Is Love Contrary to Judging?
I receive many e-mails from people who tell me that I have no love because I judge other professing Christians and I warn plainly of sin and error. The following is typical of these:
“And to question the faith of both Jim Cymbala and Billy Graham? Do you not know God? Do you not know how He works? You can spend your whole life debating over issues as such, but until you receive the gift of genuine love in your heart, you’ll never understand or gain anything” (Letter from a student at Cedarville Christian College, Oct. 7, 2002).
(Note: I have NOT questioned these men’s faith; I have questioned their doctrine and practice. There is a significant difference.)
The writer is convinced that my preaching against the errors of men such as Cymbala and Graham is evidence that I have no love in my heart. By this philosophy, which is popular and dominant today, one who loves will not judge doctrine or rebuke those who are perceived to be false.
Those who write in this manner will quote verses such as John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, If ye have love one to another.”
When Jack Van Impe turned his back in the mid-1980s on the fundamentalism that he had been a part of for decades, he wrote a book titled “Heart Disease in Christ’s Body,” whereby he severely condemned fundamentalists. He labeled them hate-mongers and said that it is unloving to mark and avoid error. He explained that he was going to dedicate the rest of his life to “loving” every type of Christian, and that he was never again going to judge anyone. Following are his words:
“Let’s forget our [denominational and doctrinal] labels--over 20,000 of them--and come together in love and the pope has called for that, as we’re going to see in a moment. But, Rexella [Van Impe’s wife], the fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). ... Till I die I will proclaim nothing but love for all my brothers and sisters in Christ, my Catholic brothers and sisters, Protestant ... Christian Reformed, Lutherans, I don’t care what label you are...” (Jack Van Impe Presents, July 23, 1995).
We see that Van Impe, following the popular line, equates Christian love with ecumenical unity and with not judging doctrine and practice. According to the ecumenical thinking, Christian love means tolerance of other doctrines and practices.
THE CHRISTIAN ROCK CROWD holds the same philosophy. They despise those who judge sin and error plainly. They consider them unloving and narrow-minded and hypocritical. For example, one Christian rocker wrote to say:
“Wow, reading your statements have truly disgusted me. I am revolted. I say with complete sarcasm, thank you for that excellent display of the Love of Christ. Sin has been defined as ‘missing the mark,’ and never has one missed the mark as soundly and completely as you have.”
That is typical of hundreds of e-mails and letters I have received from those who defend Christian rock music. Notice that the writer sarcastically rebukes me for being unloving. He assumes that because I preach against certain styles of music and certain lifestyles that I do not have the love of Christ. To him, it is impossible to love and also to be a fundamentalist in position.
By the way, we see here that Contemporary Christian Music is not merely about music; it is a philosophy of Christianity that features a non-judgmental, tolerance position.
So we see that this philosophy has permeated Christianity today. Multitudes of professing believers are being taught by the popular radio preachers and by the best-selling authors and from the pulpits of their own churches that it is unloving to judge sin and error in a plain manner and that the tiny minority that are still involved in such things are mean-spirited people who need to learn the love of Christ so they will stop being so hateful and narrow-minded.
Is this a scriptural position? Certainly not. Since it is God Himself, the very God of love, who has commanded the believer to judge doctrine and to exercise discernment between truth and error and to separate from false teaching and to discipline sin, it could not possibly be contrary to love to do these things!
LOVE EXPOSES ERROR AND WARNS OF ITS DANGER
The loving God commands believers to expose error. There is only one right doctrine, and that is the doctrine of the apostles as we have it in the New Testament Scriptures, and every doctrine that is contrary to that is false and is to be exposed. The Lord’s apostles did this repeatedly. The loving apostle Paul, for example, in his epistles to the preacher Timothy, warned about false teachers and compromises BY NAME 10 different times (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17; 3:8; 4:12, 14). He said:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:15-18).
Notice how the loving apostle Paul instructed Timothy, another loving and faithful preacher of that day. He told him to study the Word of God that he might know sound doctrine, but he did not stop there. Timothy was not merely to know the truth for himself and be content with that; he was not merely to be “positive” for the truth; he was to go beyond that to expose and warn about those who taught false things. To illustrate how Timothy was to deal with error, the loving Paul used the specific example of two preachers of his day, Hymenaeus and Philetus. They had erred from the truth in spiritualizing a prophetic event and Paul said they were dangerous. He used very strong language to condemn them.
We must understand that these two men were professing Christians of that day, and yet Paul did not hesitate to expose and warn of them. Can you imagine how Hymenaeus and Philetus felt about Paul’s warning? Surely they were angry with him for saying that their doctrine was not sound. “Who does that Paul think he is, anyway!” And think of how their followers must have felt toward Paul. Doubtless they attacked Paul as unloving and mean-spirited and as puffed up in his own sense of importance. Doubtless, Hymenaeus and Philetus and their followers treated the Pauls and Timothys and Tituses of that day precisely as the ecumenists today treat fundamentalists who are striving against error.
What if Timothy himself had replied to Paul: “Paul, I don’t think I will follow that pattern. It doesn’t seem to be very loving to run around exposing other believers as false. You are too harsh, Paul. You need to live and let live. Are we not all the body of Christ? Don’t you love Hymenaeus and Philetus? Don’t they love Jesus, too? Why are you so mean-spirited and narrow-minded? Leave judgment to the Lord. Your business is simply to love, and love doesn’t judge”? Would Timothy have thereby been accepted in his ministry? Would God have rewarded him for taking such a position?
In fact, Paul was not being unloving when he exposed Hymenaeus and Philetus as false teachers. He was being very loving. In so doing, Paul revealed his love for Jesus, who is the Truth; and he revealed his love for the church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth; and he revealed his love for the Lord’s sheep, because he was willing to protect them from dangerous wolves. Furthermore, he thereby revealed his love for Hymenaeus and Philetus themselves, because if we love someone we will speak plainly about things that will destroy them, and probably nothing is more destructive than false teaching.
True Christian love exposes error and warns of its danger.
LOVE PREACHES HOLY LIVING AND DISCIPLINES SIN
Love also demands holy living and disciplines sin. In almost every epistle to the churches, we see that the apostles demanded strict holy living and reproved those who were sinning. When the loving apostle Paul wrote to the preacher Titus to instruct him in how to conduct his ministry, he said:
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:11-15).
Notice what Titus, in Christian love, was instructed to do. He was told that the true grace of God saves men freely through faith in the sacrifice of Christ (Eph. 2:8-9), but that same grace also teaches believers to live godly, separated lives. True grace does not teach believers that they can live as they please. That is not grace but license. It is a misuse of grace. It is the old error of antinomianism, which taught that believers, because they are forgiven, are free to live pretty much howsoever they will. Paul rebuked that wicked error and taught Titus that he was to preach strict holy living. He was to SPEAK, AND EXHORT, AND REBUKE WITH ALL AUTHORITY.” That sounds like strong, fundamentalist preaching to me!
What if Titus had said to Paul, “Paul, I don’t want to be so harsh-sounding in my preaching. I don’t think it is loving to be so judgmental about how the Lord’s people live. I think I will tone down the preaching so it sounds more loving”? Would Titus have thereby been accepted in his ministry? Would God have rewarded him for taking such a position?
Furthermore, when believers ignore this strong preaching on holy living and they openly sin, they are to be disciplined. The church at Corinth was instructed in this fashion. There was a believer in Corinth who was living in fornication; and instead of judging him the church was “puffed up.” This carnal church had the philosophy of tolerance toward sin and error, and they were proud of their spirit of non-judgmentalism! The loving apostle Paul twice rebuked them for this great error (1 Cor. 5:1-6; 2 Cor. 11:1-4). He instructed them to repent of their broadmindedness and to judge sin and to judge error.
What if the church at Corinth had replied to Paul, “We don’t accept what you are saying. Who are we to judge others? Are we not sinners ourselves? Do we not have our own problems to take care of? We say that judgment should be left up to God, and for ourselves we will just love and be loved.” Would the church at Corinth have thereby been accepted? Would God have rewarded them for such a thing?
Of course not. True Christian love preaches holy living and it rebukes and disciplines sin. It is not the love of God that causes professing saints to overlook sin and error; it is carnality and a spirit of disobedience to God’s Word.
To preach strongly against sin is to love people, because sin defiles and destroys. To rebuke sin is to love the church of God, because sin defiles His church. Paul warned the church at Corinth that they must deal with sin because, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). To preach boldly and plainly against sin is also to love God, because sin is against the holy God and because God has commanded us to rebuke it.
True Christian love preaches strict holy living and disciplines sin.
LOVE CONTENDS FOR THE FAITH
Furthermore, it is a very loving thing to contend for the faith. The loving Jude demanded this:
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort YOU THAT YE SHOULD EARNESTLY CONTEND FOR THE FAITH WHICH WAS ONCE DELIVERED UNTO THE SAINTS” (Jude 3).
Notice how this responsibility is described. The loving Holy Spirit uses the Greek word epagonizomai. It is a very strong word and is well translated in our Authorized Version by the English words “earnestly contend.” It means to strive for, to fight for, to defend against, but also to do that in a vigorous, earnest manner.
And this is not a responsibility that is given only to preachers. Jude is addressing believers in general. It is every Christian’s duty to engage in this battle.
And notice more carefully exactly what we are to fight for -- “the faith once delivered to the saints.” This tells us that the Christian faith was completed in the days of the apostles. It was not left for some Catholic church council hundreds of years later to decide what the faith was. The Christian faith was delivered to the apostles by the Holy Spirit, and it was completed in their day. That “faith once delivered” is the one absolute and complete standard by which doctrine and practice is to be judged. From that day until the Lord returns, the job of every true believer is to fight to defend that one true faith against every false doctrine. Timothy was instructed not to allow “ANY other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). That is a very, very narrow view of doctrinal purity. If a preacher seeks to obey Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 1:3 and Jude 3, he will not be able to hold hands with those who have a different doctrine. How could he? His task is to hold the one true faith and to earnestly contend against every false thing! It is absolutely impossible to be ecumenical in any sense while seeking to obey 1 Timothy 1:3 and Jude 3 and other such obligations of the Scriptures.
And in fact, it is a very loving thing to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, because the truth sets men free, while error corrupts and destroys. Thus, those who earnestly contend for the faith love men and want to see them walk in the truth; and they love God and want to be faithful to His Word; and they love the Lord’s church and want to see it shine in its purity; and they love the Holy Spirit, who is “the Spirit of TRUTH”; and they love the truth itself. The faithful soldier loves those for whom and that for which he fights.
True Christian love earnestly contends for the faith.
LOVE SEPARATES FROM FALSE AND SINFUL THINGS
Finally, true Christian love not only preaches holy living and rebukes and disciplines sin and exposes error and earnestly contends for the faith, but true Christian love goes even further and separates from false and sinful things.
The loving Paul taught the believers at Ephesus that it was not enough for them to live pure moral lives for themselves; they were to separate from and even rebuke sinful things.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, BUT RATHER REPROVE THEM” (Eph. 5:11).
Notice the command that the loving Holy Spirit gives through the loving preacher Paul. Believers are not to have fellowship with evil things, and not only that, but they are to reprove evil things. This is what has gotten the saints into trouble through the ages. Ordinarily, the world doesn’t mind if a Christian lives a holy life to himself and his family, as long as he “minds his own business” and doesn’t rebuke others for how they live. But as soon as the Christian starts telling other people how they are to live and rebuking sin in them, he finds himself in “hot water.” John the Baptist is an example. He did not preach against sin merely in generalities. He was very plain. And when he rebuked Herod for taking his brother’s wife contrary to the law of God, he made an implacable enemy of Herod’s new wife and her animosity toward him resulted in his death (Matt. 14:1-12).
Furthermore, Christians are not only to separate from and rebuke sinful things but also to separate from false doctrine and those who teach it. The following is only one of many commandments to this end. Notice what the loving apostle Paul taught the believers at Rome:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).
There are two obligations here. First, the loving brethren are to mark those who teach false things, which means they are to plainly identify them as to whom they are; and secondly, they are to avoid those who teach false things. “Avoid” is a term referring to separation.
And how are we to know what is false? Ecumenists today argue that it is not reasonable to think that a believer can know the truth in such a fashion that he can say that others are wrong. That is not what the Bible teaches, though. The standard for truth is the teaching of the apostles, and that which is contrary to their teaching is false. It is that simple. Where had the believers at Rome learned their doctrine? From the Apostle Paul. Thus, he is instructing them that if they find doctrine that is different from that which he had taught them, they were to reject it and avoid it. The child of God is commanded to study the Word of God and to rightly divide it (2 Tim. 2:15) and then to judge everything by that standard. If is it not possible to know the rightly divide the Scriptures, why does God command us to do it?
And, in fact, it is a very loving thing to mark and avoid false teachers. To do so is to love those who are in danger of being deceived by the false teachers. To pretend that the false teachers are not teaching error and to associate with them as if nothing were wrong is an unloving act toward those who will be deceived by their error. To separate from those who are teaching error is also an act of love toward the sound churches, because in marking and avoiding those who err, we protect the churches from their corrupting ministries.
True Christian love separates from false and sinful things.
BUT I KNOW A TRULY UNLOVING FUNDAMENTALIST
Do I hear someone protest, “What you say is true and there is no doubt that we have an obligation to do these things, but I know some fundamentalists who are genuinely unloving and truly mean-spirited.”
My reply is that it is always wrong to be mean-spirited and carnal. If I am fighting for the truth in an ungodly manner, that is wrong; and the soldier must continually guard his spirit, because the flesh is weak and it is easy to fall into the trap of fighting the Lord’s battles in the old ugly flesh.
But such failures are personal problems and are not something that reflects on the ministry of fighting for the faith in general. It is unwise to reject biblical fundamentalism as defined as obedience to the scriptural obligations we have cited in this article, because of the shortcomings of certain fundamentalists.
I can show you many fundamentalists, myself including, who have grown in spiritual grace as they have progressed in their Christian sanctification, and who are capable of expressing more graciousness in their dealings after 40 years in the ministry than they could after five!
Further, I can show you just as many unloving and carnal new evangelicals as you can show me unloving and carnal fundamentalists. That is a serious problem, but it is a personal problem.
In conclusion, judging and separating from sin and error is not contrary to Christian love. True Christian love is not a mushy tolerance of error. This is a false definition of Christian love.
The loving apostle John taught us the true definition:
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn. 5:3).
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