Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, shares concernedly on ‘real love’…
‘These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love’ (1 Corinthians 13:13).
In the first eight verses of 1 Corinthians 13 Paul wrote what has been described as the most beautiful poem on love ever written. It is certainly the best known and is often used in wedding services, wall art and greeting cards.
Love is the on-going theme of pop songs that praise the wonder of love. For example, in the 1930s one of the pop songs declared, ‘Love is the greatest thing, the oldest, yet the latest thing …’
And when the Beatles launched their hit, All you Need is Love, many seemed to think that that phrase was the definitive statement that justified all things. Many people today, Christians included, have also got on board that particular train believing that whatever we do, if it is prompted by love, must be right.
Furthermore, the often-used phrase that we hear so much of today, ‘Listen to your heart’, suggests that what our heart tells us is always right.
However, in the Bible we read, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure’ (Jeremiah 17:9).
1. The myth of moral relativism
We do not show love to people when we affirm them in their immoral and sinful actions. Nor do we show them love when we do not challenge deviant practices that are not only harmful to them but also to society. Nor do we show them love when we indulgently tell them to follow their heart and do what they think is best for them.
Tragically the myth of moral relativism (in which our feelings are used to determine right and wrong, good and evil) has been created and it is being used to deny objective reality.
For a woman to say, ‘I choose to be a man,’ does not change the reality that she is still a woman! For a man to wear a dress, and put on make-up (and even have plastic surgery), does not change the reality that he is still a man! The ‘marriage’ of two (or more) people of the same gender is a physical, biological, moral and spiritual impossibility despite protestations to the contrary.
The deceit of moral relativism is that it is a more loving and compassionate position than any alternative that is based on objective truth. The myth of moral relativism slams shut the door of reality and flings wide the door of make-believe.
When personal desires, feelings and wishes become the standard by which ethical values are determined (and when that proposition becomes legislation that is enforced by the rule of law) the very foundation of society is placed in a most treacherous and ruinous state.
While we see many Western societies capitulating to the clamorous and persistent demands of those who call for radical individualism on the supposed basis that ‘love is all you need’ common sense, history, and not least the Bible tell us that ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death’ (Proverbs 14:12).
The abandonment of sound objective moral principles – particularly those revealed in the Bible – inevitably leads to chaos and destruction.
2. Is ‘Love’ always good?
One of the strongest arguments of the homosexual community and its supporters is that love is always good and that no one should be denied love on the basis of gender.
Two principal arguments are often made to support this position.
(a) The argument that we are now better informed
A former President of Southern Ireland, Mary McAleese, recently said, ‘The sheer weight of medical evidence, the sheer weight of psychiatric evidence now is challenging views that were formed, you could say, in ignorance, and I think they will change over time.’
Setting aside her grossly extravagant claim of the ‘sheer weight’ of medical and psychiatric evidence, she was asserting the idea that today we are better informed and therefore more enlightened about homosexuality. She commented. ‘The adult children, the children yet unborn, the gay children yet unborn – we want them to be born into a world where if they fall in love with someone they can express that love fully.’ She expressed her frustration with the Catholic Church, saying that it was ‘likely to change in future’ on the issue.
This idea infers that in our present progressive and open-minded age we have seen the fallacy of the old sexual prejudices that held people in captivity and now we are enlightened! Now we are free to love anyone (and some would claim ‘anything’) we want. Information and rationality has begun to liberate many societies so that love may be more freely expressed and enjoyed.
The consequences of this kind of thinking are unthinkable.
(b) The argument that earlier cultures were more liberated
This argument stands in stark contrast to the previous one! If we are now so wonderfully educated and wise, why was homosexuality so rampant and so destructive to some earlier cultures. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome homosexuality (and paedophilia) was rampant.
As the late scholar, William Barclay, has written, ‘This sin had swept like a cancer through Greek life and from Greece, invaded Rome. We can scarcely realise how riddled the ancient world was with it.’
Even though this sexual deviation was widely practised, it was not unanimously supported or approved.
The Greek historian and philosopher, Plutarch, who lived in the 1st century AD, wrote, ‘Sex between males is against nature, while opposite sex love is natural and normal.’ Further he wrote, ‘Now the union of male with male it is rather not a union, but a lascivious assault.’
3. LGBT tactics
Over recent decades we have seen gradual (and in recent years more accelerated and aggressive) techniques of indoctrination, social manipulation and massaging by those groups that have sought to change and eventually control the sexual values of many Western countries, and they have enjoyed considerable success!
Such techniques have included vigorous criticism and suppression of opposing ideas (and people) with the purpose of silencing them altogether – forcibly if necessary – by legal edict. Both Marxists and Fascists in the past used similar techniques to accomplish the same end – control! Under such regimes the only ‘freedom of speech’ allowed is that which agrees with the controlling philosophy!
We are seeing evidence of this in various countries (which have been established on Christian values and principles) where …
- The Christian owners of businesses are being targeted with allegations of discrimination
- Some pastors are having their sermons monitored and in some instances have been instructed not to preach on biblical teaching on homosexuality, (some have been brought before the courts for doing so) and
- Christians generally, who are standing firmly on biblical values, are being threatened to abandon their convictions and to comply with the current politically correct ideologies on pain of prosecution.
4. Not all love is good
In a previous paragraph I mentioned that many people today, who are toeing the line of those current absurd and aberrant dogmas are stating that love is always good and that no one should be denied love on the basis of gender. President Obama’s Tweet on #LoveWins following the American Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay ‘marriage’ sadly encourages this way of thinking.
In a recent program on the ABC on the Southern Irish vote in support of what has euphemistically been called ‘marriage equality’, a woman, who was supportive of the result, made the comment that we must love our children unconditionally regardless of their sexual preferences. Once again the inherent truth of that statement has been hijacked to affirm a practice that is morally unjustifiable and socially destructive. While we indeed must love our children unconditionally, we cannot then inevitably approve of, encourage and facilitate all of their behaviour or actions.
The problem with the idea that love is always good is that its grain of truth camouflages a greater lie. In reality love is not always good. First, whether or not it is good depends on the object of that love.
- The love that an alcoholic has for alcohol is not good
- The love that a paedophile has for little children is not good
- The love that a bloodthirsty terrorist has for his (or her) ideology is not good
- And, as Paul wrote in 1Timothy 6:10, ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’
5. Different kinds of ‘love’
In the English language the word ‘love’ is used to cover many things that bear little resemblance to each other. Today, however, the word ‘love’ is applied to human relationships in which there is a notable sexual element and this is certainly a significant factor in the demands of the LGBT community. The kind of ‘love’ that same-sex ‘marriage’ advocates seek to promote may be understood as ‘romantic love’ and a significant factor in romantic love is sexual attraction. Romantic love can generate a spectrum of powerful feelings from rapturous delight to profound suffering, jealousy, frustration and anger. The simplistic slogan ‘Yes to love’ is shallow, misleading, irresponsible and dangerous.
In New Testament times Koine Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written) used four different words which have been translated into English as ‘love’, however those four words express completely different things. Let’s briefly look at them.
The word eros, while it was in common use at the time, is not found in the New Testament. It refers to passionate love and attraction, particularly sexual desire, and from this word we get such words as ‘erotic’ and ‘eroticism.’
It must not be concluded that, because it is not mentioned in the New Testament, eros is a bad thing. Sexual passion is natural and normal, and it is an exciting and emotionally powerful. It is a wonderful God-given emotion, but it also has a remarkably selfish dimension to it. It can be as a blazing fire which must be controlled or it can do immense damage. It is an emotion that is not principally concerned about happiness but about gratification and sensual satisfaction of desire.
Of all the ‘loves’ this is the one most easily corrupted, as evidenced by the sex industry and pornography.
Storge is another word that is not used in the New Testament, although it is found twice (Romans 1:31, 2 Timothy 3:3) in its negative form, astorge (no love).
In his commentary on 2 Timothy William Barclay wrote, ‘Storge is the word used especially of family love, the love of child for parent and parent for child. If there is no human affection, the family cannot exist.’ It is, therefore, essentially familial love in which the sense of commitment is strong.
Philia is a word that is usually found in the New Testament in its verbal form (25 times). Dr Barclay describes it as, ‘Warmth, closeness and affection; it could only properly be used of the near and dear’ (New Testament Words, page 20). Philia is used to describe the beautiful relationship of committed friendship.
A striking interplay of philia and agape (the next word we shall look at) is found in John 21:15-17 where we find Jesus twice asking Peter if he loved (agape) him and Peter replied that he was his friend (philia); then in verse 17 Jesus asked him if he was his friend (philia) to which Peter replied that Jesus was his friend (philea). (Read the superb JB Phillips translation of this passage).
Agape and its verbal form agapao together appear 260 times in the New Testament. It is a concept that predominates in the New Testament. It has been described as divine love as it goes against our human natures. It is unselfish as it does not seek or require or depend on a response. It is a love that is prepared to give all and take nothing. It is a love that is wholly independent of feeling. It is a love that is given as an act of the will and not as an emotional response.
Indeed, it does not even need a response!
Agape is truly ‘unconditional love’ in that it extends to the unloved, the unloving and the unlovable and the undeserving. However, although it is unconditional, it is not blind or weak or pliable; nor does it affirm the evil actions of those to whom it is given. It is the kind of love that enables us to love our enemies – even if we don’t like them or what they do. Agape love is about raising up, restoring and ennobling. Agape is not about the benefit of the one who loves but about the one who is loved.
Agape was most clearly demonstrated in the life of Christ and especially in his death on the cross. ‘God demonstrates his own love (agape) for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).
It was this love that Jesus commissioned his followers to exemplify, ‘A new command I give you: Love (agapao) one another. As I have loved (agapao) you, so you must love (agapao) one another’ (John 13:34).
Agape is not about ‘rights’ or ‘warm fluffy feelings’ or sexual attraction; it is about seeking the best for others. Sometimes that requires our taking a stand against that which is working to destroy healthy moral values. And sometimes agape requires self-sacrifice.
‘Reinventing love’ is unthinkable!
The great statement on agape in 1 Corinthians 13 contains an amazing challenge to live out the love of Christ in our lives – and we need his help to do this!
Despite ingratiatingly accommodating presidential tweetings that ‘love wins’ and democratic votes to redefine the meaning of that love, authentic love must be understood as revealed and defined by our creator God. It is nothing less than human arrogance to claim that we know better than God!
When we reject objective reality and reinvent the meaning of love, the consequences are unthinkable apart from God’s intervention.
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from concerned Christians. In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God of love we worship. Normally $35 but obtainable from the author for $25 (plus postage). Link/orders/enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org