Love Sweet Love, Or, On The Fallacy Of The False Dilemma

There are a great many cases where a discussion of the Bible and of its contents leads people to engage in false dilemmas that seek to pit some aspect of biblical virtue against another. There is the persistent attempt of people to pit law against grace and truth against love, the subject of a recent Bible Study by one of our congregation’s local church elders. When one is engaging in religious conversation with people who are not exactly conversant with the Bible and its contents or who consider themselves to be followers of God, it is common that we must engage in these false dilemmas even if we reject in principle the pitting of some aspects of the Bible against others. Engaging in this sort of subject in a proper context, one must do as the speaker did in pointing out the way that truth and love combine in reality and in God’s word and are not in fact in opposition to each other, and furthermore that a desire to love as the Bible commands inevitably involves one in the search for truth.

How is this so? Let us take one example among many. Matthew 5:17-20 is the classic verse that demonstrates the continuity between the biblical view of law in both testaments, and reads: “ “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” All has not yet been fulfilled, and so we live in a world where not one jot or tittle of the law has passed away, even if not all of these laws have been actively enforced in the absence of nations which have accepted a covenant relationship with God and an obligation to enforce the full biblical law. This is an issue for another time. What is at issue when we think about love is that those who oppose God’s law in theory and practice often think that they will be called least in the Kingdom of God but will enter into the Kingdom of God because of their supposed love.

This is not so. Matthew 22:34-40 gives us the two great commandments, those commandments of love that are often cited by those who think that they pursue love and not truth and law: ” But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” These two great commandments to love God above all and to love others as ourselves are themselves taken from the law (from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, specifically), and they demonstrate that the scope and definition of what it means to love God and to love others is itself defined and bounded by the law. When the prophets took the people of Israel (and occasionally other nations) to task for their failures to follow God’s covenants, they were pointing out the failure of ancient Israel to live out the practical implications of their duty to love God and others. Similarly, every time we are called to task by someone speaking from the Bible on our failure to obey God’s word and to live according to some commandment and law, our love of God and/or our love against others is being brought into question. To obey God as the Bible commands is to live in love. The Bible commands that respect and honor and love be shown to others, and one cannot be a follower of God’s truth without living in love towards others, and one cannot be genuinely loving to God and to others without living in truth and according to biblical truth.

Indeed, the warning in Matthew 5:20 that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven is a warning that is repeated often in the remainder of the scriptures. A few examples will suffice. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 tells us that the unrighteous will not enter into the Kingdom of God: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Unless we repent of our sins and change our ways, and cease to live unrighteously, we will not enter into God’s kingdom. Revelation 21:7-8 similarly reminds us: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.  But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.””

It is commonly believed that those who speak about the judgment of God that comes against those who persist in unrepentant sin do so out by definition out of a lack of love. This is not so. The judgment to come is an aspect of reality. It is not coming because people preach about it or warn about it. It is coming whether or not any warning of it is given. On the contrary, Ezekiel 18:30-32 gives us the true motivation of such warnings: ““Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”” The goal of those warning about the judgment and wrath to come is that people will repent and turn to God and seek after His ways and to avoid that judgment. God Himself desires that people will repent and will avoid His judgment, for He takes no pleasure in the death of the unrighteous. But He is also a just God whose justice does not sleep forever, and so judgment will inevitably come upon those who are persistently unjust and unrighteous, as is the case in contemporary society. To be given warning of impending doom and disaster is an act of love, similar to the act of love that comes from a doctor informing us that we have a terminal illness and must get our affairs in order because our time on this earth is short. To be given knowledge is to be given the chance to conform ourselves to reality and to act in awareness of the conditions of our existence, and that is an act of love.

This does not mean that everyone who gives us truth does so in a way that we would wish it to be conveyed to us. There is someone who from time to time seeks to give me brotherly advice about areas where I may not be doing very well who does so consistently in an awkward manner that I find irksome and irritating. While I am in no position to judge the intentions of anyone else–and even my own motivations for doing things are insanely complicated and sometimes unknown to myself–it is certainly true that people can be motivated by love without the recipient of such things recognizing that motivation. There are indeed many people who are offended by any form of communication that seeks to point out that there is a variance between the way that they live and the proper and right standard of behavior. If such is the case, no rebuke or correction will feel loving. The fact that we may not feel loved by something does not mean that we are not loved by it, it simply means that our understanding and recognition of love is faulty in that we cannot see some of the ways that we are loved because we are so offended by the thought of being pointed out as being wrong or lacking in some way. That is a problem with us, though, and not a problem with those who love us, however awkwardly and ineptly they may do so. For we too love others in an awkward and inept way, and likely cannot help it, and desiring to be treated graciously and generously by God and others, are therefore obligated to treat others so as well to the best of our modest abilities.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Love Sweet Love, Or, On The Fallacy Of The False Dilemma

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    This is a very good post, and I’m going to quote you in my paper on the purpose-driven church. We can easily blunt the forward momentum of others with our own faulty examples and words.

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