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” This heart ought to be reflected in the way we approach and engage with those who reject God- just as we once did.
- God was willing to endure suffering to see others rescued- and so should we. This is the most stunning aspect of the Gospel- that the holy God of heaven would willfully submit Himself to unjust suffering so that His enemies could know His saving love. Crazy as that sounds, that’s the standard that He sets for us too- not that we would literally go to the Cross to redeem those with whom we disagree, but that we would be willing to be misunderstood and mistreated for the sake of the Gospel. This isn’t only true for those in hostile global contexts, but also for those of us in everyday life in a culture that is increasingly emboldened in its opposition to the truth revealed in God’s Word. What if, instead of virulently fighting for our “rights” (although I am a big believer in religious liberty for all), we went the second mile to seek to understand our “enemies” and guide them toward true satisfaction and freedom in submission to our Creator? There is no guarantee how that ends up, but the clear witness of God’s Word is that that’s our calling and responsibility.
To summarize, when it comes to the idea of “love without limits,” what we find is that there are limits to what we can in good conscience agree with, accept, and affirm– but that there are not limits to the actions we take to see those held captive by sin’s deception set free by the grace of God. I want to encourage and challenge you today to consider which of the above “ditches” you are most prone to stumble into, and to instead walk in God’s supernatural strength to love others even when it is messy- just as you yourself have been loved by this God.