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Love That the World Calls Hate

Love That the World Calls Hate

How can a Christian convey love and simultaneously live according to truth, in a world that deems the truth unloving?

It’s a question that has reverberated in my life in so many ways. It is also a question that I believe will become more and more important for every Christian to answer in the days to come.

As I’ve struggled with it, prayed about it, and agonized over it, I’ve decided that the first place to start is with a different question:

What is Christian love?

Just Stick to Compassion

We know the passage in 1 Corinthians 13: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not selfish or easily provoked, and it forgives, bears all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

I have found, when we stick to love looking like that, there isn’t usually any problem. Pretty much everybody welcomes love that is patient with them, kind to them, forgiving, enduring and selfless.

If Christians stuck with simply stuck with feeding the hungry, and providing medical care for the sick, and comforting the grieving, and opening homes to orphans, their love would be welcomed by the world. People rightly point to Jesus’ hands-on, practical ministry of meeting the needs of the poor, oppressed, and hurting. Without a doubt, Jesus said, “I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me (Matthew 25:37-40). Although they certainly disagree on the specific means for how it is administered, conservatives and liberals, non-Christians and Christians alike can agree on that Christian love involves caring for the hurting, downtrodden, and less fortunate in some capacity.

Compassionate love is the rare place where culture and Christianity meet in mutual agreement.

The trouble is…

Christian love doesn’t stop there.

1 Corinthians 13 goes on, after that generally-uncontroversial “patient and kind” list, to say, “Love finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth” (v. 6).

Righteousness. Truth.

And this is the place where the world falls out of love with Christian love.

Two Completely Different Loves

From this point on, Christ-centered love and love as the world understands it take completely divergent paths. Why? Because the cultural understanding of love emphasizes feeling good, whereas the Christians understanding of love emphasizes becoming good. And, unfortunately…

The process of becoming good doesn’t always feel very good at the time.

Cultural love is generally a feel-good amalgamation of philanthropy and acceptance centered around feelings. We love when our we feel good about the person we are with. On the contrary, we cease loving when those feelings change or leave all together. We are loving when we help someone feel affirmed, accepted, and comfortable. On the contrary, we are unloving when anything we do leads someone to feel guilty, wrong, or uncomfortable. The measuring stick for love is emotion – both the feelings of the giver and the feelings of the recipient.

Christian love says something very different.

Righteous Love

Christian love does not measure its veracity by how good people feel giving or receiving it, but by the degree to which that love corresponds to the nature of God.

And, because our nature is so vastly different from God’s – it means that often, Christian love does not feel very good at all – not for the giver, nor the recipient.

The problem is that compassionate love doesn’t go far enough. Christian love is grounded in the nature of Christ. And, yes, His nature is patient, kind, not envious, forgiving, and longsuffering. But his nature is also…

HOLY.

“But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” 1 John 3:5

Pure. Perfect. Light, without darkness. Sinless. Completely, wholly good.

Righteous.

And we’re not.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; “ Romans 3:9-11

And that means love cannot do less than draw us to what He is – righteousness.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

Truth and Life…or a Lie and Death?

Yes, Jesus is love. (1 John 4:8, John 13:35). But He is also the “truth and the life” (John 14:6). So that means truth and life are part and parcel of love – all wrapped up in the nature of Christ. In other words, the only way to truly love is if that love leads the parties involved to truth and to life – to who Christ is. Christian love must draw people to become good, as He is good. Christian love must draw people to the nature, purpose, and will of God.

Because anything else would be leading people to the opposite – to a lie and to death.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” Revelation 3:19

Responsible parents understand this – the idea of love being grounded in what is right rather than what feels good. When our two-year-old wants to be first on the slide every single time, we make him take turns. He will likely throw a fit, because being told you cannot do something you want to do does not feel good. But we make him take turns anyway. Why? Because we know that selfishness is not good for him in the long run, regardless of how he feels about it now.

When our 14-year-old gets caught with a joint, we talk with her about her decision-making, take a closer look at her friends and free-time hangouts, and put consequences in place to try to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Likely, she will feel guilty, and will be angry and resentful at our interference. But we stand firm in our guidelines, because we know that being under the influence will only lead to bad things for her, and we want the best for her.

We understand this when it comes to some destructive behaviors, as well. A loving family member of an alcoholic does not tell him what he wants to hear – that he is perfectly fine the way he is. Love tells the alcoholic the truth – that he needs help – and then walks along beside him as he gets it.

Love is not true, is not real, is not substantive, unless it is grounded in that which is right for the recipient – and what is right is always found in the righteousness of God. Yet it is this – the basis of love in righteousness – that causes the world to see Christian love as…

Hate.

Not a Popular Love

Truthful love – love that emphasizes becoming good rather than feeling good – is not seen, by the world, as love at all. And that is because a substantial part of the process of sanctification – of becoming good – does not feel very good.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Any efforts to love that go beyond mere compassion – that point to moral truth and righteousness – will be rejected by the world, no matter how well it is done.

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.” 1 John 3:11-13

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you… 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin…As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’John 15:18-25

Complicating the challenge for Christians to find this balance is that the predominant voice in our culture today is one that rejects the reality of sin. The clarion call of society is not predominantly, “I am better than you, you woeful sinners”, but “You are perfectly fine exactly as you are”. The one crucified, today, is not he who sins most heinously, but he who is judgmental.

This makes Christian love – which points to a standard – excruciatingly difficult.

But it does not change our obligation to love fully, completely, with a love that models the nature and character of Christ.

The Wrong Way to Love

So how do we show the whole of Christ’s love – a love grounded in righteousness – to a world that is anything but righteous, and while we ourselves are so sinful? Better said:

How do we love in a way that gives testimony to the very standard that we ourselves never attain?

I know it is much easier to identify when it is done wrongly than it is to do it right. And we, as Christians, very, very often do it wrong.

It is wrong to judgmentally point the finger at others’ sin, especially when conveniently ignoring our own. It is wrong to pridefully elevate ourselves as any sort of moral standard. It is wrong to denigrate, label, or humiliate, or to relegate to some sort of convenient moral box those who sin differently than we. It is wrong to give the message that salvation is a matter of works rather than grace.

Those are wrongs of the Right’s attempts to love.

It is wrong to affirm attitudes and actions that scripture condemns. It is wrong to hide behind “Do not judge” to avoid the difficult spiritual work of ascertaining God’s standards, living by, and shining a light toward them. It is wrong to give the message that people can experience God’s grace without undergoing repentance. It is wrong to excuse and justify that which runs contrary to the nature and intent of God.

Those are wrongs of the Left’s attempts to love.

Finding the balance in loving like Christ – a compassionate, all-consuming, tender-hearted, patient, humble, forgiving, and yet righteous love – is agonizingly challenging. Loving this way is, truly, the narrow way, and it is not found by many.

“How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.” Matthew 7:14

But when we do – it leads to life.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

“They…praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:18

Not So Easy

Displaying this love – Christlike, righteous love – requires a tremendous amount of humility, perseverance, and self-denial. It is easy to disparage those who struggle with sins we do not. It is easy to reject and separate ourselves from those people whom we believe do not meet our standards; to selectively grade sins according to our own personal scale. It is easy to excuse or justify actions and attitudes to which we ourselves so easily succumb. It is easy to follow the world’s idea of morality rather than that of scripture; to downgrade uncomfortable, challenging moral standards into more easily attainable, palatable ones.

It is not easy to care for people intimately, to walk with them in their mess, to be a hand and a heart and a head for them as they need it, and to simultaneously speak the truth to them about God’s guidelines – guidelines we ourselves fail to meet regularly.

No, that is not easy at all.

Christian love is not for the faint of heart.

It means the tricky, murky challenge of giving testimony to God’s moral right and wrong, while simultaneously admitting that we do not ever live adequately according to it ourselves. It means soul searching (Psalm 4:4) and eye-plucking (Mark 9:47) and log-removing (Matthew 7) within ourselves on a moment-to-moment basis. It means eating and drinking scripture and becoming serious students of His Word – so we understand the heart and message of God. It means repenting to and beseeching and sharing with the God of the universe, and attentively listening to his response. It means carrying our cross and denying ourselves and living out of obedience rather than out of our feelings. It means recognizing that every day, every moment – our own desires blind us both to God’s truths and to our own sin. It means understanding that God’s truth about morality through His Word is knowable, and that we are expected to know it and live by it, while simultaneously doing so out of humility and constant awareness of the way we miss the mark.

It means acknowledging that love is grounded not in the feelings of the recipient, but in his or her well-being – and a person’s well-being is always found in the nature of God.

Trying to Get Love Right

I do not claim to do this well; on the contrary, I have been humbled by some of my best attempts at balanced Christian love falling flat or – even worse – making an enemy. The best I know to do is this: To allow my heart to be broken for those around me by engaging in their lives, understanding their struggles, and sharing their pain, but to do so while also speaking the truth about God’s morality through scripture, while daily praying for insight into, repenting of, and acknowledging my own sin.

It is, as I best understand it, to humbly say, “I love you. I will walk with you. Share with me your pain, so I can help you carry it. Here is God’s standard according to scripture – the moral truth that leads to life. I have missed that standard in so many ways…here are some examples. And because I have, I can tell you, from personal experience, that you won’t ever be able to ultimately find well-being if you continue in this area of sin. God loves you. I love you. And because I do, I want you to experience the life that repentance brings – a life that cannot be found apart from His righteousness.”

We are to love like Jesus – a love that embodies His character and nature. The world does not understand this love, nor does it want it; the world wants to feel good. Christian love recognizes that we will never, ultimately, feel good until we become good – through the cleansing of our sin in the Holy Spirit. We must live that reality in our own lives, and we must point to that reality in our interactions with others.

To do any less is to be fundamentally…

Unloving.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:10

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