Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Is Love?

I've been reading through John Piper's latest book What Jesus Demands from the World and this morning's reading was particularly challenging. The topic was "Love Your Enemies - Lead Them to Truth". Let me take the time to highlight several thought-provoking statements regarding the expression of love towards our enemies in an effort to lead them to the life-changing, life-giving, status-altering truth of Jesus Christ.

  1. Jesus assumes that we will have enemies (Matt 5:11; 10:25; Johnn 15:20). This, of course, is rooted in the world's rejection of Jesus and our identification with him in our confession of faith as His disciples.
  2. Jesus tells us to love both those who have the power to kill us (Matt 5:44; 10:21; Luke 6:27-29; 11:49) as well as those who merely slight us and harm our fragile egos (Matt 5:47; Luke 6:33)

This leads to two questions: a) What is love (meaning what does it look like and how is it expressed from us)?; and b) What is the root or origin of this love and how do we sustain it?

Love fights for the preservation and expression of truth. This, of course, is challenging in a culture where truth is scrutinized and questioned and where language is rapidly losing its meaning. In essence, love rejects bad interpretations of Scripture and sets forth the truth. This is precisely what Jesus did in Matt 5:43-44. The challenge, in our culture, is finding the courage and steadfastness to fight this fight in a generation that rejects propositional truth, when, in fact, Scripture is full of propositions about God and humanity, sin and the Fall, redemption and forgiveness, and what the life of one who truly loves God really looks like.

Piper begins with this expression of love because love is often contrasted with the defense of truth. Many people, particularly in the church, make statements like, "Love unites; doctrine divides." But Jesus would have seen truth, which expresses itself in right doctrine, as the root of unity. Therefore, when we minimize doctrine (right thinking about God), we expose the root of unity to corrosion. Jesus was primarily concerned about truth, not popularity or acceptance (John 7:18; 14:6; 15:26; 18:37; Mark 12:14). The reason for this is that Jesus astutely knew the reason behind people accepting or rejecting Him. This isn't an issue with truth; it is an issue within the hearer. Truth doesn't need to change; there is a need for deep, profound change within the heart of the one who hears truth. People who reject truth do so because they do not belong to God, not because the truth has been insufficiently expressed (when it is, in fact, expressed biblically). This is precisely why Jesus said, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God" (John 8:47).

This is a needed reminder for a generation bogged down in the quagmire of pragamatism. There is a sinister temptation to abandon or alter truth when it does not illicit the response we desire. The solution when truth falls on deaf ears is not to change or alter the truth in some way (although this does not adbicate us of the responsibility to look for the most winsome, compelling way to share truth), but rather to pray that the Spirit would enlighten the hearer to receive and understand that truth spoken (2Cor 4:4-7).

A final implication of Jesus' words in the gospels about love is that it is not unloving to call someone an enemy or to speak truth even when it hurts or wounds someone emotionally. People, especially today, are easily offended and emotionally fragile. The result is that if someone can claim that you hurt them by speaking truth, then somehow the world interprets your actions as unloving. Piper says that today "love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others." The problem with this is that it gives the wounded one absolute authority in defining what is loving and what is not.

But according to Jesus, love is not defined by the response of the loved. We can act in a loving way towards someone and that love be received in offense, anger, retaliation or indifference. It does not mean that we have failed to love. It simply means that the recepient has failed to perceive and receive our love as absolutely, unconditionally loving. Is there any greater example of this than Jesus' loving response of obedience to the will of the Father to lay down His life on the cruel cross for the sins of the world, but especially for those who would believe? Not all men have accepted the loving sacrifice of Jesus by faith; many have rejected it. But it is not less loving because men have rejected it.

I was confonted with some of these thoughts last night as a student asked me how to deal with a friend who as being quite demanding of their friendship. This friend expected her to shut down her other friendships for the sake of being this individual's best friend. Essentially, this girl was being selfish in the demands she was making of her friend. The student asked me what to do. I told her to talk to her, share with her how they are different (one preferring only a small group of 2-3 friends while the other enjoys being friends with many people), and then share with her how her demands that she let go of some of her friends so that she could be more devoted to this one friend were rooted in selfishness. The student was shocked. She said, "How am I supposed to tell her she is being selfish, and won't she get mad if I say that? How can I say that without hurting her feelings?" Another student chimed in and said, "I would just look for a nicer way to say she is being selfish that doesn't sound so harsh." But I was unwavering in my response. I told the student that the loving thing is to speak truth in love as a friend. If her friend was being selfish and making unfair demands in their relationship, the loving thing to do was to tell her friend. A real friend doesn't let sinful actions slide by. Too much is at stake because sin has a hardening effect on our hearts.

I hope these words are as encouraging, challenging and comforting to you as they were to me this morning. May Jesus be magnified in the way we love our enemies by pointing them to truth.


At 1:23 PM , Blogger Meredith said...

Good post, Aaron. I have a question though. What if you've confronted a friend about their selfishness, but the friend continues to do it time after time? No change occurs even though they say they will, etc. Is there a point where you end the friendship?

At 1:31 PM , Blogger Aaron said...


I would say, yes, there does come a point, even in friendship, particularly if they friend claims to be in Christ, where we end the friendship - at least the intimacy of the friendship. This doesn't mean that you have to stop talking to the person altogether, but that this person has proven themselves to be unreliable, selfish, and unconcerned about shaping the image of Jesus in you in the way he/she is treating you.

At 12:11 AM , Blogger David said...

Love is the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when South Carolina pulls off the upset in Death Valley for the first time in years!

At 11:35 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

Yep...David has nailed it. The last time SC won at Clemson I was actually there. Bitterly cold and wet, but warm on the inside as I watched mullet sportin' Steve Taneyhill dismantle the Tiggers on their own turf.


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