Evangelical Christians have a habit of being known more for what we believe theologically/ideologically than for how we live. And when those outside our camp think about how we live, “hypocrite” is the frequent accusation. I’m not here to debate whether or not that’s a fair accusation, but I’ve been challenged twice just today to remember the centrality of love for God in the Christian life.
I was rereading Revelation 2-3’s letters to the churches and was struck again by the Letter to the Ephesian Church. Here’s what immediately jumped out at me:
“I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (vv.2b-4)
What Caught My Attention
As someone who named his blog “Living Theologically” I doubt I need to tell you that theological faithfulness is important to me. The name of this blog isn’t just an idea that I came up with, it really is a description of how I think, make decisions, observe what’s around me, even how I make jokes (or attempt to, at least). Accordingly, I naturally filter what I hear and read through a biblical and theological lens.
The Ephesian Church did the same thing, and yet they were rebuked because the did this at the expense of love. How often do I, and how often do we as thoughtful Evangelicals, think theologically in a way that separates doctrine from love?
No Division Necessary
Theological faithfulness and passionate love for God belong together. One without the other either leads to sterile faith or rootless faith. Scripture consistently affirms God’s passionate love for humanity. Why, then, do we who desire to know him thoroughly fail to show the kind of love towards him that we are trying to understand?!
As I/we continue to grow in our understanding of who God is and what He’s done and what He’s calling us towards, let us do so with our eyes firmly fixed on God Himself, not on our theology books or creeds. When we desire theological clarity more than we desire intimacy with Christ then we are in danger of forsaking our “first love.” As the A.W. Tozer quote above reminds us, “The Devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.”
The Heart of the Christian Faith is Love
The heart of Christianity is love: God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for each other. As the Apostle Paul concludes in the famous “love chapter,”
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (vv.1-3)
Theological precision is good, it’s something I am committed to – but love is better. I know from experience the coldness of theological faithfulness when one’s heart begins to harden towards God. I want a soft heart that is filled with wonder that God would love me. I want a discerning heart that would give someone a word of comfort and hope before I jump to correct their theology.
I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are many who hear the words to the Church in Ephesus and are convicted about forsaking their love for God in exchange for theological accuracy. Let’s not throw theology in the dumpster or say it’s not essential (it is, just read the words to the Church in Thyatira!), but let’s remember that Love is primary.
- Do not let God’s love for you grow boring or theoretical
- God is more than “a good idea” … ask yourself whether or not you have affection for God
- When God’s love for you (or your love for Him) begins to grow cold, you can assume that your love for other people has already iced over. You cannot love God without loving other people (1 John 4:20), so if you want to recover your love for God then send some “Thank You” cards, give to those in need (out of genuine love, not pity), and listen carefully to those around you (and refrain from being the “answer guy” who knows the solution to all their problems… just listen).
Note: I heard John Piper talk on the relationship between the heart and the head last year at a Gospel Coalition: New England conference. I haven’t read his book Think, but I know it dives into this topic more fully… if you hear nuances of what Piper writes about in this post it’s probably coming from the talks I heard last year.
I’d love to hear from those of you out there who share this struggle with me, please add your insights in the comment section regarding the relationship between theological faithfulness and all-out love for God. I know I’m not alone…
December 10, 2013 at 11:13 am
II Tim 4:1-2 Theology is Love if done with complete patience and teaching. Just the word Theology says it is love – the study of God (who is Love). What often happens is we remain silent on any given theological matter because we believe it is going to offend someone in the body. Silence is never love, Sometimes our silence can be miss read to be approval of bad theology sometimes our words can be said in the wrong tone of voice. For as my cousin says “95% of the worlds problems is tone of voice!”
Are you putting all that knowledge to use to serve your Master and your fellow slaves? Or are you using it to stoke your ego? It pleases God to use the weak. Just how weak are you? As weak as your low-minded brethren? These are questions that I asked myself and Sunday School class on Sunday. I pray that it was heard as loving and that I am a low-minded brother. I do not think that the Church in Thyatira asked these questions.
December 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm
I agree that 2 Tim. 4:1-2 are really important (duh!) to remember, because knowing and teaching solid doctrine is essential. But I’d disagree that “Silence is never love” (even though I totally agree with the second part of that sentence). We need to practice discernment, lest we “cast pearls to pigs” (Mt. 7:6). Also, Jesus could have constantly corrected his disciples and the pharisees, but he chose to stay silent at times while in other instances he’d respond with a question to show the person they either weren’t asking the right question themselves or that they weren’t ready for the truth. I suspect that while some people are silent too often, others (definitely myself included!) rush too quickly into correcting-mode too quickly.
Big picture, this quote from Scotty Smith’s book “Everyday Prayers” sums up what I was trying to get at: “An informed mind is not the same thing as an enflamed heart.”
December 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm
“Our tendency is to want to look the other way when we see a problem, to try and ignore it and hope it will disappear, to just swallow it. But when you refuse to say something, when you swallow it, it doesn’t really go away. It is just internalized. It gets moved to the one place where nobody else can interact with it, where you can’t even be held accountable for how you are handling it. It just seethes inside of you and rots you from the inside out. It becomes a poisonous bitterness.
It’s sad because this starts with somebody else’s sin. But because of cowardice, laziness, or maybe some sort of mutual guilt on your part, you fail to address it. But then it slowly, over much time, turns into a sin inside of you.
That’s not love. Love would say something.” Quoted from http://www.benmerkle.com/what-love-does/#more-138
This is why I said it as it pertains to the Body of Christ not the World.