Living in Love (at least striving to)

It’s been a while since i quoted from a secular rapper. Please read on. I promise this quote has a Gospel application.

(For context, “beef” is slang for drama, “an argument or dispute.”)

“What’s beef?
Beef is brothers dyin’ over [stuff]
That never mattered in the first place, lyin’ in the street
What’s peace?
Peace is when you leave it in the past, let it heal like a cast
When enough time pass . . .”

Joyner Lucas, feat. Logic, “ISIS,” ADHD (Twenty Nine Music Group, 2020), Spotify. https://genius.com/Joyner-lucas-isis-lyrics#note-17236236. Edited for content. (If you click the link, you will see coarse language and questionable content in the lyrics.)

According to “Genius.com,” a website that helps explain the backgrounds of song lyrics, Joyner Lucas and Logic were involved in a “beef” at some point before releasing this song. According to one commenter, a third rapper helped them settle the “beef.”

This contrast between “beef” and “peace” is striking:

“What’s beef?
Beef is brothers dyin’ over [stuff]
That never mattered in the first place, lyin’ in the street
What’s peace?
Peace is when you leave it in the past, let it heal like a cast
When enough time pass . . .”

It’s the difference between death and healing. This leads to a question: As Christians, do our arguments and disagreements ultimately matter?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, the truth of the Gospel is at stake. Disagreements about the Person and work of Jesus and the reality of the Trinity are first-tier issues. These disagreements–if repentance and orthodoxy cannot be reached by the doubters–should cause division. It is heresy to not believe the orthodox Christian creeds–Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian.

But there is a worse, and much farther-reaching, heresy. It’s the heresy described in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (the Greek word hairesis, from which we get heresy, occurs in verse 19). This refers to a lack of love. This is selfishness and pride in the church.

As such, most of our disagreements, arguments, and “beef” as Christians don’t matter. But what is the result when we insist upon them?

As Logic raps, “Brothers die over stuff that never mattered in the first place.”

This is not to say that the doctrines we find in Scripture don’t matter. But it is to say that many of them don’t matter more than the brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.

The theme of this blog is love. A motto of those who hold to Reformed Theology is “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” (the church reformed, always reforming). When you put the two together, it means that this blog is a place in which i long to challenge myself–and my fellow Christians–to daily grow in our love for God and one another.

And today, i want to discuss the church’s calling to love as found in John 13:35. In so doing, i want to expose some of the work God has done in my own heart since becoming a Christian. (I am not the man i was when i first met Jesus; i didn’t understand the first thing about love back then. Lord willing, in eleven years [by the time i’m forty], i’ll be able to say the same thing about my 29-year-old self.)

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:35

In my previous post, i explained the meaning of this passage in context. As a result, this post will focus on application. I want to focus on this topic under two headings. First, “Brothers dying over stuff that never mattered in the first place” (my confession of falling short in these areas over the past ten years). Second, “Peace is when you leave it in the past, let it heal like a cast” (biblical, pastoral, and Gospel motivation for moving forward in grace and love).

“Brothers dying over stuff that never mattered in the first place”

Recently, i came across the following quote on Wikipedia:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or off-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement. Internet trolls also feed on attention.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news#On_the_Internet

A lone ranger

Unfortunately, for the first five years of my Christian life, i was defined by the definition above. I discovered Reformed Theology, especially the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism,” and i made it my mission to convert everyone to my viewpoints. I frequently got into Facebook debates about theology, posting purposefully-inflammatory statements on Facebook, just waiting for someone to comment on it.

This became even worse when i went to a Christian university that did not hold to this theological system. I was alone, and i foolishly thought that God had given me the task of opening people’s eyes to the truth of “Calvinism.”

Not surprisingly, i was never successful in these tasks. But even worse, all i ever really accomplished was giving a bad name to my theological system. If you read this–and if you were a target of my misplaced zeal back then–i hope you can forgive me.

I want to cook the “beef” and celebrate our mutual salvation in peace and love!

A self-righteous counselee

This self-righteous attitude–“i am the sole purveyor of right theology”–was sinful, and it followed me into the first church i tried to join after i began my undergraduate. I approached the pastor for counseling regarding a sin struggle, and we met semi-regularly for a few months. After a while, i started to notice that i was more depressed and felt more hopeless in the counseling situation than i had felt prior. At the time, i blamed this result on the quality of the pastoral counseling. I accused him of focusing on the problem more than the hope found in Christ. (As it stands, i think i might have had a valid point, but i became so bitter in this situation that i can’t say that as an objective fact.)

However, the only specific counseling meeting i actually remember with him was when he pointed me to Psalm 15, reminding me that the only Person who actually fulfills it is Jesus. He told me to reflect on that truth. It has dramatically enhanced my understanding of seeing Jesus in all of the Scriptures. It was even an observation i utilized in my Psalm expositions at the beginning of the COVID quarantine last year. As such, his pastoral leadership and counseling still benefitted me despite my arrogance, lack of love, and love of “beef.”

But in my pride, depression, and sin, I wrote a letter and never returned to his church. This decision almost forever cost me my friendship with another very close friend. If you read this–and if you were involved in this situation–i hope you can forgive me.

I want to cook the “beef” and celebrate our mutual salvation in peace and love!

Unmet expectations

To properly understand this situation, you need to know that my passion for studying and proclaiming the Word of God was birthed and nourished by a church i began attending a couple years before i started my undergraduate work. This is also where i became convinced of the theology described above. The pastors at this church are incredibly godly men who i still look up to with respect, admiration, and love.

However, due to college experiences with people of different theological persuasions, i became much more moderate when it came to promoting “Calvinism.” I also became more Reformed in other areas of theology (Covenant Theology and Postmillennialism [read: Amillennialism]). And i also became much more adamant about seeing visible love amongst the people of God.

When i left this church to go to Bible college, it was a tight-knit group full of love, grace, and support. I couldn’t get enough time with the people and pastors because every minute was edifying and encouraging. (My high school depression had disappeared due to attending this church before moving to Missouri.)

When i returned, i observed (whether rightly or wrongly, i cannot accurately judge) division and cliques. It didn’t feel like the same place i had left four years prior. I dove in, tried to get involved, and tried to build relationships as much as possible, but my attempts were futile. People had their ways of doing things and believing things, and they had their people they’d rather be close to, and i began to feel more and more peripheral.

In the end, i assumed that my theological views were less aligned with the leadership now than they had been before i left. (I had by no means ascribed to historically heretical viewpoints, but certain second- and third-tier doctrines i had backed away from or completely switched my views on.) I wanted to remain friends with the pastor, but i worried that our different theological opinions would strain the relationship. As such, i didn’t want to continue disagreeing with the pastor while he preached, so i decided to bite the bullet and leave the church.

However, in the process of leaving, damage was done. People were confused. People were shocked. People were hurt. If you read this–and if you were involved in this situation–i hope you can forgive me.

I want to cook the “beef” and celebrate our mutual salvation in peace and love!

Misplaced zeal

And then i was asked by a pastor of another local church to join his congregation. I decided to accept his offer. In being invited to his church, he told me to take some time to rest and recover from the church disappointments i’d suffered over the previous three years. This was an amazingly kind offer that i greatly appreciated.

Over the next few months, we began meeting more regularly for counseling, and i started noticing some red flags. It reminded me of my previous counseling experience, and the depression came back with a vengeance. (I had not yet become a member of his church.)

I eventually explained to him that i would not be joining his church (due to what i perceived as a lack of Gospel grace in his preaching) . . .

Before moving on, i must share a quote from a book i just recently finished reading:

At conferences and other speaking engagements I often meet young men in the ministry who say things like, “I’m in a church where the gospel isn’t important.” They are looking for advice. “How do I,” they want to know, “as an assistant or intern, influence my pastor or elder board toward more faithful gospel-centrality?” The first steps are these: be submissive, be humble, be subject to your elders, and listen more than you talk. Your pastor may not be as gospel centered as you’d like, but if he is a Christian who’s been pastoring for a while, he still possesses a wisdom that will benefit you greatly.

Young men, wield your influence peaceably, respectfully, and patiently. You have not been put in your position to establish vision or direct the pastor’s preaching focus. Do not seed division or discord. Shut up and listen a lot more, or get out.

Jared C Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 62-63. Emphasis added

(I wish i’d read this book five years ago when i first received it, but i’ll save that story for a forthcoming book review.)

As it stands, i lost sleep this past week over these paragraphs. There i was, a young man, zealous for the Gospel’s proclamation–rightly so–but in so doing i pridefully shut myself off to any other possibilities. I merely wanted to convince him of the importance of the Gospel and its necessity for the church’s life and health. So i sent lengthy email after lengthy email trying to win him to my point of view.

But the emails were not focused merely on the Gospel and its importance. They were annoyingly selfish and overly focused on my preferences and my convictions. They overstepped civility by trying to justify myself and tear him down in the process.

And in the process of tearing him down, others were hurt as well. Division occurred. I became (even though i was fighting for the truth and priority of the Gospel) the very thing i swore to destroy. A heretic. I was not evidencing humble, selfless love, which made me a divisive person–a heretic–as this post describes. If you read this–and if you were involved in this situation–i hope you can forgive me.

I want to cook the “beef” and celebrate our mutual salvation in peace and love!

“Peace is when you leave it in the past, let it heal like a cast”

John describes Jesus as follows:

The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

I want to focus on the final line. Jesus was “full of grace and truth.”

Too often, in our zeal for Jesus, we fixate on one or the other. If we are to live in Love (like the theme of this blog), then we must have as our goal to be “as He is in this world” (1 John 4:17). He is full of grace and truth. We must never capitulate in our passion for the Gospel. But we are guilty of capitulating in our passion for the Gospel when we stubbornly hold our stance with no grace in our hearts.

I have been guilty of this. This is what the above section seeks to show. I don’t want to be guilty of this any longer.

The reason for this goes back to the theme of this blog. Love. Over the past ten years as a Christian, i have become convinced that love (biblically defined; cf. 1 John 4:8, 16) is the center of both Scripture and theology. By extension, it is also the center of Christian application:

“The whole point of the Bible is love. Each of the 66 books in our canon emphasizes a different aspect, but they all describe and promote love.” As such, I hold that the Gospel of God’s love for sinful man can be expressed clearly from each passage (rightly exegeted and exposited), and I hold that the personal application of every passage should have something to do with love (either for God or man) as well.

Joshua Wingerd, Live Free or Die Lawfully (Victorville, CA: FYTR Publishing, 2019), 246.

Therefore, if i’m rightly studying the Scriptures, and if i’m rightly trusting God to sanctify me into the image of His Son, then i should be daily growing in love. I should be daily looking more like my Savior who “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). This blog serves as an example that even though i’m not perfect, and even though i often sin, there is One who is perfect–One whose love never fails, One full of grace and truth.

This blog post was born out of reading that i should have done in fall 2013 for a college class. (This book will receive a lengthy review here soon, so for now, a few citations will get my point across.)

Contrary to what you might have been told, the Bible teaches that we should care about what other people think of us. . . .

The early Christians were concerned, and rightly so, about the impressions unbelievers–“outsiders”–might carry away from a visit to their worship services (1 Corinthians 14:23-24). . . .

Jesus does give the world the right to decide whether we are true Christians based upon our observable love for one another. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). How else could they know? They cannot peer into our hearts. But they can read our lips, see our lives, and observe the way we relate to one another. Above all else, Jesus said, this is the telling mark of a Christian.

Timothy George and John Woodbridge, The Mark of Jesus (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2005), 25-26.

They go on, later in the chapter:

Significantly, Paul does not say that God’s law is summed up in the command to love our fellow Christians, but rather our neighbors. Who is our neighbor? In the light of Jesus’ self-giving on the cross, we who belong to Him and bear His mark before a watching world no longer have the luxury to define our neighbors exclusively as our fellow Christians, fellow evangelicals, fellow Americans, the families in our subdivision, the members of our race, or those who agree with us politically. Our neighbors also include the loveless, the least, the unlikely.

Ibid., 42.

There was so much more, especially regarding theological differences of opinion, that rocked me as i read this book late last year. I was convicted that i have not been acting in love as much as i could have been over the past ten years, despite making love the theme of my blog (ministry). As such, i knew i couldn’t leave these situations unaddressed.

The above quotations also prove that the centrality of love has an evangelistic application. If we want the lost to return to Jesus, the question falls squarely on our shoulders: How well are we loving the people God has placed in our lives?

When i do what i did in the situations described above, i am guilty of being anti-evangelistic, no matter how vocal i am toward evangelism. I don’t want this to be the case.

But then i read statements like this:

Grace can result in niceness, but in fact is not itself niceness. Some think that grace means “not judging,” by which they mean “not telling anybody they are sinning” (or at the least, hemming and hawing around a way of telling them that). But grace compels righteous judgments and biblical discernments. Grace can result in furious anger (as we see in Galatians) because it is motivated by love.

Jared C. Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification, 135.

Paul was being evangelistic in Galatians, but he was also angry. He made some very “mean” comments in that letter. But what Paul wrote there was inspired Scripture. This is the difference between my past experiences and Paul in Galatians. The Spirit of God did not divinely inspire my comments or decisions. While it is important to note that grace and love aren’t always “nice,” as Wilson helpfully does, this does not justify going into conversations or disagreements in a guns-blazing, take-no-prisoners kind of way.

As George and Woodbridge helpfully point out:

We evangelicals are more often known for our divisions and mutual recriminations against one another than for our unifying efforts in evangelism and discipleship. We think this is a scandal that hinders the integrity of our witness before a watching world.

Timothy George and John Woodbridge, The Mark of Jesus, 77.

In the realm of total honesty, i don’t know the answer to properly balancing grace and truth. Because, on the one hand, i certainly don’t want to become a theological pushover, but, on the other hand, i also don’t want division (and the justified unbelief of nonbelievers) to continue to result because of my stance for truth.

(Comment below if you have any wisdom for me.)

And i post this publicly to challenge my readers: Are there times in your life when you haven’t been as loving as you could have been? The world will know us by our love. Where can you grow in your love for others (Christians or nonbelievers) today?

Let’s leave it in the past and let the grace of Jesus and the mutual faith we have in Him heal us like a cast and help us move forward in peace.

I don’t want secular rappers to do a better job of reconciling disagreements and past hurts amongst themselves than i do with my blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you?

There’s grace and forgiveness and reconciliation in the blood of Jesus.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Gratia
Sola Fide
Sola Scriptura
Pro Ecclesia

Thanks for reading.

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