I usually pay attention to the messages on church signs. In them I often find a good reminder of some truth or biblical principle. Sometimes those brief quips encourage me, challenge me, make me smile, or occasionally cause me to scratch my head in confusion. I saw one recently that I felt could use some clarification. It read, “Just love; be happy.”
I certainly don’t know what all may have been intended by the one who posted that message, but it seems to convey a common line of thought among many professed believers today. It’s the idea that love is all that matters. Adherents to this misunderstanding might suggest that love means not judging people because of sin in their lives and accepting everyone as spiritual brothers and sisters regardless of their beliefs. They might say, “Just love people. And rather than being angry, phobic and divisive, you and everyone else will be happy.”
While the Bible teaches love, and even the preeminence of love, I don’t believe it teaches “just love.” There are those who view God as being “just love.” The Bible does state that God is love. However, it declares Him to be other things too – such as holy, just, righteous, even a consuming fire. God is all those qualities all the time. You can’t separate His love from the rest of His nature. He is holy love and lovingly just. His being love does not do away with nor contradict the realities of His wrath, His judgment, and hell.
Likewise, as believers we are not called to just love. Yes, if we obey those greatest commands about loving God and loving our neighbors all the rest of the law of God is fulfilled. But notice that love “fulfills” all the other commands, not negates them. Christian love doesn’t ignore the teachings of God’s Word about sin and salvation. Christian love doesn’t trump faith in Jesus and in His being the only way we can be saved. Christian love isn’t a substitute for our being obedient to God and seeking to live a holy life. Love doesn’t do away with the need for repentance and submitting ourselves to God. Love motivates us to do what pleases God. Jesus didn’t say, “If you love Me, that’s all that matters – you don’t have to keep any of My other commands.” No, He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (see John 14:15, 23).
We are not to forsake truth for love. The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love. We don’t accept or excuse sin out of love. We lovingly let people know there is a way to be forgiven and set free from their sin. We don’t tell everyone that they’re in favor with God out of some misguided sense of love. We love them enough to warn them, correct them, and point them to the one way to God through faith in Christ. Being loving doesn’t mean standing back and idly watching evil prevail as the world turns its back on God. It means battling for what is right and good, not just for our sake, but out of love for others and wanting what is best for them.
Love is vital. The Bible exalts it is as being greater than even faith and hope. It should still be the preeminent characteristic of a believer today. If we don’t have God’s love for others, we don’t have anything. However, love isn’t the only thing. Truth matters. God’s Word matters. Holy living matters. So don’t be deceived by this idea of “just love,” even if you do spy it on a church sign.