Truth AND Love
I want to begin this sermon today by reminding you that the Church exists to pursue a set of goals given her by her Lord. We are not our own Master, and the Church does not exist for the sake of those who "like that sort of thing." That is, God has given us a job to do, and each of us has a part to play in that job. As Paul points out, "But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift."
And the goal we are pursuing is "[to equip] the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
Or to put it in ordinary language, we want to see people commit their lives to Jesus Christ. We want to receive new people into the Church. We want to see people grow spiritually. And we want to see people overcome their limitations -- whether those limitations are physical, or emotional, or relational, or spiritual, or whatever. We want people to get to know Jesus personally -- for themselves --and we want them to teach others what they know, and share with others what they have experienced with Christ. And we want all of us to be filled with God's love and power.
That's the goal: that's what we're trying to accomplish. So, how do you DO that?
Well, the first sort of Christian says, "I know this big Truth --'Jesus is Lord' -- 'Christ is the Answer' -- 'You must be born again' -- and everyone needs to know it. And so I'd better tell them." And all this is right and good. "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free." That's altogether true.
But I have noticed a problem that crops up frequently among those who care intensely about TRUTH. Truth is conveyed by means of propositions: statements about reality. And it is so easy to mistake true statements for Truth. I see some blank looks on that. Let me repeat it: It is so easy to mistake true statements for Truth.
In one of Charles Williams's poems about the court of King Arthur, the King's Council is debating the King's new coinage. And the Question is: is money a good thing? Yes, it makes life easier than barter, but the symbol that we trade with acquires a life of its own, and money can be used to deny our dependence upon each other. It can even be used to oppress others. The King's poet says, "Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols . . . When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words escape from verse they hurry to rape souls." And so it is with money.
So it also is with ideas: True statements are repeated over and over as a means of conveying the Truth that sets us free. And those true statements become mere slogans after a while, and people argue over the words in the slogans when they have forgotten the meaning they refer to. And the words escape their meaning, and hurry to rape souls.
For if the slogans we chant are Truth (with a capital 'T'), then faith means adopting the slogan, and fostering conversion -- the awakening to faith that is at the heart of Christianity -- becomes "getting you to believe." And lots of well-meaning people pursue their goal of "getting people to believe" by badgering them, arguing with them -- or worse, manipulating them -- in order to force from them, or extort from them, a recitation of the magic formula which they think is what Truth is all about.
Folks, this is not how it is done. What I've just describes is NOT faith. And what is being communicated, while it may be true, is NOT Truth. It is theological abuse -- and its victims are everywhere. Behold, I tell you, Truth without Love ceases to maintain its trueness. It becomes (at best) "technically correct Untruth."
Okay, so the second sort of Christian says, "God is love." And so he is! Our gospel is that God loved the world so much he gave his only-begotten Son to die for it, so he could save it from its sins. So the second sort of Christian therefore says, "Everyone needs God's love." And this is right and good.
But there's a problem that often sneaks in here, too. Somehow, "God is love" gets turned around and becomes, in effect, "Love is God." And Love -- as such -- winds up getting divorced from the God who IS love.
One place the worship of Love leads you to is the Church of Good Feelings -- where they don't argue, they just all love. They don't worry about doctrine -- that's not love! And it sounds so liberating to be able to make up your own belief system. And no one is ever constrained by awkward rules in the Church of Good Feelings; they do what makes sense at the time, justifying it by saying, "because I want to."
Of course, it's often not a very far distance from "because I want to" over to "because I want you to." ("Make me happy -- or else.") A lot of what passes for Love -- even love in God's Name -- can be pretty manipulative.
And the Church of Good Feelings is governed by the Law of Sincerity: It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere about it. But what about people who are sincerely wrong? What about sincere fanatics and cultists and crackpots? (I once followed a pastor who had preached that the world would end the preceding December, and I can tell you that sincerity is not the only thing that matters.)
And then there are the folks who think all awkward facts -- like sin, or death, or failure -- should be ignored, lest reminding people of them be disturbing to them. These fellows are like Wes Seeliger's Painless Percy, the "dentist" who didn't believe in causing pain. So he never injected, drilled, filled, scraped, or poked; he read poetry to his patients while massaging their gums with his finger, all to the accompaniment of classical music. And when all their teeth fell out, he went into the baby food business to continue to meet their needs. (I'll tell ya: Greater love hath no man than this!)
NO -- Real love does not ignore painful realities: not though it hurts the beloved, and not though it hurts the lover. For Love cares about Truth. Love cares about the beloved -- not just my feelings about the beloved, or my fantasy image of the beloved. Real love cares about that Real Person as he or she really is. There is no room for any lie between those who love, for Love without Truth ceases to be loving.
Love's as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His. [CS Lewis]
Jesus never ignored the painful realities. Jesus never said sincerity is all that counts. Jesus never twisted people. Jesus never said, "because I want to." And so we find his love more believable than others' loves, and his hard truths kinder than others' comfortable doctrines.
Truth and Love are two halves of the same thing, you see. It takes both together to lead us to God, and build up the Church, and enable us to overcome our limitations, and all the rest of it. We cannot do the task God has set us in any other way -- as Paul says, very precisely: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love."
Truth and Love have to be more or less simultaneous in their effect for God to fill us with himself. And therefore, if we care about doing our job as a Church, we are going to have to walk a tightrope, and not fall off into only a Gospel of Truth OR a Gospel of Love: ours is the Gospel of Truth-in-Love.
For listen: Why should anyone believe our Truths and join our movement, if it is not apparent to them that we love them -- and respect them -- include them -- want the best for them? How can we demand their best for God if they do not perceive God's best in us for them?
And on the other hand, why should anyone believe that we love them -- care about what happens to them -- if we don't care what they believe, or how they live? If it doesn't matter to us if they get it wrong? The opposite of Love isn't necessarily Hate, it's more likely indifference. And indifference in teaching the doctrines and duties of our religion is not respecting each other's freedom, but saying, we don't care what chains you bear.
But Truth-in-Love together -- these lead us to God. Because I know I am loved, I need not be afraid to face the Truth of my sin and my separation from God. And I can kneel before him and find forgiveness and peace instead of condemnation. And because I know that I have been told the Truth (gently, but firmly), I believe not only God's definition of my need, but also the gift of his Love in Jesus Christ, and I am saved by my faith in him.
Love gets Truth a hearing -- and lo, badgering and arguing and manipulating are unnecessary. Yes, and Truth gives Love a chance -- for the genuine article will surely stand out amidst all the fakes; and high as they are, Love's demands will be seen as no more than right and proper.
And what we must tell people is that you cannot know God's Love if you insist upon avoiding the Truth -- whether the Truth about God, or the Truth about yourself. And you cannot know the Truth that sets you free until you open your heart to trust Jesus Christ and dare to let him love you. Then, you will come to that relationship with God where Truth is felt, and Love is a fact.
It sounds like a paradox, I know: something which cannot be done. But it can be done; in fact, it is very easy to do. And old Scotsman was asked by a lady, "Is it easy or hard to love God?" And he replied, "It is easy to those who do it."
And I remember a picture which someone used to explain to me -- for the very first time -- what Jesus Christ had done for me. It was a picture of two cliffs, one labeled "Man" and the other "God." And the gulf between them symbolized the sin which separates Man from God. Then my friend drew a large cross, whose arms touched both cliffs, and he said, Jesus Christ died on the cross to join together Man and God who had been separated. And if you will believe in Jesus Christ, you will be reconciled to God.
I remember thinking that his drawing of that cross hanging between the two cliffs looked like a great suspension bridge. And this is how faith in Christ works: We stand upon that bridge, convinced of the Truth of the gospel, and equally convinced of the Love that God has for us. And God says, "Now jump -- and let me catch you. And I'll teach you to fly."
Oh, that's hard. There are a lot of people standing on that cross. They know it's true, and they know they're loved -- but they're afraid to jump. Afraid to trust. Even for the chance to fly. And everyone has to let God do that for oneself.
But the job of us Christians is to show others that God will catch us -- and we can fly. It is NOT our job to push people off -- nor to leave them there, because we love them "just the way they are." As the old joke goes, "Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum that it could be done." And that is our role: to prove that it can be done, that God will do it, that faith in Christ will not disappoint them. And so, by speaking the Truth-in-Love, we and they can all grow up in every way into him who is the head of the body, Jesus Christ. Amen.