Why Love? (part one in a series on Christian love)

angryman.gifI am by nature an angry person. Most people who know me well would deny that. In fact, my friend Jason Janz often tells people that “Brian’s a lover.” That statement is true now, but it is only by the grace of God working in my life. Anger, incidentally, serves me well when it comes to the protection of the Gospel or defense of those I love. I can harness that energy and express it under control, hopefully for the glory of God. Of course, I still fail in that area too…miserably sometimes. I had a seminary professor who would often say that his children had never seen him lose his temper. I wish I could say that. But again, by God’s grace, I have learned to control that sudden display of fierceness. I can say confidently that I am generally now “not soon angry” as my calling requires.

What does anger have to do with love? These are both attitudes/emotions/actions that can be used by the flesh or by the Spirit. When I lash out in unbridled anger, I am living for myself. The same can be said of improper love—they are both lusts of the flesh. However, the proper use of anger and the proper demonstration of love both require something in common…death.

It is no mistake then that the ultimate expression of love required a sacrifice. Jesus died to self in His most noble act of love on the cross, where he traded our sin for His righteousness. Oh, brothers and sisters in the Lord, meditate on that thought!

On the cross, Christ also demonstrated that the holiness and love of God are not in conflict. Sin had to be judged and it was—on the Son of God. And in that death, according to the Apostle Paul, God demonstrated His love to us, even while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) This is where, I believe, fundamentalism dealt itself a suicidal blow. The primary distinction of fundamentalists in most people’s thinking seems to be separatism, often displayed through brash and arrogant leaders. Yet, I would maintain that the primary distinction we should have been known by is love. (John 13:35) We blasted the calls for unity by the neo-evangelicals of the mid-twentieth century because of their sinful association with unbelieving false teachers. Yet, cannot the emphasis of holiness found in our acts of separation be permeated with a spirit of love? Cannot the emphasis of unity be pursued in a holy manner? The fact is that unity and holiness, love and justice, are necessary pursuits and are reflective of our God. God even set up a pattern for discipline within the church that satisfies both the call to love and holiness.

Despite the bad rapport that we have inherited from some within our movement in years past and not-so-past, this is a trend that can be reversed. It must be reversed. It is the only way to resurrect the greatness of fundamentalism, in my opinion. There is no doubt in my mind and I believe there is historical evidence to support that there have been godly men in each generation of fundamentalism, men who loved as Christ loved while maintaining the purity of their church and the fundamentalist movement. Yet, the reality is that most people have a largely negative perception of fundamentalism. They have memories of their experiences in fundamental churches with fundamental leaders and those memories are not good. They have seen the harsh, dictatorial side of the movement. When fundamentalism was blasting other institutions and individuals with her resolutions of condemnation and calls for separation—many of them justifiable—we forgot one thing: how to speak the truth.

Francis Schaeffer, I think, expressed similar thoughts when he wrote:

We have conferences about everything else. Who has ever heard of a conference to consider how true Christians can exhibit in practice a fidelity to the holiness of God and yet simultaneously exhibit in practice a fidelity to the love of God before a watching world? Who ever heard of sermons or writings that carefully present the practice of two principles that at first seem to work against each other: (1) the principle of the practice of the purity of the visible church in regard to doctrine and life and (2) the principle of the practice of an observable love and oneness among all true Christians? (from The Mark of a Christian)

We still struggle with this balance today. The problem with fundamentalism in this regard is that men have not always struggled to achieve this balance. They have erred by the overemphasis of one pursuit to the exclusion or minimization of the other.

From time to time because of my work as a moderator at SharperIron, I have the opportunity to exhort my brothers and sisters to be more loving in the tone of their posts. I have often been challenged on this concept by well-meaning brothers who somehow believe that they have the right to use arrogant and acerbic language when they encounter what they believe to be error. Friends, there is nothing further from the truth. I am passionate for God’s truth. I will argue tenaciously for it. I would die for the fundamentals of the faith. But, we must understand that we negate our message when we attach such a sinful spirit. Christ is our supreme Example in this regard.

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 4:32-5:2, NKJV)

The most persuasive argument does little to move me when it is not accompanied with tenderheartedness. There is, however, very little resistance I can make against truth with love. It is compelling because it reminds me of Christ, it resonates with my spirit, it breaks down barriers of the heart. In fact, it is exactly in these times of conflict, that God’s intent becomes crystal clear. Schaeffer addresses this as well:

It is in the midst of difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well, and we are all standing around a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians and Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father. (from The Mark of a Christian)

This is why I have, in the past, argued so passionately in the area of music in worship. Musical style is not addressed in Scripture. We, therefore, have to apply Scriptural principles to our musical choices. We will come to different conclusions. And it is in these areas of opinion that we must exercise love and reject separation. That is precisely the spirit of Romans 14. It doesn’t mean that we relinquish our opinions; it just means we love and fellowship in spite of them. That sends a powerful message to both the weak Christian and the watching world.

Loving in this way is not easy. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, it requires death to self. In order to die to self, we must first see a great God that we desire to know and love with all our heart. After all, it is the greatest commandment in all of Scripture.

When we see God for Who He is, we easily see ourselves for who we are. A valuable study in introspection with regard to our love exists in 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s review the description of love given there:

Verse Four

Love suffers long,
love is kind, and
does not envy;
love does not parade itself and
is not puffed up,

Verse Five

does not behave rudely;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
thinks no evil 

Verse Six

does not rejoice in iniquity, but
rejoices in the truth;

Verse Seven

bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

I don’t know about you, but my heart struggles with just about every one of these characteristics. I am impatient. I am unkind. I am envious. I am proud. The list goes on and on. So what has to happen to this impatient, unkind, envious, proud side of Brian McCrorie? It has to die.

This is where something incredible begins to happen. In my evil heart resides the Spirit of God. He is making my heart a place fit for God. He convicts me of sin. He teaches me truth. And so many times, just after He has mopped the sin-dirt off the floor of my heart, my evil flesh tromps in the door with shoes caked in the mire of evil. This battle for purity is ongoing and it is a daily, beautiful expression of God’s love to me. And as the Spirit does His work, He produces fruit in me, the greatest of which is love.

This is what is so comforting and hopeful about the work of sanctification. Though I am called to love, I cannot love without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in my sinful heart. He empowers me to love, to serve, to die.

Why love? It sends a powerful message to those without Christ of the kind of life they can experience with Him. Love enables believers in conflict to have unity and fellowship, despite diversity. Love is a testimony to my own soul that God is working in my heart. Ultimately, though, we love for one reason and one reason only: because God loved us first.

Let all that you do be done with love. (1 Corinthians 16:14, NKJV)

(This article was originally posted at www.sharperiron.org.)

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