Are We Supposed to Balance Love and Truth?
Often people say, “Yes we must love. But we must balance love with truth.” “Love has its place, but we must not forget God’s wrath.” “Love must never take the place of correct biblical doctrine.”
Two points need to be made.
First, if we take seriously the biblical teaching that the love command is the greatest command, that we must put it above all other considerations, that we must clothe ourselves with and even live in love, then there can be no thought of balancing love with any other concern. Nothing can qualify a command that is “above all” other commands. (Col 3:14). If the command is to love everyone as Christ loves us, there is simply no situation in which the command does not apply.
Because the command to love is the central biblical doctrine, it is the only one we can, and must, hold in an “unbalanced” way. Put differently, the only way to be “balanced” in our understanding and practice of love is to see all other commands as aspects of it, not competitors alongside of it.
We have to wonder where anyone got the idea that love in any way competes with truth, holiness, or biblical doctrine. Love is the central biblical truth; it is the essence of all holiness; it is the most important biblical doctrine. Every truth, every deed, every teaching is reduced to nothing more than religious noise when it isn’t placed under and clothed in the commandment to love.
Second, any attempt to qualify God’s love with another attribute—God’s wrath, for example—amounts to a fundamental denial of the centrality of the revelation of God in Christ. For Christ reveals God’s holiness and wrath against sin precisely as he reveals God’s love for sinners. Indeed God’s holiness and wrath are what God’s love looks like against sin.
Love defines every aspect of the Christian’s life, for love ultimately defines every aspect of God’s life. Indeed, we may more specifically say that as Christ defines every aspect of the Christian’s life—for Christ is the definitive revelation of God’s love—so Christ defines every aspect of God’s life. All the attributes of God are to be defined by Christ. In the crucified Messiah we see God’s just and holy wrath against sin, but we see it as a manifestation of God’s love. Out of love for sinners, Christ bore our sin and suffered the wrath of God’s punishment on the cross. All that God is, dwelt in Christ (Col 2:9). Everything God does, even his expressions of holy wrath, are done out of love.
We are only balanced in our understanding of love when we understand that it is the one thing we must live in—to all people, at all times, in all situations, without exception. If we do this, everything else we need to do will get done. If we don’t do this, there’s simply nothing else worth doing.
How much harm has been done to the church and to the cause of Jesus Christ because Christians have placed other considerations alongside or above the command to love as God loves? In the name of truth, Christians in the past have sometimes destroyed people, even physically torturing and murdering them. In the name of holiness, Christians have often pushed away and shamed those who don’t meet their standard, creating their own little holiness club to which struggling sinners need not apply. And in the name of correct biblical doctrine, Christians have frequently destroyed the unity of the body of Christ, refusing to minister or worship together because of doctrinal differences, sometimes viciously attacking those who disagree with them.
The unsurpassable worth of the person who doesn’t share our truth, doesn’t meet our definition of holiness, or doesn’t agree with our “correct biblical doctrine” has all too often been neglected or denied. Which means that in such cases the truth, holiness, or correct doctrine we defended was altogether worthless: clashing cymbals, resounding gongs, religious noise, nothing more. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
—Adapted from Repenting of Religion pages 57-60.