Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. –1 Corinthians 13:6
In this article, I am going to draw from four different sources. Because there is no subject in the Christian life more important than love, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to get the doctrine right; and to not water it down, or modernize it, by popular definitions. The four sources I will turn to, are what are called in Wesleyan theology, the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Although Scripture trumps all the rest, my hermeneutic, or method of Biblical interpretation, will be guided and informed by the other three.
In the Tradition category, I will draw mainly from John Wesley, some of his creation-centered expressions of love from William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, chs. 20-21, Reformed theologian J. I. Packer, Martin Luther’s “A Sermon on Christian Love,” Hugh Binning’s A Treatise of Christian Love (who was a Reformed Arminian Puritan), and John Brown of Edinburgh’s Keeping Christ’s Commandments: A True Manifestation of Love to Him (a nineteenth century Reformed Arminian Presbyterian preacher):–these last two men are interesting, because they both held the view of unlimited atonement, over and against the Calvinist tradition, believing that it is possible to love all men, because God loves all men, and sent His Son into the world to die for all men, not only the “elect.”
In the Reason category, I will appeal to the sound Biblical arguments, or the reasons that these theologians and preachers had given, for why Christians should love their neighbors, and with a particular view in mind.
In the Experience category, I will appeal to my own personal experience with divine love operating in my heart since my conversion, and my gradual or not-so-gradual, growth into a more loving Christian.
Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience may guide the article, but the structure of the article is going to be based on what I feel is the most logical progression of subjects related to love for man operating in the Christian life. This article will not touch so much on God’s love for man, Christ’s love for man, or the world’s love for man or things; nor will we be taking up the subject so much of a Christian’s love for God (although we will have to necessarily touch on that briefly); rather, we will be taking up the subject of a Christian’s love for all mankind or for his neighbor.
Christian Love Fulfills the Moral Law
Jesus, Paul, and John are the three greatest teachers of Christian love (agape) in the New Testament; and it is worthy of noting in the beginning, that all three of them agreed on the view that Christian love fulfills all the moral requirements of God’s law in the Scriptures.
Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). From the outset, we should not interpret Jesus as meaning that a simplistic “loving the Lord” and “loving your neighbor” replaces all the Law and the Prophets, as if we can basically ignore the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17), the sayings of the prophets, and all the moral directions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. No, Jesus is saying that these two Mosaic commandments, to love the Lord, which the Jews called the shema (it was a very important devotional Scripture to them, Deut. 6:5); and to love your neighbor (Lev. 19:18), were the most important commandments in all the laws that were given by God to Moses, because it is in these two commandments that all the Ten Commandments, and all the other moral commandments in the Bible are obeyed exactly in the way they were intended. Jesus was not an antinomian (a teacher against the Law of Moses), although the Pharisees accused him of this, Jesus was careful to clarify Himself, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” etc (Matt. 5:17). Jesus had to say this, because all His teaching on grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness were even during His days on earth, coming to be misinterpreted by His disciples and the Pharisees, as a “cheap grace” or morally lax antinomian teaching. While it is clear that Jesus taught flexibility about the ceremonial law, such as how to observe the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-14), there is not one occasion in the Gospels where He taught laxity with the moral law. And even in Jesus’ teaching on Sabbath observance, He was not breaking any Old Testament regulations, but only the teachings of the rabbis, the “tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:2), or their interpretations of how to keep the Sabbath, and various rituals. (These teachings were later compiled into the Mishnah.) Jesus closely tied love with keeping God’s law; and that when transgression of the law or sin, increased, when iniquity is said to abound, then “the love of most will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
Paul wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). Many carnal, morally lax, and antinomian teachers over the centuries have taken the writings of the Apostle Paul, namely Galatians, and have twisted them to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). Taking Paul’s teachings out of their original context, whenever they see in his letters something that says Christians are saved by grace and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9) or when Paul says, “We’re not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). These people don’t realize that Christian freedom does not mean license to sin (Rom. 6:1-2); it means liberation from the ceremonial law of Judaism as the way of salvation. The Christian way of salvation is much easier: the cross of Christ (Isa. 53), brings immediate forgiveness of sins, by living a life of repentant faith (Rom. 3-8). Paul agrees with Christ: “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10; cp. Matt. 22:37-40). But love is not the abolition of the law, as carnal and unstable people teach. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law” (Matt. 5:17). Abolish means to demolish or overthrow; fulfill means to fill up, perfect, or complete. Jesus was not anti-commandments; He was pro-commandments (and even more so; His teaching was so exacting and heart-searching, that anyone who follows them will obey God’s commandments just as they were originally intended.) And Paul, the once zealous Pharisee, when he came to understand the spiritual nature of Jesus’ teaching, was able to write, “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2, 4). Through faith in the cross, we receive the Holy Spirit, which gives us supernatural love, and supernatural obedience to God. Romans 5:5: “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love.”
John also carries on the theme of how love fulfills the moral law in the Christian life; and he goes so far to say, that if someone does not have this Spirit of commandment-keeping love in their life, then they are not saved. But first, John quotes Jesus as saying, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My Words” (John 14:21, 23-24, NKJV). This from the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” the “apostle of love,” as a close brother and friend of Christ, also later wrote, fending off a group of Gnostic antinomians, “We know that we have come to know Him (Jesus) if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him” (1 John 2:3-5). “Knowing God” is another Biblical expression for being saved; those who do not “know God” are spoken of as going to Hell: Christ “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). And John agrees with Paul, that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in a Christian, produces divine love for other people: “If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:12, 16).
Commandment-Keeping and Christian Contemplation:
Ways of Experiencing More of God’s Love
Dwelling in God and in His love is a continual spiritual discipline, no doubt cultivated by keeping God’s commandments; and also by silent prayer. Harald Lindström, the Wesley scholar, states that John Wesley believed contemplative prayer was a means by which to be filled with more of the love of the Holy Spirit: “If the eye of faith is steadily fixed on God’s love in Christ man is filled with ever greater love to God and man. Love to God can also be regarded as a direct result of the contemplation of God;” and quoting Wesley: “Now, if God should ever open the eyes of your understanding, must not the love of God be the immediate consequence? Do you imagine you can see God without loving Him?” I have had personal experience of this! I remember in 2006 I was on a mountain retreat with a Christian friend, and I stole away into the woods for solitude and prayer. I was fixing my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2), and I experienced a kind of inner vision, and I had a sudden flash of understanding come into my heart and mind:–that God loves all of the creatures that He has made, animate and inanimate—stars, dolphins, trees, animals, plants, men, women, and children…because He made them, He designed them, and He loves them. And this Spirit and revelation was in my understanding for some time; because the vision was amazing. I came out of prayer, and went to the Bible study session, only discover that the theme the retreat leaders had chosen was love! And do I try to keep God’s commandments? Ever since I got saved in 2000—Jesus has been my Lord first, and Savior second. Almost legalistically, I try to keep the law of Christ, reforming my old ways, and striving for purity of thought every single moment. There is no other way to see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Repentance from sin is a continual walk of faith, hope, and love; and I have no other view of how to be a Christian, but by exacting obedience to God in every Biblical way; yet sometimes, my focus gets off balance, I’ll get distracted, and I will focus on this or that thing in the Word, and forget that the main point of everything is to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).
Christian Love Offers Charity to All
It’s one thing to say you feel pure and holy, divine love for all people; it’s quite another to act on it and offer proof that it is there. “Charity” in the KJV is a fitting translation of the Greek word agape in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. If you were to look at all the uses of the word agape in the New Testament with Strong’s concordance, you would find it being used in the sense of an act of charity. Of course, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22); charity is a Spirit of Generosity; but it finds its expression in works of charity, charitable activities, or “mercy ministries,” such as feeding the hungry, showing hospitality to strangers, clothing the poor, visiting the sick, or those in prison (Matt. 25:35-36). Jesus illustrated agape in His parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This agape, this charitable love, this love of neighbor is profiled in positive and negative descriptions by Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Lindström summarizes Wesley’s understanding of the Spirit of Love: “It is a ‘universal, disinterested love,’ ‘a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind,’ ‘universal benevolence; tender good-will to all men.’ It is described as a ‘tender good-will to all the souls that God has made’ or as ‘benevolence to our fellow creatures’…a ‘real, disinterested benevolence to all mankind,’…he says that neighborly love is a ‘pure, disinterested good-will to every child of man.’”
But universal Christian charity is not the only meaning of agape in the New Testament. Although the word agape literally means “affection or benevolence; charity; charitable” (charitable love):–the word is also used in reference to church members loving one another as brothers and sisters. Those in pastoral ministry must see such a need for this! Backbiting, talebearing, and all kinds of divisive and malicious behavior occur among church members. But Christ and the apostles will not allow it! Jesus; and especially the apostles repeatedly tell the churches to “agape one another” (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:2; Col. 1:4; 1 Thess. 3:12; 1 John 4:11-12):–which implies it must require the Holy Spirit to show charitable love to such hard to love, oftentimes mean, unloving, unlovable people, who are, as Hugh Binning said, “worthy of hatred.” In a way, it’s a renewal of Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies (Matt. 5:44), but taking it further, to love them as brothers and sisters, self-sacrificially, and as Wesley said, “disinterested”: expecting no love in return. Showing them the same kind of love Christ did, when He willingly offered up His life on the cross, for the sins of the whole world: friends, enemies, and everyone.
Sweet fellowship of brotherly and sisterly love (more comparable to phileo) can be experienced between saints, but this is rare. This, it seems, when given its sanctifying parameters, is a mixture of agape and phileo (a holy brotherly or sisterly love between Christian friends—a love with godly interest and godly reciprocation; a love that gives as well as receives; and is more of a blessing than a cross). This is a heightened, and dare I say, rare form of godly love, rarely spoken of in the New Testament. But if the Christian will pursue self-sacrificing charity (agape) to those that do not love him, the Holy Spirit will come alongside, and help; enabling him to see and know that love which Christ had in Him when He offered Himself up on the cross. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). What an act of charity! To die on a cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath at us, so that all who repentantly believe, will be saved from eternal damnation! This is the sort of love (agape) that Christians are to demonstrate to all men, if they intend on imitating Christ; and being Christian disciples. Sure, it doesn’t literally mean dying for someone (although in some cases it might come to that):–but overall there is the concept of sacrificing yourself to show Christ’s charity to other people; as did the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
The Golden Rule, however, puts a simple parameter on the exercise of charity, lest those charitable Christians be taken advantage of, and allow themselves to be made into doormats, for abusive people to walk all over: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this is the sum of the Law and the Prophets”; and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 7:12; 22:39). Lindström said of Wesley, “In the exposition of the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself, self-love is regarded as an obvious pre-requisite”; and quoting Wesley, “We would that all men should love and esteem us, and behave towards us according to justice, mercy, and truth…let us walk by the same rule: let us do unto all as we would they should do to us. Let us love and honour all men.” This allows for some measure of self-protection from unjust, unmerciful, liars who would seek to take opportunity of a charitable Christian, and really cause him harm. If we are to love others as we love ourselves; then that means we should obviously, really in fact love ourselves (only not in an overly selfish, egotistic, or self-centered way).
Christian Love Is Not Carnal Tolerance
In my personal experience of being a member or participant in various Christian ministry groups, I have repeatedly come across the concept that Christian love is nothing more than a we-can-all-get-along kind of tolerance. Forgetting all the Biblical descriptions of love, such as fulfilling the moral law, or giving prominence to charitable activities, or loving all of God’s creatures, the word “love,” it seems to me has been very misused by modern-day Christians, and still is. I suspect that this counterfeit teaching on love is influenced both by pop psychology and hippie ethos, filtering down to us through the Baby Boomers and the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s. Thomas Harris’ I’m OK—You’re OK (1967) idea seems to have prevailed upon the liberal mainline as well as the evangelical churches. “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matt. 7:1), along with the understanding, that it is itself a sin to speak out or preach against sin, to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11). We are told by prominent Christian leaders that Jesus means for us to tolerate sin, not expose it; that being non-judgmental is the highest, most “loving” road to take; that love is basically defined, or understood to mean, over-simplistically, nothing more than accepting everyone just the way they are; showing off a kind, friendly demeanor (usually fake, with an empty naturally-based sentiment in the heart), regardless of harmful vices and sins that could be obviously crowding their lives, and bringing destruction and despair to them, their friends, family, and relatives. We are told to leave them in the darkness, in so many words; and “just as I am” to receive God’s forgiveness, I am also to remain just as I am, knowing I’ll always be forgiven automatically of whatever I do. Christ Jesus is no longer in the ethical transformation business. Jesus is a hippie; “Jesus is My Homeboy” as one recent sexually charged girls t-shirt came out years ago. There is no fear of God before their eyes. This is a carnal, antinomian form of Jesus, in fact “another Jesus,” of which many have no comparison to the real Jesus described in the Bible, because Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. People simply seem to assume that Jesus was a loving, non-judgmental, tolerant hippie, who offers easy forgiveness to everyone, and does not expect the smallest measure of repentance from personal sin.
I have had a concern about this ever since I got saved and tried to live by the Bible in 2000. And for the longest time, I’ve had nothing but the Bible and my personal experience to bolster my conviction against this false, sin-accommodating idea of love. As I learned theology, I eventually found some corroborating evidence among godly theologians, that this is a type of heresy called antinomianism (anti-law-ism), and although “love” is in this case the concept used to excuse obedience to God’s commandments, there are other forms of it as well. What peace it brought to my heart to know for sure that Christ is not a minster of sin; but that He has come to deliver us from its power over our lives! (Romans 8). Wesley agreed: love is not “a love of esteem or of complacence” (man-pleasing); “it does not mean latitudinarianism” (religious tolerance); love is not “an empty and vain sentimentality” (sentimental, natural favoritism without any spiritual depth). Love is not political correctness, or man-pleasing, just to get people to “like” you in a social manner; as churches are often seen as any other social club in the community. Paul wrote, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Man-pleasing is not the love of God; it is a self-centered, cowardly “seeker-friendly” approach to “not offending” people, so that you don’t “hurt their feelings”—and here’s the catch—even if your godly, mild, temperate rebuke could save their souls. It’s a humanist understanding of love, not Biblical, and not Christian. And often, this sort of “tolerant love” leads to the idolatry of interfaith activities with people of non-Christian religions. That is not the power of God unto salvation! They say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin,” but in practice they love the sin too, because they never take a stand against it, even in a proper, meek spirit. As for the Pharisees: “they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). J. I. Packer defines this kind of “love”-centered antinomianism:
Situationist antinomianism says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Ten Commandments and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at any time disregard. But Romans 13:8-10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.
Dr. Joel Beeke, a well-known Reformed theologian and Puritan scholar, active in today’s New Calvinist movement, says:
“Popular media often present love as feelings of attraction and pleasure, but such feelings rise and fall like mercury in a thermometer. We need love that is less like a thermometer and more like a thermostat—controlling our reactions rather than being controlled by them.
“Others speak of love as non-judgmental, unconditional acceptance, derived from the psychological concept of unconditional positive regard. But this overly-simplistic approach is confusing and leaves us powerless in the face of malice and evil. How do you unconditionally and non-judgmentally accept a terrorist or a serial killer?
“Love does not behave indecently (1 Cor. 13:5)…This statement disqualifies any antinomian view of love; love extends to God’s law (Ps. 119:97) and strives to fulfill it (Rom. 13:8-10).
“Love does not rejoice in injustice, but it rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). Love is jubilant whenever it encounters righteousness and faithfulness. Yet love grieves over news that someone has fallen into sin and paid a heavy price for it; thus, love does not regard such news as a tasty morsel for gossip. Such love does good, even to enemies.
“Verse 6 (1 Cor. 13:6) rebukes the idol of relativistic tolerance that often passes for love in our culture; sincere love includes hatred for evil (Rom. 12:9). The greatest display of God’s love was also the greatest demonstration of His righteousness, as His Son satisfied God’s justice by bearing the penalty for our sins (Rom. 3:25-26). So 1 Corinthians 13:6 corrects the popular Christian notion that love has nothing to do with feelings. Love has strong feelings against sin and for righteousness.”
Christian Love Is Not Universalism
When a tolerant “loving” antinomian Christian thinks about Hell, it does not usually produce good theological results. In this mentality, there is an aversion to the attributes of God’s holiness, justice, and omnipotence. God is no longer seen as a Judge, but only as a tender Father over all mankind: including “good” people in non-Christian religions. This results either in an allegorizing of the New Testament passages of Hell, fire, torment of the wicked, and/or a reevaluation of the doctrine of eternal punishment:–the Biblical teaching that the wicked will suffer in the fire of Hell for all eternity (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:11; 20:10, 15). As this doctrine naturally makes a tender-hearted Christian to cringe, we cannot ignore it, because it is Biblical revelation: it is the Word of God. Traditional Reformed Protestant theology has taught that God’s love was manifested in the cross of Christ, so that sins could be freely forgiven, and sinners reconciled to a holy God. The universalists, which are heretical Christians filtered throughout many denominations today, maintain that there is either no Hell, or that Hell is like Purgatory, where in the end God will talk all the damned out of their sinful addictions, and by His infinite compassion, and mercy, let them all into Heaven. This idea was expressed in Rob Bell’s Love Wins (2012). This begs the question, however, “Will Satan and his demons be saved by God’s infinite love too?” But the universalist squirms at such thoughts. And usually retracts by attacking the traditional Biblical view of God as a Judge and as an avenger of the righteous, who are the only true children of the Father.
A Summary of Christian Love (Agape)
I have not surveyed the entire Bible on love. Maybe I will do that one day in the future. But in this article, I have attempted to provide a Biblical, Wesleyan, and somewhat Puritan view of the Christian’s love that he should have towards his neighbor, as it is taught in the New Testament. I have focused on the New Testament Greek word agape as the normative concept for love in the Christian life. We have found that agape is morally righteous, it keeps God’s commandments; and is a supernaturally given fruit of the Holy Spirit, received by repentant faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Further, New Testament love is a charity-love or charitable love that reaches out with arms of divine generosity to all of mankind, to all of the creatures that God has made. Although this love is universal or all-encompassing in its outreach, with regard to death and the afterlife, it does not embrace universalism (or the idea that God’s love will save damned people out of Hell).
Listen to Martin Luther. To be without agape in our lives is a horrible curse:
“We have seen what abominations ensue where love is lacking; such individuals are proud, envious, puffed up, impatient, unstable, false, venomous, suspicious, malicious, disdainful, bitter, disinclined to service, distrustful, selfish, ambitious, and haughty.”
I pray that the love of God would be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost!
I pray that we would dwell in God; and dwell in love!
I pray that we would always seek to be law-abiding and pure!
I pray that we would be the body of Christ; and His hands of charity in this world!
 Harald Lindström, Wesley and Sanctification (Nappanee, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 1980), p. 188.
 Harald Lindström, Wesley and Sanctification, p. 191.
 Hugh Binning, A Treatise of Christian Love, ch. 3.
 Harald Lindström, Wesley and Sanctification, p. 195-196.
 Harald Lindström, Wesley and Sanctification, pp. 191, 194.
 Kenneth J. Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 123.
 J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), pp. 179-180.
 Unconditional positive regard, or “unconditional love,” was popularized in the psychiatric community by humanist Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person (1961). Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as having said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” Dec. 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway. Thomas Harris’ I’m OK—You’re OK (1967) popularized non-judgmentalism among the hippies. “Positive” and “negative” dichotomy. Clearly tolerant non-judgmental love is a 60s pop psychology concept.
 Joel Beeke, “Love’s Attributes” from http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/loves-attributes/
 J. I. Packer in Hell Under Fire, eds. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 189-194.
 Martin Luther, “A Sermon on Christian Love” (an exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).