What will threaten the health of the church in 2019? While many threats may exist, one particularly comes to mind: a lack of love. Lovelessness deforms truth. It embraces evangelical jargon to puff up its ego. Yet this embrace represents an artifice of truth and not the real thing. To speak truly, we must speak the truth in love. That’s the realist truth. Truth devoid of love is a styrofoam staircase. It looks like the real thing but falls to pieces when anyone steps on it.
Today’s tribalistic culture deforms truth by making it a weapon of warfare. Political discourse thrives on discrediting the other side. It uses truth rather than honouring it. Winning is all that matters. Love-lacking speakers defile any truth in their words. For their true words become a “ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.” But truth without love is a halfway house that requires rehabilitation. This is because the realist truth analogically participates in God who is true, holy, just, and love.
Christians must resist
Since God is love, the pursuit of love must mark our lives. John writes, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). The stakes are that high. To be unloving means you do not know God. Yet trollish social media users and the doctrines of conan-the-barbarian masculinity suffocate love under the maxim of “truth above all.” In reality, this cowardly faux truth gives people space to hide in their juvenile state.
Frail truth claims protect angry and barbarous men (it’s usually men) from the hard work of standing in the middle. Yet authentic Christianity stand in the gap between the chaotic ideas of post-modern culture and simplistic notions of faith that fail to accord with the biblical idiom. The divine call for Christians is to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. So we stand in the void, in the place where the world cannot see nor understand. We wisely cut across the war zone of political discourse while innocently loving all.
And this will mean voraciously holding to the truth with love and never sundering the two. It means standing strong with the boldness of Amos and the insight of Isaiah. It also means affirming truth with the tenderness of a nursing mother (1 Thess 2:7). Truth in love never compromises. Instead, it avoids aping the skewering discourse of trolls and politicians.
Christians must love
We avoid the vain battles over words by believing the best in others, waiting in hope, and loving them. Yet this narrow way is hard. Many fall off into the wayside. And so many will say on the day of reckoning, “I had perfect doctrine” or “I discerned truth.” And Jesus will say, “Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” This will happen because right doctrine is healthful doctrine (Titus 1:9) that brings forth love. As Paul says, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). Sincere faith brings forth love. To not have love is not to not have God and to die in your sins. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).
Any Christian teaching that does not bring forth love mimics the real thing. It is a fast food cheeseburger that tastes good but does not contribute to the body’s health. I am more and more convinced that the greatest false teaching of today is truth without love. But when the books are opened up, what will we say? I preached in your name? I performed miracles in your name? That’s not good enough. Even the demons believe in Jesus.
Faith works. We are justified by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Love must flow from faith or it is not faith. Satan seems to enjoy enticing us into the harsh either-orism of political and cultural discourse. He seems to take pleasure in lulling us into a loveless faith that not only deceives us but belies the central reality of God, namely, that he is love. Resist him.
Christians must gather
The church is where love works itself out. Christians love and serve each other according to the command of Jesus (John 13:34). We deny the destructive lie of rugged individualism. And we embrace others with hopeful love. So in 2019, let’s stomp on the devil’s head. Embrace love. Show compassion. Listen to others. Research our doctrine. Be slow to speak. Avoid trolling. Hate evil. Love good. And get to work being the light and salt of the world.