In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I Jn. 4:10
If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. Gal. 5:11 NLT
Today we want to speak directly to the unwritten rule of human ethos behind the meaning of love in those cultures where love is an esteemed value. This rule can be written in three words:
“Love never offends.”
This is not a divine ethos. It is not found in scripture, anywhere. It is a purely human maxim. And if we look at modern western culture, we will see that underneath all debate over behavioral morality and public policy, this unspoken belief dictates the terms of debate.
The silent underlying social presupposition is that the burden for all relational or societal discord of any kind always falls upon the party perceived as responsible for “offending” another party. If you’re the source of the offense, you are guilty for the discord until proven innocent.
Consequently, by this ethos the offensive party is always prejudged at fault for being unloving (or hateful). And under this arrangement, it is an automatic societal axiom that it is illegal to offend anyone for any reason.
Other words alternately used for unloving include judgmental, insensitive, and intolerant. Conversely, love itself is therefore defined as that which is inoffensive, non-judgmental, sensitive and tolerant. These words make up the family of terms superintended by the umbrella term “unconditional.” Thus unconditional love is defined as love that is universally inoffensive… non-judgmental… sensitive… tolerant.
Now I am hoping what I have just described is obvious, requiring no further explanation or proof. Turn on any news or human affairs or entertainment program on the airwaves and perceive how it is a societal crime to offend, and how often the above family of terms is used to prejudge any party deemed responsible for creating offense. All falls under the silent maxim, love never offends.
The Church and Human Maxim
Paul speaks of the church as the “pillar of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). If so, then the “steel rebar” at the core of that pillar is the written word of God. A pillar is only as strong as its core. But if the core is corrupted, then the pillar must collapse. For this reason, we have to use the founding apostolic and prophetic scriptures for establishing what we are saying and proving our strength as a pillar.
For the most part, the western church’s attitude and beliefs on love are but a mirror of the world’s governing silent rule, “love never offends.” In defense of this, the church at-large naively appeals to misplaced portions of scripture in contradiction of what the scripture writers actually tell us about divine love.
- Judge Not?
A common misspoken scripture for instance is Jesus’ word, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This word in context exhorts believers to be sure they are not walking hypocritically when exhorting to correction in others. Don’t be correcting outside you what is not first correct within you. First take care of your own correction. “Then,” says He, “you will see clearly to correct / judge another.” As He later says, “Judge righteously.” And as our “rebar” goes on to inform us, “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction”—all of which is to judge, and all of which is to offend.
Interestingly, the world itself oft uses this misapplied quote on judgment to back its maxim against all offense. “Judge not” is probably the best known Bible verse in the whole world. Yet, if the lost world is quoting the Bible this way, should that not itself inform the church that our own use of Jesus’ words to defend the idea “love never offends” is false? (Since when is the world our authority for accurate Bible application of anything Jesus had to say?)
- The “Love Chapter”
Another passage however bears far more scrutiny. It is Paul’s own discourse on love in I Corinthians 13. The pertinent section is here:
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly;…8 Love never fails.”
What happens here is that God’s people blindly superimpose the maxim “love never offends” upon these words, with no consideration of their meaning in context of the life of the One who inspired them and the one who wrote them.
- On Patience and Kindness
It is true that love is patient and love is kind. But patience and kindness have boundaries past which love oft pursues. Both Paul and Jesus crossed those bounds with both Pharisees and disciples, creating offense in the process.
Mk. 3:5 After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."
Mt. 15:12 Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?"
Mt. 16: 8 … "O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? 9 Do you not yet understand, or remember …? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?--
Lk. 24:25 Then He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
Mk. 16:14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
So what do these offensive, impatient, unkind attitudes and statements of Jesus mean? Was the Son of God not fundamentally patient? Was He not fundamentally kind? Most of all, did He stop being “loving” when He crossed the bounds to express impatience and unkindness? (“What think ye, O foolish Church?”)
- On Jealousy, Boasting and Shamefulness
Let’s move on. Love is not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, and is not unbecoming, says the apostle. This is absolutely true. Or wait, is it just fundamentally true? Are there bounds of definition here likewise?
Paul says in his very next letter to the Corinthians (noting the underlines),
II Cor. 11:1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly--and indeed you do bear with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy… 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! …16 I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. 17 What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast. 19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!... 30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
So what think ye about this, Church? Does this oration contradict everything Paul just told the Corinthians in his previous letter or what?? It is filled not only with unbecoming jealousy and boasting and arrogance, but with impatience and unkindness! It is quite a rant. And it is plenty offensive. (When is the last time you showed any guts to talk to anybody this way about their spiritual state?)
And yet in the midst of it he proclaims, “Why, because I do not love you? God knows!” He is declaring his love for them through this outburst?
So what is it? Is Paul a hypocrite in regards to I Corinthians 13, or are there limits and parameters that condition how love fundamentally expresses itself? Is this tirade a contradiction against the truth of his first letter, or is there a whole lot more to love than you want to believe under the maxim love never offends? (Did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul’s second letter to Corinth as much as his first letter, or not? What think ye, Church?)
You see, love not only displays a godly impatience and unkind side, it also has a godly jealousy (did you notice how Paul pointedly said his jealousy was godly? Don’t you think he was trying to qualify to them what he had said before about love not being jealous?)
Love also has godly boasting and arrogance! The word for godly boasting and arrogance is boldness. Boldness is a godly quality, and it is in no wise contradictory to humility. We are in fact told to come boldly to God’s throne in confidence of what we are asking Him for, not as servile beggars. He loves boldness! Yet we know He resists the proud and dwells in the lofty place only with the humble.
Love also shows godly unbecomingness. The Greek word for unbecoming refers to shamefulness. Love does not fundamentally speak shamefully to or about things. Yet here in the second letter, Paul’s “foolishness” and speaking as a “fool” with a touch of sarcasm does exactly that. He is confessing to speaking shamefully about this whole matter—in love.
So what does the wise Church conclude? The wise Church understands there is no contradiction. It is all a matter of spirit. The question is not whether you are displaying unbecoming impatience, unkindness, jealousy or boldness. The issue is, from what Spirit are you displaying these?
But for this essay, the point is that, in all these “out of bounds” displays beyond I Corinthians 13, love offends. And therefore, the humanist conversion of Paul’s words “love never fails” into the maxim “love never offends” is false.
Divine Love’s Fundamental Offensiveness
Now that we have stripped away the veil of “love never offends” from I Corinthians 13, we turn to look directly at the apostles’ statements that speak to love’s offensiveness.
The first word here is John’s definition of love as a propitiation.
“He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”.
What is a propitiation? A propitiation is something that appeases. Specifically, the love of God appeases His wrath by paying for and cleansing away sin.
In other words, the focus of divine love is in dealing with sin and its effects. This means divine love is always speaking to the issue of cleansing from sin. It is in the dealing with sin that John defines divine love. It is not about God’s “presence” and “warmth” and “flow of the Spirit” and “intimacy” and “feeling.”
Is that all part of divine love? Yes, in wonderful part. But not fundamentally as the apostles teach it. All of that beauty comes afterward and is indeed the goal. But you don’t get to the goal unless you start at the start line. And the start line of divine love is the dealing with sin’s ugliness. The rest of divine love’s beauty, warmth and intimacy remains dependent on the cleansing from sin by which we are covenantally transformed into obedient conformity with the will of God.
But what does this have to do with this essay? The point is that, in its fundamental meaning, the love of God is about dealing with something that offends all mankind! Nobody wants to talk about sin. Nobody even wants to even admit to sin.
Everybody just wants this inoffensive non-judgmental “love” from God that takes them straight to intimacy without covenantal propitiation, without cleansing, without transformative obedience, and without all the offense created by dealing with all these stages that precede genuine intimacy.
See, the unoffending intimacy that bypasses all the fundamental stages of love is luciferian “love.” And that is what man wants. He wants “God’s love” the counterfeit luciferian way—all the feeling, all the pleasurable experience, and all the warmth that characterizes love, without any of the appeasement of wrath, reconciliation, cleansing or transformative obedience. Basically, and I’m sorry to have to put it this unbecoming way, but man simply wants “free sex” with God.
And the real problem is not that man at large wants this, but that the supposedly blood-bought church is teaching man he can have the love of God this way!
Look, if you go to a worldly counseling center for alcoholism, do they treat you without talking about alcohol? (No.) If you go to a treatment center for drug abuse, do they treat you without talking about drugs? (No.) How then can you come to the church to be saved from sin without talking about sin? (What other salvation is the church about? What salvation does the name “Jesus” represent other than “He shall save His people from their sins?”)
The Church is supposed to be above all a sin treatment center for deliverance from sin. Yet the church keeps saying,
“No need to talk about sin. No need to discuss propitiation. No need to be offensive. That’s insensitive! Be (seeker-) sensitive. Be tolerant of people. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t speak to their sin. Don’t make an issue of it. (God will deal with it.) Don’t speak to discipleship. Don’t speak to obedience. Don’t speak to covenant.”…Just “bring people into the Presence” for a good orgy each Sunday while you teach them how “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”
The Offense of the Cross
So what sense does this make? The Church wants to say that God’s love is shown through the cross of Christ, and yet the Church doesn’t want to preach about that very cross. For not only is discussing the sin problem offensive, but so is the remedy. The cross offends. The only antidote to sin offends. Paul said so, and he paid with his life for promoting that offense.
But no, we’ve been taken over by “love never offends.” So guess what? We don’t talk about the cross. It’s not preached. It’s just thought that lost people are somehow supposed to pick up by osmosis that Jesus died for their sin, but which we don’t need to talk about lest we lose them, and so they will just somehow get saved “under the Presence.” As it is said,
“You don’t need to preach to them, people. God will do it without your help.”
That, friends, is the sum of the “gospel” in what here in the early 21st century passes for the “Spirit-filled” church. Except for some worship songs, you largely won’t hear about the cross. And you won’t hear about the sin that made it necessary. You certainly won’t hear about either sin or the cross in any directly pointed way—and it’s all because “love never offends.
This is how far the professing church is from the truth. It is in most cases a rotting pillar of truth from the inside out. Its rebar is almost entirely corroded. And it will collapse unless God intervenes to perform emergency surgery. And according to Malachi 3, that is exactly what He will do:
3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver,…”
What about “Winning” People?
Like other scriptures we have looked at, the concept of “winning” people to the Lord has also come to cover and double for “love never offends.” The concepts of “winning” and “offensiveness” appear mutually exclusive, and since Paul does talk about “making himself all things to all men” in order to win them, this supports the conclusion that when reaching out to people with God’s love through Christ, “love never offends.”
So let’s look at this:
I Cor. 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
When read in context, we quickly find out that Paul’s idea of “winning” men to the Lord has nothing to do with how he does or does not preach the otherwise offensive message of the cross to them. It has only to do with eliminating as many unnecessary cultural stumbling blocks as possible from interfering with the message.
In order to size up a messenger, people first look at a man’s exterior and deportment. They look at where he’s from and how he lives. The message is one thing. But the messenger’s own cultural carriage and deportment is another. Superficial appearances can disqualify a messenger in the eyes of hearers before he ever speaks his message. It’s a simple fact of life.
This is what Paul speaks to regarding “winning” men to Christ. He is not talking about how he tailors his message to their “sensitivities” in case they might think he is “judgmental” or “unloving.” Not at all. He will only advantage himself to know their cultural reference points off which he can play to make his message conceptually apprehendable to them.
But he will not soft peddle the message itself. He will still talk sin and propitiation and judgment and everything else latently offensive to the human concept of divine love. How do we know this? Because despite “making himself all things to all men,” all men still wanted to kill him!
“You Will Be Hated of All Men for My Sake”
Now let’s stop right there on this quote. Who said this?
Jesus said this, of course.
Fine. So if Jesus said this, then why do we have any idea that “love never offends?” How could that maxim possibly have any play in the mind of God in advancing His love toward us?
Instead, Jesus is telling us just the opposite. He is saying, “Love offends. Count on it!” He tells us up front that if we spread the “good news” of salvation through His propitiation, we are going to be hated of all people groups. There will be no exceptions. (The world and worldly preachers will call it “bad news.”)
Why? It’s because love’s purpose is to save, and one can’t be saved without first being offended over what separates him from God’s love. One can’t come to light until he is exposed to his own ugly darkness. Until one is offended over the affront to his pride, he has not encountered the real love of God. Until one comes face to face with the sin he doesn’t want to face, he has not encountered the real love of God. Saving love offends. No other love saves. And if you haven’t yet been offended by God’s love, you probably still have yet to be saved.
Nothing in Jesus’ teaching even remotely lends itself to the maxim “Love never offends.” It can only be the opposite. “Love always offends,” says He. “Expect it. Be prepared for it. Be prepared to be hated and delivered up to government courts and to be put to death for My sake,” says He.
The Role of God-breathed Sensitivity
Is this to convey that we are supposed to “help God out” in getting people to hate us? Are we supposed to champion our cause based on our ability to be hated—something for which some wilderness prophets seem to have a morbid fondness? Are we supposed to endeavor to make ourselves offensive or make ourselves totally callous to our impact on hearers?
Obviously not, and such thinking is a total distortion of what is at issue here. We are never to “own” the sense “I don’t care what you think, I’m going to tell you this for your own good whether you like it or not, and I’m going to make myself as onerous to you as I possibly can…yada, yada.”
Love does not seek to be offensive, even if it is offensive.
There is also the matter of readiness and sensitivity to the Lord’s timing in presenting the message of truth. As the Lord once spoke to me many years ago, “Possession of truth is not the permission to speak it.” It is not for us to just go speak our mind and preach of our own accord apart from partnership with the Holy Spirit. We are not ordained to go out to create more offense than necessary just because we are not sensitive to the Spirit’s timings. All our battles must be chosen carefully. But in the end, our sensitivity in making these determinations is to be to the Holy Spirit, not to people and their sensitivities.
Redemptivity: Speaking the Truth in Love
All this brings us to understand what it means to speak the truth in love. If true love through the gospel is oft likely to create offense, then how else are we supposed to really understand what it means to show love in our witness for Christ?
The answer is found in our motive and our objective. And that motive and objective is summed up in one word: redemptivity.
When we speak the gospel or any truth for that matter to anyone, knowing it is likely to create offense, we must determine what our heart motive and objective is in the face of that knowledge. And our motive and objective must ultimately be to redeem the hearer(s) in regard to their state of sin and unbelief of which they are offended to hear.
Our motive and our objective are comprised in the word attitude. Our attitude toward our audience must be redemptive. And we must know what our attitude is without regard to whatever others want to say it is. (“Oh, you’re hateful, you’re judgmental, you’re unloving,” etc., etc.) Count on it. You’re going to get that no matter how you speak real truth.
So ignore it! What they think of your attitude is not what counts. Expect to be mistaken and misunderstood in motive and attitude. It’s what you know your attitude is before God that counts. “Do I have a redemptive attitude in this purpose to speak, or am I simply out for blood?” It is a question only for you to answer, and not others about you.
Remember, the message of salvation is all about saving people. Right? (duh?) So that is what must define our attitude in speaking truth to people, regardless of the relational consequences in so doing. And if we know that redemption characterizes our underlying attitude, then even if we must speak words of direct judgment (as Jesus and Peter and Paul all did, and as will happen in Revelation 11) then we may be assured we are speaking the truth in love!
That is all there is to it. So let me say this as succinctly as possible:
The measure of love in any ministry encounter is not in its inoffensiveness, but in the redemptivity behind any offensiveness.
Offensiveness or lack thereof has nothing to do with measuring the love behind a ministry. That is the ruse. That is what the world believes, and what the devil wants you to believe as well. But we don’t take our cues from what the world believes about love and offensiveness, nor from any professing believing body that conforms to the world’s definition of love.
If you want to know why the Church is emasculated of true apostles and prophets today, and why there is virtually next to no church government regarding relational affairs, it is because of this incipient lie at the root of all present Christian belief that “love never offends.”
The purpose of this expansive essay is to give voice to what so many already know to be true, but have no way to effectively articulate. Many sequestered apostles, prophets and just plain concerned but befuddled believers will come upon this essay. It is for you this is written. Begin rising within your spirit to stand down this lie in your churches and families and other social circles.
The Spirit is ready to bring forth a new sound based in the next revelation of Christ. And it will be an offensive sound. As that sound arises even within your own heart as a Malachi 3 messenger, you need assurance that you are truly hearing from God. This essay is meant to assist in leading to such assurance.
It’s time to throw off the yoke of the groveling wimpy humanists in our midst, and start speaking the only truth that can redemptively save men from sin. What is there to lose? Heaven awaits.
The Lord be with every reader who rises to this occasion to fearlessly proclaim the offensive love of God.
Disciplinary fathering love, military love, offensive love, divisive love, separational love, circumcisional love.....these have been the themes of late. And so they continue. The burden of the Lord is to take us beyond the threshold of starry-eyed adolescence in apprehending His love. Such apprehending is where "first love" really begins.
Think about the Ephesian Church in Revelation 2—how the Lord chided them for losing their first love while administering tests of orthodoxy and apostleship. We see here again the misconstruing through the eyes of "inoffensive love" to say, "stop testing for false apostles and start loving people."
But if we really read it, that's not the message. The Lord praised this church for putting ministries to the test (ie, for judging ministries). Nowhere does He in love's name praise naiveté and plausible deniability for having failed to deal correctively with people.
In what way then did the Ephesians lose their first love? Answer: They lost their redemptivity. It fits. It makes sense. Their motive, objective and attitude unto salvation corrupted to making of judgment its own self-standing virtue (which always yields hypocritical self-righteousness).
This is how we rightly divide the word of the Lord and His love. We judge, and we love in doing so. It is a necessity and a mandate upon us, not a mutual exclusion.
To all of our growth, then, in this reawakening apprehension.
New Meadow Neck, Rhode Island
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship