The August Theologian: Love Isn’t a Virtue in Itself

“The right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love. Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy; fleeing what is opposed to it, is fear; and feeling what is opposed to it, when it has befallen it, it is sadness. Now these motions are evil if the love is evil; good if the love is good.” —Augustine, The City of God

The Futility of Pelagian Love (1 Peter 1:22–2:3)

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“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” —1 Peter 1:22

This is no simple command. Love is given lip-service world-round. Nearly anyone can sing, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” Most nod the noggin to “All You Need Is Love.” Those songs are classics. They are hits. I enjoy them, but let the listener understand. That such songs are so popular while malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy flourish, speaks louder than any lip service given to “love, love, love.”

That pure and simple love would bring world peace, is a Pelagian lie. Pelagius was that heretic who opposed Augustine saying that man wasn’t born fatally depraved, but righteous, and thus could will to live righteously of himself. Man cannot simply fix the world by choosing to love. Man, left to himself, hates the One who is love. All this talk of love is both a dim reflection of the Creator in whose image we are made and a mask for covering our hatred of him.

But how many churches have the same vain focus on love? They might speak of Jesus’ death as love, but the emphasis is on the sacrifice of Christ as an example for us to follow. If we are to love, we need something to stand on, and too often the church, like the world, is attempting to build a castle in the air. There’s no foundation. Try to build love on this world that is fading, this world of sand, and you’ll find it’s too weak to support something as massive as love. You cannot build love on hatred.

All the world’s talk of love is in the imperative. It is a command. It’s sheer law. But we first need a declaration—a transforming declaration. Before we are told to love, we must be told that we are loved. We need a love that transforms us.

Peter’s command to love is buried in this sentence. It’s buried deep in gospel truth. Peter gives reasons why we are to love. Not reasons that lie out in front like “love is good,” but reasons that lie behind pushing love forward and out. Peter tells us not simply that we should love, but establishes why it is that we can love. From one angle we might say that the command to love is buried in this sentence, from another, we can say that Peter lays a foundation for the command to rest on, v. 22.

The Apologist: God Isn’t a Romantic Shouting “You Complete Me”

If this were not so, we would have had a God who needed to create in order to love and communicate. In such a case, God would have needed the universe as much as the universe needed God. But God did not need to create; God does not need the universe as the universe needs him. Why? Because we have a full and true Trinity. The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, and loved each other, before the creation of the world. —Francis Schaeffer, He is There and He Is Not Silent

The Apologist: The Only Answer to the Mystery of Love

Nevertheless, he [modern man] faces a very real problem as to the meaning of love. Though modern man tries to hang everything on the word love, love can easily degenerate into something very much less because he really does not understand it. He has no adequate universal for love.
On the other hand. the Christian does have the adequate universal he needs in order to be able to discuss the meaning of love. Among the things we know about the Trinity is that the Trinity was before the creation of everything else and that love existed between the persons of the Trinity before the foundation of the world. This being so, the existence of love as we know it in our makeup does not have an origin in chance, but from that which has always been.  —Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There

The Sheep’s Wool (Matthew 25:31-46)

When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats pronouncing judgment upon them, neither one is shocked by the destination, but the reasoning given. The sheep are blessed for the ministered to Jesus in His need, whereas the goats are cursed because they failed. But we shouldn’t mistake this for saying the sheep merited their destination.

The decisive grounds upon which the sheep and goats are divided is that one is comprised of sheep and the other of goats. The deeds of mercy act as an outer mark that identifies the sheep. They are the evidence, not the grounds. Some similar language about those who eat sheep may help.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. —Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)

The eating of sheep does not make one a wolf; the being a wolf means an appetite for sheep. The bearing of good fruit does not make one a good tree; the being a good tree means bearing good fruit.

The King/Shepherd says, “All sheep may enter,” and then He turns to you and says, “Come, for you are covered with wool.” The wool didn’t make you a sheep. The last thing any sheep will say on that day is, “I got in by the wool on my baaack, baaack, baaack. Yes this wool, I did it.” If so, an interrogation would commence. “Were you always a sheep? Who then transformed you into a sheep? Who gave you the only food, and water (the Spirit and the Word) that then can cause such wool to grow? Who gave you health and life so that the wool could grow? Who protected you and led you beside still waters so that the wool could grow?” The Shepherd gets all the credit. When He says, “Come for you are full of wool,” He is saying, “Look at what I did. See. This one is mine.”

What is the distinctive wool specifically mentioned here are a mark of those who are the Good Shpeherd’s? Love for the church. Shouldn’t we as Christians love all who are destitute? Certainly. Is that the point of this text. By no means. “The least of these,” are “my [Jesus’] brothers.” This language echoes Matthew 10:40-42 and Matthew 18 where the “little ones,” are Jesus’ little ones, His disciples.

One evangelical pastor wrote a popular book titled They Love Jesus but Not the Church. He had some legitimate criticisms of the church, but he missed it with his title. You cannot love Jesus and not love the church. If you fail to love the church, you do not love Jesus. You are a goat.

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. …If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. —1 John 4:7-8, 20-21

Get Drunk and Love (Matthew 22:34-40)

When it comes to gods, deep down everyone is a monotheist. There can be only one. Either God is God, or the individual. All of life is love. Love is constantly being expressed. Man cannot not love. Every bit of existence we have is spent loving, worshipping, something. Yet, fallen men cannot love. In loving themselves, they hate love (John 3:19-20). Men hate light because they love darkness, which is another way of saying that they hate love.

By God’s common grace, and because man is made in God’s image, there is a muted echo of love that the unbeliever may hear and that may resound off and through the unbeliever, but it is always second-hand, always an echo and never the original tune. It is always muted, never amplified. It is always a first-grade crush on your married teacher, never marriage consummated and well aged like a vintage wine. It is like saying that you have tasted wine when a drop, a single drop, fell into your full glass of water. The world’s concept of love is diluted. You could never get intoxicated on it.

Jesus extends the cup of the new covenant, the intoxicating, behavior altering wine of His blood, that we might know love and love. If fallen man loves to hate love, how can he ever love love? Let me give you two answers, which are two ways of saying the same thing: covenant and a heart transplant. Listen carefully to the command, “love the Lord your God.” The context for this command is Deuteronomy, redemption, salvation. God, not because of anything Israel has done, calls a people unto Himself. He enters into covenant with them. And His covenant love gives His people a new heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31, 33; Ezekiel 36:26-27). A heart that loves Him, that loves His Son, that loves His law, that loves others, that loves His creation—that loves, really loves.

The Pugilist: Duty and Love

Love itself, indeed, is a duty; and in loving, we fulfil our obligation. When Augustine says, “Love and do what you please,” it is with the maxim in his mind that love is the fulfillment of the law, in the sense that love is in order to duty, and instrument to the meeting of obligation. It is a fundamental mistake to set love and duty in opposition to one another, as if they were alternative principles of conduct. We cannot try a cause between the religion of love and the religion of duty as litigants — as if we were trying the cause between spontaneous and legalistic religion. Love should be dutiful and duty should be loving. What God has joined together, why should we seek to separate? If we could think of a love which is undutiful — that could not be thought of as an expression of religion; any more than a dutifulness without affection. What we are really doing is discussing the affectional and the ethical elements in religion and seeking to raise the question whether we prefer emotion or conscientiousness in religion. The only possible answer is — both.  -B.B. Warfield, The Mystical Perfectionism of Thomas Upham