Shouldn’t Christians love all people??? The short and simple answer is, “Yes, Christians should love all people.” The more difficult part of the question and answer is what it means “to love.” Like other terms addressed in the current series (e.g. “fun” and “nice”), love means many different things to many different people. Consequently, the question, “Shouldn’t Christians love all people?” immediately begs another question, “What is love?”
Perhaps the most well-known modern, Christian treatment on the topic is C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. Lewis recognizes the inherently unspecific nature of the English word “love” and then offers great clarity by explaining the four Greek words used for love: storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (romantic love), and agape (charity). The final type of love, agape, is charitable, compassionate, not self-serving, and seeks the best interests of others (1 Cor. 13:1-13). Such love should characterize God’s people because it is the type of love he has shown to us.
If you have never read The Four Loves, I encourage you to do so. Click here for a summary. Free copies of The Four Loves are readily available on the internet via download or audiobook.
Far more than being an exercise in semantic hair-splitting, lexical distinctions such as those made by Lewis are necessary for Christians. That is why, in each post of this series, I have sought to define the term(s) of the question before answering them. If God has assigned meaning to all things, should not his people define all terms according to his immutable truth, rather than according to the world’s vacillating vocabulary? By first defining terms and making essential distinctions, Christians exhibit biblical wisdom and discernment (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Yet failure to do so eventually leads a person to divorce God’s commands from the context and meaning he has given them in his word.
Regarding the matter at hand, the failure by many believers to distinguish between love as defined by this world and love as defined by Scripture has resulted in a synthesized, cultural Christian “love.” It is an unqualified, all-embracing, all-tolerant acceptance of anyone and everything. Its underlying logic is as follows: “The second greatest commandment is to love my neighbor. Love conquers all [including sin]. Therefore, by loving [this person] unconditionally [which includes not confronting sin], I am being faithful to the Lord and presenting the gospel.”
On a practical level, this unfolds in a manner very similar to “being nice.” Because worldly culture defines a loving relationship as fun, pleasurable, and free of conflict, love itself must always be fun, pleasurable, and free of conflict. “If loving others is supposed to be fun and pleasurable, then I must avoid anything causing pain or conflict.” Thus, well-meaning Christians will ignore or tolerate sin in hopes of being faithful to God by “loving” others (“hating the sin but loving the sinner”).
The Cultural Christian conception of love is contrary to Scripture because it sacrifices the true gospel for the sake of positive feelings. A person who is loved well will always feel good, right? Wrong! One half of the good news of the gospel is the bad news about sin. The bad news about man’s sin never feels good – even for us as believers – but if the bad news is ignored, the good news cannot be savored. If the bad news of man’s sin is ignored, the good news of God’s salvation is robbed of its glory. Only in eternity, when Christians finally grasp how bad sin actually is, will they truly be able to see most clearly the unimaginable love God displayed for them in Christ!
Now, does this mean that Christians must constantly point out the sins of others before loving them with the hope of the gospel? Of course not! But it does mean that Christians must abandon the dangerous cultural Christian idea that by not accepting, by not tolerating, or even by not embracing sinful acts, choices, or lifestyles they are somehow being unloving toward others. Quite the contrary – any attempt to love others without acknowledging and addressing sin(s) is, in fact, unloving!
Parents, you know all too well love is not always fun and enjoyable. Is it pleasurable to discipline, to chastise, or to correct your children? Is it always easy and fun to raise them in the fear and nurture of the Lord? Yet even so – sinful anger and frustration aside – are you not being loving toward your children when you teach them right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, God’s commandments vs. the sinful ways of this world? Being a faithful, God-fearing parent eventually requires you to take action(s) that are not fun or enjoyable and might be labeled unloving by your child or perhaps even others.
As an aside, notice the tie-ins with my previous posts. Cultural Christianity spills over into many areas. A small theological shift on one topic affects other areas as well!
The truth of the matter is that there are times when true love is neither fun nor enjoyable in the short-term, but in the eternal scheme of things, true love is still good, right, and profitable. Re-read Jesus’ words, including his rebukes, to his disciples in the Gospels (e.g. Matt 8:26). Were those words fun and enjoyable for the men on the receiving end? Certainly not! But were they loving on Jesus’ part? Perfectly so! In this fallen world, broken and contaminated by sin and opposed to God’s word, Christian love is often painful, sacrificial, or uncomfortable and might feel hurtful, at least initially, to someone else…
I will pick up here next week with Part 2 of this post!