Have you ever dealt with a person who was right about what they believed, yet they seemed angry, even hostile to the world? Some people post messages online that are morally right, but their attitudes are such a turn off, they do not win anyone over to their viewpoints. Can you be a Christian and act like that? Should supposed-to-be loving people start hateful arguments? The church in Ephesus will help us understand.
Paul said, “I was so amazed by your love for each other that it caused me to keep breaking forth in thanks to God for you” (Ephesians 1:15). Later, however, Jesus spoke to this same church, saying, “I have this against you: you left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Whatever loving character they had at the beginning, they lost over the next few decades. I want to know why because I do not want that to happen to me.
How lovelessness can develop
Paul, the one who noted how loving these people were, warned them before he left them that trouble would come to their congregation. People would come in and try to devour the flock from outside and troublemakers would come up among them as well (Acts 20:29-30). False doctrine creates a lot of stress. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus for a while to help stop the false teachings they were dealing with in the church. Later, John wrote to warn the church about false apostles bringing in deceptive doctrines. See the trend? After a while of this, they began to distrust people. You can imagine them becoming wary of anyone and everyone.
People who have been hurt often harden to others in self-defense. It is easier to not be hurt by others if they cannot get to you. Perhaps you have been hurt by others. Do you find yourself becoming insensitive to them? Do you distrust others like them? This is how prejudices grow. This is how people go to the same church and do not even know each other’s carpet color or phone numbers. We become emotional zombies, sitting on the same pews, praising the same Lord, but not risking vulnerability to each other.
First defense against lovelessness
Stay vulnerable. It does not matter how many people you meet who want to argue their narrow views on religious topics, keep loving. Don’t let your difference of opinion with someone keep you from helping them when they are in need. Care and care passionately for those who have turned on you. You cannot claim to love someone if you do not help them with their needs when you have the ability to do so (I John 3:17-18). Love is not emotion; it is caring for others—their feelings, needs, and salvation.
What about those in false doctrine? If people have turned from the truth about Jesus Christ to believing in a false Christ or none at all, you have to stay away from them (II John 1:10-11). How do you still love these people you cannot even say “God bless you” to anymore? By prayer.
Love prays for others
Do you pray for the people in your church? We need to carry each other in prayer to the Lord each day. Rather than making a ritual of it by saying, “Jesus bless Betsy, Jesus bless Trent, Jesus bless Henry,” we should pray specific and meaningful prayers. Paul gives us an example of this in his letter to Ephesus in the way he prayed for those believers. In Ephesian 1:17-19, he prayed that they would grow in wisdom and knowledge of God. He prayed their eyes would be opened to understand the hope of being called in Christ and true wealth of being one set apart unto Him. He prayed they would know the power of the all-powerful God. Pray this for your enemies. Pray this for backsliders. Pray like this for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Love is how miracles begin
If you want to see God do miracles in your life, love. Before Jesus worked a miracle, He was moved with compassion for the sick person. Do you love people? If not, you are probably not winning many to the Lord. Love is the power cord God uses for salvation and miracles.
A lack of love destroys instead of heals. When you find yourself telling many people “You ought to be like this…” and “You need to do this…” you are probably pretty empty in your love tank. You have probably gone from caring about people to caring about the issues too much. Do you get so upset about things that you destroy friendships and insult loved ones if something gets damaged? Then you are in grave danger. The continual urge to “clean someone’s whistle” often indicates a person has quit caring about others.
Jesus did not just scold the Ephesus church about losing the love they had for one another at the beginning. He told them “If you do not turn from your ways, I will not accept you as my church any longer” (Revelation 2:5).
Should we just be love love love?
No. Jesus doesn’t love everything. He applauded the Ephesians for their hatefulness. He said they hated like He hated. What did they hate? Sin. They hated the sinful behavior of a certain group of people among them; Jesus said He hated that, too (Revelation 2:6). Loving people should also be hateful—not toward people, but toward sin.
Some people claim they just love everybody and do not care what these people do. That is not love; that is evidence of a weak sense of self-worth and a desire to be accepted by everybody. It takes strength to love others who are less than lovely. It takes strength to hate the actions of people you care for deeply. While we do not act hatefully toward those living in sin, we loving explain why we have to part company over these issues. It is a matter of tough love and caring about God more than just about people. This is where we must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Is love a “heaven or hell issue?
You will not see God if you do not lovingly pursue peace with others (Hebrews 12:14). If you do not love, all the right doctrine in the world will not get you to heaven. I believe strongly in right doctrine, but that belief cannot eclipse the importance of strong love. I have got to care about people as well as caring about the true identity of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Gracious, gentle people are willingly vulnerable to being hurt again. You cannot protect yourself from hurt. We are the wounded healing the wounded. We love with the love God gives us, that’s why it endures forever. Is Jesus hateful? Yes, toward sin. Is He loving? Yes, toward everyone who will accept Him in truth. Let’s be what He is.