It struck me as odd this morning in my daily reading and meditation of several Bible passages how biased the typical view of love is. It’s as though there are two main groups of people within Christianity—at least that are most noticeable—there are those who are loving to everyone and then there are those who are loving to everyone. I will clarify what I mean by that in just a moment, but let me first say that both are very sincere and trying oftentimes with a lot of heart and effort to do the right thing. I’m not trying to put anyone down, I’m trying to put down a misunderstanding with the hope of lifting people up by sharing an insight.
So now for the clarification that I promised a few sentences ago. What I meant in saying that there are two groups of people that are by definition, trying to do the same thing, was that both views are right in that they recognize that love is the right answer. However, both have a different understanding of what love is or what it is to be loving to people. Me, being a very disagreeable sort of thinker, I am saying that both are off the mark of what it is to be loving and that love is really a balance between the two extremes set by the two groups.
Ok, the two perspectives. The first one is that love is the answer to everything. No matter what a person says or does, the right thing to do is always to love them. They believe that love means looking past and beyond every poor decision, sin, and to never be judgmental. After all, we can’t walk in their shoes. People with this understanding of love stand on the conviction that this view of love and their treatment of people eliminates errors though it’s strength and ability to overcome. Love is the answer. Some Christians take it as far as to sound like a certain group from the 70’s that spoke of peace and love, man. The people who truly live this love are admirable in so many ways, the ability to overlook wrongs and the heart of compassion and mercy is an amazing testament to their obedience to do what they believe is right in complete disregard of conflicting pressures. They completely go against the grain of the culture that drives like a machine to find and fix problems—even in people.
The other perspective is the converse of the first one. These people like to fix sin and people. This frame of mind is one that seeks to build and design love in life and in the lives of others though disciplined head-on collision with errors, confronting them one by one and eliminating them. There is no mercy for sin. A thief should be punished so that the pain of his actions will testify strongly against the error and thereby persuade a change in heart. Righteousness may be a gift from God, but as God’s children we have an obligation to be righteous in word and deed. If we are dead to sin, then sin must be put to death with prejudice—and quickly too. If we are sanctified by God, we should not take God’s commands lightly and we should be fully sanctified in our actions and thoughts. Anyone who sins may be treated as sin, and whatever is necessary to defeat the sin—that is necessary. This frame of mind is honest and upfront about sin, and courageously confronts sin in all forms to weed it out.
We’ve all seen both of these views of love and seen the value of each in different circumstances. From the Bible we know that Jesus did the will of his Father perfectly. In all things he submitted himself to God to the point of death on the cross. So then, looking at Jesus should show us what love looks like. Jesus’ life if painted would be a portrait of perfect love. It so happens that we have a portrait of that life though the gospels that illustrate vividly the love that God intends for us to have in our own lives. Let’s take a look at that picture.
I recommend reading the gospels as books sometime if you never have. The Bible was not originally diced up in bite sized verses and chopped into chapters. It was written as books. Short books albeit in many cases, but still books and I don’t think that reading a few verses here and there is ever going to reveal God’s wisdoms that he wants to speak to us in the scripture. Reading and meditating on verses and chapters is certainly important. God’s word is highly complex and requires the attention to detail that studying it provides, but it’s also important to take a step back and look at the word as a whole from time to time.
When we take that step back and look at love from a distance in the gospels, what does Jesus’ life tell us that love is? Some like to point out that he did not throw the first stone. Others after reading the same passage will point out that he told her to sin no more. Some will point out that Jesus would eat with sinners that others would not dare to, then people will point out the way that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and the Sadducees is very harsh and correcting—even condemning at times. Either saying that Jesus walked around and just harshly judged people all the time is not the full story, and neither is the idea that Jesus accepted everyone as they were and that was fine no matter what they did he would be their friend. When the rich man walked up to Jesus and asked what was keeping him from getting into the kingdom of heaven, Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll forgive you even if you do love money more than me. It’s fine.” No, Jesus confronted the man on the issue. But also notice that he didn’t beat the man over the head with the guilt. He told him what he needed to do, and the man went away sorrowful because he was so rich and didn’t want to give it up. Jesus softly told the man what was necessary. Presumably the man went away and did not do what Jesus had told him he needed to do.
In an odd way, love does not always trump sin. Jesus was loving to everyone and he still ended up being tortured and murdered horribly on a cross with criminals—who he also loved. Jesus maintained his stance and devotion to God and the Truth. He spoke that truth to people and asked them to listen to take its guiding hand and walk in the Truth. He tolerated sin in people offering forgiveness to those who had the heart to repent, but he did not simply accept sin. However, he rejected sin most usually in a calm and respectful way that would lead people to repentance rather than leave them recoiling for shelter.
Being loving is very difficult and takes wisdom and discernment. God says in James to pray if we need wisdom and He will give it to us. We will never have a simple guide that tells us what to do in every possible scenario. Rather, the right thing to do is to allow the spirit of God to guide our hearts and direct our minds in accordance with God’s will. That is the short and simple answer. We need at all times the knowledge and wisdom of God working within our hearts and minds to guide us into a proper walk in love.
In the end, neither perspective is wrong and neither is right. Rather, being loving is a complex mixture of both attitudes depending on the situation. Rather than look for a simple guide to how to treat everyone—look to God to supply you with the wisdom and discernment to act in love. He can and will direct your heart.