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The limits of love

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One of the greatest lies we tell children is a nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating this to myself as a little boy, over and over again, with tears running down my face, as the terrible things other kids said about me kept repeating in my head. I was desperate for it to be true.

It never was.

So I get how so many Christians feel living in a thoroughly post- or anti-Christian culture, as many of us do in the West. Recent political decisions only officially made legal what was already approved culturally. Those who hold to the traditional or biblical definition marriage have long been called intolerant, bigots, homophobes, and numerous other pejoratives. One website ran an entire article that existed only to direct the F-word (and I don’t mean “fundamentalist”) at us, and particularly politicians and political figures who voiced concerns about or opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

The intolerance of tolerance is at work.

The hurtful words are terribly discouraging. No one wants to be called a bigot, or a hate monger—no one. And yet, this is what is happening and will continue to happen until the West falls or Jesus returns, because we have to understand that love has its limits. There are places that, because we love people, we cannot go and ideas we cannot embrace or endorse.

I was reminded of this again by Sam Storms in his devotional, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3. In writing of Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians, Storms describes them as a church that had “20/20 discernment.”

They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance.… This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth. (41)

The Ephesians understood that Christian charity could not give room to false teaching within the church. Whatever else was going on in the culture, whatever trials they would face, whatever persecution they would be forced to endure, they would; but they could not suffer the usurping or perversion of biblical truth. And, again, Jesus commended them for this. Why? Because, as Storms writes, Jesus hates moral and theological compromise.

Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves. (43)

This is the position we find ourselves in today. The culture has spoken and, while we can (and I believe should) disagree with the outcome, we should at least acknowledge the reality. This means the hateful and hurtful words are going to keep coming, with a promise they’ll stop as soon as we are willing to stop believing what we believe. If we can just embrace same-sex marriage, and then polyamorous relationships, we can all get along. But is that the best way to demonstrate love to our unbelieving neighbors and our fellow believers?

No. Instead, we need to be willing to affirm that love has its limits. And just as the Ephesians were forced to in the face of the Nicolaitian heresy, we must ask what we must say no to for the sake of our devotion to Christ—and in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to all.

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