The visible church has an increasing tolerance for sin. I personally believe that this is because so many churches allow professing people to become members without due diligence. In addition, church discipline is rarely practiced, (Matthew 18:15-20), and when it is, often is practiced unbiblically. (cf John 12:42). Preachers do not preach against sin but give ear ticking messages.
When brethren urge each other to ever higher heights of sanctification by giving gentle reminders to slay sin or stop immoral behavior, they are often met with charges that they’re “unloving.” When discerning brethren employ their spiritual gift by detecting the false in some teachers and warn people to stay away from them, they’re sometimes met with charges of the not being loving enough- to the false teacher. The word “love” is tossed around as if it is the only attribute God displays or cares about.
For those and many other reasons, while sin rises in and out of the church, the tolerance of it is skewing our understanding of biblical love.
The biblical version of love is so often misunderstood today, that Cameron Buettel at John MacArthur’s blog is writing a series God’s love- the character of it, what it entails, even the condemnation within it. Here are excerpts of the first three essays in the series with the link to read more:
At first glance, God’s love doesn’t appear to be much of a theological problem. First John 4:8 couldn’t be clearer: “God is love.” Of all the ways to describe God, that is certainly the most endearing and widely-accepted. How many times have we heard the phrase, “A loving God would never ____”? What that person is really saying is that I have my own idea of what love is, and I will only accept a god who loves on my terms. That is the subtle form of idolatry that many people—even many churchgoers—buy into today.
The issue isn’t whether or not God loves, but whether the people proclaiming His love have the first clue what they’re actually talking about. True, God is love. But let’s not make the egregious error of assuming that’s all He is, or all He wants us to know about Him. The problem with God’s love, then, is that the discussion of it is being clouded and confused by people who don’t know what love is or who God is, and yet speak with assumed authority on both.
God’s love is a great comfort. But perhaps it’s not supposed to be as comforting as some people make it. As we said last time, God’s love is not a theological blanket that smothers everything else the Bible says about how He relates to us. That myopic, feel-good approach to God’s love often ignores its wider implications. Specifically, it overlooks the fact that God’s love carries an inherent condemnation.
But God’s love didn’t first appear two thousand years ago—that’s where it climaxed. The truth is that all of history bears the undeniable marks of God’s loving nature. From Genesis to Revelation, His great love is displayed on multiple levels and in countless glorious ways. In fact, His unchanging love is older than time itself.
In practical terms, once we understand God’s love and how we are to express it (in all its flavors and nuances), we understand better how to admonish in love. Admonishing each other is important part of daily living for the Christian, and part of fellowship within an identified body of believers called the local church. I read this essay today, promoted by Tim Challies. The author spends time explaining what admonishment is, and how to practice it- in love. The essay is titled,
Against a culture that says, “If you love me, you will accept me and never question me,” the Bible says “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). In the Bible, love does not gloss over sin; it teaches sinners they need pardon for their sin and that—miracle of miracles!—God has provided that in Jesus Christ. Because God hates evil and evil-doers (see Psalms 5:5; 11:5), he teaches that genuine love cannot turn a blind eye to sin, it must rejoice with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Accordingly, those who claim to know him will embrace his truth and willingly speak to one another with loving correction. In short, love corrects, instructs, warns, and admonishes. But what does that look like?
I think that if you go through the Grace To You series on God’s love, it gives depth to our understanding of God’s attribute of His love and better practicality when we read an essay like Schrock’s. Both are needed. I commend these articles to you, in the prayer that you will be educated, edified, and the gory of Jesus will continue to shine brightly in His people, the Church.