Song of Solomon 8:6
6 For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.
What is love like? The bible compares it to the fire of God’s holiness. Fire in Scripture is almost always used in reference to refining, cleansing, or making whole. Solomon goes on to say love burns so hot that no amount of water can put it out. Can you imagine a love like that? In a culture where couples ‘fall in and out of love’ monthly, where divorce has become the norm rather than the exception, and self-love is king, it’s hard to imagine the kind of passionate commitment this poet is talking about.
Signs of Christ’s Return
1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.
13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
I came to follow Christ in 1979 at age 15. The Christian church seemed to be thriving. Later I became part of several college ministries that sought to counter what was becoming an epidemic: the eroding of morality in America. The church became more and more legalistic as a result. Apologetics became the new evangelism and the Moral Majority decided an emphasis on the Law of God was the way to fight this new tide.
As I watched our culture react to the legalism born out of the 20th century church by launching a campaign against any kind of moral absolute, I also saw many Christians seek “freedom” from the church-made boundaries of right and wrong. But instead of fleeing into grace – the power that can bring forth freedom through a godly life – they instead fled into a kind of gray morality, making happiness and self-fulfillment their god. A cursory look at the titles on Christian bookshelves will bear this out. Self-help has become our new Jesus. And since Jesus hung out with sinners, then our sin can’t really be that bad, can it? Surely ‘sin’ is just a minor flaw which a nice platitude or two can deliver us from? As a result of this kind of humanistic thinking, today most denominations have mistaken acceptance of everything for love. In fact, the ‘legalism’ of the 21st century insists that there are no moral absolutes. Anyone claiming differently is denounced as unloving, a homophobe, or worse, a modern-day pharisee.
But acceptance of any and every lifestyle and choice is not love at all. In fact, the worst consequence for sin – death – was God’s idea of love. Remember the Garden of Eden? When Adam and Eve began to look for self-fulfillment apart from God (a pretty Biblical definition of sin, I think), God’s response was to send them out of the Garden. Why? As punishment? No. As mercy. An angel with a flaming sword was placed at the entrance of the Garden to guard the way in so that no one in that sinful state would be able to eat from the Tree of Life and so condemn themselves to an eternity of brokenness. Now death – the ultimate consequence for sin – lovingly sets us free from ourselves. It is the ultimate boundary and it represents every other boundary to sin. The severity of the consequence should tell us something about the seriousness of sin and what love will do in the face of it.
Love sets boundaries. Love says to the toddler playing in the road: You can’t play in such a dangerous place because you are precious to me. Love says to the addict: I won’t sanction your habit because it is destroying your very life – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Love says to the abuser: I won’t let you keep hurting me without consequence because that would require me letting you stay drunk on the power you feel when you use pain to control others. Love says to the prostitute, what you are doing is wrong because you are not property to be used up for someone else’s pleasure. Love says to the homosexual, it’s not okay for you to settle for a relationship with someone just like yourself, without learning to love that which is fundamentally different from you, thereby rejecting the picture of God’s love for His Bride, the people of God on earth. Love says no. It has to. Because ‘jealousy is as severe as hell.’ Deuteronomy 4:24: For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
But what happens when the so-called ambassadors of the God who is Love abandon all boundaries, all jealousy for godly character in the Bride of Christ? What happens when the church itself begins to call evil good and good evil? When you refuse to name a sin for what it is and thereby remove all of the consequences of the behavior, sin is left to reign unchecked. Sin is pleasant for a season and extremely deceptive. Often its effects are not experienced until years later. Sin is insidious. Like lying, one sin often leads to other more dangerous or devastating sins (the way petty thieves often morph into murderers because the thrill seeker needs something more and more thrilling to feed the hunger). One of my former pastors used to say (rightly so): ‘Your sin is not done with you when you are done with it.’ Unchecked sin has the ability to bind you to itself – sin is addictive and habitual. Unfortunately, accepting sin as okay, normal, even good has its own consequence: Boundaries disappear. And, according to Jesus, so does love … ‘because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.’
More and more I find my own love growing cold out of sheer frustration at what I am seeing happen around me. No one wants to listen anymore to deep Truth, theology, or even be told there is right and wrong. No one dares preach Biblical Truth for fear of losing their position, their popularity, and their pension. People are much more concerned with their own happiness than their own godliness. Not many can even agree on what constitutes a godly life, and the church has bought the lie that personality is more important than character. The more I am told I have to accept certain sins as okay, the colder my love grows toward so-called followers of Christ who have no moral character. The more I see people I care about slip into sin while the ‘christians’ around them condone their behavior, the colder my love grows towards a God who is silent in the face of evil. And according to Jesus, I’m in the majority not the minority: ‘most people.’ His words, not mine.
I imagine this condition broke the heart of Jesus. As He experienced the hatred of His own people for exposing God’s love in practical, unpopular ways – to the rich man: ‘sell what you have and give to the poor’, to the prostitute: ‘ go and sin no more’, to the pharisees: ‘ learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice’ – He paid the ultimate price for exposing God’s boundaries and God’s grace hand in hand. I certainly do not believe that Jesus expects or requires perfection according to the Law from any of us. But I do believe that He expects us to believe Him when Scripture calls something a sin. I don’t think it’s okay to accept everything as okay. Loving people often means not accepting their behavior as okay (I would hope that it’s love that makes it illegal to murder). The real question is what should our response to sin be?
Love, of course. Love that says no. Love that sets boundaries. And love that lives according to God’s Kingdom as revealed in the Book of Revelation:
21:23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed … 22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.
The boundary (gate) is set, but the door is never closed to those who are on the outside who choose to repent. Grace is not a refusal to call a sin a sin, it is not a removal of all boundaries so that ‘everyone who loves and practices lying’ can come freely into the city of God without being cleansed. No, grace is simply willingness to accept the repentant. Last I checked we are all in the category of ‘sinner.’ The door stands open to enter by His grace. But the boundary stands firm against those who continue in sin without acknowledgement of it and repentance from it. We who love sin – who call it okay, accept it, and even make it ‘good’ – remain outside the gate, outside His city, outside of the boundaries of grace. Without sin there can be no grace. Without boundaries there can be no love.
God, help us to love the way you loved – unto death. The death of relationships, the death of reputation, even physical death by persecution if that’s what it takes to stand on the Truth of Your word, to call sin ‘sin’, fully aware of and proclaiming its insidious dangers, and to announce the grace given to all through Christ. Thank You that the gates to Your presence and grace will never be closed. Open our eyes to see the sins we ‘love’ and expose the consequences sin has wrought in our own hearts, separating us from intimacy with You. Forgive us for mistaking a rejection of moral absolutes for love. The ultimate Moral Absolute, Jesus, is Love Personified. Help us see Him so we may be like Him.
1 John 1: 5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
1 John 3: 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.