If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV)
Love is kind, selfless, forgiving, and compassionate. This is easy for anyone to understand. If someone needs help, you help him. If someone is hurt, you make him feel better. If someone is rude, you respond with politeness. If someone is angry, you speak kindly to him. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is childishly simple, so why do we still disagree so vehemently about what it means to love someone?
- You want your neighbors to be considerate to you, so be considerate to your neighbors.
- You want people to let you merge on the freeway, so you let others merge.
- You want ice cream and chocolate for supper, so give your children ice cream and chocolate for supper.
- You want to be able to pour your used motor oil down the storm drain, so smile when your neighbors pour their used antifreeze down the drain.
- You want to wipe your boogers on the handrails, so shake his hand when your coworker does the same.
- You want to be able to marry the person you love, so let the sex offender down the block marry the person he loves too.
What could be simpler than “Love your neighbor as yourself?”
Sarcasm, maybe. That might be simpler sometimes.
Go back and read 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter”, again. Do you see the one, glaring element that modern America’s idea of love seems to have forgotten? Let me lay it out for you:
Love does not rejoice in sin, but rejoices in the truth.
In other words, love doesn’t tolerate open and deliberate sin. It doesn’t celebrate it and threaten to boycott, fire, and even kill people who call sin “sin” and refuse to participate in it. Instead, it rebukes sin and corrects errors. (Not Westboro Baptist correction, but correction that incorporates all the rest of love too. “God hates fags!” is probably not an appropriate response to the two gay guys who use the same grocery store, but neither is offering to cater their wedding. )
Unlike the sarcastic list above, these things are true love:
- Feeding a child vegetables for supper even when he wants ice cream.
- Stopping your neighbor from dumping used motor oil or antifreeze down the drain.
- Closing your offices on the Sabbath.
- Executing murderers.
- Politely, but firmly correcting people who are inconsiderate, unsafe, or indecent in public spaces.
In short, “Love your neighbor” doesn’t mean “Congratulate your neighbor for every rude, obscene, or perverse thing he feels like doing.” It means speaking the truth and defending public morality.
That doesn’t mean you are free to force everyone to do the right thing in every circumstance. Nobody can even agree on what the right thing is all the time; how can we enforce what we can’t even define? Here’s a good rule of thumb for deciding what should and shouldn’t be outlawed, tolerated, allowed, or approved:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
Does God say we should punish one behavior and tolerate another? Great! Let’s do that. I’m not saying that making Torah the law of the land will solve all our problems. For one thing, we have hundreds of sects and denominations fighting over what various commandments mean, but those who are committed to keeping God’s Law will all agree on 90% of it. Those who look for reasons to ignore this or that commandment are as reliable and uniform as a stormy sea.
If you don’t believe in the God of the Bible at all, then I’m not writing to you now. Perhaps I’ll address the pragmatic arguments for a biblical morality some other time. Until then, I’m only writing for those who claim to believe in God and His word, which says
- God loves those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 5:10, Deuteronomy 7:9, Deuteronomy 11:22-23, Deuteronomy 30:16, Nehemiah 1:5, Nehemiah 13:22, Psalm 25:10, Proverbs 11:20, Daniel 9:4, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Revelation 3:12)
- If you love God, you will keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 11:1, Deuteronomy 11:22-23, Deuteronomy 19:9, Deuteronomy 30:16, Joshua 22:5, Daniel 9:4, John 14:15, John 14:24, 1 John 5:2-3, 2 John 1:6)
- If you love your neighbor, you will keep God’s commandments. (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 26:13, Romans 13:8-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, 1 John 4:20-21)
On the other hand, if you hate God and if you hate your neighbor, then by all means, do as you please. There’s a place for you in God’s plan too. (Matthew 22:13)
America can only have a shifting, devolving morality until someone stronger and steadier kicks us off the hill or we repent and turn back to God and His commandments. We’d better make our choice soon. God has only allowed us to continue this far so that there will be no mistaking why we were judged. I don’t believe it’s too late quite yet, but our repentance must be complete and it must be now.