Monthly Archives: December 2014

Love: God is Love

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

I John 4: 7-8 is almost as popular as John 3:16. Unfortunately, it is equally misused. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” God is love. We have heard it a million times, but what does it mean?

I believe it is fair to say that the standard evangelical interpretation of “God is love” is that God is in love with mankind. By that they mean that God is incapable of behaving in any way toward men other than what would generally be described as “loving”. Of course, we then have to define what “loving” means. In evangelical doctrine “loving” usually means emotionally attached. God is portrayed as emotionally linked to mankind. We are told that He does not desire for any bad things to happen to mankind. He wishes that He could make all bad things go away. However, because He is either unwilling or unable to override the free will of men and nature (yes, even nature has free will…it is seen in things like hurricanes and earthquakes where bad things happen to people even though God does not want them to), He is left sitting on the sidelines cheering for His beloved mankind to do the best they can in their tough situations.

It is alleged that God is also loving towards mankind in that He will patiently wait outside the door of every human being’s heart for the entire life of that particular human in the hope that he will someday open the door and allow Him in. Imagine the most lovesick individual, constantly pleading to his beloved from outside her bedroom window, night after night after night after night. This, we are told, is what it means for God to love us. When, on the rare occasion, one of the humans makes the decision to exercise his free will and open the door to allow God in, He rejoices as He has never rejoiced before. In fact, all of the angels of heaven get together with Him to throw a huge party to celebrate that His love is no longer unrequited. What a joy! It should be obvious by now that this doctrine of love is in no way related to the biblical doctrine of love we have seen. Nevertheless, God is love. What does that mean?

J.I.Packer, in his exposition of the love of God (“Knowing God”), states “God is love is the complete truth about God to the Christian, but is not the complete truth about God.” That is an interesting way of putting it. I believe that Mr. Packer is trying to get at the theological fact that the love of God can be seen as existing in two forms. Simply put, God has saving love for His people and sustaining love for His creatures. Not all love is of the same type or class. This should not surprise us since even the human emotional loves are different in their defining characteristics. It is important to understand the different expressions of the love of God for mankind and I believe a good distinction to make is that between saving and sustaining love.

We have already examined Matthew 5: 43-48 in the context of the commandment to love our enemies. The passage also has something to teach us about the sustaining love of God. Verse 45 says, “…in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Here Jesus is preaching that we are to love our enemies because God the Father loves His enemies. This is extremely important to understand. How does God the Father love His enemies? Clearly He does not save all of them. They are His enemies and they will be ultimately judged as His enemies. They will go to hell. Jesus tells us how He loves His enemies. He “causes the sun to rise” and “sends the rain” upon them. In other words, He sustains their lives. More importantly, He behaves lawfully towards them. He agapes them. The point that Jesus is making is that we ought to love our enemies the same way that God loves His enemies. We ought to behave lawfully towards our enemies. We ought to agape them.

The love of God is shown to His enemies by virtue of the fact that He sustains their lives for a period of time prior to condemning them to eternal damnation. God would be perfectly justified in wiping out every newborn the moment he draws his first breath. Original sin being what it is, there is perfect justice in God should he decide to annihilate all infants as they are born. But God chooses to be longsuffering. Romans 9, which we will be examining in more detail momentarily, has this to say about the longsuffering nature of God towards His enemies, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory…” (verses 22-23). Notice what is being said here. God displays sustaining love towards His enemies for the sake of His elect. The nature of the world is such that the lives of the elect are better off when God postpones His wrath against the reprobate.

Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 13:24-30. This is known as the parable of the tares. Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven and he describes it as being compared to a “man who sowed good seed in his field” only to discover that an enemy had sown tares in the midst of the wheat. As the two begin to grow together the tenders of the field come to the Master and ask Him if they should destroy the tares before they do harm to the wheat. The answer of the Master is telling. He says, “No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'” God manifests His sustaining love towards His enemies because He has a nature that is longsuffering with respect to the creatures He has created and, because He does not want to harm His elect with temporal judgments. God displays His sustaining love for all mankind by virtue of the fact that He does not make their earthly lives as bad as they could be. God loves all men because He always behaves consistently with His revealed law towards them. Of course, that means that men who are outside of Christ will eventually be judged for their sins since that is what the law requires. In this sense, God loves everybody.

This doctrine of love for all men should not surprise us. It is precisely the same doctrine we saw when thinking about our duty as Christians to love our enemies. Remember how we can tell the homosexual that we love him? We can sustain his life. We can give him a drink of water. We can pray that he will either repent or be subject to the wrath of God. We can call him to repentance and declare the righteous requirements of the law to him. Lastly, we can rejoice in either his repentance or the righteous judgment of God upon him for his sin. In this sense we are behaving just like our heavenly Father, just as Jesus commanded. There is nothing new here. The law of love revealed for our enemies in the Old Testament (other than the residents of Canaan, as we have seen) is the same as the law of love revealed for our enemies in the New Testament. Furthermore, the law of love revealed for our enemies in both testaments is also consistent with the law of love revealed by God toward His enemies. Last, the law of love revealed in the Bible and by God’s treatment of His enemies should be the law by which we live in the presence of our enemies. The Bible is consistent. Are we?

The second love of God is His saving love. His saving love is reserved for those whom the Father has given to the Son, otherwise known in Scripture as the elect. The saving love of God is demonstrated in the fact that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The extent of His saving love is seen in the fact that God so loved the entire world, that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him might have eternal life. The depth of his saving love such that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The saving love of God guarantees that His people will persevere and be present at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as a pure, holy, and spotless Bride. The saving love of God is defined by His sacrifice of His Son on behalf of His people. That sacrifice then goes on to become the core of the loving relationship between husbands and wives (“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.”) Additionally, I will argue that His saving love should also be the core of the loving relationship between believers.

Love: What is John 3:16 Really About?

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

I don’t have to quote this verse because every Evangelical already knows it by heart. Sadly, not one in a hundred interprets it correctly. I believe it is fair to say that the standard interpretation of this verse is that God loves the entire world. By that the Evangelical means that every single individual in the world is the object of God’s love. In particular, it is God’s saving love that is in mind since John goes on to say that the Father gave His only Son to save all of the individuals in the world. However, continues the Evangelical, it is incumbent upon the citizens of the world to exercise their free will and accept this freely offered gift of salvation. Whoever exercises his free will and makes the decision to believe in Jesus will be saved and given the gift of eternal life. Whoever does not exercise his free will to accept this great gift will not inherit eternal life. It is not God’s will that any should perish, but that all should accept the free gift. Nevertheless, God is either unable or unwilling to overrule the sovereign will of men.

The standard interpretation makes it clear that Evangelicals believe that God loves the individual members of the world so, so, so much, he actually had His own Son killed to prove it. However, God the Father does not want the members of the world to be forced to love Him. That, we are told, would not be emotionally and intellectually satisfying to Him. No, the individual members of the world must voluntarily exercise their free will and make the choice to love God first. Then, and only then, will God be emotionally and intellectually satisfied and give each of them the gift of eternal life.

Revelation 3:20 is the verse that is usually used to prove that God is outside the door of the human heart, anxiously waiting for the individual to exercise his free will and make the decision to let Him in. It says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” This verse, just like John 3:16, is ripped from it’s context and horribly misinterpreted. When this verse is presented as a motivation for the individual to exercise his free will and allow God into his heart, it is almost always done by portraying God as some sort of lovesick teenager who desperately wants a relationship with His beloved. He is pining away outside the door of the human heart, desperately wishing that the human would just give Him a moment to prove His worthiness. What a disgusting picture it is.

The theology that is presupposed in this interpretation is completely heretical. In Evangelical Heresies I clearly proved the point that belief in human free will destroys the sovereignty of God. Rather than restate my case here I have decided to include an extended quotation from A.W. Pink’s book entitled “Spiritual Union and Communion” (Chapter 7):

“The trouble with so many today is that their theology is derived from their experiences, instead of from the Scriptures. They prefer to follow the testimony of their senses, instead of the teaching of God’s Word. The first thing of which the Christian became conscious was his sense of need, his realization that he was a lost sinner, his crying unto God for mercy, his turning to Christ. And because he was not conscious of the quickening work of the Spirit within him before he was ever awakened and convicted, he is very slow to allow the reality of it. But this ought not to be: ‘to the Law and to the testimony’ must be the final court of appeal. Were we not alive physically long before we had any consciousness of our existence? So it is spiritually: there must be life, before there can be the consciousness of that life.

‘Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3), still less is he capable of entering it. Until a supernatural work of grace has been wrought upon his heart, fallen man is utterly incapable of discerning the nature of God’s kingdom, the superlative excellency of it, or the way of entrance into it. ‘No man can come to me’ said Christ, ‘except the Father which hath sent me draw him’ (John 6:44), and that Divine drawing consists first in his being brought out of spiritual death and made a new creature in Christ. When that miracle of grace takes place, the subject of it is still the same person he was before, but he has been renewed by a principle of spiritual life being infused into him from above, and now he has new desires and aspirations, which issue in a new experience and conduct.

‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on his name’ (John 1: 11-12). When Christ appeared to the Jewish nation, the great majority in it despised and rejected Him. But here and there was one who received him: received Him as the Sent One of God, received Him as the Lord of their hearts and lives, received Him as the all sufficient Savior. And why did those receive Christ? Was it because their wills were less stubborn than their fellows? Not at all. Our question is answered in the explanatory verse which immediately follows: ‘Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ What could be clearer: those who receive Christ are previously born of God.”

Pink does a superb job of showing the context of John 3:16. Ripping the verse out of the context and interpreting it in light of Pelagianism totally destroys the truth that is being conveyed. It is impossible to interpret John 3:16 as asserting that God desires for all mankind to be saved when the immediate context of the verse is properly understood. In fact, the main teaching that Jesus is delivering to His disciples in John chapters 1-6 has to do with the doctrine of His sovereign election of the saints.

Immediately after feeding the five thousand, Jesus found that he had thousands of followers. It did not surprise Him that thousands were following Him. He realized that He was suddenly popular because He had given them food, not because of His teaching. To prove this to the disciples Jesus delivers a sermon in chapter 6 that is designed to drive away the multitudes that were only following Him to feed their flesh. In the context of this sermon He says many “hard” things such as:

  • “…You have seen Me, yet you do not believe” (verse 36)
  • “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me…” (verse 37)
  • “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing…” (verse 39)
  • “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (verse 44)
  • “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing;…” (verse 63)
  • “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (verse 65)

After pounding away on the doctrine of the sovereign election of God, it is not surprising that those who were following Jesus in order to feed their bellies decided that it was time to move on. Verse 66 records their response: “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him any more.” We must conclude that Jesus meant what He said. No man is able to exercise his sovereign free will and make a decision to come to Jesus. No man has a sovereign free will. The will of every man is held so captive by sin that he is utterly incapable of responding to the fact that the Father sent the Son. No man is able to love Jesus unless God has first loved him (I John 4:19). It is God who decides who is going to respond to Him in love and who is going to respond to Him in hate. There is no way that John 3:16 can be interpreted the way Evangelicals interpret it and still remain true to what Jesus was teaching in the passage. What, then, is John 3:16 saying?

John 3:16 is in the context of a discussion that began in 3:1. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus under cover of darkness to ask him some questions. Jesus challenges Nicodemus with a basic theological proposition when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (verse 3). Nicodemus, despite the fact that he was a rabbi, had no idea what Jesus was talking about. Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for his ignorance in verse 10 when He says, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” Clearly Nicodemus should have understood what Jesus was talking about. Equally as clear, he did not. What did Nicodemus believe and why did he fail to understand what Jesus was saying?

None of this passage makes any sense at all unless we understand what Nicodemus was thinking about when he came to Jesus. Nicodemus, like most of the Pharisees, was looking for the promised Messiah. He believed, as did most of the Pharisees (as well as most of the Jewish people), that the coming Messiah would be a political deliverer who would cast off the Roman bondage and establish Israel as the political center of the universe. Then, the Messiah would rule the Gentile world from Jerusalem. Then, the Jewish people would be the co-rulers of the world. The eternal Kingdom of David would finally be established. The fact, in his own mind, that the Jews were the chosen people of God was not even questioned. His presupposition that the Messiah would come to deliver the Jewish people from political bondage was complete. Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night in an attempt to determine if He was the promised Messiah. Nicodemus saw that Jesus had the ability to perform great miracles (“no one can do the attesting miracles that You do unless God is with him”) but he was confused by the fact that Jesus was making no effort whatsoever to seize political power.

Jesus takes advantage of the opportunity presented to Him to instruct Nicodemus on the real nature of His kingdom. His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. Entrance to His kingdom is to be via spiritual means. Verse 5 records Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus fully grasped the nature of what Jesus was saying. It was clear in his mind that Jesus was telling him that entrance into the kingdom of the Messiah was to be via a spiritual rebirth and, perhaps most disturbing to Nicodemus, this spiritual rebirth was not accomplished by man exercising his sovereign free will. Indeed, Jesus informed him that the Father’s choices in sovereign election, applied by the Spirit of God to His people, was likened to the wind blowing when He said, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8).

This new bit of information was more than Nicodemus could take. He responds by saying, “How can these things be?” What Jesus was saying went contrary to every presupposition and belief that Nicodemus held most dear. Jesus continued to take apart his erroneous beliefs one by one. He goes on in verse 17 to say, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.” That statement completely destroyed the view of the coming Messiah that Nicodemus, and the rest of the Pharisees, held at the time. In their understanding it was utterly impossible that the Messiah would come to the earth for any purpose other than to judge the Gentiles. Here, Jesus was saying that He did not come to judge the world, but to save it. Even worse, from the perspective of one of the “chosen people”, He was going to save the Gentiles!

It is in this context that John 3:16 must be understood. With this understanding of the biblical and historical context it is easy to see that the evangelical interpretation of this passage is dead wrong. When Jesus said that “God so loved the world”, the point he was making was that the Jews were no longer His chosen people. With the coming of the Messiah the terms of salvation had changed. Under the new covenant, Jesus was informing the Jewish leaders that the love of God now extended to the Gentiles as well. Furthermore, He was telling the Jews that they could no longer have confidence in their Jewish flesh as a means to guarantee their salvation. If they were to be saved they must be born of the Spirit and the Spirit descends upon those whom the Father has given to the Son (John 6:37). Ultimately, Jesus said, those who have been born again will believe in Him and inherit eternal life.

We can see that, although the message of John 3:16 is vitally important theologically, it is not necessarily the best verse to use in evangelism. Taken out of context it gives sinful men the false impression that they can cause themselves to be born again. As Evangelicals use it today, it gives sinful men the impression that they are capable of saving themselves, with God’s help. When quoted without the prior necessary theological understanding of the doctrine of original sin, it causes sinful men to “make a decision to accept Jesus” for all the wrong reasons. Everything about the way this verse is used today is wrong. There can be no doubt that the misuse of this verse has caused many men and women to falsely believe that they are saved and in no danger of eternal death when, in fact, the opposite might be true.

Ironically, the primary theological point of John 3:16 is also lost on Evangelicals, most of who are Dispensationalists. The main point of the verse is the fact that the Jews are no longer the chosen people of God. The most significant reality that stems from this fact is that God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom and the Jews, for the most part, are not in it. These two truths cut straight to the heart of the Dispensational heresy which alleges that the Jews continue to be God’s chosen people and that the ultimate expression of His kingdom will be an earthly, physical Kingdom established in Jerusalem, from which the Messiah will rule the world with an iron fist. So, we find it to be once again the case that Evangelicals rip passages from the Bible and use them to “prove” things that are false and ignore what is really being taught. We need to repent.

Love: Hate in the New Testament

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

There are some amazing statements of hate in the New Testament. Due to the practice of carefully selecting passages from the Bible that only support their views, Evangelicals rarely deal with them. We need to look at them in light of the doctrine of love.

I Corinthians 16: 22 contains Paul’s final salutation to the Corinthians at the end of his first letter. He says, “If any one does not love the Lord, let him be accursed”. The word translated accursed is “anathema” and literally means to be eternally damned. Without any shadow of a doubt, Paul is cursing anyone “who does not love the Lord.”

Paul was aware of what Jesus said when he instructed His disciples to bless, and not curse, their persecutors. I also suspect that Paul was aware of what he said himself, to the Romans, when he said that they should bless, and not curse, their persecutors. How then can he write inspired Scripture in which he curses those who do not love the Lord? This is the elephant in the living room of Evangelicals of which they refuse to speak. But we can’t pretend the elephant is not there. The reason Evangelicals have to ignore the elephant is due to the fact that their theology of love has no means to provide for this curse by Paul. Fortunately, the New Testament law of love can and does provide for his curse.

Galatians 1:8 records another curse of Paul. In fighting the influence of the Judaizers over the Galatians he makes the statement that if any man preaches a different Gospel to them than the one that he preached, they were to be accursed (also anathema). Paul seems quite free to curse his enemies. How can he do this and also fulfill the law of love?

The answer to the problem, and the way to make the elephant disappear, is to recognize that holy hatred and the law of love are not contradictory. It is possible to do both at the same time. God hates the reprobate. The reprobate are the enemies of His Church. Although we do not know with certainty who are the reprobate, we do know their behaviors. They hate God and His Church. They persecute His people. Although it is very possible that a person could persecute the Church at one moment and be a believer in the next (Paul is the best example of this), it does not follow that God’s people are not empowered to appeal to Him to bring justice to their situation. Remember, as we saw before, God will bring justice. He will either spiritually “kill” the offender in the Person of His own Son, thereby making him a believer, or He will, either through His providence or via the ordained authority of the State, physically execute him for his sin. Ideally, the State would enforce the Law of God and bring the proper sanctions down upon the offender, but, since the State is more often the enemy of the Church rather than the support, the believer should never realistically expect that to happen.

At the end of his letter to the Corinthians Paul recognizes the fact that if anyone does not end up loving the Lord, he is reprobate and will be cursed. This realization is consistent with the decree of God. This realization is consistent with the justice of God. This realization is consistent with the Law of God. This realization is consistent with the law of love, or agape.

I know that it is difficult for Evangelicals to comprehend what I am writing here. They are so accustomed to thinking of love in terms of emotions, warm feelings, and the fallacious idea that God loves everyone that they are incapable of comprehending how a man could curse another and not be guilty of breaking the law of love. They certainly do not understand how it is possible to hate and love at the same time. Perhaps an analogy would help.

Most Evangelicals have no problem with the doctrine of anger. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry, yet sin not…” Evangelicals understand that this is an exhortation about the powerful emotion of anger. They also understand that the mere presence of the emotion of anger is not, in and of itself, a sin. How are they able to understand that fact? Because they understand that not all anger is the result of sinful motivations. Some anger is “righteous indignation” which is the direct result of a righteous man seeing an offense against God and man that needs to be corrected. This reality caused Paul to exhort the Ephesians to be angry. They were to be encouraged to see the world from God’s point of view. That would necessarily result in the emotion of anger in many situations. However, they were not to use that righteous anger as a motivation to sinful behavior. Of course, the most likely example of sinful behavior would be for the individual to take matters into his own hand and seek personal vengeance. God has clearly stated that it is His responsibility to bring wrath upon the evildoer. God has also clearly stated that it is the duty of the State to uphold the sanctions of His Law against evildoers. Hence, most Evangelicals understand how it is possible for a person to have a powerful negative emotion like anger, directed at another person (perhaps even an enemy), and not sin. Most Evangelicals understand how it is possible to be angry and love (agape) at the same time.

The same principles apply to the emotion of hate. Unfortunately, because Evangelicals consider agape to be the opposite of hate, they are incapable of seeing how the two can exist at the same time. But, agape and the emotion of hate are not opposites. The opposite of hate are the emotional loves of eros, phileo, and storge. Indeed, here it is not possible to have eros and hate at the same time. It is not possible to have phileo and hate at the same time. It is not possible to have storge and hate at the same time. It is possible to have agape and hate at the same time. Paul could declare that haters of God are accursed, and love (agape) them at the same time.

Perhaps an example would help. Assume that you have personal knowledge of a practicing homosexual. You know that the lawful punishment for a practicing homosexual is death. It is God’s revealed will that those who practice homosexuality should be executed. You also know that vengeance belongs to God and to His official representatives. That means that you are fully aware that you are not permitted to take a gun and kill the homosexual. You also know that you do have the right to report the homosexual to the State, but you realize that the State not only does not prosecute for homosexuality, but also actually promotes it. That option is not available. What lawful options remain? You may pray for God to spiritually kill the homosexual by regenerating him and turning him into a new man or you may pray imprecatory prayers for God to physically execute the homosexual for his sin. Both responses are lawful and fulfill the law of love. Therefore, you could go up to the homosexual and say to him, “I love (agape) you and because of that I need to tell you that you should be killed. I am praying for you, my enemy. I am praying that God will either convert you or providentially execute you for your sin. “ Although this sounds strange to the ears of the Evangelical, it is consistent with the law of love in the New Testament and it is something that we should be doing on a regular basis.

Before moving on to practical applications of the law of love it would be valuable to summarize it and deal with one objection that Evangelicals often bring up. In summary, under the Old Testament the law of love required Jews to behave lawfully/exercise agape towards fellow Jews (even “enemy” Jews) and proselytes. Outsiders were “dogs” and were to be killed if they lived in the land that had been promised to Abraham. Although the Jews were not commanded to have the emotion of hate, it is entirely possible they, as the God ordained instruments of His wrath, were frequently filled with a holy hatred for God’s enemies as they went into battle against them.

In the New Testament there were some modifications and alterations to the Old Testament law of love. When God divorced His covenant people and married the Church, the holy army of Israel was put into perpetual retirement. The law of love now requires all believers to agape/behave lawfully towards everyone on the face of the earth. This new law of love also applies to the enemies of the Church. However, the law of love can be fulfilled towards the enemies of the Church by praying that God will either providentially execute them in this life for their sins or spiritually execute them in His Son by giving them the gift of repentance and faith.

The important thing to realize in the new covenant law of love is that it is not a contradiction to heap burning coals upon the heads of enemies of the Church and love them at the same time. Evangelicals try to get around this apparent problem by creating the false doctrine of “hating the sin and loving the sinner”. The problem with this doctrine is that it does not exist anywhere in Scripture. God never makes this distinction. He hates both the sin and the sinner. Paul hated both the sin and the sinner. Jesus, as he rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, hated both the sin and the sinner. It is an unnecessary distinction that is not based upon biblical teaching that has been created because of a dearth of understanding about the relationship of love and hate.

A far superior way to deal with this non-problem is to recognize that the distinction that needs to be made is that between our taking personal vengeance upon our enemies or our allowing God to be the minister of wrath against our enemies (either directly via His providence or covenantally through the State). The prohibitions against cursing and hating our enemies apply to us with respect to our sinful personal desires for vengeance. They do not apply to us as we invoke God to defend our, and His, righteous cause. Of course, as is so often the case in many disputes, if our cause is selfish and not righteous, none of this would apply. If our cause is not consistent with God’s Law, none of this would apply. We must be fully aligned with God and His purposes in order for the law of love to operate properly.

Lastly, Jesus has brought us a new commandment. This commandment applies to the relationships between believers. Mere fulfilling the law (agape) with one another is no longer sufficient to fulfill the new covenant law of love. Our new standard is to love one another as Jesus loves the Church. Our new law of love mandates sacrificial behavior on our part towards and on behalf of our brothers and sisters. Do we love our fellow believers with this level of commitment and sacrifice? I fear that we do not. I fear that we are far more concerned with our own interests than we are with the interests of our fellow believers. I fear that when it comes time to measure our performance against the scale of the new covenant law of love we will all be found seriously wanting. Let us do what we can while there is still time to remedy this situation. Let us explore the possibilities as to how we can love our fellow believers in such a way that even the God hating world could not help but notice. Let us live our lives towards one another in such a way as to not be embarrassed and ashamed when we see Jesus face to face.

Love: Romans 12:9-13:10

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

The Apostle Paul weighs in on the doctrine of love as well. His letter to the Romans contains all of the doctrines that he considered to be most important for the Church in Rome. After establishing the great doctrines of salvation in the first eleven chapters of the book he goes on to discuss the law of love. Several of his statements are worth reviewing if we are to complete our understanding of the doctrine of love in the new covenant.

Paul begins this section of his letter (12: 9) by saying, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” He concludes this section of the letter (13: 8, 10) by saying, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law…. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” I would suggest that in this dissertation on the doctrine of love Paul moves from the practice of love between believers to the practice of love toward nonbelievers. Allow me to make my case.

Verse 12:9 says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor.” It is easy to see that this simply a restatement of the new commandment delivered by Jesus. A love that is without hypocrisy is a love, between believers, that considers others more important than itself. Paul goes on to list a series of characteristics of this brotherly love that is similar to what he said in I Corinthians 13. Love is to characterized by “not lagging in diligence”, being “fervent in spirit”, “rejoicing in hope”, “devoted to prayer”, “contributing to the needs of the saints”, and by “practicing hospitality”. All of these behaviors are well beyond the call of Christian duty to the nonbeliever, where fulfillment of the law is sufficient to complete the law of love. All of the behaviors described here are characteristic of the new commandment to engage in sacrificial love on behalf of fellow believers.

At verse 12:14 the focus of the doctrine of love changes. He tells the Romans to “bless those who persecute you…” Up to this point he had been talking about love towards believers. Now he introduces the idea of an unbeliever who is also an enemy. In verse 17 he tells them to, “never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Then, in verse 19, he concludes the doctrine of love towards enemy nonbelievers by telling them to, “never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.” In all of these statements Paul is echoing the statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (5: 38-42).

Paul is drawing together several different parts of the doctrine of love here and it is very important to understand his argument if we are going to make any progress in our own understanding. He has shifted from the new commandment of sacrificial love for fellow believers to how the believer is supposed to love the one who is persecuting him. Paul draws upon many sources as he completes the doctrine of love towards our enemies. Jesus had mentioned this in the Sermon on the Mount when he instructed His followers to “pray for those who persecute you”. An important question that is rarely asked is: what are we to pray? We will get to that in a moment.

13:8 & 10 say, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law…Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” This is the single most clear and easily understood passage in the Bible that defines the concept of love for neighbor. The neighbor is not a brother. The neighbor may or may not be an enemy. The neighbor is the outsider with whom we live everyday. The teaching is clear. Behave consistently with the Law of God towards the neighbor and you will have fulfilled the moral requirements of the law of love. Fulfilling the moral requirements of the law of love has absolutely nothing to do with our emotions or how we feel. The law of love has everything to do with fulfilling the Law of God. Obviously, this puts antinomian Evangelicals in a desperate position. It should.

Paul integrates the exhortations to “pray for those who persecute you”, “bless those who persecute you”, “never pay back evil for evil to anyone, “never take your own revenge”, and “love is the fulfillment of the law” in this section of his letter. Paul draws all of these doctrines together here in this place by quoting two passages from the Old Testament. First, Deuteronomy 32:35 says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Second Proverbs 25:21 says, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” These are amazing arguments.

It is important to notice that Paul does not believe that the Old Testament teaching on this aspect of the doctrine of love has changed. He quotes two Old Testament passages to prove his point to the Romans. It is also important to notice the reason Paul gives as to why the believer should agape (behave lawfully) towards his enemy. The reason is to bring judgment upon him! This doctrine is entirely lost in the evangelical doctrine of love, to our harm and to our shame.

Proverbs 25:21 establishes the principle of loving our enemies by behaving consistently with the law of God towards them. When our lawful behavior towards them is met with indignation or indifference, the net effect is that we increase their judgment before God. Our loving behavior towards them is simply an expression of God’s loving kindness towards them. That loving kindness should melt their hearts and bring them to repentance. When it does not, wrath is increased. Of course, in some cases it can melt their hearts and the enemy does repent. However, I believe most of us realize that those are rare cases. Most of the time our kindness is met with their indifference, anger or even hatred. Paul adopts the old covenant law of love for our enemies as the same standard for the new covenant law of love towards our enemies. Sometimes believers have a hard time understanding that nothing has changed with respect to our duty to love our enemies (other than the unique situation where the holy army of God was commanded to annihilate the evil citizens of the promised land). Exodus 23: 4-5 is a good Old Testament example of the New Testament law of love for our enemies:

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.”

It is important to realize that the “enemy” in this passage is not one of the indigenous people who were to be executed by the Israelites as they took over the land. Those enemies should, by this point in time, all be dead. This enemy is the social enemy that we all are so very well aware of. This enemy was most likely a fellow Israelite. This is the person that you just don’t like and who just doesn’t like you. You would not go out of your way to do anything for him. In fact, you would be emotionally satisfied if bad things happened to him. It is with this old covenant enemy, which happens to be similar to many of our new covenant enemies, that we are commanded to practice the law of love.

The natural sinful reaction of a man when he finds out that his enemy is experiencing hardship (his ox has wandered away, causing him serious financial harm) is to rejoice. But, Jesus told us to love our enemies. Jesus did not invent this idea for the first time when He stated it in the Sermon on the Mount. He was speaking with one hundred percent consistency with this passage in Exodus, which tells us to love our enemies by seeking to protect their property. It does not matter how happy I might feel as I watch my enemy’s ox wander off down the road. I have a moral and lawful duty to chase after it and return it to him. It does not matter that I would rather be doing something else at the time. The law of love requires me to look out for my enemy’s welfare. (Earlier I had mentioned that the law does, on occasion, require some small sacrifices on our part on behalf of our enemies. This is a good example of that type of situation. Notice, however, that this does not even come close to the level of sacrifice required between believers. I am not required to die for my enemy.) We can conclude that when Paul tells the Roman believers to love their enemies, he is only drawing upon the law of love that was already firmly established in the Old Testament. He makes no changes to the requirements of the law of love towards outsiders.

I asked earlier about what is to be the content of our prayers for our enemies? Evangelicals usually do not ask that question. They simply assume that we have to somehow produce feelings of fondness in our hearts for those who persecute us and then ask God to be nice to them and forgive them, regardless of what the enemy does or says. This is nonsense. The Bible contains hundreds of examples of how we are to pray for our enemies. They are called the imprecatory prayers and they are recorded, for the most part, in the Psalms. (I went into this topic in some detail in the essay entitled “Selective Biblicism” so I will not say much here.)

The entire point of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and of Paul in his letter to the Romans is that believers do not have to be doormats to their enemies in order to fulfill the law of love. Quite the contrary, believers are empowered to appeal to the Lord of heaven Himself via prayers of imprecation. Believers are promised that their lawful acts of kindness (feeding the hungry enemy, returning the wandering ox) will be used by God to bring additional wrath upon the person if he happens to be one of God’s enemies. The modern notion that the law of love requires us to only think positive, good things towards those who persecute us is absurd. Essentially there are two prayers that are required by the law of love towards the unbeliever who is persecuting us. We can either pray that God will kill his old man by regenerating him and making him a new believer or we can pray that God will punish and/or kill him physically by His lawfully ordained authority. Just as we saw under the terms of the old covenant, both prayers fulfill the law of love.

Recall that I mentioned earlier that God subdues His enemies either by converting them and making them His friends, or by subjecting them to the judgment of His lawfully ordained authorities. This passage in Romans is further proof of this doctrine of love. Immediately after telling the believer that he does not have the right to take vengeance, Paul tells him to leave room for the wrath of God. How does God express His wrath against the unbeliever who is His enemy? We have seen in the Old Testament that God ordained His people Israel to be a holy army bringing wrath upon His enemies. This, however, is one of the things that have changed in the New Testament.

In this very argument about our duty to love and pray for our enemies, Paul makes an amazing assertion. In verse 13: 4, when speaking of the State, Paul says, “…for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” The State has taken the place of the nation of Israel in the new covenant. That State has the duty of enforcing the Law of God and the Christian has the duty to appeal to the State for that enforcement. It is very important to recognize that all of these statements are in the context of the law of love for the unbeliever. It is a loving thing for an unbeliever to be subject to the wrath of God (remember Psalm 136:10) as the just and lawful consequences for his sin. It is a loving thing for a persecuted Christian to appeal to the State for justice. It is a loving thing for the State to demonstrate the just wrath of God against evildoers by executing them. Unloving behaviors would be acts of personal vengeance and refusing to be obedient to the Law of God.

Perhaps the most significant change from the terms of the old covenant law of love that needs to be recognized here is that the new covenant law of love prohibits the individual from taking matters into his own hands. The law of love does not allow personal vengeance upon an enemy. (This is not to say that the old covenant law of love did. It did not. However, each individual member in God’s army could have seen himself as a personal tool of vengeance. That is not true in the new covenant.) The law of love requires agape towards an enemy. However, the law of love also allows for imprecatory prayers against those who persecute us. The law of love also allows for our appeal to the State to exercise it’s God ordained responsibility to be an avenger that brings the wrath of God upon those who transgress His law and persecute His people. These behaviors are not contradictory. They are all a part of the law of love in the New Testament. We can see some fine New Testament examples of the application of the law of love in some of the statements of hate contained in the New Testament. We must never forget that the emotion of hate for God’s enemies and agape for those same enemies are not opposites. They can, and do, coexist. We must also never forget that there is such a thing as holy hatred.

Love: John 15

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

During His final week prior to the crucifixion, Jesus met with His disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. John records this meeting in chapter 13. During the course of the Passover meal, immediately after Judas had left the room to betray Him, Jesus made this solemn announcement, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” (vs. 34-35) At first this does not sound like a “new” commandment. Yet, Jesus asserts that it is. After Jesus informed Peter that he would deny Him three times before the night was over, He goes on to deliver His “Farewell Discourse”. It is in this lecture that He describes the nature of this new commandment that He has given to His disciples. John records the nature of this new commandment in chapter 15.

Jesus begins by reiterating the law of love already well known by the disciples. In verse 10 He says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” The principle that the law of love is fulfilled by obedience to the Law is consistent with the teaching of the old covenant and introduces nothing new into the new covenant. By keeping the commandments of God a believer is able to fulfill his obligation to love his neighbor as himself. But Jesus does not stop here. He goes on to introduce what is truly a new commandment.

Verses 12-13 say, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” He picks up with what He said in chapter 13 (“a new commandment I give you”) and He gives a definition and example of the new commandment He is introducing. The new love that believers are to have for one another is the same love that He had for His people. The example of the new love is the ultimate act of sacrifice, giving ones life for another. This law of love goes far beyond the law of love found in Leviticus 19.

The old covenant law of love required a man to behave lawfully (exercise agape) towards his fellow covenant members. The new covenant law of love requires a man to exercise agape (behave lawfully) towards all nonbelievers, including enemies. With respect to the law of love towards fellow believers, the new commandment goes far beyond the mere requirement of lawful behavior towards each other. The new law of love between believers requires that we behave with the same degree of sacrifice as Jesus exemplified in His life for His Church. The Law did not require sacrifice (it is possible to debate the finer points of the law and argue that, in some points, a small sacrifice would be required). In general, behaving lawfully towards one another does not cost the individual much in the way time, energy, or money.

When we consider how Jesus loved the Church we come to the conclusion that the new commandment, the new law of love, is all encompassing. Jesus gave up His glory in heaven in order to come to earth. Jesus came to His people for the purpose of serving them, not to be served by them. Jesus ultimately served His people to the point of His own death. He then describes that act as the greatest display of love for another. To conclude, He asserts that our new standard for love is precisely what He did for us.

The demands that this new law of love make upon us are too numerous to list. Ultimately it comes down to nothing less than our duty to consider our fellow believers as more important than ourselves in everything. In everything deferring to each other. In everything seeking to serve each other. In everything trying to see and understand the perspective of each other. In everything being prepared to sacrifice our own health, wealth, and well being for the sake of another. And, ultimately, being prepared to give our own lives in defense of our fellow believer’s lives and reputations. Rare indeed is the modern believer who has even started to explore the nuances of this new commandment. Even more rare is the modern believer who has even scratched the surface in the actual practice of this type of sacrificial love. Nevertheless, this is the new commandment that Jesus has given to His followers in the new covenant.

Even the most pietistic Evangelical does not understand the nature of this new law of love. Most pietists talk about our duty to “sacrifice” for assorted nonbelievers (such as bums on the street and starving children in Africa) by giving them some of our money, always from our excess, and mostly just to assuage our own feelings of guilt. Nobody that I am aware of realizes that the law of love requires agape (fulfillment of the law) for nonbelievers but requires the ultimate sacrifice of our lives on behalf of our fellow believers. Evangelicals tend to get the law of love exactly backwards. We are fed massive doses of guilt manipulating information in an attempt to get us to pony up some cash for pagans, and at the same time we do little or nothing for our fellow believers that we know are in physical and spiritual need. John wrote of this later in his life when he said, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (I John 3:17)

Love: Matthew 5

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Matthew 5 partially contains the statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. We are concerned with verses 43-48, which say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax gathers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Just like we saw in Leviticus 19, it is the case that the pietist has very little ability to interpret the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount because he does not understand the covenantal and historical background of the sermon. In order to understand this passage properly it is important to take a few moments and look at the Sermon on the Mount in general.

This section of the sermon really begins in verse 17 where Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Then, much to the chagrin of today’s antinomian Evangelical, Jesus goes on to clearly assert His belief that not one stroke or letter of the Law was going to be suspended as a result of His ministry. He concludes His affirmation of the Law by delivering an incredible statement to His listeners that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The enormity of the impact of that final statement cannot be underestimated. In the eyes of all Jews, the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees was supreme. No average Jew ever dared to believe that he could even approach the level of lawful righteousness seen in your average Pharisee. So, for Jesus to tell them that they have to be more righteous than the most righteous men alive created a staggering problem.

The problem, as most Evangelicals are aware, is that the Pharisees had added a great deal to the original Law of God as delivered to Moses. The Pharisees were guilty of the sin of legalism. That is, they created extra-biblical laws and then held them out as equal to (and in most cases superior to) the Law in the Pentateuch. Unfortunately for the Pharisees, many of their man made laws were in direct contradiction to the Law of God. Through time they had essentially lost contact with biblical law and were living according to a code that, in many ways, no longer even resembled the original Law delivered to Moses.

After delivering the bombshell introduction to His sermon, Jesus goes on to illustrate His statement that the Law is to be obeyed. However, prior to doing that He needs to take some time to show how the Pharisees have corrupted the law from its original purity. He chooses six examples from the Law and illustrates how they have been corrupted by legalism. The sixth example is what we have in verses 43-48.

Each of the other five corrections begins with the statement, “You have heard it was said…” and then goes on to quote a section from the Old Testament. This sixth correction differs from the previous five in that Jesus only partially quotes from the Old Testament. The other part of His quotation is from the legalistic principles of the Pharisees. Jesus says, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies’…” The “love your neighbor” part is a direct quote from Leviticus 19, which we have already examined. Jesus clearly affirms the Old Testament teaching on the propriety and importance of loving neighbors.

Naturally, the question was going to come up, how then are we to treat our enemies? The Pharisees wrongly continued in their belief that they were the chosen people of God. They also rightly continued in their belief that they had a moral duty to be so closely associated with God that they would naturally hate those whom God hates. What would be their answer to the question, who does God hate? There answer would be, “everybody that is not a Jew or a Jewish proselyte“. Although God had never commanded His people to generate the emotion of hatred for their enemies in the old covenant, the Pharisees had quite logically assumed that it would be fair to amend the commandment in Leviticus 19 to include the generation of the emotion of hate for the enemies of God. Sadly, the Pharisees did not realize that God had run out of patience with them and was about to replace them, as His covenantal people, with the new covenant Church. They had become His enemies. Jesus was among them to initiate a new covenant and many of the terms related to the old covenant had changed. Most importantly for our purposes, the terms related to how to treat the enemies of God had dramatically changed. The Church was not granted the power of the sword, as the Israelites had been, and had no right to execute God’s enemies. Furthermore, the list of people who could be defined as God’s enemies had changed.

Under the terms of the old covenant, God’s enemy list consisted of everyone but Jews and Jewish proselytes. Also under the terms of the old covenant, God’s “enemies condemned to execution for their sins by the holy army” list included all people living in the land of Canaan. Under the terms of the new covenant, God has elected to not disclose who His enemies are. Rather, He has declared that He has elected members to his new covenant and that they are to be found among every nation on the face of the earth. (It is important to notice that this was the original promise made to Abraham, now being fulfilled.) Simultaneously, His enemies also exist among all the nations of the earth and will continue to do so until the end of time. (See the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13: 24-30 for an explanation of this reality.) At the great white throne judgment He will distinguish between His followers and His enemies, but for now the only way to distinguish between those who are His friends and those who are His enemies is by how they respond to the preaching of His gospel. Even that is not a foolproof means by which we can determine who is in which class because God also has declared that He has different time schedules according to which He brings His people to faith in Him. The new covenant people of God are left in the position of being forced to believe that everybody on earth is potentially a believer and, therefore, not an enemy of God. Under the terms of the new covenant, only God knows who His enemies are.

In light of the changes that Jesus was initiating, it was imperative that He provide some principles by which His people could figure out how they should behave towards outsiders. The previous requirement that all covenant people were expected to love their fellow covenant members by behaving lawfully towards them was insufficient in that the new covenant keepers were less likely to know who their fellow covenant keepers might be. So, Jesus overrides the erroneous law of the Pharisees that endeavored to force men to produce the emotion of hatred for those outside of the covenant, and requires that all members of His new covenant behave lawfully towards all men, not just their fellow covenant keepers.

It is important to notice that this commandment to love all men is not really a change from the old covenant requirement. As I have pointed out, under the terms of the old covenant, the children of Israel were behaving lovingly (agape) towards their enemies when they executed them, since that was the proper application of God’s law to them. What has changed is the awareness that the covenant people have as to who is in which category. Since we no longer have God’s specific revelation telling us who is in which group, we are still required to agape all men, but our agape does not extend to requiring us to execute anyone. We, in the Church, are no longer God’s ordained means of bringing His wrath upon his public enemies.

This law of love applies to those that we would consider to be our enemies as well. Under the terms of the new covenant we may know who our personal enemies are but we do not know who God’s eternal enemies are. The natural, sinful, human tendency to want to treat our personal enemies hatefully is reinforced when we believe that our personal enemies are God’s enemies as well. But, when we have no idea if our personal enemy is also God’s enemy we are in no position to allow ourselves to foster hatred for them. In fact, just the opposite is the case. It is entirely possible that my personal enemy might end up being one of God’s elect. How can I behave hatefully and entertain feelings of hate against one of God’s elect and remain true to the law of love? Of course, it is impossible. Under the terms of the new covenant that God has made with us, we are to behave as He does with respect to the righteous and the unrighteous. He causes the rain and the sun to fall upon both groups. If we desire to be like Him, we must love all men, knowing that in doing so we are loving (behaving lawfully towards/exercising agape) both the righteous and the unrighteous, even though we do not know who is in which group.

Did Jesus change the old covenant law? No, He did not. What He did do was affirm the law that existed to love your neighbor as yourself and then He redefined who the neighbor is. A neighbor is now anyone with whom you have contact. The old requirement to execute those living in the land of Canaan and outside of national Israel has been replaced with the new requirement to love (behave lawfully towards/exercise agape) everyone on earth. It is very important that we realize this is not a change to the law of love. Because of the changes made to the old covenant the terms and conditions of the law of love now apply to a different group of people. However, the law of love itself has not changed. The law of love is still fulfilled by treating your neighbor according to the terms of the Law of God, that Jesus Himself said were not going to pass away. The law of love still does not require that modern believers have to somehow conjure up some warm feelings towards people that they do not even know; or worse, towards people, who might be behaving as public enemies of God and His Church and towards whom then rightfully experience the feeling of hate.

Love: Love in the New Testament

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

The Evangelical generally believes that the New Testament is the sole source for the modern doctrine of love. We have already seen, however, that the injunction to “love our neighbor” exists in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it is certainly true that the doctrine of love is advanced and expanded in the words of the New Testament.

With the judgment upon Israel in 70AD, the people of national Israel ceased to be God’s “chosen people”. All of the commandments and laws that were associated with Israel and the land in which they lived were abrogated, having been fulfilled in the perfect life and ministry of the final Lamb of God, Jesus His Son. As a result, the commission of national Israel as a holy army bringing the temporal judgments of God upon men also came to an end.

It took some time for the disciples of Jesus to figure out that Jesus had come to make a change in the covenant. Israel was to be removed for her faithlessness and the Church was to be grafted in, by faith. During this period of transition many of the followers of Christ continued to expect Him to behave as the leader of a covenantal group that existed for the purpose of bringing vengeance upon their enemies. I believe it is fair to say that most, if not all, of the disciples of Jesus conceived of Him as a conquering Messiah who would set them (Jews, and members of God’s holy army) free from the depredations of the Romans.

Luke 9: 51-55 contains a story that illustrates the beliefs of Jesus’ disciples. As Jesus and the disciples were walking towards Jerusalem, they passed through a town of the Samaritans. Luke records that “they did not receive Him.” In response to their less than cordial welcome, two of the disciples (James and John), asked Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus rebuked them for their question. However, their question clearly shows that they were still operating under the belief that the Messiah had come to continue the ministry of Israel by executing the enemies of Israel, the chosen people of God.

In Acts 1:6, after the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples and the first thing they asked Him was, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Even at this late date they still saw Him as a leader of national Israel and themselves as warriors in God’s holy army, bent on the destruction of God’s enemies and theirs. Only later did the apostles realize that national Israel had been rejected and the old covenant had come to an end. The new kingdom was spiritual in nature and did not rely upon the physical execution of God’s enemies. Rather, God had come, in the Person of His Son, to pave the way to conquer His enemies by the act of spiritual regeneration and the creation of a new heart in His people. From the time of Jesus onward there is no place for the concept of a member of God’s covenant people being engaged in a physical army under the commission to physically execute His enemies. Now, the members of the Church of God are enrolled in a spiritual army and commissioned to spiritually “execute” His enemies via the preaching of the Gospel. God subdues His enemies either by converting them and making them His friends, or by subjecting them to the judgment of His new lawfully ordained authority (more on that later…for now it is sufficient to say that the Church is not that lawfully ordained authority).

There are three major teaching passages that need to be examined in order to develop the New Testament doctrine of love. They are Matthew 5, John 15, and Romans 12-13. We will look at each in detail.

Love: Hate in the Old Testament

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

There is only one word in Hebrew that is translated as ‘hate’ in English. That word is ‘sane’ and means an emotional attitude towards persons and things that are hated (I realize the self referential nature of that definition but am unable to come up with a suitable synonym that conveys the same idea). It is an intense emotional expression related to not liking something and it is frequently associated with the emotion of anger.

In Amos 5:17 God says that He hates the feast days of Israel. In Psalm 5:5 God states that He hates all those who do iniquity. Psalm 31:6 declares that God hates those who have regard for vain idols. Psalm 97:10 commands the righteous to hate by saying “Hate evil, you who love the Lord”. (The perceptive reader might notice that God is here commanding an emotion. I had previously stated that He did not do so. I do not believe that this verse destroys my position. Much like the command to “be angry, yet sin not”, God sometimes describes His people as those who should have a particular emotion. The exhortation to hate evil is something that those who love the Lord should do automatically. In other words, it would be incongruous for a person to claim to love the Lord and not have emotional hate for evil at the same time.) Psalm 139: 21-22 develops the concept of hatred a bit more when the Psalmist says, “Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loath those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.” Ecclesiastes 3:8 says that there is a time to love and a time to hate. Malachi 1:3 declares that God hated Esau, immediately after professing His love for Jacob.

We do not have the luxury of using the Marcionite heresy and simply dismiss these passages as “Old Testament”. It is abundantly clear that God hates. It is also abundantly clear that there are times when we are to hate. Psalm 97:10 actually commands us to hate evil. At first glance, this verse seems to lend support to the popular evangelical doctrine that we are to hate the sin (evil) and love the sinner. The whole argument falls apart when we consider that the Psalmist declares that he hates, with an utmost hatred, those who hate God (Psalm 139). Either the Psalmist is describing a behavior that he believes to be sinful and he is repenting of it, or he is describing a behavior of which he is proud that he believes is God honoring. The context seems to indicate that the psalmist believed that his hatred for those who hated his God was a good deed and consistent with God’s revealed law.

If men are the image bearers of God, and God often describes His relationship towards certain men as being motivated by hate, does it not make sense that we should bear His image in sharing the emotion of hatred? Since Israel was the army of God commissioned to bring His wrath upon covenant breakers, does it not make sense that they would experience the emotion of hatred for those they were executing? Since God Himself declares that He hated Esau, does it not make sense that His people could/should hate those who were outside of the covenant and in line for judgment? I suggest that all of these things make great sense. Indeed, although the children of Israel were not commanded to produce the emotion of hate towards their enemies (due to the fact, I believe, that God does not command men to have an emotion), it is certainly to be expected that they would have experienced intense hatred as they carried out their covenantal responsibilities as ministers of God’s vengeance against those who hated their God.

Psalm 136 introduces a fascinating feature in the Old Testament doctrine of love and hate. This psalm is one of those psalms that follow the pattern of recounting the activities of God while pronouncing after each event that “His loving kindness is everlasting”. Verse 10 records an amazing example of an event that is described as declaring the loving kindness of God. It says, “To Him who smote the Egyptians in their first born…”, in other words, the everlasting loving kindness of God was clearly demonstrated by the historical act of executing the first-born child of each Egyptian family! How is this possible?

If love and hate in the Old Testament are both emotions and opposites of each other, then what the psalmist said is impossible. However, if love (agape) is a behavior and hate is an emotion, there is no problem with the phrase of the psalmist. We have already seen that the duty to love one’s neighbor, for the Jew, was fulfilled by obedience to the law contained in the five books of Moses. Obedience to the law also contained the requirement to punish those who break the law and do evil. We have already seen that hatred for evil is an emotion that is to be expected when dealing with those who hate God. It is not, therefore, in any way a contradiction to say that the psalmist could declare that God evidenced His love for His covenant people by fulfilling the Law and righteously executing His, and their, enemies. We can, and will, go further by saying that since love (agape) “is the fulfillment of the law”, God and Israel were behaving lovingly towards their enemies by bringing the just wrath of God down upon them.

We can sum up the Old Testament doctrine of love by saying that God commanded His people to love their neighbors, just as we see in the New Testament. However, due to the unique circumstances related to Israel as a holy army in the providential hands of God, they were commissioned to execute His enemies. It is very important to note that the Israelites would likely experience the emotion of hatred as they carried out the execution of God’s enemies. Indeed, it would be expected. To not hate those whom God hates would be an indication of a serious moral problem. We must also notice that God did not command them to somehow produce the emotion of hatred for His, and their, enemies. Even more, God most certainly did not order them to produce any emotional love for their enemies. Indeed, in light of Psalm 136:10, it is possible to argue that the Israelites were loving (agape) their enemies when they executed them (behaved consistently with God’s law towards them, as God had commanded). These points are very important in the doctrine of love and we will come back to them again.

Love: Love in the Old Testament

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.

Most Evangelicals believe that the Old Testament has little to say about love. The God of the Old Testament is famous for events such as the casting of Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, the worldwide flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the execution of all of the first born of the Egyptians, the genocide of the Canaanites at the hands of the children of Israel, and the killing of tens of thousands of Philistines at the hand of King David. These are the things that indicate, in many minds, that the God of the Old Testament has very little to do with love. Nothing, as we shall see, could be further from the truth.

The rarely read book of Leviticus contains a passage, obscurely tucked into chapter 19, which defines the doctrine of love in the Old Testament. Verses 15-18 say: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord. You shall not hate your fellow-countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

Since most Evangelicals are also pietists, it is difficult for them to interpret this passage accurately. They read this passage individualistically and in light of their own personal experience in their particular time and place. In order to understand the passage we have to read it with covenantalism in mind and in the context of the biblical time and place. The Old Testament covenant people were the nation of Israel. God had chosen and established them as His covenant people at the time of Abraham. The entire Pentateuch is written as the declaration of the terms and stipulations of the covenant between God and His people Israel. In order to interpret Leviticus properly, it is imperative to interpret it covenantally. Many of the words quoted in the passage above are without sense when stripped of their covenantal context. Let’s consider the passage in Leviticus for a moment.

We must begin by remembering that God called the children of Israel for a specific purpose. They were to be His people and they were to serve as a “light to the nations” in declaring the glory of God. Isaiah declares (42:6), “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon.” God had promised Abraham (Genesis 12:3) that, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” If Israel remained faithful to the stipulations of the covenant, God would bless them and all the other nations of the earth that decided to align themselves with Israel. In addition, God would use Israel as a means to bring His judgments against men who refused to honor and worship Him. Those people would be recognized by the fact that they would curse Israel. Against them, Israel was to be a holy army, bringing the judgment of God as the just consequences for their unbelief.

As the covenant people of God they needed a land in which to live. God had promised the land of Canaan to them at the time of Abraham. However, God did not physically grant them the land in the time of Abraham because “the iniquity of the Amorite was not yet full”. Genesis 15: 12-21 is where God explains to Abraham that he is going into exile in Egypt and his descendents will remain there for four hundred years. Then, after the four hundred years, God would bring out Abraham’s descendents from Egypt and cause them to conqueror the land of Canaan, dispossessing all of the sinful peoples who live there. The reason God chose to wait four hundred years to give His people their land was due to the fact that He wanted the native peoples to become more sinful in the interim. Then, when their iniquity was full and complete, the children of Israel would come upon them and execute them for their sin, acting as a holy army commissioned by God to do so. This commissioning of the covenant people as a holy army sent to annihilate the citizens of a particular land is unique in biblical history.

The passage in Leviticus 19 talks about “neighbors”, “fellow country-men” and “sons of your people”. It is not surprising that God does not talk about the duty to love those outside the covenant community in the context of the people Israel had been commissioned to destroy. The children of Israel were forbidden from hating their fellow countrymen and required to love their neighbors as themselves. Their neighbors, of course, were fellow Jews. As was to be expected, God did not command the Jews to love those they were about to destroy. For the Old Covenant people, the duty to love extended to the covenant people and not to those outside of the covenant.

Even the last statement above does not entirely capture the reality of the doctrine of love at the time. People who were outside of the covenant made with Israel were free to convert to Judaism and become strangers and aliens within the land. Indeed, God had promised Abraham that if his descendents were faithful to the stipulations of the covenant, there would be hordes of people who wanted to come and join them. Of course, the Jews were generally unfaithful and it rarely happened that the pagan nations came to Israel for the purpose of joining them. Nevertheless, all of the laws that pertained to the covenant people also applied to those who converted to Judaism. Therefore, non Jews had the option of converting to Judaism and becoming a part of the covenant people of God or they could decide they would rather be executed by the holy army of God, coming to bring righteous wrath upon the evildoers and God haters.

The commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” does not originate in the New Testament. It was the foundation of the Old Testament doctrine of love. However, it must not be forgotten that Israel had a unique responsibility to carry out the lawful vengeance of God upon His enemies at the time. Nevertheless, the commandment to love applied to all of those who were within the covenant community without exception. Furthermore, the commandment to love was fulfilled by obedience to the law that God had given in the first five books of the Old Testament. All members of the covenant were deemed as having fulfilled the commandment to love one another when they treated one another lawfully. At this point we can state that the Old Testament doctrine of love affirmed that God’s people were required to love the other members of the covenant by fulfilling the law towards them. The love that was required is clearly related to the agape of the New Testament since it revolves entirely around behavior and is in no way related to the way the individual feels about others. In addition, the members of the covenant were required to enthusiastically carry out the commission of being a holy army to bring vengeance against God’s enemies. The question that comes up is, how should the Israelites have felt about killing God’s enemies? More specifically, should they experience the emotion of hate when executing His enemies?