Love is in the air and in the news, and I wanted to do a sermon on love with its truest center in our human experience: God’s love, and the great display of it in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Listen above, and stay tuned for our next discussion episode featuring a very special crossover!
Meanwhile, I am also posting my own writing on the subject, crossposted from my own blog. Check it out below the fold:
The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.
However, I have come to face the fact that no matter what I say, no matter how calmly or reasonably I seek to discuss this, at this point there is little room for such things in the eyes of many. The behavior of so many in recent months has made this abundantly clear: anything short of full-throated endorsement of homosexuality and its partners bisexuality and transgenderism will not be tolerated. I don’t say all this to set myself up as a potential victim; rather, I simply want to lay groundwork for this discussion, and pray that those who disagree with me will 1) actually read through this and allow me to speak for myself, rather than inserting thoughts and claims into my words that I do not actually make, and 2) understand this to be written in a spirit of love.
And it is about love itself which I wish to write. It’s a word that I’ve seen used very frequently all over social media, especially in the #LoveWins hashtag used to express support for the idea that two homosexuals wanting to get married is no different than a man and a woman getting married, because it is “love.”
I don’t intend to begin by directly refuting this position. Rather, my desire is to make a positive argument for the idea that love is defined by God and by His Word, and that it cannot be reduced to a simple matter of emotional desire. More than that, my desire is to make a positive presentation of the Gospel, because only through the Gospel can anyone really understand the ultimate definition of love, let alone come to know it on a personal level. The reason for this is quite simple: we have seen the truest, most pure example of love as God intends for it to be understood by us in the coming of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”–John 15:12-13
We are sure he loves who dies for love.–Charles H. Spurgeon
The root of the idea of love being endorsed and promoted through the concept of #LoveWins is not love in any sense recognizable by Scripture. And this is because the center of the biblical idea of love is not human desire, but rather, God Himself, Trinity in unity.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.–John 5:19-24
I turn to D.A. Carson’s work on this subject, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, which I highly recommend for a deeper discussion of the issue:
We too quickly think of our salvation almost exclusively with respect to its bearing on us. Certainly there is endless ground for wonder in the Father’s love for us, in Jesus’ love for us…. But undergirding them, more basic than they are, is the Father’s Love for the Son. Because of the love of the Father for the Son, the Father has determined that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father (John 5:23). Indeed, this love of the Father for the Son is what makes sense of John 3:16. True, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”–there the object of God’s love is the world. But the standard that tells us just how great that love is has already been set. What is its measure? God so loved that world that he gave his Son. Paul’s reasoning is similar: If God did not spare his Son, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things (Rom. 8;32)? The argument is cogent only because the relationship between the Father and the Son is the standard for all other love relationships.–The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Kindle version, location 288
The fully-blooming flower of God’s love expressed in human history is the cross of Christ. The Son of God became a man, and became for all people the perfect representation of what man could be–yet He chose to surrender Himself to the most ignoble of deaths, beaten and crucified at the hands of the Romans, jeered at by His own people. God chose Israel for the purpose of bringing the Messiah into the world, and it was for the sake of all those Christ calls His own that He suffered greatly and died. But this was His intention and His expression of love:
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”–John 10:14-18
This He did for the sake of His people, His church, because if He did not all those who are in Christ now would be separated from God, their sin and rebellion unatoned for. At this point it is hard to avoid slipping into phrases particular to Christianity, but I must use them to be clear: there is no man from any place or time who will be able to stand before God and find anything other than judgment and punishment apart from the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our sin is against a perfect, holy, and just God, and only by faith in Him can we find forgiveness, and more than that: adoption as children of God, made heirs to a fortune of grace that dwarfs every valuable on the planet. What’s more, that grace is a gift from God, one that we can embrace and take great heart in, because His work is complete and salvation is definite for His people.
But outside of Jesus there is no hope. There is only condemnation, and the more mere creatures try to claim the right to an autonomous existence, to demand the ability to define their own existences apart from their Creator, the more they will be frustrated in their efforts. John 3:16 is probably the most famous verse in the Bible, but the extended passage reveals a greater discussion of the necessity of Christ’s work and the future for all who claim autonomy from God:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”–John 3:11-21
What can we see here? We see that God sent Christ out of His love for His creation, but we also see an extended explanation of why: firstly, why Jesus? Because only the Son of God could have been the perfect sacrifice, and by becoming completely humiliated firstly in taking on flesh and then through His death, especially His manner of death, He could serve as the perfect sacrifice for sin, and the perfect example of love as God intended for it to be understood: love is centered on God, love restores what sin has broken, and love exposes sinfulness to the light of God’s truth.
Love is centered on God: When we want to talk about love and defining love, it simply cannot be defined fully without God. It isn’t something a person apart from Christ is prepared to grasp hold of in its fullest measure, because they reject the root of the issue even if they may try to eat the fruit. And the reason they cannot grasp it fully is because love is not some nebulous idea that floats out there to be manipulated by the hands of human desire. Love is something we have because we are imago dei–we are made in the image of God, and love is an attribute of God’s that we share.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.-1 John 4:7-12
This isn’t to say that someone with a secular worldview, someone who does not look to Christ as Lord and Savior, cannot experience love or know it at all. Love is a common grace because we are all made in the image of God. But if you are in rebellion against He who defines the universe, how can you possibly hope to know the full depths of that which He has made? The reality is that you cannot, and that is the reason Christ came: that we might be redeemed of and freed from the burden of that rebellion, and that we might come to know truly what love is.
In other words, love is something everyone can experience. It is common to humanity, because it is a part of our being given us by our Creator. But the more we try to divorce our existences from that Creator and adopt this fantasy that we are our own beings, making our own ways through life by the power of our wills, we will take that which is good in us and twist it into something rotten. Love is a good thing, but when its source and center is not its Author, it becomes malformed and evil, and the evidence for that malformation can be seen scattered far and wide across this country in the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution and beyond. And that merely scratches the surface of those affected by such wickedness. We don’t keep pointing to Jesus as some kind of distraction from other things people are doing, but because only by the shed blood of Jesus can we find a renewed and refreshed understanding of what love is. And in this broken and sin-filled world, love centers around the cross of Christ.
Love restores what sin has broken: God made the world perfectly, but sin entered the world with the actions of Adam and damaged that perfection. Yet even this serves to glorify God, as His love works through creation to bring back to perfection what was damaged. I want to take a look at a passage discussing marriage, one that has come up quite a bit in these discussions on same-sex marriage:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”–Matthew 19:3-9
There are two things I want to note here: firstly, that while God had made allowance for man’s sin, He did not leave it in place but moved to restore to righteousness what sin had broken. Secondly, that marriage was established by God, and it is reflected in the nature of creation: a man and a woman get married to each other, becoming husband and wife, because God made men and women to do this. Paul expands on this in speaking on marriage to the Ephesians:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.–Ephesians 5:22-33
Through the work of Christ and the preaching of the apostles, God is calling men and women to understand the nature of His creation: marriage is a sign that points us to Christ, an eschatological call for us to prepare our hearts for something much greater than marriage when Christ the bridegroom returns for His bride, His church.
Finally, love exposes sinfulness to the light of God’s truth. Once again I go to the Gospel of John:
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”–John 4:7-26
There is so much to this, and this chapter is so rich with the application of the love of Christ to the life of someone lost in their sin. Jesus speaks to this woman who culturally it would have been acceptable for Him to reject completely as she was a Samaritan, and wastes no time in setting Himself as the one to whom she should be turning to. He brushes aside her attempts to draw Him into pointless religious debates and points her to true worship. And He calls her out on her sin–and calls her to Himself. Not as husband number 7, but as the Giver of the Water of Life, as the one who made the mountains, and as the Messiah who will reveal truth. He didn’t excuse her sin, but He drew it out and used that opportunity to bring this woman to understand that it was in Jesus that her hope was to be found–not in where worship was done, and not in any man.
Love exposes sin to the light, and in the light sin dies and life is found. Jesus didn’t allow her to go back to her life unaffected, but He called her away from any semblance of hiding behind religion or cultural barriers and pointed her to Himself. And the result was immediate: no longer a shame-filled woman walking to the well in the middle of the day when everyone else is gone, but she goes and finds her neighbors to tell them what she has found.
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”–John 4:39-42
What we see happening as Jesus displays His great love to many people throughout His ministry is that love is never self-serving, never leaves the object in its place, but always draws towards God, towards holiness, and out of sin and darkness. This is why I say that the cross of Christ is the perfect example of love in human history, because it is perfectly centered on God in Christ’s submission, it restores what sin has broken in being the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin, and it exposes sinfulness to the light of God’s truth by serving as a stumbling block to those who would hide in their own self-righteousness
If you are going to claim that “love wins,” I will gladly agree, but love does not mean “I get to fulfill my desires.” Love does not simply mean “having sex with a person you’re attracted to,” though of course sexual intimacy is a gift of God given as a part of His establishment of martial love in this world. Love wins because Christ died, and He rose again. He came down off the throne of heaven and became the lowliest of men, lived the perfect life no sinful man could ever live and died in the place of His church. But that was not the end of love’s victory over sin and its child death, for the Father’s great love for the Son did not leave Him moldering in the grave. Christ gave up His life, and He picked it back up again, fully glorified and the first of those who, though they may fall asleep, will never have to fully drink the bitter draught of death.
Let us turn away from such frivolous conceptions of love as #LoveWins would endorse, because there is in fact no real love at its base. There cannot be. Let us love Jesus, and trust in His work completely. There is no struggle, no desire, no longing that Christ cannot fail to fill, and there is absolutely nothing to be found in pursuing that hunger outside of Christ that can bring any result besides more of what is already hated: unfulfilled desires, overwhelming struggles, and pursuit of that which will someday be decayed and gone beyond our grasp. There is none of this in Jesus, so let us worship Him, and love those around us all the more.