Paul had some great churches that he had planted, but he had one dysfunctional fellowship that he was continually correcting and trying to set back on the right path – the church at Corinth. Corinth was a splintered church in just about every way. For goodness sakes, they even found a way to observe the Lord’s Supper in a divisive way! Paul corrected their arrogant, divisive attitudes, their immorality, their wrong attitudes about marriage, their disagreements over matters of personal conscience, their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Then, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul addressed their divisions over spiritual matters – how God gifted, spoke to and led the church and how that church ministered to one another. Paul dealt with the problems in Corinth.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 12:31, he said, “I will show you a still more excellent way.”
There was a better way than the bickering and arrogant divisiveness of the Corinthians. I think there is a better way than we in the SBC have demonstrated. In fact, I think that unless we learn to walk the more excellent way we will soon sign the death warrant for our denomination’s days of success and influence. If we continue on the path we are on our cracks will become fractures which will become fault lines which will bring us crumbling down. You can call that overwrought language, I think it is biblical truth.
We must walk the way of love. I’m not talking about the sentimental and sappy love that you see in the movies or hear on the radio. And I’m not talking about the weak-kneed kind of love that those without a doctrinal spine often advocate. I’m talking about the love of God displayed in the people of God, the kind of love that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13. In that passage Paul makes a bold assertion. Without love – the demonstration of the love of God in the life of God’s people – everything we do is meaningless, pointless and empty.
And there is precious little of it in the SBC today, especially in the blogosphere. If someone disagrees with my cherished positions, he is is my enemy (and God’s). So, in the immortal words from the original Karate Kid movie, “the enemy deserves no mercy.” If you do not agree with me, get out of my denomination. You are a heretic, a liberal, a fundamentalist, a legalist, an Arminian, a hyper-Calvinist – you pick the insult. Just read some of the interactions between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, between moderationists and abstentionists, concerning Mark Driscoll or Ergun Caner or Acts 29 or the GCR or Kevin Ezell or whatever. The love of God is a rare commodity in those conversations. There is plenty of “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” but a disturbing absence of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.” Of course, it is always the fault of the other side. “They started it. I was just responding to what they said.”
We spend so much time trying to demonstrate our rightness and righteousness while also showing the faults and failings of our bl0g-opponents. Our conversations tend to be marked with suspicion and insinuation and derogation instead of love and blessing. When the fruit of the Spirit is absent in our discussions and relationships, we will not be blessed by God no matter how right we are. We will bring a pox on all our houses because we are claiming the truth without exhibiting the mind of Christ and claiming correctness without walking in the way of Christ.
Examining the Love Chapter
Paul had spent 12 chapters (and countless hours) trying to get the Corinthians to work together for the cause of Christ. Finally, he had enough. “There is a better way, you bickering, bumbling, bull-headed, battling believers of First Baptist Church of Corinth!” He told them to walk with Christ in the way of love.
Read 1 Corinthians 13. Really. Do it now. Then think to yourself how that passage applies to Southern Baptists and especially to Baptist Bloggers. Isn’t there a better path than the one we have been on? Isn’t there a better way than the bickering, blasting and bashing that has marked blogging and other Baptist interactions in recent years?
In fact, Paul says that unless you walk in the way of love, nothing else you do matters at all.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor 13:1–3 ESV
Paul spoke clearly here and he wasn’t joking. Whatever you do “in the name of Christ” is nothing unless it is done in the love of God. Speak with the eloquence of the angels? Meaningless. Understand everything and accomplish great works in God’s Kingdom? Nothing! Sacrifice everything, even your own body? Pointless.
We are here to walk the way of love and if we do not love, we are nothing. Whether the Calvinists are right or wrong, we are all wrong if our dialog continues as it has been.
No, love does not negate the truth, but it does change the way we state it. We speak the truth, but we do so in love. We proclaim the gospel, even judgment, but we do so with love.
What is love? Jesus Christ is love. He demonstrated God’s love clearly for us when he died for sinners. That’s what Romans 5:8 says. So what is love? It is acting in the best interests of others, putting their needs ahead of your own and living to make others successful, not yourself. When I love people, I sacrifice my ambitions and goal to serve the needs of others. I seek to build them up, not myself. I lay down my pride and my rights for the glory of God and the good of others.
Paul defines love clearly in the next few verses.
Love is patient and kind. (verse 4)
Patience and kindness are two sides of one coin. Patience is putting up with others’ faults and failings, even the sins of others done against us. Kindness is the response of grace to those who have been unkind and unloving. I am saddened how often people justify their unkind words and attitudes because of the words and actions of others. We do not have that option. Jesus loved sinners and called us to love them as well. He told us to love our enemies – those who seek our destruction.
Jesus made it clear that if we are only loving and kind to those who treat us well, it means nothing. True love is demonstrated by how one treats those who treat us badly.
I’m not real good at that. How about you? But can you imagine the change in the direction of the SBC (or of your church, or family, or whatever…) if God’s people returned good for evil and sought to love the unlovely and the unloving, if patience and kindness replaced harshness and vitriol in our conversations.
Love does not envy or boast. (verse 4)
Since love implies dying to self it also implies abandoning of selfish ambition and self-promotion.
Love is not arroant or rude. (verse 4
Love watches every word it speaks or writes to make sure that those words build up and bless and do not tear down and injure.
Love does not insist on its own way. (verse 5)
Is not that the source of all our troubles right now? I want you to do things my way. You want your way. So we each work to have our own way done. That self-centered demand that people accept my way as the right way is the root of much of our denominational dysfunction.
Love does not insist on getting its own way. Perhaps the best gauge of my Christian maturity is how I behave when I lose the vote, when things go against me. Do I become petulant, petty, and recriminatory? Do I pout and slander? Or do I walk in the love of Jesus?
Love is not irritable. (verse 5)
I am sometimes, but love is not. I need to make sure that every word I speak or write comes from a desire to glorify God, not to vent my spleen and make sure people know how I feel.
I have a confession to make. There are some bloggers who really irritate me. I have some good friends in the blogging world. Even they irritate me sometimes. That is a natural human reaction. We are sinners and both irritable and irritating at the same time.
But love demands a response of kindness to those who irritate us. We lead with kindness and blessing instead of venting our irritation and anger.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs. (verse 5)
The ESV says “resentful” here, but the literal Greek is “reckon the evil.” I like the NIV on this one, “does not keep a record of wrongs”. Do you have an internal listing of bloggers who have wronged you, irritated you, annoyed you or insulted you? If you have been blogging long, you probably do.
Love washes away those grudges in the blood of Christ. As God remembers our sins no more, we choose not to hold resentment for those who have wronged us or to continually bring back up those things that have been done to us.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (verse 6)
This may have broader application, but I would like to apply this one specifically to a situation I have seen often on blogs. If I see a friend or someone I agree with insulted, put down or treated unkindly, I rise up and hold the perpetrator accountable. But if I see someone I don’t like get ridiculed or blasted, I smile and either join in or just do nothing.
Listen, if it is wrong for someone to insult my friends, it is just as wrong for a friend to insult an enemy. If I am walking in love, I will not excuse evil done by those I agree with, even if it furthers my cause. Love demands that I defend even my enemies when they are wronged.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. (verse 7)
Love does not give up easily. I have avoided naming names here, but I’m going to drop one now. I was fortunate enough to make friends with David Rogers through blogging. I have watched him be insulted, seen his words twisted and perverted to say things he never meant and I have also watched him continue to return good for evil and to demonstrate kindness and grace toward those who tormented him. That spirit needs to grow (in me at least) and spread throughout our denomination.
Love bears up against insult, injury and loss. It continues to believe that the God who saved us will lead us into all truth and accomplish his work in us. It continues to hope that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will do miracles in our midst and it endures even when it is hard and the rewards do not come.
Come Back to Reality, Dave
I know some of you are thinking that this is starry-eyed, rose-colored-glasses dreaming. I would remind you of verse 8. LOVE NEVER FAILS. The way of love does not seem to make rational sense, but it works because God is in it. When we walk the way of love, failure is not an option. When God’s people walk in the way of Christ, the way of the Cross, the path of love, God will work in us and through us by his mighty power. When we forgive our enemies and love them instead of “giving them what they asked for” we release the power of God to perf0rm miracles of grace. When we love one another instead of demonstrating harshness, division and hatred, we honor our Savior and he will lift us up.
The SBC needs a love-infusion. The GCR? Won’t help a lick if we do not walk in love. It doesn’t much matter if you are Calvinist or non-Calvinist, if you do not walk in love you are nothing. Paul’s words, not mine! Whether you are an innovator or traditionalist is insignificant and pointless unless you are a man or woman of love.
If people in the SBC who disagree cannot learn to walk in love not only is the SBC doomed – it should be. Without love we are nothing. The SBC without love is nothing.
What is the solution to the problems of the SBC? Love. We fight over so many things. Calvinism. Ecclesiology. Elders. Alcohol. Traditionalism. Cultural Relevance. Do these things matter? Yes. But not if we don’t love each other. Without love, none of it matters.
I urge the Southern Baptist Convention to walk the way of love. Honor one another in Christ. Accept one another (as Romans 15:1 commands) even if you disagree on certain issues. Hold fast to the gospel, but also hold fast to one another in love.
It is love that will heal our convention. Let us walk in “the more excellent way” of love.
NOTE: I can already hear the comments. “I have to stand for truth.” “Are you saying we should compromise with sin and heresy for the sake of love?” No. That is not what I am saying. As I said above, I believe we have to stand uncompromisingly for truth. There is one gospel. It is not loving to allow people to believe a false gospel that will send them to hell for eternity. If we love people, we will warn them of the consequences of their sin. Since we love God and people, we stand uncompromisingly for the truth of the gospel. I get that. I believe it.
But that does not excuse the harsh, unloving, vitriolic way in which we have often done this. We do not win people to Christ with anger and insult. We must speak the truth in love.
And lets face it, most of the things we fight about are not of that import.