“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14, ESV)
Popular culture has always been obsessed with love. As we look through some of the most popular songs in the past 50-years, we see many hits. In 1956, Elvis Presley recorded “Love Me Tender.” In 1975, Captain and Tennille recorded “Love Will Keep Us Together.” In 1970, the Partridge Family made “I think I Love You” a number one hit. The Beatles produced many songs on love with hits like, “Love me Do,” “And I Love Her,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “All You Need is Love.” However, when we look at all these songs, it seems that something is lacking. They all fell short of communicating the infinite and divine standard of love established in the heart of God.
As a result of man’s love falling far short of the divine standard, love has denigrated in our culture. Consider Tina Turner’s 1984 hit, “What’s Love Got to do with It.” In it she sang that love is “but a second-hand emotion.” You see, there is a significant problem when we define love based upon the standards of the humanist rather than the standard established by the Master. In exhorting the Corinthian believers to display authentic Christianity, the fifth command is to do everything “in love.” However, there is a potential problem when applying this command.
As I taught Christian Ethics in a Seminary, one topic we discussed was situational ethics. A man named Joseph Fletcher wrote a book, “The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics.” He attempted to find a happy medium between those holding a legalistic norm and those rejecting absolute moral norms. He established a one-norm ethic, love. Ultimately, in this ethic, love was defined by seeking the best desired outcome for the greatest number of people. Love’s application was determined by the situation. This made it a teleological, that is end results, ethic. In other words, in this, the ends justified the means.
We know that God establishes the divine standard for love, since “God is love.” Moreover, God is sovereign over the results of our actions in life. In His word, He has revealed how love functions. He demonstrated this great love by sending His Son to die on a cross for us. John wrote of it this way.
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16–18, KJV)
Under a situational ethic, where man is the determiner of the best end result, there can be great diversions from God’s standard. Consider the action of Nazi Germany. In the name of doing the best for the country and the majority of the people, the leaders instigated a process of ethnic cleansing where as many as six-million Jews were put to death. Those making this decision felt it was the best for the majority.
The love command that Paul gave has a divine standard and duty in obedience. This is understood as we contemplate the righteousness of God. We see it demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus for the blessing of all humanity. Our application of love in everything will never violate the precepts of God’s moral standards. It will never violate His word. It will often cost us personally. We will have to express love to the unlovable. We will have to forgive those who have wronged us. We will have to turn people from the paths of sin from their own good. Expressing love the way Jesus did is not easy and will take great strength, but it is the command for us.
Do everything in love according to the standards revealed in Scripture and trust God for the results.