I recently did a podcast about love and tyranny. In that podcast, I talked about how love is being used as a cloak for tyranny. I focused on how some Christians are employing the argument that if you won’t wear a COVID mask, then you are not loving your neighbor. This kind of reasoning has been employed very frequently over the years. I have witnessed it from certain abortion groups who claim that unless a person is at the abortion clinic with sign in hand, they are not loving their neighbor. This tactic is used today by many liberal protestants and some evangelicals and even some in my own church to justify political ideologies that are overtly contrary to sound Christian principles. Any misuse of Scripture to manipulate the behavior of brothers and sisters in Christ is highly unethical and by any measure of Biblical standards falls into the category of wicked behavior.
The charge that a brother does not love his neighbor is as serious as any charge against a professing Christian could be. This is because it calls his faith into question and hence, his claim to Christ. You see, the Scriptures are clear that a person cannot love God if he does not love his neighbor. When someone claims that a certain person does not love his neighbor, they are, at the same time claiming that that person does not love God. And with that claim, they are calling into question the very integrity of that person’s faith. Hence, my claim that it is a serious charge to claim that a person does not love his neighbor. Don’t be wrong about that claim. This applies to the individual as well as the sweeping generalization that “all those who refuse to do x” are guilty of not loving their neighbor.
This raises the question, what does it mean to love one’s neighbor? Loving one’s neighbor can mean different things to different people. In some cases, it is going to depend on your responsibilities to that neighbor. In a broad sense, a Christian who loves his neighbor shares the gospel with his neighbor. If he sees his neighbor in need and can meet that need, he will do so. He will not see his neighbor in need and withhold his resources. Of course, the need must be valid. Christians are not called to be Pez dispensers to those who live irresponsibly and then come to the community of faith with an open hand. Believe it or not, there are people who will gamble away their food money every week and then come to the church for free groceries. This is not loving your neighbor. It is enabling wickedness. There is a difference.
Now, on to the main thrust of this post. What does it look like for Christians and Pastors to love their neighbor in August of 2020? What does godly love look like in our culture? What does it look like for Christians to love their neighbor?
The second greatest commandment follows from the first commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matt. 22:37) It is impossible to love one’s neighbor as God defines love unless one first and foremost loves God with their entire being. Loving God means loving with your entire being. This means loving God in how you think, in the truth you affirm, in your speech, in your behavior, in everything you do. In other words, you cannot love God and not love God’s truth. You cannot reject God’s revelation in any part or any way and love God. We know that we love God because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (1 John 2:4-6)
Loving one’s neighbor and one’s brother begins with loving God. And loving God begins with taking God’s Word seriously. And that means embracing Scripture and the principles necessarily derived from Scripture. Now, loving God entails that we love the body of Christ. I use the word entails in its most technical sense. Now, pastors and elders, this is where you begin to come into view. Are you really teaching your congregation how to love God and neighbor? And for that matter, are you teaching your people to love the body of believers in which they find themselves? This is a question every elder should ask himself. Here is another question for elders: how do you measure whether your performance in this respect? Yes, this raises the question of standard. What is the standard by which you measure your performance? And by performance, I mean your execution of those duties and behaviors that are REQUIRED of you as an elder. Are you performing your duties as they are revealed to you in Scripture? They are clear. They are direct. They are non-negotiable.
Elders, it is far too easy to pass over the big issues and focus on little things. It is easy to convince people that donating some $$ or time to the food pantry or an abortion walk or to the food bank meets the requirements of loving your neighbor. Some elders take a more stringent path and employ guilt, convincing Christians that they must tithe or they shouldn’t touch alcohol, or to foster or adopt children, and a variety of other behaviors they should engage in in order to meet the requirements necessary for loving one’s neighbor. What is bizarre to me is that the pastors in churches that engage in these practices lead churches that are, in many cases, without the basic structure outlined in Scripture for what a church should be: elder governed. It’s okay to ignore that aspect of Scripture, but not okay to ignore these others. Is it any wonder that these pastors can only influence people to make only the slightest and most inconvenient changes in their Christian walk? Pastor, if your leadership exemplifies doing only the easy work of leading, why think that your people will not mimic your behavior? You aren’t doing the hard work, saying the hard things, engaging in the hard actions that God requires of you. Why should your people be any different? I digress.
When MLK 50 came along, many pastors couldn’t go one single service without mentioning racism. They pulled their teams together and agreed to mention it in every sermon, in Sunday school classes, on Wednesday, in podcasts, you name it. Racism was the new big thing. Pastors wanted to be seen by the world as saying just the right things about racism which has been prioritized to the top of the list. Churches instantly started to look like corporate human resources departments. I know. I work in human resources. Pastors started focusing on diversity in the exact same way that pagans focus about diversity. Christians were initially told that loving their neighbor not only precluded racist behavior, but now the concept of loving your neighbor meant accepting the narrative of systemic racism and fighting openly, publicly, and in the voting booth in a way that sought not just the complete abolishment of racism thinking but equality of outcome for all people. Unless you take up this mantle, you are not loving your neighbor. This is textbook manipulation. But that hasn’t stopped the overwhelming majority of pastors and churches from fully supporting and engaging in this behavior.
Can you love your neighbor and reject church discipline? In Matt. 18:15-20, Jesus gave clear instructions on what it means to love your Christian neighbor. Loving your neighbor and loving the body of Christ entails confronting sin in the individual and by extension, the body of Christ. This kind of love is a great example of what rudimentary Christian love looks like. Pastor, if you cannot carry out Jesus’ command to love your neighbor and the community in this way, why should anyone take you seriously when you talk about other examples of loving behavior?
Loving the body of Christ means ensuring that the leadership structure and practices of the body reflect the structure and practices revealed in Scripture. How many churches have abandoned elder rule? How many know that elder rule is biblical but are too timid or afraid to actually do what they already know is the right thing? In many cases, some churches mirror a corporation with the “Senior” pastor being the CEO. He sets the agenda, decides the priorities, even is the final decision maker on adding staff. Many of these pastors will admit that this model is not consistent with Scripture but for the sake of practice contend that it is better not to rock the boat. Again, these leaders seem oblivious to the fact that it is unloving to the body to withhold God’s design for the body. In structuring the body according to their own whims, they deny not just God’s design for the body, but the benefits that God’s design is intended to afford the body.
Can you love your neighbor and not equip your church? What does Paul say about this? “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28) The more I see pastors increase the non-essentials so-called, the more I see hatred for the body of Christ, not love. In Scripture, love is not “feeling” a certain way toward someone. It’s actually taking action. God is said to love Jacob because he chose him and hate Esau because he did NOT choose him. Loving your neighbor is more than just being nice as modern Americans define ‘nice’.
Being nice can be an act of hatred in the Bible. ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. (Rev. 2:20) Being nice to people who are in sin, in error, or in outright heresy is not loving your neighbor. You see, many cultures, like American culture, define being nice as being tolerant, affirming others, accepting others’ views without critical examination. Many pastors have strings in their backs that are either attached to the $$ influencers or the elites or even pagan culture. These pastors act to be seen by the $$, by the elites, by the culture, or by all three. What we need are pastors to act as if God is watching…because…He is.
Some pastors are unnerved by watching members disagree with one another on issues like the ones facing us today. For example, if you have members in your church who believe that one can embrace Christian ideology while at the same time supporting the democratic platform, you have basic problem on your hand. That problem is yours to address. And you have a duty to address it. But what can we expect when most churches have abandoned church discipline completely? Confrontation is the opposite of affirmation. The sin nature inherently requires continual confrontation. This is one of the essential functions of the body of Christ. When a pastor implies that confrontation is mean, unkind, and unloving, he is unwittingly diminishing and belittling one of the essential functions of the body.
Elders, the church needs you to take your job seriously. She needs less arrogance and more humility. How can you talk about humility when you knowingly employ a model of church structure that is inconsistent with Scripture?
Elders, the church needs you to love her enough to protect her purity. Love her members enough to subject them to the sort of accountability and discipline Jesus demands. Remember, the church is purchased with Christ’s own blood, not your ingenuity. Scrutinize those who want to enter the community instead of checking the box. Openly remove the obstinate. Not doing these two things is NOT an option for you. You do not have the luxury or the authority to alter God’s blueprint.
Elders, the church needs you to stand up against the culture, not mimic to it. Don’t obsess over how the $$ in your church views you or the SBC or PCA elites or the seminary presidents. Thinking about your legacy? You had better think about what God’s legacy of you will be. Stop softening up views on abortion, homosexuality and gender dysphoria. These acts are wicked top to bottom. It is unloving to soften God’s description of them. Call sin what God calls it.
Elders, force people to connect the dots. You aren’t really helping people when you handle the Word of God in such a way that it threatens almost no one or when the threat is so small it barely surpasses that of a mediocre self-help speaker. You aren’t helping anyone when everyone can say amen and leave thinking that you are affirming them in their beliefs and their behavior when those beliefs are contradictory. Your basic duty is to preach and teach in such a way that it transforms people. You don’t help Arminians abandon the errors in that system by avoiding helping people connect the dots of sovereignty and responsibility. You don’t help racists by not spelling out true racist behavior and thinking. You don’t help black people by not addressing ungodly generalizations about LEOs. You don’t help anyone in your church when people are burning the country down right in front of you and your church and you say NOTHING about it. That isn’t leadership. That is cowardice.
Elders, stop walking in the fear of man and start walking in the fear of God. Shepherd the flock of God among you. Exercise supervision willingly according to God’s will with eagerness not like a worldly supervisor but by being an example to the flock. For wolves will enter from among the flock and their mission will be to destroy the flock of God. Good shepherds don’t shoot the watchdogs who are there to HELP protect the flock. How many pastors and elders are busy shooting watchdogs because the sheep are complaining about the nibbling they do to keep them safe? Good shepherds appreciate the watchdogs. They don’t shoot them.
What are you doing, pastor? Are you trying to keep the peace, eliminate confrontation, eradicate discomfort? Or, are you working within the body for its spiritual growth, its sanctification? Spiritual growth requires discomfort. Transformation and change is very uncomfortable. If you are afraid of making people uncomfortable, worried about creating tension in others, that is a good sign that you are not ready to serve as an elder.