by Joseph Backholm
March 17, 2021
On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts Thinking Biblically About Unity, Thinking Biblically About Safety, and Thinking Biblically About “Christian Nationalism”.
This week, the Vatican made headlines when it released a statement that said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex relationships because God “does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”
The Vatican’s announcement shouldn’t have come as such a shock. This has been the orthodox Christian belief since the time Jesus walked the earth. Nevertheless, the reactions were predictable.
Don Lemon, a CNN television personality who identifies as gay, had this response: “I would say to the pope and the Vatican and all Christians or Catholics … go out and meet people and try to understand people and do what the Bible and what Jesus actually said, if you believe in Jesus, and that is to love your fellow man and judge not lest ye be not [sic] judged” (paraphrasing Mt. 7:1).
Lemon’s call for love is not surprising, and Christians agree in principle that part of following Jesus is loving people. Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). Years later, the apostle John wrote to his fellow believers, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
But what is biblical love?
Many, like Don Lemon, equate love with tolerance. From this perspective, it is unloving to say that same-sex relationships are sinful because that isn’t tolerant. However, God does not conflate love and tolerance.
In God’s world, loving people is a priority, but it is not the highest priority. Loving God is the highest priority: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-39).
We love God first and foremost through our obedience to Him and His word. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And again, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21).
Part of our obedience to God is loving those He created, and He tells us how to do that. The apostle Paul penned one of the Bible’s most famous expositions on what love of neighbor looks like: “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered … it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13: 4-5,7 NASB).
There is much in this list for the “love is tolerance” crowd to like. But in the midst of this list is a verse that is absolutely critical to understanding the difference between biblical love and the world’s conception of love. That verse is, love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6).
This is the point where, as Robert Frost would say, “two roads diverged in the wood…” The world’s understanding of love requires a celebration of unrighteousness, whereas God’s definition of love forbids it. Christians must choose.
This choice may be challenging for those who have spent their Christian lives conflating love with likability and tolerance. Jesus tells us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16 ESV). Does this mean that if people don’t like what we do in the name of God, we’re doing it wrong? Not necessarily. Loving people well does not always translate into people liking you. Just ask Jesus. They killed Him. He warned His disciples before His death that the world would hate them, too, on account of Him (John 15:18-25). We do not need to fear our fellow man, however, because God is our helper (Ps. 118:5-9, Rom. 8:31-39).
The fact is, a lot of people don’t want to be loved by God; they want to be indulged by God—and everyone else. However, if we love God, there are things we can’t indulge. As Christians, it is not our job to be liked by people; it is our job to love people like Jesus did—with a love that is patient and kind, a love that does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth.
The reason why Christians can’t celebrate unrighteousness is important—the entire gospel hinges upon it. It is our unrighteousness that separates us from God and sentences us to eternity in hell. Fortunately, there is a solution (John 3:16, Rom. 6:23), but celebrating the problem is unhelpful because it obscures the solution.
Loving as God loves and refusing to celebrate unrighteousness may bother Don Lemon and others, but it won’t bother Jesus, and pleasing Him is much more important. To borrow another line from Robert Frost, “I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference.” Or, as Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14).