Voices from the Past
The Real Meaning of Love

H.E. Phillips
Searching the Scriptures, Vol. VIII, No. 7
July 1967


(The following article is a reprint from Searching The Scriptures, May, 1962 in explaining the scriptural view of love as it applies to those in error.)

Denominational views are generally known by the subjects that are discussed in pulpits and papers, and the subject of love occupies a top place in nearly all religious groups. I would like to search the scriptures with you on the Bible meaning of love in an efforts to see if this subject is any more accurately represented by denominational teachers than many other subjects with which they deal.

Love is one of the key words in the word of God. The fact that God loves man is again and again stressed by every inspired man who was used by the Spirit to reveal the will of God. 1 John 4:7-21 is an example of the importance placed upon love by the word of God. Several facts are given in these verses which show that love is indispensable to fellowship with God. John says that "God is love" and that "love is of God." Since God loves us, we are instructed to "love one another". "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." This is the theme of John in this section of his epistle, and he concludes the chapter by saying: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:20,21).

The question arises, What does love for my brother require of me? I was recently told that I did not have proper love for my brethren (some of them) because I spoke against their views and teaching on certain subjects. I have been told a number of times that the "Spirit of the Anti group is without love". Now if that be true of me, I am wrong. No man can please God without love in his heart. No matter how much truth and power he has, if he does not have love, he is nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). But what is the real, scriptural meaning of brotherly love? What does it require in my relationship to my brother?

Love is an action of the heart. "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto the unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Pet. 1:22). It is also an action of life motivated by a heart filled with love. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). Love, then, is the state of heart or attitude of mind that responds in word and deed. It is what we do and say that is prompted by an attitude of heart called love.

In 1 Corinthians 13 we have a description of the love that is approved by God. It suffers long, is kind, does not envy, is not puffed up, does not behave in an uneven manner, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, does not think evil, nor rejoice in sin, but does rejoice in truth. Love endures all things. This state of mind and conduct of life may be directed toward the wrong object. Many love, but they love the wrong things. "For men shall be lovers of their own selves..." (2 Tim. 3:2); "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:4); "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world..." (2 Tim. 4:10); "For the love of money is the root of all evil..." (1 Tim. 6: 10); "But Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them..." (3 John 9); "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12.43). We are commanded to love God (Matt. 22:37), the truth (2 Thess. 2:10), the brethren (1 Pet. 1:22), and our enemies (Matt. 5:44). It may be that one has once loved the right things, but has lost this love. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:12). "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Rev. 2:4).

The True Meaning of Love

For a long time the denominational world has contended that members of the church of Christ do not have love in their hearts, and the proof of it is in the fact that they debate and oppose "other churches". Love to these people means a kind, loving, compromising soul who will agree with and endorse almost any kind of religious teaching. Now some denominational minded brethren have adopted this same view of love, and they cry that anyone who exposes their weak and unscriptural doctrines lacks true love.

God is love. John the inspired apostle said so. How does God react to sin and disobedience in those who are his children? In the Old Testament "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward" (Heb. 2:2). In the New Testament "he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons" (Col. 3:25). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and the death he speaks of is the second death. "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14, 15). God is love, but he deals with sin just as he promised. It follows that love is not incompatible with strong dealing with error and sin.

When I was a child I sometimes wondered how my father and mother could say, "Son, this is because I love you," when they applied the rod where it would do the most good. If they loved me, why did they have to show it by a thrashing second to none? But by and by I became a man and a father myself. I had to do for my children exactly what was done to me. Then I knew what they meant when they said, "This is because I love you". I know now as you know, love demands correction and chastisement when it is needed to make the person you love better. "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb. 12:6).

Many think love requires absolutely no hate for anything. If one hates anything he cannot have the love of God in his heart. The writer of Hebrews quotes God as saying of Christ: "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity" (Heb. 1:9). Christ hated iniquity! Christ writes to Ephesus: "But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Rev. 2:6). To the angel of the church in Pergamos Christ said: "So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate" (Rev. 2:15). Christ hated the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, yet he is the embodiment of love. Seven things are listed in Proverbs 6:16 that God hates, yet God is love. It follows that true love does not mean that hate cannot exist in the heart of the person. He must love what he should love and hate what he should hate.

Many think love will not permit discipline. Any sign of exercising discipline against those who sin is a sign of the lack of love. Paul writes the Corinthians about a man who was living in adultery, and tells them "to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). Because of their "puffed up" state he writes in the last verse of 1 Cor. 4: "What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the Spirit of meekness?" Now, Paul, you should not write that way. Don't you know it is not a sign of love to speak so harshly to brethren? But in the 13th chapter Paul tells what love is, and says that if he does anything without love it does not profit him anything. Evidently he understood a harmony to exist between discipline--strong discipline--and true love. Remember, Paul wrote the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). We are commanded by the authority of Christ to deal with false teachers (Rom. 16:17), and with the unruly and vain talkers (Titus 1:10), and to do it "sharply" (vs. 13). The God of love required this, therefore it must be in harmony with true love to rebuke sin and false brethren.

Many think love requires a compromise. False brethren of Paul's day "privily" came in to spy out the liberty of Christians in order to bind them again to bondage, but Paul said of them: "to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2:4, 5). Paul even rebuked another apostle (Peter) by withstanding "him to the face" because he "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:11, 14). Love for God and the gospel will never permit compromise with anyone. On the other hand, love for God, the gospel and men in sin will call upon us to sound out the word "in season and out of season" without compromise at any level.

Many will argue that love substitutes for obedience. How many have you heard say, "God is love, and He will not send a man to hell for doing a little thing that is wrong"? They mean by this that God's love is such that He will overlook our failure to obey Him and save us anyway. I believe some brethren think that is the kind of love we should have toward each other. But Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). John said, "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments" (2 John 6). Paul said, "Be ye followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" (Eph. 5:1, 2). Real love requires obedience to God; obedience to God requires that we oppose sin and false doctrines where ever they be found (Rom. 16:17; Titus 1:10; Eph. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6).


Feature Editor's Comments

The above article was written during a time of heated debate and division over institutional-liberalism. Some among the churches of Christ, the Lord's body, wanted to use the church to fund institutions founded by men--institutions such as orphan homes and colleges. They twisted the Scriptures and put out an emotional plea for their cause. Emotions triumphed among most Christians and reason was abandoned. Those who tried to hold forth the truth were falsely accused of lacking love, as was noted in the article. They pointed out the sin and error of the things which the liberal-minded brethren were engaged. For this, they were slandered and shunned.

We mention all of that to say this, today, the Lord's body is experiencing another division. It is not so much an "outward" division at this time, but one of the minds. Some have an attitude of holding fast to the Word, giving it a strict interpretation, while others are loose with the Bible and are willing to drift. We can see this on the issues of social drinking, mixed swimming, immodest dress, fellowship, and now creation.

During the present controversy, those who are exposing the departures from the truth are being slandered. They are called "Watchdogs" "Self-appointed protectors of the faith" "Brotherhood Guardians" and creators of creeds. They are said to be without love and respect for their brethren. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Peter said, "Love the brotherhood" (1 Pet. 2:17). Love in the absence of chastening is fantasy at best and false in reality. The Lord, who loves the brotherhood, said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev. 3:19). Chastening, rebuking, correction of error, either morally or doctrinally, is required by love! It cannot be otherwise.

Still, some will complain, "We agree that error needs to be exposed and stopped, but you do it the wrong way. You have a bad attitude. You manifest no love." Well, show us the right way to do it. Show us the good attitude. Show us how to expose error with love. Do you suppose the people who received Nehemiah's rebuke thought he had a bad attitude--he struck them and pulled their hair out (Neh. 13:25)? Do you suppose those who witnessed the Lord use the whip in the temple thought He had a bad attitude (Jn. 2:15)? Too bad the enlightened ones of our day were not there to correct Him and show Him how true love acts!

Some brethren are weak and unwilling to take a stand, a firm stand, for what is right and true. These the Lord wants to vomit out (Rev. 3:15-16). We need men and women who have true love for the Lord and their brethren, and are uncompromising. We need those who are willing to stand in the face of overwhelming opposition, men and women of faith, ready to make a sacrifice for the Lamb of God as they stand like a lion (Heb. 11:32-40). Will you be one of these?


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