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"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" - 1 Peter 3:15

“Truth” or “Love”—Which Comes First?

truth or loveThe apostle John repeatedly taught the importance of both Biblical truth and godly love. To understand the identity of the true Church, it is vital to recognize which of these is the foundation for the other.

The larger, well-known churches of this world are comprised of millions of “believers”—people who believed in and talked about Jesus. No doubt, many of them are sincere. They also talked much about “Christian love.” Many are the sermons given about “Jesus” and “love”. This describes the diet served every week from pulpits in tens of thousands of churches, around the world.

Of course, these are both critically important topics! The Bible has hundreds of scriptures that refer to our Lord and the importance of demonstrating godly love. But I see that many people have a hollow love, and that few really believed what Christ taught. No real love is evident in their lives.

They have the Lord’s name on their lips but the truths that He taught is not evident in their lives. Lots of talk about love, but little, if any, being practiced in their lives.

John has been called the “Apostle of Love,” because he spoke about this subject much more than all the other New Testament writers combined. A quick glance in any concordance, will confirm this. What is not realized is that he also wrote more about the importance of “truth” than all the other New Testament writers combined. John could have easily been known as the “Apostle of Truth”! A superficial look at his writings could leave you wondering if he wrote about anything other than these two subjects. Strangely, despite John’s dozens of references to the importance of truth, this emphasis is ignored by almost everyone!

In God’s infinite wisdom, He knew that He could not have one apostle stress truth and a another stress love. This would have left the impression that people could “choose their favorite apostle,” depending upon whether they felt truth or love deserved greater emphasis. (It was this very kind of division that plagued the Corinthian brethren – 1 Cor. 1:10-14.)

Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos: and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, save Crispus and Gaius.”

The result is that each group would feel superior to the other because it has the “more proper” emphasis. Many today feel that they merely need to stress “love”—and without explaining the Bible definition—with little emphasis on correct doctrine. Those that think this way have a well-honed set of passages they use in an attempt to establish their position.

The Role of Love

Two of the most frequently quoted scriptures come from John. Both speak about love. John 3:16 states:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

People who know little—or nothing—about the Bible usually know of this verse.

John 13:34-35 states:

A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.”

It is easy to see, from just these two passages, why so many believe they are Christians if they just “have love”—all the while feeling no need to be concerned about truth. Notice the phrase, “By this [love] shall all men know that you are My disciples.” It is true that an outward demonstration of love does make an important impression on people. In a selfish, unhappy, confused world, people practicing genuine love—do stand out from all those around them!

A basic question arises. How does Christ know if you are His disciple? We are not asking how men know, but how Christ knows. John also answers:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Did you notice the phrase “IF you continue in My word, THEN are you My disciples…”? This is a key point! “Continuing in [Christ’s] word”—remaining free of error—signifies to Christ that we are His disciples.

This is what Christ looks for!

The Role of Truth

Holding to the truth would never be a sign to men. People are usually turned off by what true Christians believe:

because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

1 Cor. 2:14 tells us that the truth is not attractive to anyone not called by God . However, seeing people show genuine concern for one another turns no one off and is attractive to all. Anyone who doubts this, may attempt to “cast” a few “pearls” at someone (Matt. 7:6). Watch the reaction. Then try showing love to them when they don’t expect it. The lesson will be learned.

Consider that True Christians are led by the Holy Spirit—the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13). This same Spirit of truth “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit will lead all those who are truly consecrated into the knowledge of real godly love. Galatians 5:22 reveals that love is a “fruit of the Spirit.” Romans 5:5 explains that such fruit is possible in a Christian’s mind only because God’s Spirit has put it there.

Romans 13:10 states, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” 1 John 5:3 adds this, removing all doubt:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.”

It will be clear to others that you have love, because they will see you fulfilling God’s laws toward your fellow man. Understanding real Christian love—what it is—how it is expressed—its relationship to law—its part in being the light of the world—is in itself also a great truth!

Let’s now carefully examine an important verse:

He that says, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).

Pause and consider this before continuing. Verse 5 speaks about people who claim to be Christians—to “know Him”—but who neither keep the commandments nor have “truth” in them. The world is filled with professing Christians who claim to “know Jesus in their heart” but who have no interest whatsoever in understanding the Divine Plan as outline in the Bible. Now, focus carefully on Christ’s words (vs 5)

But whoso keeps HIS [Christ’s] word; in him [that person] verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.” (vs 5)

Real love cannot be perfected in those who are not keeping Christ’s word—His recorded instruction—the truth. The true love of God is only perfected in people who ARE doing this!

Remember John 8:31.

If you continue in My Word, you are My disciples indeed.”

We must always “continue in” or “keep” God’s word. No wonder our Lord taught,

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).

The Greek word for “keep,” tereo, means “to watch or to guard (from loss or injury) by keeping the eye upon…to detain in custody.”

  • Will you determine to keep the truths of God’s Word in your “custody”?

  • Will you “guard” it from “loss or injury”?

  • Are you convicted about keeping your “eyes” continually upon it?

Remember, when we consecrated and became disciples of Christ, we were “sanctified” by that Word of truth (John 17:17). Only in this way can you first become and then remain Christ’s disciple!

Remember! Truth is the umbrella that stands over love. Love springs from truth—not the other way around! It is no coincidence that Matthew 22:37-39 says,

love your neighbor as yourself,” afterwards says, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

We didn’t wake up one day and decide “I’m gonna love God”, no, we learned the Truth, when about His Plan of Salvation, and fell in love with the heavenly Father.

Certainly, no one who rejects God or His truth love Him. Therefore, genuine love for “neighbor” will also be absent.

Many Churches Claim to Have “Love”

What about all those who emphasize the importance of love and having a “relationship with Christ”—while in ignorance of God’s Truths or while neglecting or abandoning the ones they may have? Can love be “perfected” in them? The Bible says that this is impossible! (Recall 1 John 3:4.) The only thing such people and organizations “perfect” is the ability to talk about love. So says God! While many have honed “love speak” into a fine art, this is nothing more than empty talk!

These are the ones who talk of “love” and “Jesus,” while demonstrating no real love of God and no real knowledge of the true teachings of Christ. How you love someone you don’t really know? At best it’s a superficial love. When there is doctrinal disagreement within their ranks.

Augustine has been credited with coining the phrase: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In actuality, Rupertus Meldenius, a German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century, coined the phrase in a tract published in 1627.

In any event, today this thought still echoes, even among the brethren. They say: “we must agree to disagree. Love is primary. Doctrines and opinions about Bible truth is secondary. Let us all just have love. Let us submerge our differences under ever more love.”

It’s a nice gesture, the problem with this thought is that, in the end, this breeds more division and doctrinal confusion and a complete disregard and neglect of doctrinal truth. This wrong premise puts the “love” cart in front of the horse. The true Christian continues in truth and then is able to walk in love. Remember, real love, springs from first having the truth! John stated that he “rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you [them], even as you walk in the truth.” Seeing this within fellow Christians was John’s greatest joy (3 John 3-4).

How Love, Truth and Blessings Work Together

There is a final, important, related point. What role do blessings and growth play within the formula of truth and real Christian love? Do their presence—or absence—tell the true Christian anything?

They should!

1 John 3:18 states, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” John explains that this gives Christians confidence toward God in their prayers, while eliminating the conscience problems that hinder them. Now verse 21: “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” Answers and blessings flow from obedience, pleasing God and application of His truth: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (vs. 22).

This principle is made plain through paraphrasing three verses. Let’s notice. Isaiah 58:13-14 explains that Israel was promised wonderful blessings if they kept the Sabbath properly. Malachi 3:8-10 shows that they were also promised great blessings—but only if they tithed faithfully. Exodus 15:26-27 directly connects the promises of good health and healing to full obedience to God’s commands. These and many other verses containing promises show that the Christian can know when he is in harmony with God. Conscience problems vanish when people follow all of God’s commands and instructions.

God’s people must recognize and never forget that a real Christian’s path is not easy or pain-free. However, if our ways please Him, God will continually give blessings and growth. This becomes a sign to us of His happiness and pleasure with us. When blessings, fruit and growth are continually lacking, God is not pleased! We know—either way.

First, belief and continuance in the truth tells Christ who His disciples are (and real love will always be evident anyway). Next, love tells people who Christ’s disciples are. Finally, blessings, fruit and growth tell the individual Christian whether he or she is pleasing God and continuing in His Word.

If I were the adversary I would speak endlessly of love and “Jesus,” while de-emphasizing right doctrine—Christ’s teachings—truth!—and their connection to growth and blessings. If this is what you are hearing, beware!

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