"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Tree of Love Thrives in the Soil of Truth

Sometimes you come across a church that says something like, "we are a loving church we dont stress knowledge we just want to love jesus thats the important thing" (note the sarcastically intentional lack of capitalization and punctuation).  If ever you find such a church, or its close cousin, the "knowledge instead of love" church, make a note of its location so you do not inadvertently find yourself there on a Sunday morning. 

The idea that we can or should afford a higher premium to either truth or love is devastatingly false, as is the concept that these are entirely separate from each other.  We separate the two ideas, and we pick our favorites, according to our natural temperaments.  Love seems like less work than truth, and it would be less confrontational, right?  Or, Truth is simpler because I do not make obtrusive sacrifices for others. 

We cannot expect God's truth to have any significance in our lives if we do not love according to that truth.  Love is not an optional feature of God's program.  Similarly - and this is what I want to discuss - we cannot love while neglecting truth.  Paul makes this clear in Philippians 1:9-10:  "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ."

Paul's prayerful desire for the Philippians is that they grow in love - in a very specific manner.  Their love, their godly, agape love, requires two specific (and perhaps unexpected) catalysts in order to exceed its present quality. 

1.  Real knowledge.  The Greek is epignosis, which moves beyond simple knowledge to a more participatory understanding - one might say we are living the Word with epignosis.1  It is an understanding of the Word, cemented more firmly and genuinely into our hearts and minds by the mortar of experience. 

How does this help me to grow in love?  If God's Word reveals how love is supposed to look, and then my own actions affirm that truth (whether I succeeded or failed), then my heart clamors all the more loudly for me to adhere to God in the future.  I am far less likely to act selfishly if I know that God's Word decries such behavior, and if furthermore I know from personal experience the damage that is dealt to myself and to others by my own selfish behavior.  All my experience in a given area must necessarily teach me that God is right in that area, and that any opposition of mine is always wrong - thus am I given a yet stronger calling toward love. 

It becomes my lot, then, to discover still deeper what the Bible says about how I must love God and love others, and then to go out and apply that love in every conceivable area and corner of my life.  My very real experience will marry with very true biblical knowledge, and will birth a more solid conviction about the absolute need to love even as Christ Himself does.

2.  All discernment.  The word used here for "discernment" is aisthesis; and "discenment" is a fair translation; the only other use of this word group in the New Testament is in Hebrews 5:14, where the distinguishing of good and evil is in view.2  We note immediately that this also has its roots in biblical knowledge; discernment is useless without some healthy understanding of what righteousness is.  Paul bears this out in the Philippians passage we quoted above.

But how is discernment connected to love, you ask?  Most strongly, we reply.  It does us no good at all to proclaim the profundity of our love for God, if we are going to push aside every command He makes.  Consider 1 John 5:2-3:  "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."  We love God by obeying Him, and consistent obedience requires great discernment in the foxholes of life.  Consider the dangerous inconsistencies in seeing a person who makes no effort to discern what would please God (and thus usually fails to do so), and then watching others commend that person for "how much you love God."  Baffling, no?

Discernment is also greatly needed in our love of others.  How blessed is a brother or sister in the faith who will not lead me into temptation, but actively seeks to avoid that temptation!  How needed and how loving is such a one who gives a clear, compassionate warning, when he or she sees sin in my life (though I may chafe or cringe in that moment)?  And how utterly tragic to withhold such careful, humble warning, in the name of love!  I choose not to warn a brother about the danger of a sin I see in his life, because I love him too much.  Impossible.

Truth and love are designed to be dear, inseparable friends in the life of a believer.  As we grow in our love, let us seek to season that love with "real knowledge and all discernment," that we may find ourselves squarely within the bounds of that program of love which God, who is love Himself (1 John 4:8), has established so perfectly.

1 Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, & William White, Jr. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words." Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1996. p. 348.
2 Brown, Colin.  The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.  Vol. 2.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1976. p. 391.


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