Love is not a force. Love is far more than a deep emotional feeling sparked by an arrow from Cupid’s bow. However, you wouldn’t know that by the worship within much of evangelicalism. It’s common for sermons to be filled with romanticized love (eros) which is never used in the New Testament. This way of describing our love for God or God’s love for us has swept through the church in our day. For instance, in John Mark McMillan’s song, “How He Loves” describes God’s love for us by stating:
So we are his portion and he is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
So heaven meets earth
Like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest
And I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about
Jesus is not our boyfriend, and the church is not Jesus’s girlfriend. Words matter. God has determined to communicate to us by the use of language, so how we employ language in response to God matters too.
This past week, the world of social media was set on fire due to an exchange that I had with Beth Moore. It was sparked by her tweet that stated she had a “crush” on Jesus. This would eventually result in direct interactions between Beth Moore and me on Twitter culminating in a question that asked if I loved her. Beth Moore’s tweet read:
What may seem like a simple question that deserves an unqualified “Y” turned into a firestorm of comments and engagement from people in the world of social media. My response was as follows:
This raises the question, is love simply a static “Y” in all cases without any conditions, or is love applied and extended based on specific conditions of life?
What does it mean to love? Love is more than an emotion. God loves sinners unconditionally, meaning that God does not look through the tunnel of time to see if we are valuable enough to love or can offer any positive results to his sovereign plan. His love is based on his free will and unchanging plan to save sinners. But, we must remember, the same God who loved Jacob also hated Esau. So, it’s not enough to say, “God is love” no matter how true that statement is in reality.
Love is far more than a Hallmark sentence on a card or a stirring of the depths of the emotions. In a very basic sense, to love someone is to desire the best for another individual. That desire is reinforced by actions. Jesus answered the scribe who asked what the greatest commandment was by saying:
“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
The response of a Christian is to act in love toward people God has placed in our life by his providence. It’s not our duty to evaluate if the person is our neighbor. If they have been placed in our path and have some need that we can meet—our duty is to love that individual.
The Scriptures teach that we are to love one another. But, we must be mindful that all verses that command us to “love one another” have a context. When it comes to loving other people, it’s not as simple as it may seem on the surface. In fact, love is perhaps the most prostituted word in the English language.
How we apply love to specific individuals will be determined based on specific conditions or factors. For instance, I love my wife in a way that I do not love other people. I love my church family in a way that I do not love the Golden State Killer. I love my fellow pastors in my local church in a way that I do not love my enemies. Specific conditions such as marital covenant and church membership will influence how I love other people. Needless to say, the way that I apply love for my fellow church members will be different than how I demonstrate love for a serial rapist.
We must be clear, when Paul was writing to the church in Galatia, he was not encouraging the elders of the church to go out into the town square of Galatia and circle the church up alongside the false teachers of the circumcision party and sing kumbaya. That’s not love. However, we must be crystal clear at this point. Paul did demonstrate love toward the Judaizers. Paul loved the Judaizers and the church at Galatia enough to confront their error.
When Jesus talked with his followers at the Last Supper over a meal just prior to him being arrested and crucified, he said, “Love one another.” That’s not all Jesus said. He said the following:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34–35
When Jesus uttered those words to his disciples that evening, it was after Satan entered Judas and he was sent away. That context is extremely important to note, because all of the “love one another” passages in the New Testament are within the context of the local church and are intended to model Christian love within the covenant of faith (John 13:34, 15:12, 17; Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 5). Judas was a devil—not a true child of God.
So, how does a Christian show love for non-Christians? In a general sense as a fellow image bearer, we desire the good and wellbeing of all people. This means that if given an opportunity to help someone, feed someone who is hungry, or to help a stranger in need—we engage with acts of generosity, benevolence, and love.
Within the church community, if someone is living in sin, we are to confront that person and bring about correction (rebuke and reprove). Jesus commanded church discipline in Matthew 18, so this is not something that is up for debate among the Christian community. If we love Jesus, we are to love one another by keeping Jesus’ commandment to engage in biblical church discipline (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3; Matt 18:15-20).
The Christian is likewise called to go beyond showing love for fellow image bearers in a general sense. We are actually commanded to love our enemies too (Matt 5:44-48). This involves praying for them, and not simply praying imprecatory psalms upon their heads. Praying for enemies can be a difficult discipline, but one that is motivated by love for God and carried out by the power of the Spirit.
Do I Love Beth Moore?
Do I love Beth Moore? Yes. When she asked me the question, the answer I provided was not the popular route. I did not simply answer with a “Y” on Twitter. My answer was based on the fact that my love is dependent upon her theology and practice, and it’s applied to her in one of the three categories she provided. In other words, how I apply love to her is dependent upon specific conditions. Either, I love her in a generic sense as my neighbor or I love her in a specific way as my enemy or as my sister in Christ.
Since I do not know Beth Moore and she isn’t a member of my local church, in reality, the best way for me to demonstrate my love for Beth Moore in this recent exchange on Twitter was to correct her for her lack of reverence and awe for the Son of God by tweeting out that she has a “crush” on Jesus. I went further to articulate my concern for her affirmation of false teachers. This is a demonstration of love.
The best way to show a lack of love for Beth Moore and for her followers on Twitter would be to ignore a public statement regarding her “crush” on Jesus. To silently ignore people who are in sin or in a seriously dangerous place in life is to refuse to show love. This is why evangelicalism does not practice church discipline today, because the masses have been conditioned to believe that in order to grow a church you must avoid serious accountability and church discipline. That’s a lie, and it’s the opposite of love. Love confronts, rebukes, reproves, and warns.
I love my children, but I cannot allow them to refuse good nutritious meals by eating candy and junk food at our supper table. If I allowed them to eat what they wanted, that would not be love. I love my friend, but if he is committing adultery on his wife, I would not show love to him if I ignored it. I love my neighbor, but if he’s broken down on the side of the road when I leave for work in the early hours of the morning and I pass him by and ignore his need, that’s not love. The same thing is true with regard to my response to Beth Moore. To simply say “Y” and refuse to correct her would not be a very loving thing to do (Eph 4:15).
Since my interactions with Beth Moore on this issue, I have learned of her making similar statements about the Apostle Paul. In an interview, Beth Moore stated that she has a “theological crush” on Paul. This is tragic and irresponsible. As God gives us influence in the various spheres of life—whether that’s the local church or as a conference speaker and author—it is our duty and responsibility to steward that influence for the glory of God and the wellbeing of others. Paul said, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). If our goal is to lead fellow Christians to Christian maturity (Eph 4:13-14) and sound theology (Titus 2:1), we must guard our speech and conduct so that as people follow after us, they will be led to the Jesus who is revealed in Scripture.
A false view of love leads people to a faulty practice of worship. Augustine said:
Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved!