Sunday, June 28, 2015

Word of the Day: Love

  Three phrases I hear over and over again, "God is love", "Love your neighbor" and "Don't judge me" (or some variation of these).  I've heard these phrases slung at me or the Church when it comes to divorce and remarriage, to sexual relationships outside of marriage, to drug use, to worshiping other gods, worshiping no god and on and on.  With the latest, tragic ruling by the Supreme Court, I'm hearing these phrases used in relation to "gay marriage" and homosexuality in general.  In this post I want to focus on the word "love".

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me:  I believe the Bible is the Word of God and in it God says homosexuality is a sin.
Them: That isn't very loving and God says to love your neighbor.  Why aren't you practicing what you preach?


Them: God is love.  I don't believe God would ever send a homosexual couple living in a monogamous, loving relationship to hell (Apparently, according to these people, he will send unmarried homosexuals to Hell).

[Note that I hear these arguments from those claiming to be Christian as much as I hear them from anyone else]

Since the accusation of not being loving is coming from those who are attempting to use the Bible to defend their position or counter mine I think it only fair that we use the Bible's definition of love (even if you don't think you are quoting the Bible it is important for you to understand my definition nonetheless.  This is the definition the Bible and the Church uses and it is the one I will be using whenever we talk about love).  So here you go:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV)

The first thing to note is that love, as the Bible describes it, is an action.  It is something we do or, in some cases, refrain from doing.  In short, love is not an emotion.  Because of this confusion I typically find the word "love" used like a crowbar with which to beat someone over the head in order to stop any meaningful dialog. You made me feel bad therefore you are unloving.  You have told me something that has hurt my feelings therefore you hate me.  But this isn't love at all.  This is merely blind emotionalism.  Although love can be emotional, emotion does not equate to love.

The second thing to note from the above biblical definition is that, among other things, love rejoices in the truth. Love that doesn't tell the truth isn't love.

If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that experience teaches us this very thing;  that love is a something we do or refrain from doing and not an emotion and that we show love by being truthful and honest with one another.

For instance, although we were disciplined as children do we honestly believe our parents always felt good about it (I realize not everyone came from a good home, but work with me here)? We certainly didn't feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they disciplined us and I don't always feel all cheery when I discipline my children. Yet our parents still loved us.  Nothing speaks of a lack of love louder than a parent who refuses to discipline their child.

How about when you or a friend or family member were told by the doctor that the diagnosis was cancer?  Are we to believe the doctor was so twisted that he actually enjoyed that pronouncement? Of course not. No one, when told by the doctor that they have cancer, screams "You are such a hater!  If you loved me you wouldn't say such things!"  Just like our parents, he knows it will hurt and that we won't feel good about the diagnosis, but he also understands he has a responsibility to tell the truth.  I could go on and on with examples, but I think these two are sufficient to demonstrate that we already know love, true love, (not the false, sappy, Hollywood stuff) is honest and doesn't always feel good.

Sometimes we do and say things, not because they feel good, but because they need to be done or said.  We do and say them because we love the other person and, in a mature relationship, the other person will understand that what is being said or done is a function of true love even if neither party feels so good about it at the time.

So with this definition of love in mind let me ask you to pretend with me.  I'm not trying to trick you into agreeing with me or anything, just to pretend for a few moments.  Ok?  Here we go:  Let's pretend for the moment that because the bible everywhere, from Genesis to Revelations (those are the first and last books in the bible, for those not in the know) expresses marriage as the union of a man and a woman and nothing else; that this is what God intended for marriage.  That when God, the prophets, the apostles and Jesus himself speak of marriage as only including a man with a woman, that this means God never intended anything else (I know, you may not like that, but we are pretending here).  Let's further pretend that when the Bible condemns homosexuality (which it clearly does) that it isn't a mistake, or a cultural thing, but that God really means what he says and says what he means.  Finally, let us pretend that when God says those who practice homosexuality will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven that it also means they will spend a mournful, terrible, lonely eternity in a place called Hell.

Got all that? Now remember, I'm not asking you to pretend the Bible says all of that.  It clearly does, regardless what you've been told. I would be glad to show you someday, but that isn't the point of this article, so moving on.  I am asking you to pretend that you agree with my assessment of what the Bible says concerning marriage and homosexuality.  If what the Bible is saying is true (and it is saying that), would it be love or hate if I refused to tell you what the Bible clearly says?  Would it be love or hate if I knew that what the Bible says is true, but instead chose to tell you nothing.  Or worse yet, to tell you something contrary to what I know is clearly revealed in Scripture?

Let me put it in different terms.  I know the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong.  I know that the Bible clearly, unequivocally states that marriage is between a man and a women.  I know that by opening my mouth and merely assenting to what the Bible says is the truth on this subject I will potentially lose relationships with friends and family whom I care deeply about.  I know that in the future expressing what I see as the clear biblical teaching on this subject will quite possibly cost me more than just my friendships.  When I, with all of this in mind, tell you what the Bible teaches is it love or hate?  Even if you don't agree with my assessment, am I telling you what I am out of love or hate?  I am not asking if I am feeling love or hate.  Love is not an emotion. I am asking you if I am doing love or hate.

You can accuse me of being a fanatic. You can accuse me of being crazy (wouldn't be the first or last time). You can accuse me of being wrong, thickheaded and stubborn.  You can accuse me of a whole lot of things.  But the one thing you simply cannot accuse me of in this instance is being unloving.

When I tell you what the Bible says it may make you feel bad or angry or frustrated.  But that does not mean I am not loving you. Trust me when I tell you that when I take time out of my day to share with you something I believe to be of the most utmost importance concerning your welfare, all the while knowing the price it will cost me, I am doing it out of love.  Otherwise I simply wouldn't do it.

It is a fact that some people are just hateful and many don't show love the way they should (myself included).  I know there are people out there who are simply haters.  They want to hurt people and force their views down the throats of other people just to make themselves feel better.  This includes people in the Church as well as the LGBT communities.  But that isn't what I'm talking about here.  I love my friends and family, and because of that love I must share the truth of God's Word with them.

To do anything less truly would be unloving.

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