The Determining Factor of Love

Josh Buice

Unless you’ve been in a dark hole in recent days, you have witnessed a moral and sexual revolution sweep across the United States of America.  This revolution has married together popular opinion and the legislative powers of our land.  When this issue was in the heat of the debate and even now in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the proponents of same-sex marriage often appeal to love as the determining factor for their decision.  They ask opponents to the same-sex marriage decision questions like, “How could a good God deny my right to love?”  They often go beyond that to make statements like, “I know it’s right, because I love my partner and my partner loves me.  It feels right.”

As we think about love, we often approach it from the wrong direction.  I once heard a man make the statement that the most prostituted word in the English language is love.  Anytime we have a conversation regarding a term or a theme, we must be able to define it properly prior to entering into the conversation.  The word love has been misunderstood and improperly defined for years.  The broader culture defines love as a feeling rather than an act of the will or in various other ways in which we see the term used in the Greek language.  D.A. Carson, in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God writes:

For instance, the noun έρως (not found in the New Testament) refers to sexual love, erotic love; the φιλέω word group refers to emotional love, the love of friendship and feeling.  By contrast, the ἀγαπάω word group refers to willed love, an act of willed self-sacrifice for the good of another.  It has no necessary emotional component, however generous it may be. [1]

It’s quite obvious that the Greek culture understood the various different levels to the word love.  In English, it’s flattened out and often approached as a mere feeling rather than something more accurate – such as an act of the will.  If we take the slippery slope of the fuzzy feeling definition of love and allow it to be the determining factor of right and wrong, where do we end up at the end of the day?  What about the husband and wife who love one another deeply and find out that the wife has stage 4 cancer in her brain.  Suppose that she looks at her husband and says that she really wants him to prove his love for her by injecting her with a chemical agent that will stop her heart from beating in order to prevent future suffering through the terminal cancer.  Would that condone the act of murder?

At this point many people object and claim that we can’t condone murder because it’s against the law.  Really?  What about abortion?  The love of self is the fuel behind abortion, and it’s a legal form of murder.  Suppose that the Supreme Court ruled that lethal injection in cases of terminal illness was not murder if it was done in a medical facility by a licensed physician.  Would that solve the issue?  The point is clear – we can’t make decisions based on feelings or emotions called “love” and believe that it solves the problem.  It doesn’t solve the underlying issues.  Murder remains murder – no matter what the court system in our country says.

As we examine the sexual revolution in our culture, the proponents of same-sex marriage claim that the church should comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court and any opposition to the legalized marriage of homosexuals is anti-love.  Is that what we see in the Scripture?  What about the church at Corinth when Paul wrote to that body of Christians and talked about how they had been saved out of the lifestyle of homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).  Was that insensitive or anti-love?  What about the many times that the New Testament apostles condemn sexual immorality in the life of the church?  Is that anti-love?

The English translation of sexual immorality is derived from a Greek word πορνεία which encompasses many different types of sexual sins such as, adultery, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, and various other deviant sexual practices.  Jesus Himself employs this very word in Mark 7:21-23.  Once again, the apostle Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 5 as he calls out the man who was having sex with his father’s wife.  Out of love, Paul commands the church to purge the man from their membership.  Out of love for God, love for the purity of the church, and finally – love for the sinning man – Paul told the church to remove this man so that his soul would be saved.  That was the goal – that the man would be disciplined by the church and come to repentance.

Likewise, as we see Jesus writing a letter to the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2, He condemns them for being led astray by a false teacher named Jezebel.  Her sinful doctrine involved sexual immorality.  The particular word used by Jesus to describe this sin is – πορνεύω – which is similar to πορνεία but focuses upon prostitution and illicit unlawful sexual practices.  Was that anti-love for Jesus to call out that sin?  Perhaps Jezebel loved the people in the church at Thyatira, is Jesus wrong to deny her the ability to love those people?

We may have different usages for the word love, but no matter how we define love, the determining factor is not a feeling or emotion.  We must love God supremely and recognize that God loves God and is committed to the exaltation of His eternal glory.  Every decision that we make in life must be under submission to God’s love.  God has revealed what that looks like in His authoritative Word.  The Bible demands that we love Him and as a result that we love life and refrain from murder.  God demands that we love Him and as a result that our human sexuality will be restricted to the boundaries of God’s original intent found in Genesis 1-2 with His institution of marriage.  God demands that we love Him and as a result that we love His church and seek to discipline one another in love in a way that promotes holiness and unity in the gospel.  Kevin DeYoung, in his book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, writes:

Loves is cross (Romans 5:8). Love is what we do when we keep Christ’s commands (John 14:15). Love is sharing with our brothers and sisters in need (1 John 3:16-18). Love is treating each other with kindness and patience (1 Cor. 13:4). Love is disciplining the wayward sinner (Prov. 3:11-12). Love is chastising the rebellious saint (Heb. 12:5-6). And love is throwing your arms around the prodigal son when he sees his sin, comes to his senses, and heads for home (Luke 15:17-24). [2]

Is God anti-love?  Read John 3:16-17 and answer that question.  The God who has given His Son Jesus to die for guilty sinners on a cross is the very definition of love.  That’s why 1 John 4:8 says – “God is love.”  If love is the determining factor – God is the determining factor.  If we make our decisions in life and our cultural laws based on God – it will spare us from much heartache in the end.  If we love God, we will truly desire to love His perfect will and submit ourselves to His authority.  R.C. Sproul writes, “In the New Testament, love is more of a verb than a noun. It has more to do with acting than with feeling. The call to love is not so much a call to a certain state of feeling as it is to a quality of action.” [3]

1.  The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 2000, p. 26.

2.  What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Crossway, 2015, p. 127.

3.  The Intimate Marriage, P&R Publishing, 1975, p. 53.

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Author The Determining Factor of Love

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.