God's love vs Worldly love
The following is a paragraph which appeared in the March 1988 issue of Homemade, a Christian family oriented flyer which is used as a periodic Sunday bulletin insert in my church.
"A lot of people sitting in the pews on Sunday morning probably embrace the humanist view of men far greater than they realize. Perhaps a lot of the preaching embraces it as well. We have emphasized love without discipline. We preach love without calling for repentance or forgiveness; we preach love without preaching on the holiness of God and the awfulness of sin. We try to present a kind of love that everybody will embrace; that no one, including those in the secular world, will find fault with. This is a terrible mistake. No one ever loved more than Jesus. Yet Jesus was neither understood nor embraced by everyone." Donald Wildmon
As I read this, I was reminded of how often I meet skeptics and critics who challenge the idea of Christian love and its relationship to personal suffering, world-wide troubles and the promise of eternal tribulation for non-believers.
As discussions ensue, believers often allow themselves to become trapped into a defense of their beliefs from the standpoint of a false premise - the secular definition and connotation of the words and/or conditions which are under scrutiny by the non-believer. In the case of the paragraph cited above, many have allowed the worldly interpretation of love to unnecessarily force them into indefensible positions or, even worse, compromised attitudes which cheapen the entire gospel on which they stand. How can this happen?
Make no mistake about it, evil is attractive. Subtlety is a powerful tool that Satan uses to gain entrance into our thoughts. Lucifer (Satan), along with his peers, Michael and Gabriel, was a beautiful creation of God. He fell from God's presence because he willfully sought to place himself above the Most High. I am aware of no place in scripture that says his appearance changed during or after the fall.
If the serpent in the garden had been reprehensible and threatening, would Eve have listened so readily? To the temporal mind, sin is very pleasurable; otherwise it would not attract so great a following. To the gullible or naive, false doctrines sound terrific! One doesn't have to look very hard to find many of them, from Genesis until the present, which have attracted huge followings.
In this specific case, it happens when there is no agreement on the relative meanings of secular love and God's love. God's love(AGAPE) is not something that we fall into and out of. Secular love (EROS), depends on physical and emotional attraction which may later develop into a permanent, lasting bond. Brotherly love (PHILOS), is another form of secular love which describes a more fraternal type of relationship usually based on some common interest or goal. God's love differs in several ways. Most notably in that it is infinite.
We are loved by God with a love that is limitless. We learn to love God on an increasingly higher plain as we learn of His nature and allow Him to become, more and more, the master of our lives. Secular love is conditional on the parties involved and their mutual efforts to continue or discontinue the relationship. God's love is endless.
It exists whether we come to grace or not. We hold the power of choice in whether it flourishes on our part or whether it withers and becomes unilateral.
The Christian definition of God's love is not the same as the worldly message of universal brotherhood where all live in social peace and all love everyone. It is not universally appealing to all men. Those who don't know God's grace and haven't experienced the faith that grows from it may even be appalled by it.
God is not only loving, but also just and righteous. Man fell under the influence of Satan in the Garden of Eden and continues to be there "for a time" until the end of this age. Because of God's great love for what he created, a promise was given that all who believe will be saved. That's right, saved FROM something. There is no condemnation promise that would read something like "If you don't follow me I'll send you to Hell". Man, without God, is on his way there. Simply by accepting the offer of grace and the correlative responsibilities, we shall be saved from this course of doom. Saved from an eternity of being totally without God. Our opportunity is for redemption and salvation, not for escaping some cosmic punishment.
This all-encompassing love has responsibilities. We must accept the offer of grace and utilize the faith that grows from it. "Yet to all those who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become the children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of a human decision or of a husband's will, but born of God." (John 1:12,13 NIV)
As the first part of the Trinity, God is The Father. As we become born again as sons of God, we become subject to His fatherly attributes, one of which is discipline. "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent." (Revelation 3:19 NIV) We have heard the analogy to human fatherhood so often that it may have grown dull to our ears. It is a good one. The part of the analogy that must never be allowed to become stale is WHY a father disciplines. The goal is to effect a change of actions - a turning away from the act or condition which was wrong.
Throughout scripture, one can find many references to the inherent responsibilities on the part of the believer. We hear some of them often - Faith without works is dead. - We are like the branch which, failing to bear fruit, will be pruned. - and others. One which I would like to cite specifically is in II Timothy 2:15 where we are admonished to "study to shew thyself approved...." (KJV). We must bear the responsibility for our actions. Failure to study the Word and to know the true meanings and connotations of the terms we use is unacceptable. We are not only aligning ourselves for the God-Father discipline, we are situating ourselves as a prime target for Satan's deceptions. If, in fact, we can withstand the attack from skeptics and not lose faith entirely, there is still the dangerous position of compromise. Many times the naive (or lazy) Christian allows the "nice" sounding false doctrines to influence his position; to affect a change in his belief - sometimes great but more often subtle.
Such an inroad for evil is no less devastating to the state of grace than a complete turning away; maybe even worse. (So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:16 NIV) A watered-down, vague imitation of Christianity (a fake) is a terrific tool for causing others to stumble.
I am often amazed at some who claim to be believers but don't want to "offend" anyone by their commitment. You've doubtlessly heard many of the insipid excuses. Poppycock! Of course every person has the right to a free choice concerning what he believes, but when we have made the choice, we have the responsibility to witness. If I am going to stake my eternal life on a belief, then I am going to find a way to be convinced that I am correct! "Forever" is too dear to select the creed which controls it a la pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. "Be still and KNOW that I am God." The Holy Spirit has the power to prove itself if we will just shut up and listen. Salvation is not forced on anyone.
Tolerance of those who opt against The Way is not the same as compromising our beliefs. "And what sadness is ahead for those praised by the crowds - for false prophets have always been praised."(John 6:26 LB)
"And since we are His children, we will share His treasures - for all God gives to His Son Jesus is now ours too. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will give us later. For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect His children. For on that day thorns and thistles, sin, death, and decay - the things that overcame the world against its will at God's command - will all disappear, and the world around us will share in the glorious freedom from sin which God's children enjoy." (Romans 8:17-21 LB)
May we, as the old musical chorus proclaims, "stand alone on the Word of God." May it be our only text. May we study to know what is in the text AND what is not. May we someday stand with the living creatures around the throne and proclaim "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (Revelation 4:8b)