Can Love Make Commands?
When I was in high school in the mid-80s, my favorite rock artist was Sting. He has a song that says if you love someone, set them free.
Love in our view today doesn’t impose any judgments, doesn’t require anything of the one who is loved. Instead, it sets free. There’s certainly truth in that. Yet, in the Bible, love is a little more complex. God demonstrates his love for us, in part, by giving commandments. Jesus says, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.”
So in the Bible, love and authority actually work together. They’re not necessarily at odds with one another.
Authority is a difficult topic. There’s a reason people are afraid of it. Authority in the fall is abusive and it’s used to exploit, harm, and oppress. People are rightly suspicious of authority saying it’s not loving, or that authority and love are opposites.
But authority in creation and authority and redemption actually work for good. What does a coach do? A coach coaches to equip and train, saying “I’m going to tell you you’ve got to run some sprints now. Why? I’m trying to make you strong.” And a mother mothers using authority saying, “Child, listen to my voice, and I’m going to teach you in the way of righteousness.”
God has given you authority. What does it mean to use it for the sake of love?
What about a pastor? What about a husband? What about a father? What about all these different authority figures that the Lord has established?
In creation and redemption, there’s got to be a right way to do it, a right way to exercise authority. Right authority authors—gives life, gives growth like the mother mothering, the coach coaching, or the piano teacher teaching. Good authority authors; it gives life.
That’s what Christ came to do with his authority. He said, “I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” In the context, he’s saying, “I’m not going to lord it over you like the Gentiles.” Jesus uses his authority by laying down his life, giving life.
Authority in creation and redemption is actually a good thing. Christians need to understand that and understand how love and authority relate.
So pastor, mother, parent, husband, boss, politician: God has given you authority. What does it mean to use it for the sake of love? What does it mean that you’re called to sacrifice? What does it mean you’re to do, to help build up and equip?
I think we look to the Bible first and foremost to understand how love and authority are to work together. Secondly, God has given us local churches to demonstrate what true love and authority should look like in their membership decisions, discipline decisions, and in their preaching.
The church is to be the place on planet earth where the world discovers a little whiff, a taste, a reflection of how God uses his authority for the purposes of love. Sometimes that’s going to offend the world and sometimes it’s going to be attractive. The church, in that sense, is both the ointment and the fly in the ointment, from the world’s perspective, as we seek to demonstrate what love and authority look like as God intended.
Where God’s love is fundamentally different than a fallen human being’s love is that it is holy. It is utterly set on himself and his own glory.
With culture and history both shaping our definitions, where are we learning love from?
This universe of self-love is collapsing in on itself. It’s like a black hole that shrinks itself into a smaller and smaller space.