Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love does not rejoice at Wrongdoing , but rejoices with the Truth

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7   
TITLE:  The Properties of Love  #5 :  Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing , but rejoices with the truth  
Date :  02  /10 /2011
If you have   followed   our  exposition  on the properties of love in  verses 4-7, you may perhaps have  come to the  conclusion that  Christian love  is far to   naïve ,  far to  unconditional  and much to  uncritical  to be taken seriously . You may say to  yourself  , “how can I  love  a  rapist ? How can I love  someone who has murdered my  loved one ? How do  I  love someone who has taken away   my  freedom, causing me to lie awake every night   because  this person  has traumatized me?  How can I love my boss who has just fired me today ? How can I  love  the person who  constantly lies to me , …abuses me ?
Those  are real issues, and they deeply challenge  our  understanding  of loving others unconditionally .  People like to talk about unconditional love (loving no matter  what  may come) until  that   moment  arrives  when  they  are at the receiving end of wrongdoing.  Then  all thoughts of unconditional love  are  suddenly thrown out of the window , because  emotions  begin to dominate  reason ,   often even overriding  our Christian principles . In OT  Israel   special  rulings had to be  made  for those who accidentally killed a person ( manslaughter ). Cities of refuge in strategic  centers [1] were laid out  on either side of the Jordan  river , so that a person  who had accidentally killed someone could flee there and be protected there from the emotional  outburst  and desire  for revenge from  the grieving relative .

The apostle Paul  sets  a high standard  in verses 4-7 .  It is admittedly not easy to  be  consistent in the application  of this kind of love in all  that we must experience in this life . However , I remind you  right away  that  the Christian life was never designed to be lived in one’s own strength (2 Peter 1:3ff) . Our life is designed to be lived  upon  the premise of human weakness  and  in dependence upon  God’s  divine  grace and power or strength .  ( 2 Cor  12 : 9-10) .So today , as we wrestle with this text ,  I am  not going to encourage you to  ‘pick yourselves up by your own shoelaces ,  and tell you to ‘ get your act together’  with respect to some of the deep challenges that you may be facing in your own  set of circumstances .   I know we can’t  - but God in and through us ,  can !
As we think about the  great challenges  that face us at times  we are dependent  upon divine grace . That means  you must be  ‘ born again ‘  ( justified)  ; you must be empowered  ( sanctified) by the Holy Spirit   to live   and respond  like a biblical Christian.
And if we look for examples  of such powerful love , then we  must look firstly  to Scripture .
The greatest  exhibition of biblical  love  is always the person and the life of the Lord Jesus Christ . Whenever  we  ask , ‘ yes, but what does this kind of love look like ?’ , we  take  look at the Lord Jesus .  He , as  man   in  His  days  upon earth was  patient and  kind; he was never envious or boastful; He was never arrogant or rude.  He  did not insist on His own way ( particularly  before the cross , He prayed  to His Father – not my will , but yours be done [2]); Jesus   was not habitually irritable  ( he was irritated by the Pharisees and others at times – but it was righteous  and not uncontrolled) ; He was not resentful  . At the cross He even prayed  that His enemies might be forgiven.[3]  Thereafter,  we  must also consider  men like Stephen  who forgave  his   murderers as  he  was dying [4]. The apostle Paul  in reflecting upon  his own  persecutions in 1 Cor 4:12,13   says: “ When reviled , we bless, when persecuted, we endure; when slandered , we entreat .”  There was a greater principle at work . The love of God was  poured into their hearts  through the Holy Spirit ( Rom 5:5)  and made these  and others in history . In Foxe’s book of  Martyrs I read the story of George Wisheart , a Scotsman  who was lecturing  at the University of Cambridge  in 1543.  He was convicted for his evangelical beliefs and asked to recant . He refused and was condemned to die  .  After Wisheart  asked God to forgive those who had condemned him, the hangman kneeled before him “ Sir, please forgive me. I am not guilty of your death.”  "Come here", Wisheart replied. Wisheart kissed his cheek and said “ There’s a token of my forgiveness. Do your job.” As  Wisheart  was hung and burned , the crowd took note that an innocent man had been slaughtered.

Back to the text …
Biblical love  is  not easy  to define . That is why  Paul has to use at least 15 verbs to describe  its nature  .  But it is  the  6th verse that   helps us  to see that love is  anything  but   naïve : “(Love)  does not rejoice at wrongdoing (lit.  unrighteousness - Gr. adikia )  , but  rejoices with the truth"  ( Gr. aletheia ) .

We learn two things :  
 (i)   biblical  love can never   agree with unrighteousness            
 (ii)  biblical  love  is always committed to  the   truth

This statement  must be understood  in relation to  all that  is said before . Love has no pleasure in wrong at all. Whenever biblical love sees envy ( desiring  what other people have)  and boasting ( making other people envy what you have)  , arrogance and rudeness, selfishness ,  irritability or resentment  it  cannot be  happy with that .
Why ?
Whatever  God  considers  as an  act of unrighteousness cannot be loved by His people.  Anything  that is wrong in God’s  sight should also grieve a Christian heart, not merely because unrighteousness  hurts others , but because  God’s holy character is assaulted by  such  unrighteousness .   When a woman is raped and  when prisoners of war are tortured and traumatized , when a  child  is  physically and emotionally abused by a peer group ,  or when an older person  is  disrespected by younger people  ,  then biblical love cannot  be happy with that . Not only are people violated , but the image of God in man is assaulted  and God is thereby insulted !

This is also true for the sins that are  met with from time to time in the church :
We cannot rejoice  when there is division ( 1 Cor  1:10ff;  Ch 3)  , and we cannot  rejoice in those who cause division . In fact , the Scripture says “ As for a person who stirs up division , after warning him once and then twice , have nothing more to do with him “ ( Titus 3:10)
The church cannot rejoice  when one of their members  is involved in  sexual immorality   such as we find  in  1 Cor 5 .  The Bible says,  “ Purge the evil  person  from among you .”  ( 5:2,5,9,11,13)  . The  church cannot  rejoice when  our people  go back  to their pagan temples and party there like they  did before ( Ch 10)  . The Bible says : “Flee from idolatry ! “   ( 10:14) .   The church cannot rejoice  when the ordinances are abused . The Bible says : “ Whoever  eats the bread  or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty  concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” ( 11:27).  The church cannot rejoice when the spiritual gifts are abused . The Bible says , that if you practice your spiritual gifts  without  biblical love , then you are “ an empty gong or a clanging cymbal .”  ( 1 Cor 13:1-3)  .

In the same way , people who say that they  love God  and one another   cannot  laugh at  rude jokes ; they do not love  movies that promote sexual immorality  and promiscuous living  ;  they cannot love the company of the ungodly more than  the  fellowship of God’s people  .   

Christian love  is  actively engaged in doing that which is right in  God's eyes ;  it is actively  engaged   in    a deep commitment  to  God’s truth , as it is written in God’s Word .
The word "truth" ( Gr. aletheia)   can  sometimes  simply refer to intellectual  content  i.e.   "having a knowledge of the truth"    and sometimes it  can refer to a manner of walking before God i.e." walking in integrity and faithfulness -  walking in the truth (e.g. 2John 4 ; 3John 3) .
The biblical ideal is  that  our minds and our  hands/feet  ( our words and deeds) must work together .  Can there  ever be a  separation  between the two  ? Yes! Unfortunately there can. People  may know the truth  , and yet  they may walk contrary to the truth. We call that ’ lip service’ .
We have  an example  of correct knowledge (doctrine) and correct practice urged upon Timothy by Paul in 1 Tim 4:16 :  "Watch your life and doctrine closely...(NIV)"

In 3Jn 3 the apostle John  gives us  a lovely testimony  concerning  a man called Gaius: " For I rejoiced greatly  when the  brothers came and testified  to your truth ,   (commitment to sound doctrine) , as indeed  you are  waking in the truth  (practice). I have no greater joy than to hear  that my children are walking in the truth.  “ John truly rejoiced with the truth found living actively in Gaius and in  the Christian brothers and sisters  to whom he had sent this little letter  .   It is a pastor’s reward to see  the members  of the church faithful in holding to truth  and living in the truth .
When someone is not walking in the truth, it is a serious  matter, and a true loving Christian will be concerned about that and confront such people .   
I love the story of  C.H. Spurgeon  when he was a young boy  who  at this time lived with his  grandfather James Spurgeon who was a pastor .  Upon learning that his grandfather was grieved over the behavior of one of the church members, Charles confronted the man. He marched into the tavern and rebuked him. 
Thomas Roads, the man  later recalled the event:
“To think an old man like me should be took to task…by a bit of a child like that! Well, he points at me, with his finger just so, and says, what doest thou here, Elijah?  Sitting with the ungodly; and you a member of a church, and breaking your pastor’s
heart. I’m ashamed of you! I wouldn’t break my pastor’s heart, I’m sure.” And then he walks away…”
Thomas Roads then commented  : “  I knew it was all true, and I was guilty; so I put down my pipe, and did not touch my beer, but hurried away to a lonely spot, and cast myself down before the Lord, confessing my sin and  begging for forgiveness. [5]

If a person  acts contrary  to the truth , there is no way in which a true loving Christian can delight in that.  That is why confrontation is sometimes necessary.  A pattern for such confrontation is outlined in Matthew 18:15-18. Please note , that the  goal  of  confrontation envisaged here  is   redemptive. Love is the goal ! 

A true , loving Christian  must help  his wayward friend to  see when  he is wrong  - even  if his friend doesn't like it; even if his friend feels offended. We do well to remember the counsel, which James gives us in Jas 5:19,20  : 19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

By way of a practical guideline, and for the sake of maintaining the balance between love and truth, I have learned this following lesson from John Stott:
                          Love , without truth is hypocrisy!
                          Truth, without Love is brutality !
The Christian balance is found in Eph 4:15  "... speaking the truth in love..."

SUMMARY:  This text leads us to understand that  we cannot  abuse the  phrase  ‘unconditional love ‘ to  allow truth to be swallowed by sin .  Many people   are not able to see  how discipline  can be linked with love.  I trust that you see this now  : Speak the truth , but make love your goal.   Don’t trivialize love . Don’t make it cheap . Remember  above all that  God paid a costly  price  to make it possible for Him to love you .
That is the Truth! Jesus came to die for  sinners. Whoever accepts the truth concerning Jesus death will be   loved by God, and God in turn will help you to love others  , and miracles  happen when  the love of God rules your heart . Amen!

[1] E.g. Deut 19
[2] Lk 22:42
[3] Lk 23:34
[4] Acts 7:60
[5] Arnold  Dallimore : Spurgeon – a new  Biography , p.7

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