We make many errors in life, so it’s no particular surprise when we make errors in the way we understand the teachings of the Bible. If you ask some random believers what is the most important aspect of the Christian faith, it certainly won’t be long until you start hearing “love” in response to this question. The idea of the importance of love has permeated our culture, even so far as to prompt the Beatles title, Love Is All You Need. Our culture is filled with this and similar messages, and consequently, our churches are, too.
Obviously, the churches should be filled with the idea of the importance of love, for the Bible is filled with it. The question, however, is whether the notion the churches have of love is the same as the notion held by the Bible’s authors and ultimately, by God himself. So let’s take a look at what the world thinks about love, and then we’ll see what God says about it. I’m going to give you a hint about the latter so that you can keep it in mind as you read about the former: Godly love includes the element of truth.
Take a moment to peek at Brainy Quote’s “Love is…” quotations, and you’ll find a great many popular conceptions about what love is. Here are just a few examples:
Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.
Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Love is being stupid together.
True love is selfless. It is prepared to sacrifice.
Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the Gods.
We could go on and on with the quotations, but these few suffice to demonstrate that people hold to various ideas about love—some of which conflict somewhat with each other, and some of which complement each other.
Here’s a not-too-radical thought for you: The Christian’s concept of love ought to conform to God’s concept of love. And that’s why I’m writing this short article, because there’s one ingredient to love in the Bible that many seem to leave out of their definition of life. It is truth.
There are a few passages in the Bible that link love and truth together. Here are some of them, along with some brief notes of mine in red for your consideration:
1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. The godly love John promotes here seems to include not only deeds (as opposed to mere talk), but truth as well. Lies and/or errors, therefore, don’t seem to go with what John had in mind.
1 Peter 1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. This seems seems to suggest that a sincere love would not be possible to one who had not purified himself by a pattern of obeying the truth. Whatever Peter had in mind about love here, it doesn’t seem to have been possible for people who had not been so purified through obedience to the truth.
2 Thessalonians 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Here Paul seems to tie together salvation with both love and truth. In fact, we get a glimpse here that truth is not merely something to be tolerated or diligently endured, but a thing to be loved.
2 John 1:1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, John makes it a point to mention the connection between his love for the Christians and the truth. Interestingly, he claims that anybody who knew the truth at that time also loved the Christians to whom he was writing.
These ideas can also be inferred from other passages in the Bible, so we’re not limited to just these four, but these four are plenty to get the attention of the honest student of scriptures. These passages force us to acknowledge that love and truth go together, and that love without truth is not the sort of love God and Jesus and the apostles had in mind in the First Century. Was that supposed to change? Was it ever prophesied anywhere that the requirements for godly love would be relaxed at some point so as to no longer include the truth?
I think not! In fact, this brings to mind one of the only verses in the entire New Testament that talks about specific changes that were expected in the future.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
Prophecy and miraculous tongues and miraculous knowledge would pass away, they were told, but this love that “rejoices with the truth” was never to end. What I’d like to know, therefore, is what happened to it since the First Century, for what is generally called “love” in today’s churches is very frequently observed to be lacking the element of truth.
I did a quick Google search to see how many people might have directly contradicted this idea that love and truth go together. I searched what’s inside these brackets, including the quotation marks, so as to find only instances in which these exact sentences appear on the Internet:
[“love is more important than truth”] 29,000 returns
These 29,000 occurrences include times where people were promoting the idea in brackets, as well as instances of people who are refuting it. Here are a couple of quotes from those supporting the errant idea.
“Love is more important than truth, and insisting on the notion of a strong, objective, or absolute truth carries with it the potential for violence against those who hold different truths.” (See it here.)
Interestingly, the writer of the sentence above not only claims that love is more important than truth, but he goes further to negate the reality of truth itself by suggesting that it is possible to hold “different truths”, by which he must logically be implying that one truth can contradict another. Apparently, he does not realize that his scripture-contradicting idea here is forced to contradict the very nature of reality itself. (Truth does not and, by definition cannot, contradict truth.)
And here’s another excerpt, this time from a teacher who at first gets it wrong and then gets it right without realizing that the sentence I have put in bold simply needs to go away:
For quite some time I have been challenging audiences to answer this question: “Which is more important: LOVE or TRUTH?” Most are surprised when I give my answer (based on Matt. 22:37-40): LOVE is more important than TRUTH! However, I immediately proceed to say that we must always be on guard against the temptation to choose between them, as some attempt to do. Ephesians 4:15 exhorts us to speak the truth in love; these must always be tied together. In fact, my basic thesis is this: you can’t have genuine love without truth. Stated more precisely, YOU CANNOT TRULY LOVE WITHOUT LOVING TRUTH. (See it here.)
After stating that “love is more important than truth”, he then disproves that very notion. Why, then, does he not quit stating that errant idea? Why does he toss it out in public, as if cognitive misers won’t remember that one phrase and forget all the rest? Indeed, that is exactly the effect things of this sort usually have. So here’s a case of a guy being sloppy in his definition of love, even though he generally seems to understand the truth of it—at least based on his words in this present paragraph.
I end with this instance because it may well be typical of the sort of mental gymnastics many believers are monkeying around with today. Cognitive scientists call it “cognitive dissonance”—what happens when we hold to two contradicting ideas or beliefs at the same time. And that’s what’s happening here. This author (like so many others) has this “meme” in mind–this nugget of hearsay that apparently sounds so good and right to so many. Yet at the same time, he can (and does) prove that it is false. Yet he holds to it anyway.
So he is both right and wrong, someone might judge. But this cannot be the case. Rather, he is merely saying both what is right and what is wrong. For him to be right, on the other hand, he’d have to toss out what is wrong.
Proverbs 13:5 The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.
Psalm 119:104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
The teacher above has missed the spirit of these two passages, for he does not hate falsehood—at least not in its every way. Rather, he embraces it, calling it part of some overall truth! And this is the troublesome nature of the doctrine of so many today. It is duplicitous, double-minded.
The psalmist had said:
Psalm 119:113 I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.
He set double-mindedness apart from the law of God. He didn’t think they two rightly go together. And he was right.
Today, however, this stark differentiation between dissimilar things has been largely lost in a modern church where such contrary ideas are forced together into the same ineffective bag of tricks. In the churches, people are always saying they “love” God, yet they frequently miss the truth about his character and about his teachings. They are always saying they “love” one another, yet they frequently lie to one another, and let one another get away with lies. Further, they neglect to correct one another’s errors—and errors are also contrary to truth. They are always saying they “love” the Bible, yet they hardly lift a finger to correct their own teachings when they know, or should know, that they have got them wrong.
“Love” is all the buzz, but the way it’s used, I cannot help but to recall the famous words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”