“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10 ESV
This little tidbit from Paul’s letter to the Romans packs so much into it. God gave Moses 10 commandments, and law followed after law until there were over 600 different laws for the people to follow. Jesus summarized everything in two statements: love God and love your neighbor.
Paul echoes those words of Jesus in Romans when he says” love is the fulfilling of the law” and equating love with doing no wrong to a neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31)
As I read Romans 13:10 this morning, I think about our Christian tendency to preach to the world about sin, a world that does not know God and has not accepted Him. I have heard Christians use the excuse that they are standing up for truth because Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Paul told the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) Only Paul was writing to the believers in Ephesus, and he was talking about quipping the believers in the church in ministry and building up the body of Christ.
This is significant because, when we think of truth, judgment is not standing far off. Paul is talking to the church in his letters and instructing believers. Paul says, “What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) (The context is a man in the church who was acting immorally.)
The audience of Paul’s statement about speaking the truth in love seems significant this morning as I am thinking about all the times I have seen Christians blast their neighbors with “truth” on social media with not a lot of love. Social media isn’t like a sniper rifle; it’s like a shotgun. Anyone in front of the blast feels the sting – believers and non-believers alike.
Of course, what of the unbelievers who potentially face judgment for denying God? Do we have a heart for them? Do we care enough to get to know them and establish a relationship with them? When we speak the truth to them, are we speaking in love?
It seems to me that we often emphasize truth over love, and the result is that we tend to speak only the truth. We might as well not say anything at all. I’m afraid we often do more damage than good when we do that.
Perhaps the greatest description of love ever given is in 1st Corinthians 13:
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 [to death], 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 [keeps no records of wrongs]; 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.
Paul put faith and hope up near the same level as love, but the greatest is love. Significantly, truth isn’t even near the same level as love in Paul’s short list.
Love rejoices with the truth, but love doesn’t bear truth like a weapon or even a shield. Truth must be subservient to love.
Truth obviously matters, a lot, but it just doesn’t matter as much as love. It seems to me that we need to reorganize our priorities as Christians and make sure we always have love at the very top. We need to lead with love.
Peter says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) I don’t believe Peter is necessarily talking about all sins here, but the ones we commit against each other that rub each other the wrong way. That is because love only thrives in relationship, but sin is always lurking to break down relationships and destroy them – if we let it.
While Peter is also talking to believers here, the principle is the same with the unbelieving world. If we lead with truth, rather than love, we never establish the relationship that is necessary for the truth to take root. Jesus was accused of socializing with sinners because Jesus was leading with love. He was establishing relationship.
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, she was impressed that Jesus “told me everything I ever did”. (John 4:39) That is because Jesus got to know her. Jesus cared enough to know her. It was from a position of intimacy and genuine care for her that Jesus gently told her the truth.
It’s much easier to speak the truth than it is to love. Love requires something of ourselves. It requires self-denial. It requires self-sacrifice. It requires relationship.
One of the subtle points in the example Jesus gave us about removing the log from our own eye, first, before trying to remove the speck from your brother’s eye is that you must be very close to another person to be able to remove a speck from someone’s eye. Not only must you remove yourself from the equation and the blindness to your own sin, you must be very intimate with another person to get close enough to be able to remove a speck from a person’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-6) This requires relationship.
Notice that Jesus builds relationship into the story be identifying the other person with the speck as “you brother”. You can’t remove specks from the eyes of strangers. Only in relationship can we help our brother to remove a speck from his eye. It seems obvious that we shouldn’t even try it outside of love and relationship.
As I read the verse in Romans today and think about these things, I am thinking about how social media is a platform where we live out the Christian life as a city set on a hill for the world to see – whether we are conscious of it or not. When we put something on social media, we are putting it out there for the world to see. We most often seem to want to stake out the truth on that hill and die on our sword, instead of leading with love and developing relationship.
Love is patient, Love is kind. Love wants the best for someone. Love is intimate. Love sacrifices itself. Love isn’t afraid to get dirty. Love pulls people in; it doesn’t push people away.
I’m afraid that truth without love often pushes people away. Instead pulling someone up on to safe ground, truth without love pushes people off the ledge.