MESSAGE FOR JULY 2, 2000 FROM ROMANS 12:9
This week, we continue to work through the 12th chapter of Romans. We know that in chapter twelve, Paul begins a new section of this glorious letter devoted to showing forth the glory of the gospel. The element of the gospel Paul addresses in chapters 12 through the middle of chapter 15 is the fruit of the gospel we see in the transformed lives of those who have truly received the Christ of the gospel. We saw in verses one and two that this transformation brings about a life that is wholly committed to God, a living sacrifice. We saw that this transformation occurs through the renewing of our minds by the truth of God. As we looked at verses 3-8 of chapter 12, we noticed that Paul applies this truth about the transformational effect of the gospel, to the area of living in Christian community. We noted that the fact that Paul places this issue first in this section indicates that he, like Jesus before him, places a tremendous amount of importance on how we relate to each other in Christ.
We noted this kind of profound bond we are to have with one another is seldom if ever seen in any consistent way in the North American church. We have privatized our Christianity in such a way that we are, in this respect, barely recognizable as a people whose community life has been transformed by the gospel. Yet, we saw from verses 3-8 that this close community is a distinguishing mark of those who are wholly committed to Christ. If we are not working toward living in close community, we are showing that we are not wholly committed to Christ. We must repent of this sin and move on with Christ in this crucial area of Christian living.
This week, we turn to verse nine. For reasons that will become clear, I want to treat only the first part of verse nine. Paul writes, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Here, Paul continues this section devoted to some of the community expressions of a transformed life and he turns to love. The great Christian virtue is love according to Paul. He says in First Corinthians 13 that love, more than faith and hope, is “…the greatest.” He tells us in chapter 13 or Romans that, “…love is the fulfillment of the law.” Jesus says, to love God and love your neighbors with all your being is to live out all the law and the prophets. Clearly, the cardinal virtue of the Christian, the most powerful expression of a transformed life and a renewed mind is love. On a purely human level, the final goal of our transformation is love.
That much about Christianity should be acknowledged by just about everyone. The challenge within the church is to make sure that when we think of love, we are understanding love as it is taught in the Bible. If the goal of our transformation is true, biblical love, and this transformation is accomplished as our minds are renewed, then it is crucial for our minds to be filled with a biblical understanding of love. Anything other than a biblical concept of love will do nothing to renew our minds in this area. If our minds are saturated with a worldly understanding of love, then we will be conformed to the world in this area, not transformed to Christ’s image by the truth.
The world equates love with things like sex, sentimentalism, favoritism, highly selective open-mindedness and a warped understanding of “tolerance.” If we think the world and it’s self-centered understanding of love has not deeply influenced the church, we are greatly mistaken. I know of an evangelical pastor who was confronted with a church leader who was in flagrant sexual sin. He was told by one prominent member that the way to deal with this person was to just “love them” which meant in their parlance, to not confront them about their sin. This was a “loving” response to this person from an evangelical.
Paul’s treatment of love here is a badly needed corrective to this and other errant views of love within the community. We could state Paul’s major thought this way in light of the larger context. Love that is the true expression of a transformed life must be rooted in truth. Only truth-renewed minds can consistently manifest biblical love. What characterizes a true or biblical expression of love? The answer to that is manifold, but in this text, Paul shows us two facets of a biblical love that is rooted in truth. First, Biblical love is without hypocrisy. The NIV translates Paul’s words, “Love must be sincere.” That doesn’t completely capture Paul’s thought. More literally, he says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Do you hear the difference in tone in those two exhortations? The first is positive while the second anticipates a negative. It’s important to see the difference here. The question is, “Why would Paul phrase this exhortation negatively?” For the same reason a parent tells his small child to be sure not to forget to wash their hands after he/she goes to the bathroom. Why does a parent phrase it that way? Because the child has shown a proclivity toward forgetting to wash their hands.
The reason Paul tells us our love is to be without hypocrisy is because our tendency is in fact, to love WITH hypocrisy in some way or another. We have a predisposition to show forth a so called love that is phony or pretentious. There are thousands of individual expressions of this hypocrisy, but many of them can be grouped under two main headings. First, love is hypocritical when it is expressed in word or emotion only and second, love is hypocritical when it is given with an expectation of receiving something in return. Our love is hypocritical or phony when it is only in word or emotion. The world’s concept of love is largely superficial—a big warm, fuzzy. The Bible’s concept of love is intensely practical. Love is an expression of your unconditional commitment to minister to another person. Love that is rooted in truth is a commitment…a commitment to serve and bless someone else unconditionally. That is love and it is intensely bare knuckles practical.
Emotions and the words “I love you” are not an unimportant part of that blessing, but so often, we are all too willing to emote or say the words, but not back it up with an iron-clad commitment to the person, to minister to them. Notice how practical and commitment-based Jesus’ understanding of love is. “If you love me, you will…[tell me often…NO!] […come to me with a tear stained face…NO!] those things MAY be expressions of love, but Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” We could rephrase it, “If you love me, you will DO what I tell you to.” There’s nothing too warm and fuzzy about that. When Paul tells husbands to love their wives in Ephesians five, he tells them that this means that they are to “feed them and take care of them…to give themselves up for them as Christ did for the church—die for them, men.” For wives to love their husbands means to biblically “submit to them.” The world identifies love with the sound of Mantovani and the 1000 strings. Biblical love sounds more like a construction site—its hard work.
This kind of non-hypocritical, deep commitment to each other is what we so seldom seen in church in any kind of comprehensive way. The way we DO church tends to encourage this kind of hypocritical love Paul warns against. We see each other two hours on Sunday, maybe an hour on Wednesday nights and that is it for many of us. That pattern not only encourages surface, word only expressions of love, it makes the “rough and ready” biblical love impossible. How can you show a genuine commitment to someone when the only time you see them is in this artificial, terrarium-like environment of a carefully orchestrated church gathering? This environment is often a breeding ground for hypocritical expressions of love. We, the assembled church, instead of enabling the development of biblical, agape love, are actually stoking the fire of hypocritical love. In the months to come we, at Mount of Olives will be introducing some new ways for us to come together as a community that are intended to encourage this kind of sincere love. But no change in ministry structure will accomplish anything unless we first allow ourselves to be convicted by the Holy Spirit that the way we, as a body, are relating to one another now is often hypocritical and is therefore a sin against God. Love that is in word or emotion only is hypocritical.
Love that carries expectation of a return is also a pretense. If, when I do something for you, I implicitly expect you to in some way reciprocate and “love me in return” I’m not a lover of your soul, I’m just doing business with you. “You serve me, I’ll serve you.” That’s not love, it’s the barter system. If you have someone over for dinner and they fail to have you over for dinner and that hurts you, your ministry to them was no expression of love, it was a down payment on a meal out. Paul says in the love chapter that, “love does not seek its own.” If you give someone a gift and then get irritated with them because they forget to send you a thank you card, your gift wasn’t an expression of love---it was a thank you card inducer that failed. Paul tells us in this section that the love produced by the gospel is a love without hypocrisy. We need to examine how we love people and ask God to probe our hearts and show us if our love is in word or emotion only and if it carries expectation of a return. We need to have God strip away the mask of hypocrisy and allow him to fill the void of our love-starved hearts.
A second facet of biblical love rooted in truth is found as we move on in the text. After Paul tells us that our love should be without hypocrisy, he says (in the NIV) “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Now, it’s pretty clear to me that these two exhortations are related to the first one about love because in the original the word “hate” and “cling” are both participles. They are subordinate to the exhortation to love without hypocrisy. A literal translation of this verse would be “Let love be without hypocrisy, hating the evil, clinging to the good.” Do you hear the connection between sincere love and hating evil and clinging to the good? The second facet of biblical love rooted in truth is Biblical love is expressed in hating evil and clinging to what is good. The question is, what possible connection could there be between love and hate, even hating evil? The answer is seen when you consider how evil affects both God and other people. As it relates to God, evil put Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ suffered and died because of the presence of evil in the world in the form of sin. Given that, how can we say we love God UNLESS we hate what put His Son on the cross? If we don’t hate evil, it is a reflection of what is at best a superficial love for God. Hatred for evil is an expression of love for God because we are hating what, on a human level, murdered Jesus.
Evil also destroys people. We know from John 10:10 that Satan, who is the author of evil, comes to “steal, kill and destroy.” If we do not hate what steals from, kills and destroys our church family, how can we say we love them? Hating evil is an expression of love for both God and each other. That much is clear to us when we think about it. The hard part of having a love that expresses itself in a hatred of evil is in the practice of it. And to illustrate how utterly incompetent evangelicals are at this, we need look no further than the current dilemma facing the denomination to which this church belongs, the Baptist General Conference.
As some of you know, I spent the first half of this last week in the twin cities at the BGC Annual meeting. Most of these kinds of meetings are typical business meetings where budgets are passed, bylaws are reviewed and various people are elected to various denominational offices. However, this year and last year’s annual meetings have involved something far more profound than those agenda items. You see, our conference is embroiled in an internal theological debate that is being watched by all segments of evangelicalism. I am turning this message in the direction of what is admittedly an in-house, denominational concern, because the church needs to know these issues about their denomination. And because as providence would have it, today’s text provides a great framework for us to understand the grave mistakes I believe our denomination is making. If we would only practice Paul’s exhortation to express love by hating evil, this issue would never had arisen.
A brief history of the debate is in order. This gets a bit complex, but if you will hang in there, you can understand this. Dr. Greg Boyd, a BGC preaching pastor and a New Testament professor at Bethel College in St. Paul, our denominational college, has, in his teaching and his writing, embraced a form of theology known as “open theism.” Briefly stated, open theism holds that God does not exercise a closed or unalterable control of the universe. One open theist says this about the God of open theism, “God does not arbitrarily and unilaterally control the world. He shares that control with humans. He is a partner with then, rather than a tyrant. Unlike a God whose experience is closed because he knows and has determined everything that will happen, this kind of God has and open experience of the world." This is a God who, quoting the same author “…takes risks an, in response to the developments in the world, changes his mind and his actions.” You hear that the concept of the absolutely sovereign God who totally controls the world and who knows everything about the future has been changed to a God who “responds to the world.”
The issue that has sparked the most vehement opposition in our conference is the understanding of open theists like Boyd who do not believe that God can know the future. He writes in his best selling book, “Letters to a Skeptic,” “God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people he creates until he creates these people, and they, in turn create their decisions.” Boyd says that God cannot know the future because, under his philosophical understanding of the future, the future is unknowable because it does not exist. If God knew the future decisions of free will humans, that would limit their freedom. Therefore God does not know the future. The main biblical texts wrongly used to support this view come mostly from narrative sections of the Bible. Texts like Genesis 6:6 where God expresses grief that he created humans and 1 Samuel 15:35 where God is “grieved that He made Saul king over Israel.” God’s decision not to destroy Nineveh after he initially said he would are instances where, according to open theists, God responds to the world by changing his mind. They maintain that these kind of texts where God expresses regret or seemingly changes his course of action indicate that God doesn’t know the future.
These texts have, until recently, almost always been taken as examples of what is call an anthropomorphism. That is, in these kind of texts, God is explaining himself in human terms much as he does when he speaks of himself as having a “strong right arm.” God is Spirit and doesn’t have or need a right arm, but he speaks to a culture where the right arm is a symbol of strength and he communicates his strength by the use of this vehicle. Open Theism is in clear contradiction to the biblical, traditional view of God’s omniscience which holds that God knows everything including the future. There are more texts than we could site here to support this, but they include texts like Isaiah 42:9-10, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isaiah 48:5 “Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, 'My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.'” Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." These texts and many others, along with an entire genre of Scripture called predictive prophecy point out what is undeniably true about God. That is, he can and does know the future exhaustively. He is truly omniscient in the traditional sense of that word.
In response to Dr. Boyd’s teaching and writings, a group of concerned pastors last year moved to change our denomination’s statement of faith to clarify that when it says that God is omniscient, what that means is that God exhaustively knows the future. That move was defeated at last year’s annual meeting because it was felt by a paper thin majority, that, among other reasons, it would not set a good precedent to change a long-standing statement of faith to clarify one doctrinal position. This year, mostly the same group of pastors came with a simple resolution which would clearly state our denomination’s position on the foreknowledge of God. This resolution affirmed a traditional understanding and indicated that Dr. Boyd’s position was NOT part of the Baptist General Conference’s official understanding of the character of God. This resolution was offered merely to draw a line in the sand on this issue and affirm that we have a traditional, biblical understanding of the character of God as it relates to his knowledge of the future. This was, in my opinion, a good resolution and it would have erased much of the doubt about where the BGC, as a denomination, stands on the omniscience of God. However, in response to this, another group of pastors brought forth another resolution which was largely opposed to this first resolution. This resolution stated that our denominational statement of faith was sufficient as it exists and calls the denomination to affirm that, although only a few within the denomination hold this open view of God, we believe this view of God’s foreknowledge falls within the boundaries of evangelical orthodoxy.
To make a long story a bit shorter, both of these resolutions came to a vote and both passed. If that’s sounds contradictory to you, its because it IS contradictory. The resolution affirming a traditional understanding of God’s foreknowledge and opposing Dr. Boyd’s view was in a large way, undermined by the second resolution. There are reasons why a group of nearly nine hundred relatively educated people could do such an openly contradictory thing, but they have to do with the direction the discussion was turned and that is not our concern. Our concern as a church and as it relates to Romans 12:9 is that our conference on this issue has, in my opinion, failed to express a loving hatred of evil. The open view of God is heretical. Al Mohler, president of the oldest Southern Baptist seminary and respected historical theologian said open theism is “heresy with a capital “H. In spite of very nuanced and clever arguments, this view re-defines the omniscience of God. It shrinks God to accommodate an unbiblical mandate to preserve so called human freedom.
With all due respect to our denomination, as a conference, we failed badly. No denomination can be faithful for long if it is ambivalent in its response to questions of doctrine as significant as the character of God. We sacrificed truth and true, biblical love for Dr. Boyd on the altar of denominational unity and an unbiblical love for Bethel College and Dr. Boyd. We must understand that there can be no biblical love or peace or unity unless they are rooted in truth and this open view about the very character of God is simply not true. Luther rightly said, “Peace if possible, but truth at all costs.” Our conference, out of love for God, love for the truth and love for Dr. Boyd must hate this evil lie of open theism. This heresy must have a stake driven through its heart. That is the only course that biblical, evil-hating love can take here. If this causes disunity in the denomination, it simply indicates that there has been no real, biblical unity present for quite some time. Also, on a theological level, the denomination is already divided as to how to deal with the issue and Jesus said “a house divided cannot stand.” Renouncing open theism and calling its adherence to repentance is the loving thing to do as love is defined biblically, just as it is loving to bring church discipline on someone within the body who is in unrepentant sin.
What does this mean to all of us here in Duluth? First, pray for our denomination. The votes on both resolutions were close. The president and trustees of the college and the dean of the seminary are on one side (the side which believes open theism is orthodox), the president of the denomination is on the other side. Pastors are divided, churches are divided, professors, theologians and denominational officials are divided on how to deal with this issue. Pray! Second, we must begin practicing as a church and as individuals non-hypocritical love which hates evil. This is hard and must almost always be done with tears, gentleness and humility, but we need to love God and love each other enough to confront the sin in each other’s lives because sin dishonors God and can destroy people and local churches. The “Minnesota Nice,” syndrome, wherein we are superficially pleasant to one another, but seldom if ever lovingly confront each other about sin is a satanic counterfeit of genuine love and churches where “Minnesota nice” prevails more closely resemble a religious club than the bride of Christ.
This evil-hating expression of love is just as much a part of biblical love as mercy and compassion and patience and forgiveness. It can and has been abused, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid it, it means we must practice it with great care and deep humility. May God grant us the grace as individuals, as a church family and as a denomination, to practice a full-orbed, biblical understanding of love.
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