Distinguishing Sincere and Suspicious Love

What is Biblical love? Everyone claims to love others. Every person seems to think he or she has a handle on what love is. There is not a single person I know who thinks him or herself to be unloving, but almost every person seems to intuitively know who, other than self, is unloving. I was curious about how the world defined love, so I did a quick search online. Here is what I found.

  • an intense feeling of deep affection.”babies fill parents with feelings of love”
  • a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone. “they were both in love with her”
  • a formula for ending an affectionate letter. “take care, lots of love, Judy”
  • a personified figure of love, often represented as Cupid. noun: Love
  • a great interest and pleasure in something. “his love for football”
  • a person or thing that one loves. “she was the love of his life
  • feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone). “do you love me?”
  • like or enjoy very much.
  • a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth (Psychology Today, self-love).

According to these definitions, my love has something to do with my enjoying someone or something, including myself. I decided to go a step further to see how some self-proclaimed Christian teachers are defining love. There were many preachers and teachers who have their sermons or studies published and represented Scripture well. I was encouraged. There were a few who did not.

  • Joyce Meyer– Acceptance, making others feel better about themselves; God’s love causes Him to want to give people better lives than they currently have.
  • Steven Furtick– Deep affection; God’s love causes God to break His own Law.
  • Eric Johnson– Relational concept but no real definition; we must give God permission to increase our capacities to love.

These explanations sum up the basic teaching coming from spiritual teachers that doesn’t quite get at Biblical love. What is love? What does it mean for any one person to really love another person?

1 Samuel 18:1-9

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house.

Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.

So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.

The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”

Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”

Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.

To love someone else (v. 1)

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.

What does it mean for one soul to be knit to another? The relationship Jacob had with his youngest son, Benjamin, was described similarly in Genesis 44:30. Their relationship was such that if Benjamin died in Egypt, Jacob felt he would go down to Sheol, the place of the dead. For two souls to be knit together, or for one person to be bound up in another, is like the relationship between a father and his beloved son. In Jonathan’s case, it means there is strong brotherhood between himself and David. After seeing David fight to God’s glory, Jonathan is so inspired he becomes instantly loyal and devoted to David.

The knitting together of Jonathan’s soul to David’s causes Johnathan to love David as himself. In Jonathan’s case, he is first loyal and devoted. His loyalty is the prerequisite for his love toward David. In our society, we tend to lead with affectionate love. We follow love with action. We think that if we love something we will be devoted. This story gives us the opposite order. We first choose to be loyal. Loyalty leads us to love in the sense Jonathan loves David. This is not some general feeling or kindness but a brotherhood or sisterhood sort of love. Samuel alludes to Leviticus 19:18 to describe the kind of love Jonathan has for David.

You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:15-18).

This Law was not only for the Levites. It wasn’t for people taking a special vow. When we read the Law, it is good practice to see who the Law is for. These Laws were written for the entire congregation of Israel without exception (Leviticus 19:2). In context, neighbors are those with whom we come into contact whether poor or rich. Loving our neighbors explicitly means being impartial in our judgment and not showing favoritism because of what someone has to offer us either in recognition or wealth. God instructs His people not to favor those who are poor because we may be recognized for our philanthropy. God also instructs His people not to favor those who are wealthy because we may expand our own wealth. To love is not to slander anyone or act against him or her. To love is not to take vengeance or bear any grudge. We love our neighbors like we love ourselves. The Law recognizes an inherent selfishness in the human heart. God commands—all of those things that you would do for yourself or have others do for you, do for others. You defend yourself naturally. So, instead of holding grudges or looking to incriminate others, defend them. Reprove your neighbor because you are motivated by his or her good, but don’t incur sin by condemning him or her.

Jonathan’s love for David means Jonathan judges David’s actions and words impartially and defends David as he would defend himself against accusation or judgment.

Love elevates (v. 2-4)

Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house.

In the David and Goliath discourse, God used David to defeat Goliath. God did things the way He did so that both Philistia and Israel might know there is a God in Israel (17:46). Instead of recognizing God, Saul recognized David and mistook David as the wonder-worker (17:58). Like we read in chapter 16, verse 21, Saul kept David because of what David had to offer. Samuel is juxtaposing the way Jonathan and Saul love David. Jonathan’s love is sincere, unconditional love. Saul’s love is selfish, based on what David has to offer—victory over Saul’s enemies.

Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.

We see the contrast. Saul loves David because David may make him more successful. Jonathan wants to make David successful because he loves David. Two completely different kinds of love are presented here. Sincere love elevates others, not self. If I really love someone from a place of devotion, I consider that person to be more important than me. We can see this idea explicitly prescribed in Philippians 2:1-11,

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It could be construed that Paul’s instruction only concerns those within the body. Notice, though, he instructs the whole church, including her pastors and deacons (1:1) to do nothing out of selfishness, but looking out for the interests of others—considering one another to be more important than ourselves. Why? Because, we love. Why do we love? Christ first loved us. He first chose us and emptied Himself for our good. So, we choose to be devoted to others rather than ourselves, resolve to empty ourselves for others’ good, and love others like Christ loves His church.

I heard a preacher in my own community teach, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” in a sermon he titled “Love and Grace for Strangers.” We either consider others to be more important than ourselves or require people to serve us before giving them anything. We can’t behave both ways and be consistent in our belief and action. This preacher alluded to 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:10-15).

See how Paul’s instruction is against con-artists, people pretending to be busy so they can swipe a meal, not against every person who doesn’t earn a wage. He alludes to his previous instruction in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, where he encourages believers to work so as to not be a burden on others if possible. He is not condemning those who have a sincere need. Furthermore, He instructs the church not to grow weary in doing good simply because some people are taking advantage of them. Instead, she is to admonish the con-artists as brothers because they need instruction. They need to know the example Paul set—consider others to be more important than yourselves. The preacher referenced above taught the exact opposite of Scripture’s message. That’s what happens when we teach our own principles and supplement those with Scripture instead of simply teaching Scripture. That is the crux of false teaching.

False love uses (v. 5-9)

So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.
It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.
The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”

Enough time has elapsed since God’s victory through David for David to have time to prosper wherever Saul sends him. I imagine there are other skirmishes before the war party returns to Saul’s palace. As was tradition, the women of the cities go out of the cities, sing, dance, and celebrate the king’s victorious return with tambourines and musical instruments. They celebrate Saul killing his thousands, a symbolic number meaning vastly more than enough and too many to count. What high praise! But, they follow their praise by celebrating David killing his ten-thousands, a symbolic number insinuating vastly more than enough and beyond imagination. David received higher praise than king Saul.

Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”
Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.

Why did Saul look at David with suspicion? He perceives that David is no longer benefitting him. David is Saul’s new Goliath. His love for David only had the appearance of sincere love. What is Christian love as compared to worldly love?

Christian love

  • Begins with devotion,
  • judges others impartially (not based on social status, ethnicity, or appearance),
  • defends others for their good, and
  • considers others to be more important.

False love

  1. Begins with self-love,
  2. expects others to elevate us, and
  3. grows suspicious of others who don’t serve our own self-interests.

False love is like substituting Chick-fil-a in place of baptism. Doesn’t that sound great? You confessed Christ as Lord; now let’s go to get some chicken to show the world you’re a Christian! I’m gettin’ saved every week! As good as that would taste, there is no substantial meaning in eating a deluxe spicy chicken sandwich like there is in baptism. We are feeding our own appetites rather than honoring Christ as Lord. Why would we substitute worldly love in place of sincere love? It’s because we don’t have the capacity to love like Christ loves His church. We must be transformed from the inside out. We must be brought out of our self-righteousness to dwell in Christ’s righteousness alone. Are we growing in our understanding and practice of love as a result of our loyalty to Christ and one another? Do we recognize the depth of Christ’s love for us? He emptied Himself for the good of His true church. Remember, love is the evidence of our loyalty to Christ and others. If someone isn’t loyal to you for your good (not necessarily your preference), he or she doesn’t love you. If you aren’t loyal to others for their good (not necessarily for their preference), you don’t love them. I’ve had plenty of people over the years claim to love me and Christ’s church, but loyalty is absent. If Christ is not our Lord, we will be unable to love as He loves because our religion is still self-interested. Love is fruit, not root.

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