Never have people spoken as much about love as they do in our own time. “Love” has now become a catchword that is employed both by those who want to be Christians and by those who want nothing whatsoever to do with the faith.
But what do many Christians mean when they employ the term “love?” Above all, they understand it to mean this: As a person expresses himself in matters of faith, he should show himself tolerant, that is, long-suffering, lenient, and easygoing. He should not take purity of doctrine as seriously and rebuke deviation from God’s Word as sharply as in the earlier years of the Church. He should also regard as dear brothers those who accept some main articles of faith but do not wish to subject themselves to the Word of God in all things.
Wow, stinging indictment, isn’t it? It hits the nail right on the head. But here’s the kicker—the man who wrote those words is none other than the Rev. Dr. C.F.W. Walther, and he wrote them about a century and a half ago. He could have been a blogger today. That’s exactly what our culture means when they speak of love in the Church. A truly loving Christian wouldn’t condemn homosexuality, for example, right? Or speak against people living together before marriage? “Christians should be loving,” we are told, which really means, “Christians should be tolerant and accept everything without question.” But is that true?
Let’s look at what Jesus Himself says on the matter. In John 13:34-35 He says this: “‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'” Ah, see? There you go! Love is the defining mark of a Christian! “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” right? Well, no, actually. Don’t gloss over Jesus’ words right before the last phrase—“just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And how exactly did Jesus love us? “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” 1 John 4:10 tells us. You see, Jesus didn’t look the other way when confronted with sin. Jesus didn’t tolerate it or allow people to continue indulging in their pet sins. He died for those sins. That’s how seriously He takes sin. And that’s how seriously He loves us. Love doesn’t excuse sin or condone it. Love confronts sin and points to the solution—Jesus.
So what does define a Christian, then? Remember Walther’s comment above about purity of doctrine? Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” You see, that’s the defining mark of a Christian—one who abides in God’s Word, one who knows the truth as Jesus has revealed it. We don’t make up our own truth; it isn’t subjective. Truth is revealed in God’s Word, whether it makes you feel good or not. Jesus’ true disciples are known by their adherence to His Word or truth. And as Ephesians 4:15 says, we then “speak the truth in love.” The Lutheran Study Bible text note makes the following point for that phrase: “Concern for true doctrine and love for one another are not alternatives, but belong together.”
So yes, dear Christian, love one another by all means. But understand what “love” really means. We don’t need to blindly tolerate and accept lifestyles and teachings which are contrary to the Bible. To truly love someone, share with them the truths of God’s Word. Share with them the full extent of Jesus’ love for them—the love that drove Him to the cross. For them. For you. For everyone. Now that’s true love.