Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Love vs. Morals?

I walked into a Starbucks recently...no, you Toby? You went to Starbucks? I'm soooo surprised. Okay, okay...enough sarcasm. Well, as I was walking in, this is what I heard, "I don't know why pastors preach morals...why don't they just preach love?" It was a conversation between two of the employees about church, and I just came in on the tail end of it. So, admittedly, I may have missed some great qualifier and am misunderstanding the statement. However, this seems to be a good reflection of many people's views about preaching. Why preach morals? Why not just preach love? Moral demands and love seem to be in opposition to one another, so why not just focus on the more positive one...love? This is the question that I want to consider today.

Well, I suppose the first, and most obvious, answer to this question as to why pastors should preach morals is found in 2 Timothy 4:2 - "Preach the Word." The call of a pastor is to preach God's Word, not just to stand up each week and find new and compelling ways to say, "God loves you, God has a plan for you, God wants a relationship with you...here are the ABC's of salvation, now you respond." The truth is...moral instruction is part of God's Word to the world. To those of us who believe in Christ, it is that word by which we must live and be corrected when we wander from the Lord. To those who do not believe, it is that word by which you are convicted and shown just how far short of God's glory we have fallen. Either way, part of God's message of redemption is in the moral teachings of the Bible. Why are moral teachings part of God's message of redemption? Because He longs for all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), and in coming to this knowledge, we must see our desperate sinfulness and need of God. Upon believing, we express love for God as we keep His commandments...His moral teachings (1 John 5:3).

Now, let's look at an example of the necessity to preach all things in the Bible. In speaking to the elders from the church at Ephesus (Acts 20), Paul gives us insight into his ministry of the Word. He says, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house...I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (v. 20, 27). Paul gave them the whole counsel of God, which undoubtedly included standards of morality and the reality of sin. He did the same with the Romans in his letter to those believers. You see, preachers would be doing an incomplete job if they were not to instruct believers to act as believers. In doing so, the unbelievers who hear this preaching will recognize that they are incapable of doing and being all that God requires, which points them to the cross and to Christ. So, pastors should preach morals because it is part of the Word of God, and we are to preach the Word.

Now, what about those who would disregard the Bible or pick and choose parts of the Bible to accept and reject, like my friend who made the statement? Well, we must go to a more philosophical line of reasoning. We must think about the nature of love and morals and see if there is, in fact, any opposition between the two. My assertion is that there is no opposition, but that both work in concert with one another. In other words, love demands boundaries. Let's look at an example to show this. We all know that the best of marriages are those that are rooted in a lifelong, committed love for one another. This love carries husband and wife through thick and thin, highs and lows, sickness and health, richer and poorer, and all the other things we may have recited in our vows.

We are awed and moved by hearing of couples celebrating 30, 40, 50, 60, or 75 years of marriage together...seeing them holding hands, hearing him call her sweetheart, etc. But what made the marriage last so long and made the love grow so deep? Was it just the sentiment? Was it just roses and cards and surprise trips and such? I don't think so. These are all wonderful things, but they don't make for a lasting marriage...they add to it. If I had a guess, it is this kind of sentimental love of God and love for God that my friend at Starbucks would have pastors focus on.

However, upon a closer examination of love, and the giving of a few extreme situations, we may see things more clearly. Let's say that a man brings flowers home weekly to his wife, writes her poetry and love letters, and surprises her with jewelry and vacations. What a man! Right? Well, let's say this man does these things because he likes to solicit prostitutes, is having an affair with his secretary, and is hooked on pornography. He does these other things out of guilt because he knows that his wife knows. Is this guy still loving her like you thought he was 2 sentences ago?

Let's say he does all these sentimental things after he goes out, gets completely drunk, and comes home to beat his wife to a pulp. Is he loving because of the sentiment? I think you're getting the point. Real love...the kind that moves our hearts and souls...is love that comes with boundaries. It is love that keeps a husband faithful to his wife...it is love that drives him to learn how to communicate when angry instead of flying into fits of rage...it is love that gives that woman security.

So, you could say that love brings with it boundaries, and that real love stays within the boundaries. Now, let's go back to the statement my friend made. I believe that he's on to something if all he's ever heard from a preacher is "do this", "don't do this", etc., without any mention of the love of God. This trap of legalistc preaching is one we preachers must avoid with great tenacity. The goal of preaching is not to have a room full of people living moral, good lives but, instead, to have people who are redeemed by Christ, having seen their need for Him and His glorious work on the cross.

How do love and boundaries come together in the message of the Bible? First and foremost, the love of God was demonstrated in the cross (Rom. 5:8), and the boundary is this...there is only one means by which a man or woman may enjoy the love of God - through Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). Secondly, our love for Jesus Christ and what He has done for us is not simply emotional and sentimental...it moves us to stay within the moral boundaries God has established (John 15:13). Just as love and boundaries are intimately connected in marriage, they are intimately connected in the Scripture.

So, we must teach biblical, moral standards, but we must not neglect God's love and grace. It is by grace that we were saved, it is by grace that we grow in Christ, and it is by grace that we keep any commands at all. If we neglect this, we will be encouraging people to pull up their religious boot straps and do better. Lord, keep us from this heresy of works sanctification. Preach morals, preach love, and preach dependence on God's grace for it all.