The love of God is the first duty of man, and this springs from just views of his attributes or excellencies of character, which afford the highest delight to the sanctified heart. Esteem and reverence constitute ingredients in this affection, and a fear of offending him is its inseparable effect. (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)
Love trumps all (1 Cor. 13:13), however we cannot afford to sacrifice truth for the sake of love. To lay aside truth only means that love is of no benefit to the body of Christ. If we are going to achieve “love,” truth must be the catalyst by which love functions otherwise contending for the faith is meaningless.
“That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things into Him who is the head, even Christ” – Eph. 4:14-15
Truth is never to be sacrificed to so-called “charity”, yet it is to be maintained in charity. Truth in word and act, love in manner and spirit, are the Christian’s rule. Truth is never to give way to false doctrine, but it must be spoken in love. Some cling to the truth tenaciously, but forget to speak it in love. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” – Gal. 5:14-15
So what is the answer? Disagreeing agreeably equals compromise and promotes a tolerance for those who reel and are carried about with “every wind of doctrine.” It is clear they are both unstable and deceptive promoting every sort of false doctrine. Truth is real, actual, not counterfeit. Truth acts genuinely. Speaking the truth in love is to endeavor to express the truth in a loving manner. In Galatians 4:16 Paul says, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” And again in Acts 20:27 Paul tells the Ephesian Elders, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Speaking the truth in love includes telling the whole truth, not only speaking the truth, but presenting it in action as the truth and not counterfeit. It is unloving to do otherwise! We are to be true (in doctrine and profession), this falls within the boundaries of love.
Does love mean that we have to tolerate false doctrine? No! Does love mean we have to accept false teachers, prophets, and apostles? No again! It seems Paul was trying to straighten the Ephesians out on this matter, they were zealous for truth, but lacked in love. And they didn’t heed his words for Christ himself through John sent a letter warning them they had lost their first love (Rev. 2:4). I don’t believe the Ephesians problem was a lack of love for the Lord for Jesus said “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rev. 2:2-3). They had patience, they had discernment, they labored for Jesus’ name sake, they even hated evil, but the spiritual vitality springing from love had degenerated into orthodox routine. The Ephesians were combating the doctrines of the Nicolaitans who’s teachings were seducing the people of God into idolatry and immorality.
Are we not to be defenders of the faith? Yes! Jude tells us “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4) The issue is not pointing out the false doctrine, teachers etc. The problem is in how we are doing it and why we do it. We are in an ecumenical melting pot today where anything goes from contemplative prayer, soaking prayer, little gods doctrines to “every man does that which seems right in his own eyes” – Judges 21:25. I believe we should contend for the faith, we are to fight for the truth of Christ’s doctrine, the gospel message, we are even suppose to strive together for the faith of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27). The problem today with contending is many people are getting hurt, even shipwrecked in the crossfire. We have to learn how to contend, how to speak the truth “in love.”
Reasoning with people is out the window in our society, and apostasy is rampant! It is the sinful nature which breeds and continues to support false doctrine and teachers. And for many like myself, the root of bitterness springs up in my reaction to false doctrine and teachers. I too am guilty of contending with malice rather than love, or at least I did. And again I find myself having to retrain and discipline myself to speak and act with love without compromising God’s Word. If all of us would first take a close examination of ourselves in the light of God’s Word and make an honest assessment of ourselves from God’s point of view, well, that would be a great beginning! But…most today are too busy indulging in felt faith doctrines rather than authentic faith.
Paul makes it clear, “So then, we may no longer be children…” (Eph. 4:14). In the Greek “children” is implying negation, not speaking, that is, a simple minded person, an immature Christian. When we bite and devour and react with malice instead of love are we not immature? When the 911 terror attack occurred and the twin towers where starting to collapse thousands of people were running from the danger. Meanwhile, fireman and policemen were running into the danger screaming, “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” The difference between 911 and contending for the faith is that I feel as though I’m running away from the danger while untold millions are running into it and I’m screaming, “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” And no one is listening. Instead I get sneers, shoved out of the way, and it is very frustrating. I feel hopeless and helpless!
Are not false teachers the enemy? Yes! “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their mind on earthly things” – Phil. 3:17-19. Notice Paul’s “weeping?” Today, as in Paul’s day many offer cheap alternatives to knowing Christ, and they are His enemies. Many today are perverting the foundation of Christianity by misrepresenting Jesus Christ. They shun doctrine for the sake of relationships and at the same time miss the fact that anything taught essentially is or becomes doctrine. Sound (healthy) doctrine is meant to build and mature the body of Christ and conform it to the image of Christ. But what is our response suppose to be? Jesus said; “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” – Matt. 5:44. Love is not a matter of sentiment alone, but practical concern, blessing, prayer, and positive wishes for well-being, extended to friend and enemy alike. I know, this is hard to swallow! I feel that big lump trying to slide down my throat right now, I’m convicted. Now this verse is not about the enemy, but about our conduct. It doesn’t mean there will be a great success rate, that they will be converted but it does mean we will be victorious in spite of them.
Now let me pause here and say that it’s not how much “Word” we know or how much Scripture we can quote that makes the difference, it’s how much “Word” we exercise which promotes maturity and gives discernment (Heb. 5:12-14). “…by reason of use” is the ability to discriminate between sound and unsound doctrine and between wholesome and unwholesome conduct. It’s the means by which we can identify and respond to falsehood rather it be a teacher or doctrine. Paul told the Roman Christians; “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” – Romans 12:20-21. Doing good in spite of evil form the culminating point of the Sermon on the Mount. “Heaping coals of fire on his head” is in the Old Testament the figurative expression of divine vengeance (Ps. 140:10; Ps. 11:6), and the true sense of these words seems to be, “That will be the most effectual vengeance” (Alford, Hodge). This kindness most enthusiastically may subdue him, and make him feel more intensely guilty.
The institutional church is in all pretense failing the people of God. I’m not speaking of every organized church in existence, but the ungodly control and hierarchy which God has not established. The institutional church system who’s mindset and attitude is pushing forward by selfish ambition and the desire to have the preeminence. In the last two years I have met many who are leaving it, God is calling His people out. And He has placed my wife and I in a position where we can now minister to some of them, they are hurting and need encouragement. Many of them are just starting their wilderness journey, a journey I have been traveling now for several years. I am now learning to weep for them and for those who have done them so much harm. We are to be loving to contend but contending to love!