Is there a worse way to communicate love than by using it as a preface for a complaint? If love “bears all things” and “endures all things”, is it appropriate to follow up a declaration of love with a condition or a criticism? The answer seems obvious. And yet this is how we often operate in our relationships with one another. “I love you, but…” usually reveals that whatever the second part of the statement is, it matters more than the first.
Love is the glue of relationships. When love is present, differences of opinion, different emphases, and different ways of life are harmonized. Love binds them all together. Love unites. A lack of love separates. When we start to chip away at the differences in pursuit of uniformity (instead of unity), we are demonstrating a lack of love. “Difference” is not opposed to love. “Difference” requires love. Now, differences are not sinful, but some differences can be the result of sin, and in that case, differences need to be resolved through love, not division. In rare and extreme cases of serious sin, God has made a way for a godly separation. But for some reason we don’t think of breaking fellowship by ending friendships or changing churches as the interpersonal counterpart of a divorce or an excommunication. But the point to notice is that sin is the problem, not difference as such. If we all thought the same way, or lived the same way, or agreed on the best way to proceed, there wouldn’t be anything for love to bear or endure. If love covers a multitude of sins, think of how much bigger must be the pile of mere differences that love covers!
So before you regretfully announce that “I love you, but your convictions over secondary doctrine means I can’t fellowship with you anymore”, make the honest edit and just say, “I don’t love you enough to bear that or endure that.” Before you say, “I love you, but I don’t want to be associated with the way you exercise your Christian liberty”, realize that real love would be patient and kind, even when your brother or sister is being a bonehead. Love rebukes, it doesn’t abandon. Before you say, “I love you, but as long as x, y, or z is the case, I can’t be a part of your life”, make absolutely sure that x,y, or z is a soul-destroying sin, not just a difference of opinion, or a sin that love ought to cover.
Real love doesn’t run, or threaten to run, at the first sight of disagreement, disappointment, or difference. Real love maintains difficult, strained fellowship over the long haul. Real love looks like the love that Jesus has for you, despite your many sins against Him and the disagreements you have with Jesus over everything from what the weather ought to be to how much suffering He has ordained for your life today. Is Jesus showing you more love than you are willing to show your brother or sister in Christ? You might be saying, “Well, of course Jesus is showing more love than I am. I’m not Jesus! I can’t love like that!” But using your non-Jesushood as an excuse comes perilously close to quenching the Spirit. Jesus has put His Holy Spirit in you, precisely so that you can imitate Jesus more than you ever could by yourself. Can the Spirit of God enable you to endure all things in love? Of course He can. You’ll never be like Jesus if you always use your imperfections as an excuse not to try. Instead, repent of your lovelessness, and receive the forgiving love of God that enables you to love others.