Church Criticisms Day 2: Lack of Love – A Change in Understanding
“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:16,18, ESV).
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3, ESV).
I believe these words of Jesus were life-changing for John: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The theme of loving one another is central in John’s Gospel and his three epistles. Sometimes I wonder if John was as awestruck as I am by those words: “as I have loved you.” Why would He love us, especially to the point of death on the cross?
But with it also comes another question. What does it mean to love one another? The second criticism we will look at is this: there is a lack of love in the church. When a person says this, how would they define love? The verses in 1 John tell us the love we find in the Bible is more nuanced than the twisted diatribes posted on social media. In addition to the different Greek definitions of love, there are different ways in which love is shown. It is within these ways that society thumbs its nose at the church, saying, “They have no clue what it means to love other people!” Meanwhile, they may have no clue what love really is. They need a change in their understanding.
The first idea is that love is sacrificial (“He laid down His life for us”). If we intend to love another person, it must be tied to sacrifice. Love can be displayed by sacrificing time, pride, selfishness, our own interests, etc. I love Asian food and would eat it every day if I could. But it would drive the ladies of the house batty, so a sacrifice must be made because I love them! (But now I want Sesame Chicken). That’s the puniest of all sacrifices. Real love will involve much greater, especially since Jesus laid down His life for people who hated Him. If I want to blunt the stigma of Christians lacking love, I need to manifest sacrificial love for others, even (especially?) to those who don’t return it. That involves people that are our ideological, political, or spiritual opposites. I need to display a willingness to sacrifice for and love them.
The second idea is that love involves activity (“let us not love in word or talk but in deed”). It’s easy for me to tell someone I love them. By the way, please tell your family and friends that you love them. Texts or social media posts don’t count. If you can use your words to tell jokes and ridicule, surely you can use them to say, “I love you.” It’s something all human beings need to hear and have affirmed in their life—I am loved. But even if that’s easy for me, it’s only the first step. The unspoken understanding in John’s passage is that we don’t only love in word or in talk; our actions should prove that we do. I can’t just sit on the couch and tell my family, “I love you,” while scarfing down chips & watching TV. I have to do something about it! Again, it will involve sacrifice. Loving activity could be meeting a friend to talk. It could be dropping off a gift for someone you don’t know that well. It could involve interacting and listening to a person you strongly disagree with while calmly engaging in dialogue. Again, love needs to be active.
The area, though, that is the “sore spot” today is the final idea. Love involves obedience—not just any obedience, but obedience to God (“keep His commandments”). In the ultra-sensitive, easily-offended society of 2021, love is defined as tolerating everything. Sorry, but that isn’t scriptural. Correcting unscriptural behavior isn’t unloving; pointing out sin in the life of another person isn’t bigotry, hatred, or whatever word you want to toss around. Done correctly, it’s an act of love. Imagine a person opening their eyes in Hell, only to realize that an “unloving” friend that kept quiet in life had held the answers in avoiding such judgment. That would actually be a display of a lack of love for them. So, should I angrily march and scream at people that their choices are ungodly and sinful? Definitely not. There are right ways and wrong ways to go about this.
My love for others should be characterized by all three ideas mentioned. It should be sacrificial, it should involve action, and it should be in accordance with truth and obedience to God. And that, my friends, is why true, biblical love is never easy. But never easy is never an excuse.