CHRISTIAN ETHICS 2

The Law of Love

Probably one of the most over-used and abused words in the English language is “love.” Consider the following statements:

  • I love this car!
  • I love Italian food!
  • I love that TV show/movie/song/book, etc.!

Have you ever said things like that? Do you realize how ridiculous it is to use the word “love” like that? We all do it, though; when we want to emphasize how strongly we feel about something we whip out the word “love.” That’s an unfortunate habit that Christians would do well to disabuse themselves of. Really, it would be better to say things like:

  • I really like this car!
  • I really enjoy Italian food!
  • That is such a good TV show/movie/song/book, etc.!

Because the word “love” is so misused, a lot of us don’t know what it really means. Even when we manage to use it correctly, because we don’t fully understand it, all we are doing is saying a word, we aren’t following through and bringing it to fulfillment with concrete actions and attitudes. This results in an ethical problem for Christians because for us, Christ’s law of love is supposed to be the guiding principle for all we do; in all our relationships, both with other people and with God.

Love is much more than a feeling; it is something meant to be demonstrated. Herein lies the problem. The demonstration of love is largely a subjective thing, subject to our temperaments, our personalities, and sometimes our circumstances. Yet, the proper demonstration of love is potentially the greatest witness we can have for Christ. Without a doubt, love is something we all need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate consistently.

1. Love: A command

(a) Love God, Mark 12:28—31

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus was put to the test by two groups of Jews; religious leaders and a group of pro-government Jews. Initially, Jesus was asked about paying taxes (verse 14), then a question about the resurrection (verses 18—23).

After deftly handling those questions, Jesus was approached by one of the teachers of the law and asked a question very important to Jews: which commandment is most important. In a scintillating moment of brilliance, Jesus quotes the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4),

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

There was no answer more appropriate for Jesus to give, but that wasn’t enough for our Lord. He continued with a commandment about love. First, the command to love God. This was also highly appropriate since it was God who initiated the great covenant with His people, which itself was based on His love for them. Even the most hardened Jew would have no problem with the second part of Jesus’ answer.

Then, Jesus added the second greatest commandment, which He wasn’t asked about. As far as Jesus was concerned, love for your neighbor is second only to love for God in order of importance. These two commands are linked together and involve far more than paying lip service to either party. Loving God involves actions, not just words and feelings, and if we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” then that means far more than just saying nice things to them. Imagine the foolishness, for example, of being hungry and just talking about eating but never eating. It’s the same thing with claiming to love God and others, love has to be demonstrated in order for it to mean something. Simply saying that you love God or telling your neighbor that you love them is virtually meaningless unless those words are backed up by actions. For his part, Jesus’ questioner got precisely what Jesus was trying to say, and we have to give him credit for that:

Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32—33)

(b) Love believers, John 13:34—35

This “new commandment” given by Jesus to His disciples was given during what we commonly refer to as “the Last Supper.” In between Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and Peter’s denial of Jesus, our Lord gives this command specifically aimed at believers and their love for each other.

The first thing that strikes us about this is that love for other believers had to be commanded! Loving other Christians ought to be as natural as breathing, yet apparently it isn’t as easy as it sounds. When it comes to loving one another in the Body of Christ, He is to be our great example: “as I have loved you.” So, if you are stumped about how to love the person who sits in front of you in church, then the onus is on you to re-read how Jesus loved His disciples, and the Gospels are replete with examples of ways in which Jesus manifested His love for His followers.

The second thing we notice is one of the reasons for loving other believers: “everyone will know” that you are a Christian. Loving a brother or sister is a good witness within the church, but it is a powerful witness to the outside world! As those looking in see our acts of love towards one another, they will know for sure that our faith is real.

2. Love meets law’s demands

a) Love your neighbor, Romans 13:8—10

These verses don’t really have to do with paying off monetary debts, nor are they an admonition against borrowing money. The previous verses deal with things like that:

Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (verse 7)

In fact, the true Biblical ethicist always pays his debts, no matter what that debt may be—money, or otherwise. This is in stark contrast to the wicked:

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously. (Psalm 37:21)

Having dealt with money, Paul goes a little further. He knows Christians want pay off their debts. Nobody wants to be known as a deadbeat who defaults on a debt. Nobody likes to be in debt; when you are paying off a debt it’s like a monthly bloodletting until its paid off! A lot of people today will use their tax refunds to retire a debt, just to have the peace of mind that the debt is gone. Paul artfully lets his readers know that there is another debt just as important as, say, a mortgage or car payment, and it should be treated the same way; the debt to love one another. Imagine what the church would look like if we fell all over ourselves “pay the debt of love” to our brother or sister. We would never walk away from a financial obligation, so why do we walk away from the “love obligation?”

Loving our neighbor isn’t always as a dramatic as the story of the Good Samaritan. Sometimes Godly love expressed by a believer goes unnoticed by that believer, but the the recipient of that love always notices. Sometimes love for a neighbor is just making sure no harm comes to them.

Granted, some neighbors are hard to love. But Christians are not given the privilege of choosing which neighbor to love.

(b) Love without favoritism, James 2:8—13

Here is the hardest part about loving neighbors. Preferring one neighbor over another is a sin. We are not allowed to be selective. We are not allowed to pick and choose the kind of neighbor to love or when to love them.

One thing missed by casual readers of Scripture is this:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (verse 12)

The ethical ideal of loving one another is a command given us by God, but we have the freedom to obey it or not. Love cannot be forced. Christians never seem to realize the awesome freedom we have in Christ, for if we did, out attitudes and behavior would most certainly change! Consider what Paul wrote to the Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Christ set us free! But with that freedom comes an awesome responsibility to be obedient to God’s wishes for us. One of them is His wish for His children to love one another without favoritism. Genuine love comes from the inside out; it is not influenced by another person’s clothing or social standing.

3. Love = service

(a) The importance of love, 1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:1—3

The Corinthian church was a mess. There were no less than four warring factions within that congregation, so you can imagine there wasn’t a whole lot of love there. There were spiritual divisions, there were economic divisions, and there were sexual divisions; all this in one church! In an effort to bring some kind of unity to the congregation, Paul urged this large church to practice proper discipline, to respect the differences between men and women, and to desire the best spiritual gifts.

He also spent a considerable number of verses discussing the way of love. If we take a careful look at the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, we notice a surprising thing: love soars above all other spiritual gifts. It is valued more even than the gift of faith. In fact, love is more important than the most philanthropic and benevolent act you can perform, like giving away your clothes. Love is more significant than the ultimate self-sacrifice of giving your body for the sake of the Gospel. The fact is, unless love the motiving factor behind all those things is love, then all those things mean nothing in God’s sight.

(b) Evidence of love, 1 Corinthians 13:4—7

Within this group of verses, Paul makes a series of “bullet points” which describe the nature love:

  • Love is patient
  • Love is kind
  • Love does not envy
  • Love does not boast
  • Love is not proud
  • Love does not dishonor others
  • Love is not self-seeking
  • Love is not easily angered
  • Love is keeps no record of wrongs
  • Love does not delight in evil
  • Love rejoices in the truth
  • Love always protects
  • Love always trusts
  • Love always hopes
  • Love always perseveres

These 15 qualities make up our Love Test. If these qualities are found in our lives, then we will be manifesting love to the people in our lives. But just looking at that list of qualities can depress us! How can we hope to have all of those things working at the same time? Unfortunately, there is no verse in the Bible that tells us how easy love is. There is no magic 10-step formula for making you a loving person. We will have to work at it. Sometimes the love will come easy, other times not so easy. But unless we are putting forth the effort, along with the help of the Holy Spirit, to manifest these 15 qualities, we won’t have love.

(c ) Love forgives, Galatians 6:1, 2

Finally, in our study of love as it relates to Christian ethics, we have to make note of forgiveness. That God shed His love abroad in our hearts and forgave us our sins is a given. But if we have received this forgiveness, then we are obligated to show that exact same kind of forgiveness to others.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

That may be hard to do sometimes, but forgiving others and helping others in their walk with Christ is all part of showing love.

At the beginning of this study, we suggested that demonstrating love is a very subjective thing, often open to interpretation by others and also subject to our own temperaments and personalities. While that may be true, if we believe the Bible (and assuming we know how to read!), then we have no excuse for not knowing how to express love in the best way possible. Jesus Christ is the supreme example for us. The question so glibly asked these days is, “What Would Jesus Do?” Actually,  you should already know the answer to that. So the question then becomes, “What Will You Do?”

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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