What’s Love Got To Do With It?

February 16, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
Follow him on Facebook HERE

No Bible believing Christian questions the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8).  “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:9). This biblical truth is simply undeniable.

However, some believers do disagree as to the extent and nature of His love. For instance, some more moderate Calvinists argue that God has a “general” or “common” love for all humanity, but a “particular” or “self-sacrificial” love for those He has chosen in eternity past. Other Calvinists find this distinction unnecessary and would not qualify God’s common provisions for the non-elect reprobates as “love.” [LINK] While I reject both forms of Calvinism, the latter does appear more consistent with itself than the former.

The issue comes down to how one defines the characteristic of love. According to Paul, “love does not seek its own,” and thus it is best described as “self-sacrificial” rather than “self-serving” (1 Cor. 13:5). As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It seems safe to say that love at its very root is self-sacrificial. Anything less than that should not be called “love.”  One may refer to “kindness” or “care” in reflection of some common provisions for humanity, but unless it reaches the level of self-sacrifice it does not seem to meet the biblical definition of true love.

Given that biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice,” let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).

The meaning is undeniable. We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.

In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worse enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.

Now, we know that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in every way (Matt. 5:17-18), which would have to include the greatest commandment. Christ’s self-sacrificial love for His enemies was certainly as encompassing as what He demanded from His followers in Luke 10. Without a doubt, Jesus loved everyone, even his greatest, most undeserving enemies; otherwise, He would have failed to fulfill the demands of the law.

Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  And again in Romans 13:8: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Thus, to deny Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for everyone is to deny that He fulfilled the demands of the law. This would disqualify Him as the perfect atoning sacrifice.

If we accept that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law by self-sacrificially loving all people, then how can we conclude that God’s love is any less far-reaching than that which is reflected in the Son? Would God expect our love to be more encompassing and self-sacrificial than His own?

When God invites His enemies to be reconciled (Isa. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:20; Mt. 11:28-30), He is making an appeal from a sincere heart of self-sacrificial love. “‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11). “The Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:1). Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace.

With that said, I understand that some have trouble reconciling the idea of God loving His enemies with the following texts:

  • Psalm 5:5: “You hate all workers of iniquity.”
  • Psalm 7:11: “God is angry with the wicked every day.”
  • Psalm 26:5: “I have hated the assembly of evil doers.”
  • Mal. 1 – Rom. 9: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

One must understand that the term “hatred” is sometimes a reflection of “Divine wrath” expressed against those who continue in rebellion, which would not preclude God’s longing to see those under wrath come to faith and repentance. Scripture does describe all people being under wrath (and thus “hated” by God) prior to their coming to faith in Christ. This is a point even our Calvinistic brethren affirm. Both Calvinists and Traditionalists teach that all people are by nature under wrath and thus “hated enemies of God” (Eph. 2:3), but we also can affirm together that God does not desire everyone to remain in that condition.

Further, it should be noted, that the term “hate” is sometimes an expression of choosing one over another for a more honorable purpose, and does not literally mean “hatred” (despise, reject). For instance, Jesus told Peter, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

No commentator worth his salt would suggest the term “hate” in Luke 14 is literal, otherwise he would be hard pressed to explain scripture’s other teachings about loving and honor our parents. Instead, this passage is rightly understood to mean that man must choose following God’s will over the will of even the most beloved in one’s life. Could the same hermeneutical principle be applied toward understanding the biblical references to God’s “hatred?”  Of course it could. In Romans 9, for instance, Paul may simply be reflecting on God’s choice of Jacob (and his posterity) for the honorable purpose of carrying His blessing over his elder brother.

Was not Jacob “by nature [a child] of wrath [hated], just as the others?” (Eph. 2:3). We all should affirm that Jacob remained under wrath [hated] until he came to a point of faith and forgiveness. Even if he came to that point by some “effectual” means, as proposed by the Calvinist, it does not change the fact that he was born under Divine wrath and thus God’s “hatred.” Therefore, these passages which reflect on God’s hatred of some are no more or less troublesome for the non-Calvinistic interpretation.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

norm

Cue the crickets soundtrack.

Nice job, Leighton. Thank you.

Matthew F

Wonderful, sir. Love your work and commentary.

Darryl Le Roux

You sir, have been the catalyst that the Lord has used to free me from Calvinism and Reformed theology.

Caused major upset within my local church due to myself being in Seminary and requesting to minister within the church. I have been told flat out that there is no place for me there due to my theological standing. I now have to move my family to a church that embraces these understandings.

I ask for prayers.

In Christ,
Darryl

    Leighton Flowers

    I’m sorry you are going through that Darryl, but I’m thrilled to hear where God has lead you in your theological journey. I know Austin Fischer is a non-Calvinist at an otherwise very Calvinistic church and somehow they have been able to work well together. Other locations and personalities may not be able to pull that off in which case it may be advised to move on instead of causing division. I’ll be praying for you brother.

    Leighton

    Craig Adams

    Hey Darryl
    I’m sorry and shocked to find out on here that you’ve left. I’m a bit confused by the sentiment/tone expressed in the ‘told flat out’ part of your post, as I don’t know Brian to be anything other than loving.

      Darryl Le Roux

      Hi Craig.

      I must restate that, as you are correct in that Brian is nothing more than gracious.

      I was told that there would be no room for a person to hold such theological standing and minister at the church. The 23:54pm posting could be the cause of such harsh wording to a gracious brother.

      That being said, my standing on the subject still remains, and as such I believe the Lord shall direct our family to a home where He sees fit.

      I have taken this matter up privately with you, as I do not believe this is the correct platform for personal discussion between the two of us.

      Much love for you and Abi, Craig.

      In Christ,
      Darryl

    volfan007

    Darryl,

    God bless you, Brother. I’m so sorry to hear that you are being treated this way. I pray that God will open doors for you.

    David

    Lydia

    Hey Darryl,

    I don’t want to come off light about this because most do not realize that losing your church is closely aligned with a death in the family depending on how deep the roots were there. So, give yourself time to come to grips with it and remember, there is a grieving process that is healthy. But we also found it a good time to really go deep with our kids (depending on the age) on exactly who Jesus Christ is and what is His Body. I am not sure that would have happened otherwise but circumstances demanded it, imo. Now, a few years later as teens, instead of expecting to be chided for questioning as was happening there (even with adults!), they expect dialogue on what is taught. I think that is healthy done with civility and respect. But it is not often found in our churches where indoctrination is the only method known by the leaders. Now, they recognize indoctrination much quicker. Which I hope will help them with navigating this world.

    This major change in your life can be a grand teaching moment or a funeral that turns them from Jesus Christ. (I am extremely concerned about kids and teens in that movement as they are like fresh sponges. the ones from unstable backgrounds are the most vulnerable) How sad we map such things to Jesus Christ. It is not His fault! He wants us to grown in wisdom and spiritual maturity.

      Darryl Le Roux

      Lydia,

      I want to thank you ever so much for your kind words, they are truly gracious and heartfelt. Something I most certainly hold dear to.

      Unfortunately, as I stated, I was rather harsh in my criticism in my pastors wording. However, it has been made known that the church cannot accept one with such a leaning to minister at the church. His dealing with it was most certainly gracious, and in my sinful state, I made it known as if he was tyrannical. He most certainly was not.

      However, we will unfortunately need to leave due to no opportunity to minister is granted, leaving myself in a stagnant position when my desire is to preach the Gospel to the lost. Not the condemnation of the Law, but the Grace of Christ. I use Christ and the woman at the well often as how one should deal with the lost, and this I feel is something the reformed church does not hold to. This is not a reflection on my previous church, but reformed theology in general.

      Matt Slick even states that the church is not there to make polished trophies for the mantle, but to equip the believer to heading out into the world to minister to the lost. However, the vast majority of reformed theology is the working on oneself. Our depravity, our sanctification, our justification etc. I have yet to hear the passion in the reformed communities collective voice for the bridging of cultural gaps in order for the Gospel to be shared. Another topic for another day though…

      Thank you Lydia for your kind words yet again. The Lord, I pray, will shape us as a family in accordance to His will.

      In Christ,
      Darryl

      Scott Shaver

      Good words Lydia…..they were true in my own experience.

      “unless a seed falls into the ground and dies”……………

      The “death” could be God’s way of freeing Darryl to actually do the work HE’s called him to do….without the water-board strappings of a man-centered indoctrination.

        Lydia

        Scott, some of us older folk have had the opportunity to be involved, at a young age, in churches that stressed “renewal” instead of a perpetual focus on brokenness and the search for affirmation of pardon.

        Perhaps that is why the culture of the Neo Cal churches bothers me so much. I know better. And it concerns me greatly that kids are fed this focus.

        About a month ago, a friend from my former church contacted me about her 11 year old son who asked to be baptized. (They no longer do alter calls but “broken” calls. Not that I think alter calls are necessary but neither are perpetual broken calls)

        This family is very involved, not up on Reformed theology but supportive of the new regime. How ever, her 11 year old is in constant turmoil on whether he is really saved. He is consumed with it. By her description, i thought of some Puritan stuff i have read. She is convinced her and her husband are at fault as parents and have not properly modeled for him the love of Christ.

        She is not connecting dots. Here is a kid who is a sponge and has picked up the focus of what is taught in youth: perpetual brokeness. And tons of Piper. I suggested she sit in on youth group and do some research on who they quote often, etc.

        I really think the fall out from this lack of focus on renewal is going to eventually be a disaster.

          Lydia

          You would think I could spell altar! Blame it on auto correct. :o)

          Scott Shaver

          Feel your pain Lydia (as one prominent Southern Baptist used to remind us).

          But, in keeping with the question posed by the title of this excellent article, what’s “love” got to do with it?

          Speaking of “love”. Did you see the call for “New Baptist Future by Voices”. Dave Miller et al want to find middle ground for the sake of “unity”. :)

          ALL 10 OF EM that is who haven’t been censored completely OFF THE SITE!

          They couldn’t script this kind of slap-stick irony in Hollywood for an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. To the point of tears, laughing.

            Tom

            Scott:

            IMO SBC Voices is a very small group who almost always do atta boys regardless of the topic. They-especially (Dave Miller) nothing about middle ground or love. It is all too sad!

            Lydia

            Scott, the call for unity means ‘please forget the last 10 years, Driscoll, Acts 29, SGM, Mahaney, Neo Cal is the true Gospel, stealth take overs, empire building in entities” and so on. And, if you question that then you are divisive.

            They remind me of abusers who get whiny and angry when the person they just hit does not immediately trust and forget. You cannot even mention SGL over there in relation to the child molester scandal. Mahaney is now SBC!!!!. Those comments get moderated as mean and divisive. Move on nothing to see here …..ignore the devastated people who were in that cult.

            “Unity” always requires trust.

          Scott Shaver

          At the risk of sounding emotionally detached from the pain of your friends Lydia, carte-blanche support by the parents for something that is obviously spiritual enough in nature to “keep them up at nights” should be the first place a parent starts looking for problems? I caught the comment about “not connecting dots”. You’re right.

            Lydia

            Scott, people don’t connect dots because they are more concerned about looking like they are nice than questioning very serious issues.

            That is why “unity” movements work. That was the buzz word when the YRR guy was hired. People were told it is the same Gospel and it did not matter. Those who knew better just left. All those years they invested…gone. People were literally told that bringing up Calvinism was divisive. (Just like they do on voices) And they were told a vote was not needed because ‘the Holy Spirit has chosen for us”. People believe this rot gut. They check their brains at the door because they want to be nice. (The YRR are the first to expect everyone else to be nice as they manipulate people but they are so indoctrinated they cannot even see themselves)

            And then the people have situations like the 11 year old and trust me, they won’t want to know why. That is why I suggested she check closer what he is taught. They have to make the discovery themselves.

            When one is willing to do whatever it takes to win, they win. That is why the Neo Cals won the SBC. Some folks are simply not willing to do that. Some folks are too trusting of titles and celebs.

            The YRR movement is basically one big

              Mary

              Who was that guy – did he put forward an actual “Unity” resolution at the SBC – and then he announced he was an atheist? He was one of the meanest, most condescending jerks on the blogs – a lot like Dave Miller – all while pretending to be perfectly reasonable. Some of these people on the blogs don’t remember all the years where there were mostly Calvinists blogs and they were really, really mean. Once the Calvinists realized people who weren’t Calvinists were appalled by their behavior the blogs all went dark. Someone like Miller remembers those days where Founders would get threads going with 300+ comments but he pretends like he has no clue why nonCals ever have any problem with Calvinists. Notice the hypocrisy where Miller will let a thread wander around attacking Paige Patterson (who deserves attacking) but as soon as anyone brings up SGM he shuts the conversation down. PRAVDA comrades!

                Scott Shaver

                This “Unity” proposal written by Dave Miller is a hoot.

                Miller intends to find a way to force “unity” with confessionalism and has declared that if anyone disagrees at any substantial point with the BFM…..”they are not Southern Baptist”. As if he defines who is and who is not :)

                Guess nobody ever told or taught Miller that cooperative program gifts is what makes them “Southern Baptist”, not their confessions.

                The logic of the document is as thin as the paper upon which it is written. Need a good laugh? Check it out, then use it for hampster cage lining.

                  Tom

                  Scott: the “Unity” proposal is a bad joke. It is as if Miller is pontificating to others. Sadly IMO there will never be unity in the SBC and it is because Miller and others will never allow it. They think they are in and others are out. It is as always about power and control.

                    Scott Shaver

                    Tom: They are welcome to “IT” ….whatever it is.

                Lydia

                Mary, good point. The unity road has been traveled. What is even sadder is that Chris sounded, to me, more compassionate and just as an atheist compared to being of the YRR.

                  Mary

                  “Unity” is just newsspeak for “margenalization” It’s not about seeking “unity” it’s to push people out who keep talking about things that the elite don’t want to talk about. You can’t scream “UNITY” and continue to shut down uncomfortable conversations. Dave Miller constantly shows his heart with the way he treats those who disagree with him and those bringing up subjects that he has deemed “conspiracy” or “not helpful” or “settled” Pravda is using “UNITY” as code for SHUT UP and we will dictate what is and is not acceptable thoughts.

                    Andrew

                    Mary: Perhaps somebody could start a blog as an extension to Dave Miller’s called “voices off” so that people could comment without being sanctioned or shut down? Just a thought!

doug sayers

Thanks Leighton. It seems evident in Scripture that there is indeed a very genuine and sacrificial love of God for the whole world /everyone, and a particular adoptive love for true believers. I am wondering if you have / would address John 16:27 sometime? ” …for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

    Leighton Flowers

    John 16:27: “…for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
    We know from 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Which may appear to contradict Jesus’ words in John 16, but obviously that’s not the case. Here is my take:

    The English term “love” has at least two distinct meanings in Greek. In 1 John 4:19 the term ?????? (agape) is used, whereas the term ????? (philé?) is used by Jesus in John 16:27. The latter is a conditional brotherly kind of love (if you do this then I will show you favor/blessing), whereas the former is an unconditional/eternal kind of love that flows from the very nature of our unchanging Father. So, it appears (in John 16) Jesus is saying that the blessing of salvation comes to those who love Christ, which would be a simple restatement of the truth contained in John 3:16, “whosoever believes in him (loves him) will not perish but will have eternal life (will be loved by the Father).” Where as 1 John 4:19 is expressing the unconditional love of a Creator for all His creation.

    What do you think?

doug sayers

I agree there is no contradiction here. Our love is in response to His.

Jesus’ statement (J 16:27) is a jagged stone in the shoe for the Calvinist, and anyone else who wants to teach that God’s saving love is utterly unconditional. The word “because” is a problem for the committed Calvinist and the committed Universalist… neither of whom want any meaningful human condition attached to salvation (even if the condition is humiliating).

We can be drawn into a faith that works by love but we can’t be irresistibly dragged into a faith that works by love. The spirit of penitent faith would be obliterated if it was irresistible. John 6:45; Gal 5:6

Thanks again; your willingness to do the dirty work is much appreciated.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available