The Priorities of Love
In Mark 12, a teacher asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment. Jesus gives a two part answer: One—love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Two—love your neighbor as yourself.
By this answer, Jesus does two things. He establishes the preeminence of love. But He also assigns priorities to it. In turn, by assigning priorities to love, He is setting “terms” and “conditions” to its meaning and expression.
For instance, Jesus did not say “You will love your neighbor with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And you shall love your God as you love yourself.” The commandments as He spoke them are not interchangeable. One cannot be redefined as the other. There is a priority—a first and a second. One is dependent on the other. And if anyone attempts to alter what Jesus said here about love, he may still be talking about love and its preeminence, but he is no longer talking about love as God defined it. It is then no longer the love of God. It is another “love” altogether. It is a false love.
By the standard of prioritization Jesus assigned, we learn this conclusive truth about love: love’s ultimate loyalty is not to the object of God’s desire (man), but to the standard of Who God is beyond man in His holiness and righteousness. God’s love is not finally defined by nor is His heart ruled by His passion for man.
This in turn means that if ever conflict arises between what it means to “love God” and to “love man,” love for God must win out. And in such case, love for man must be laid down and cut off. Love is always finally toward the standard of Who God is in His holiness beyond man.
This is in fact why men who never finally respond to God’s loving grace are at last consigned to hell. It is also why relationships among men must be cut off at various times in this life. It explains why Jesus, in His bid to make us peace makers, also said He came “not to bring peace, but a sword.” Peace must be established on God’s terms, not man’s. And so with love. This explains every contrary act of God toward man throughout scripture, including the negative acts of Jesus and the harsh words of Paul.
It is all because Divine love’s loyalty is always at last to the standard of Who God is in His holiness. This has always been and always will be.
The dominant philosophy in today’s world is secular humanism. In secular humanism, man is at the center of all things, and God is nonexistent. Secular humanism also has a definition for love. It is the love of man, and nothing more.
Another version of this philosophy exists that does make room for God. It is called theistic humanism. In theistic humanism, man is still at the center, but God exists to serve man, to help man, to fix man wherever man is broken, and man is at the center of God’s heart and universe.
In accord with this, theistic humanism also has a definition for love. It is the love of man accommodated by the love of God or otherwise the love of God entirely redefined by the love of man. Whatever man considers to be loving toward himself is the meaning of the love of God. And if man doesn’t consider it to be loving, then it is not the “love of God.”
By theistic humanism’s definition of love, God may never act negatively toward a man nor cut him off from relationship for any reason. God is not merely “slow to anger,” but rather God “never gets angry” and “has no anger.” And therefore any angry or negative act or declaration by one man toward another can never be condoned within the parameters of “the love of God.”
Love then is caught between two opposing forces: the defined priority Jesus assigns to it, and theistic humanism’s counterfeit centered in final loyalty to man. Love itself is subject to a light/dark issue.
Within theistic humanism has come to be coined the term “unconditional love.” In generations past, this term used to refer to the fact that man can do nothing to earn the love of God. But under the spirit of theistic humanism, the term has come to remove all defining priority to love as Jesus assigned it. It has come to support the love of man “unconditioned” by any truth God requires for the reestablishing of relationship with God through the cross—or between men—through dealing with sin, through confession and repentance, etc.
Under humanist unconditional love, we are to be all accepting of all people at all times under all conditions without any discriminations in their behavior (that is, their “fruit”). And if we are not unconditionally accepting of them, then we are not demonstrating the love of God.
In similar fashion, theistic humanism has extended the term “unconditional” to the concepts of forgiveness and mercy. We are to practice “unconditional forgiveness” and “unconditional mercy.”
But this is not the love of God. The love of God establishes many testings of love, forgiveness and mercy for relationship with Him to move forward. “If a man keep my commandments, we will love him…” says Jesus. “If he repents, forgive him.” The love, forgiveness and mercy of God is not “unconditional” in its terms for restoration and expression. Yes, love cannot be “earned.” But it must be proven.
“But,” someone will say, “Are we not taught to love and forgive our enemies before they have repented and been reconciled? Did not Christ die for us while we were yet enemies? Are not these the proofs of unconditional love and forgiveness?”
No. These are not demonstrations of unconditional love. They are demonstrations of preconditional love. They are demonstrations of love and forgiveness that only create a “fetal” platform for actualized love and forgiveness to eventually occur and for relationship to be born or reborn. They are the demonstrations of relational amnesty in lieu of reconciliation.
Where God extends love and forgiveness to enemies before the fact of repentance and reconciliation, these expressions are themselves conditioned on His purpose to bring enemies into actualized reconciliation with Him on the terms of His holiness. They are not blanket unconditional expressions.
Theistic humanism however converts these preconditional attributes into unconditional expressions that call for relationship at all costs and on any terms by burying truth and abdicating all responsibility for one’s actions contrary to the fear of God. These misinterpretations are more responsible for the state of relational lawlessness and lack of relational justice in our society and in the church today than any other.
Making the Tough Judgment Calls
“But if neither the unconditional preserving of relationship at all costs nor the unconditional restoring of broken relationship on any terms is the true expression of God’s love, how do we know then when the time and conditions for severing or restoring relationship are right? How do we know we are not being merely ‘self righteous’ and ‘judgmental’?”
Good question. That is a heart matter that has to work out its salvation with fear and trembling. We must all surrender our actions towards others to the scrutiny of the Lord’s conviction. It is to Him ultimately we must give account for our severances and restorations. But the fact that we may make judgments in error does not mean we are to make no judgments at all.
Jesus says we are to first judge ourselves upon which we are then commissioned to “judge righteous judgment.” We are to “judge not” only until we have judged ourselves, upon which we are then to judge righteous judgment. And if we have first judged ourselves in a matter, we may then confidently execute the evaluations necessary for preserving our ultimate loyalty to God in the stewarding of severances and restorations of our human relationships.Where decisions about where and when to make judgments on forgiveness and mercy have to be made by a corporate body, people will not always immediately agree at which point severances and reconciliations must be made. That too is a function of the Holy Spirit to be worked out.
New Meadow Neck, Rhode Island
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
Page created May 6, 2017