Thursday
Jan292009

Love Authority

In matters secular, political, social, and religious, we understand that authority is expressed through direct commands, existing examples and necessary inferences. 

Commands can be positive or negative; examples can be approved or disapproved; inferences are only authoritative when necessary, not as additions or amendments. 

Some, however, by appealing to emotion and opinion rather than Scripture and reason, desire to add another track of authority – love. What cannot be authorized any other way through the word of God is justified if only we can argue that it is motivated by love.

It is not necessary, however, to designate love as a fourth track of Bible authority, for love is the objective of every command, every example and every implication.

In making our arguments about authority and love, we do not want to risk going to an opposite, but equally sinful extreme – that neither motivation nor love matter to God so long as one goes through the right pious motions. In Malachi’s day, the prophet chided the people who went through their worship motions but with an attitude of contempt toward them, and God was neither placated nor praised (1:1-14).

In the New Testament, we find that motivation is precisely as important as method and means when it comes to serving the Lord (see First Corinthians 13:1-8). Jesus predicted that some otherwise religious people would find themselves on the outside looking in at Judgment Day, arguing that their good works should suffice for their salvation, but he will deny them access to heaven because their other deeds were evil – their motivation was not sincere love of truth, but the hope of earning enough leeway to indulge a little on the side – and God was not mocked by that either (see Matthew 7:21-23).

For some, anything that can be described with love is justifiable, even if it contradicts the will of God; there is an unspoken assumption that God’s word is anachronistically flawed or underestimates the complexity of our circumstances and thus we are practically required to alter his ethics and adopt our own. Truly, love is selfless and other-oriented, but for many, love is wholly and insufficiently defined by a determination never to wound another.

God is love and our duty to behave godly depends greatly upon our treatment of others according to his will (First John 4:7-11, 16-21). The emotional and subjective argument, though, is constructed around an extreme misinterpretation of these words – anything that can be attached to love is justifiable, even without a positive command, approved example or divine implication. It is almost as if the one making this argument is saying that Scripture is not sufficient to anticipate and resolve the issues that arise among men – it is a liberal argument in its purest that when God’s word won’t sanction our intentions, it is because the word failed, not that our intentions are off.

There seems to be a concept that law and love are antithetical, that some are more disposed to one or the other, and that the two have little in common. The Bible, however, makes this point – that love is the fulfillment of the Law; it is the reason for the law and the result when the law of God is obeyed (Romans 13:8-10). All those commandments could be summarized simply by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When the will of God is assembled and active, it should become apparent that love is the reason behind it – love of God and love of neighbor will find expression when God’s will is heeded. If ever we find ourselves yearning to do something on which God’s will is either silent or explicitly prohibitive, you can be sure there is a flaw in our reasoning and what looks like love really is something less.

Yet we hear love as authority for things obviously evil all the time – how often is adultery justified on the basis of finding new love beyond a loveless marriage; doesn’t God want me to be happy and enjoy love? 

The mission of the church in Scripture is spiritual, concerned with preaching the word in order to convert the lost and edify the saved, but a misguided sense of love causes some to want to make the church over into a fleshly relief organization, consumed with other, less eternal goals. 

Too, the church is targeted as a social and recreational association to be sold with coffee, doughnuts, hot dogs, playgrounds and gymnasiums out of love for children and the weak who cannot be won with the mere word of God and promise of spiritual redemption. 

Fornicators are overcome with love; we fund the alcoholic’s habit because we love him and he begs for money; we refrain from rebuking the sinner because we don’t want him to think we don’t love him anymore.

What we actually find, then, is a simmering discontentment with the word of God. It seems to be a 2000 year old document that is unsuited to modern times and thus we are fully justified in inserting our own authority whenever Scripture conflicts with our intentions. Love is wrapped around the situation to give it the scent of validity, but it is not love to cast aside God’s will in any pursuit (First Peter 1:22-25). God’s law is the full expression of love; love is the objective of God’s law, so how could it ever get in the way of real love?

Love simply is not a fourth track of authority when commands and examples have failed to support our wishes and we are left to infer anything and everything we want on our own. Anything that is right and anchored in real love will fit under a command or example or divine implication.