In the spirit of not offending the weaker brother I would like to go ahead and put down a qualifier for the rest of this article, that qualifier being the definition of the word “ignorant” as used in the title.
Merriam-Webster has it as follow: lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified.
This is a solid definition, but doesn’t go quite far enough. The only addition I would add to this definition is: not understanding the entirety of the matter. When you mull over the word in your head, two types of people come to mind. I think when most people hear the word “ignorant” they immediately think “stupid.” But for sake of this article we will not be classifying an ignorant person as stupid. I truly believe that an overwhelming majority of the people who use the phrase “God is love and love is love,” or at a minimum nod their head in agreement, are not stupid people. They mainly do not have an understanding of the entirety of the matter, and for the most part are thinking with their heart rather than their scriptural reasoning.
Now that the qualifier is out of the way, let’s move on with our discussion.
What is Love?
Baby don’t hurt me.
Love has been defined more ways than we can discuss in this one article. But therein lies the problem. Love should have a standard definition but it means something different to everyone. This is perhaps because we base our love off of circumstances and what our heart happens to be feeling. But for the Christian we can’t root our definition of love in either of these. Circumstances are always changing and “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). So how are we to define love? We define love the way God defines it in His revealed word, the Bible. Now, this can be a tricky task in itself. D.A. Carson wrote an entire book on the different types of love found in scripture. If my memory serves me well, there were five different types of love that he discussed. Why don’t we start with the Bible verse that prompts people to utter the words mentioned in the title:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7–8 (ESV)
Now, God is love, we can see that clearly. But what does that mean? Real quickly I need to lay out one of the most important attributes of God: simplicity. This doesn’t mean that God is a simpleton, but that all of God’s attributes must be taken in light of the others. God does not flip a switch between attributes like a schizophrenic. God is love but he is also sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, just, wrathful and more. Specifically when it comes to love, we must see God’s love as it relates to His wrath and justice. If we leave ourselves to this enlightened thought of “God is love and nothing else matters so everyone just be happy,” then we will be worshiping a God that is not described in the scriptures. A.W. Pink, a brilliant theologian of the early 20th century, had this to say about the societal view of love:
There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. No the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in the Holy Scripture….our hearts are so little occupied with his wondrous love for his people. The better we are acquainted with his love- its character, fullness, blessedness--the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to him.
John Piper says somewhere, and I paraphrase, that we tend to think of love as “making much of someone.” This is certainly not the type of love that God shows us. God seeks His own glory first and foremost. Count how many times in Ezekiel you see the words, ”that they may know that I am the LORD.” So, before we get any further down this jumbled mess that still hasn’t produced a definition, know that the love that you or I understand, that has been shaped by Hollywood and the fallenness of the heart, is galaxies away from the love exhibited by God in the Bible. We will wrap this all up at the end with the end-all-be-all definition of love as seen in the Bible.
The Rest of 1 John
We must guard ourselves from taking scripture out of context. If you want to know what that looks like and the perils of it, check out this article I wrote some time back. Other than the statement, “God is love and love is love” just making absolutely no sense at face value, the sentiment of it falls completely apart when one reads the entirety of 1 John. This letter is directed at a church of believers and John’s words are aimed exclusively at believers. This is why he talks about anti-Christ’s departing from us (2:19). He speaks of loving your brothers. As a Christian, the rest of humanity is not your brother or sister, only those in Christ or those that came from the same mother and father as you are your brothers and sisters. With that being said, John is not exhorting his fellow Christians, his “children”, to continue on in sin because God is love and love trumps it all.
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” 1 John 2:3–6 (ESV)
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:4–8 (ESV)
The phrase, “God is love and love is love” is undoubtedly only used when discussing homosexual unions. We overlook this sin by saying God is love, and love is love, and I love my partner so God must be okay with it. And if he isn’t, then he isn’t a God I want to worship.” There is no logical connection between God being love and having to accept your love for someone else not named God. God is love, unquestioned, but you do not get to distort what that love looks like because you are in bondage to your sin. Just for a minute I want you to imagine applying that phrase to any other sin. Imagine your alcoholic best friend absolutely loving to get toasted every day of the week, and, by this logic, God is okay with it because he is love and the love of your alcoholic friend for that beverage is love, too. How about your family member who is sleeping around on his wife with the lady at work because he loves her, but he also loves his wife. Does that make it okay? The absolutely sickening movement known as MAPs (minor attracted persons) came from the slippery slope of love is love. Where does it end if we get to define love? That pedophile loves young boys so who are you to say that’s wrong? Love is love! It’s joyous! There are no boundaries. And don’t forget, so long as love is love God is also love and okay with it.
If you read through 1 John in one swipe, you get a feel that John relates knowing Christ and loving Christ as two in the same. While it is true that this love from God isn’t a two way street from the garage to the grocery store, it does become a two way street when our eyes are opened to the riches of Christ. God calls us out of the darkness, and he does it because he loves us. Look:
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.“ Deuteronomy 7:7–8
“..but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
This is the entire doctrine of unconditional election. God set his affections on us, not because of anything we did, but because he loved us. He loved us even when we were His enemy. And once this love is made clear to us by God’s revelation, there is a mutual loving and thankfulness back to our creator. Now, since this is now a two-way street, when we say we love God we must understand that we are liars and of our father the devil if we do not manifest that love in our obedience to the Word. As seen above, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” And, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” You cannot live openly and unabashedly in what is clearly a sin and continue to call yourself a lover of Christ. Also, you cannot affirm this sin either. This in itself is a sin. Paul groups in along with the fornicators and gossipers and homosexuals in Romans 1 “those who give approval to those who practice them.” Each day we crucify our flesh and put to death the sin that remains in us. Yes you will stumble. Yes, it most likely won‘t happen over night. No, you will never be perfect in this unglorified body. But Christ is merciful and died for that. He bid you take up your cross and die to yourself daily. Which leads me to the true definition of love.
Death for Life
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 (ESV)
What is the definition of God’s love for us? Christ’s death on the cross. Propitiation is atonement. Christ appeased the wrath of God deserved by us and bore it on His shoulders that we may have life and life abundantly. Not that we can throw around phrases like, “God is love and love is love.” Christ didn‘t die so you could play semantics with your sin. He died that you would repent and take up your cross and follow him. Praise God that He is merciful. Praise God, that though he knew we would try to run from our guilt by playing word games, he sent His son nonetheless.
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. -2 John 3