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Stephen R. Clark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
Joined June 1996


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From the January 27, 1980 issue of the Pentecostal Evangel

All’s Fair in Love?

We must obey the command to love at all costs, even if it means loving with a broken heart.

A vicious misconception has infiltrated the church: That everything is fair when love is involved. This is a direct carryover from the secular concept of “free love” without responsibility.

One of the clearest portrayals of this concept is on soap operas.

Armed with this formula, a secretary can seek to destroy her boss’s marriage because she loves him. That he and his wife love each other is irrelevant. The secretary’s love is all that counts.

And her love justifies all she does to obtain the object of her loving. This “fair love” attitude can even go to the extreme of justifying murder when someone gets stubbornly in its way.

This attitude has infiltrated the church. Love has “grown up” out of its original Biblical meaning, which included some very explicit demands, into this all-justifying generalization: “If I love my neighbor, I can say and think whatever I want about him and keep my loving distance when he does something I don’t like.”

Our love becomes conditional, a “situational love.”

If someone hurts us or does some thing we don’t care for, we feel that as long as we love them in this vague, mystical, intellectual sense, we don’t have to love them with words or actions.

So if a Christian brother or sister has displeased us, we give them a cold shoulder.

For a spouse or friend, we jokingly voice our annoyances and embarrass them in front of others.

And for congregations this attitude gives vent to a gossip and slander free-for-all. Rumor reigns, replacing fact. And fertile imaginations become infernally destructive instead of gloriously productive.

A good place to observe this is in a troubled or recently split church. In fact, this attitude is probably a significant cause for church problems. And it is often the sign of a general spiritual immaturity and shallowness.

The problem can remain imperceptible for months or even years. It’s like a rubber band being slowly stretched until it’s stretched too far. When it finally snaps, it hurts.

This same situation occurs on a smaller scale in marriages and friendships. What is left when the smoke clears is a battlefield of rumor-ravaged and scandal-scarred souls.

We need to get back to the roots of what love is supposed to be for Christians.

The key comes from Christ in John 13:34,35: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my do if you love one another” (NIV).

And also Matthew 22:37-40:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (NIV).

Note that this is not an option. It is a clear and precise commandment. We are to love the Lord and to love others as He loves us.

Now knowing we are supposed to love, we need to determine how to love. Probably the best beginning instruction is from the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, verses 4-7:

“This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive; it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.

“Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails” (Phillips).

What are the elements here? First, patience. Thus is eliminated the short temper and nagging tongue. If we love our brother, we will love him in spite of his faults and differences. We love him patiently, hoping for his improvement. And in our patience, we seek to find gentle and kind ways to encourage him in his struggle.

Love is not possessive. It does not seek to consume the other by demanding love returned. Christian love is out flowing. And our love is not a badge we wear to impress others with our generosity. We do not love to be rewarded for doing it, but because we are loving!

Our love is polite. And our love is not fickle, here today in agreement and gone tomorrow in disagreement.

Most crucial, love is forgetful and forgiving. This last element is really the first. If forgiving and forgetting were actively and honestly practiced, all the rest in loving would fall in place. Marriages would endure happily; relationships would develop beautifully; and churches would split peacefully, only because the membership had grown too large.

In Matthew arid Luke, Jesus gave specific direction for exercising forgiveness toward our brothers:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and said ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but [ times seven]’” (Matthew 18:21,22, NIV, margin).

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3,4, NIV).

These are two formulas for two different situations. The first is for forgiving the unrepentant offender. The second is for when the offender seeks our forgiveness.

The mathematics involved here are, in themselves, overwhelming. Every person offending us deserves a potential of thousands of forgivenesses!

But beyond the numbers there really is no qualification to which we can subject our forgiving. If a person offends us and realizes this later and asks our forgiveness, he is to receive our immediate and unconditional forgiveness.

The Matthew command goes even further in removing qualifications. If we are offended by someone who refuses to repent, we are still to forgive him.

The only difference is he needs more forgiveness than the repentant offender. Or rather, we need to forgive more. We need to get this hurt out of our system before it turns into a cancerous grudge. If we attempt to honestly forgive a man every time the offense comes to mind, perhaps we will see the triviality of holding this bitter grudge.

Even if the offender was really wrong, we can’t allow this destructive attitude to remain in us. We need to forgive and put the pain out of our mind.

Since the Matthew command is given without a time limit or daily dosage, it’s like a prescription to be taken as needed for the pain of the persistent memory until it recurs no more.

Forgiveness and love may be hard to honestly exhibit because there is real pain involved in the offense. Our hearts were broken.

This type of situation, if not handled properly, tends to create a hardness of heart. We “toughen up” our sensitivities so as not to be hurt the next time.

By doing this, we not only protect ourselves from pain, but we numb ourselves to all feeling. We barricade ourselves in, and so barricade others out. We ignore their need and become insensitive prisoners of our own pain.

Loving as Christians are called to love is risky. And there will be pain. It is pain, however, that must and can be endured. It’s the pain of a father when his child does wrong. Or the pain of a spouse or close friend after an argument and harsh words. But the love goes on because the relationship is more important than the pain.

Pain held onto will eventually grow into hate and an insatiable desire for revenge. A friend can become, to us, an enemy. But Christ said not to resist injuries and also to love those we mark as enemies (Matthew 5:38-48).

This then is our call. We are to love in spite of everything.

When our spouse makes a cutting remark in momentary anger, we love and forgive and forget.

When a friend thoughtlessly takes advantage of us, we love and forgive and forget.

When a rival makes a mockery of us, we love and forgive and forget.

And when a church is shaken by misunderstanding amid problems, we love and forgive and forget—and maintain an observable, loving fellowship in all instances.

Why should we be loving and forgiving, even at great personal or corporate cost?

We have already mentioned that this is a commandment of the Lord. And there is reason why it is so crucial a command for our Christian life.

This comes in two parts, the first dealing with the personal: “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors…. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:12,14,15, NIV).

Nothing could be plainer. If we refuse or withhold forgiveness, we in life remain unforgiven by our Father. Being unforgiven means our spiritual destiny is in definite doubt. Our own senseless stubbornness and feeble fear of pain jeopardize our soul.

The second part of the reason deals with the corporate and is found in the first verse quoted earlier: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:84,35, NIV).

We must exhibit a forgiving love; because if we don’t, we are unforgiven. If we are unforgiven, our spiritual condition is in tragic disarray. And the world has the right to point a finger and say, “You are not what you say you are. You are frauds.”

Many churches have lost their credibility and effectiveness because of the lack of observable love and forgiveness. Because of separatist pride, scandal, snobbery, or a split that produced grudges in stubborn hearts, churches are dying along with the sinful culture surrounding them.

And for the same reasons Christian marriages and friendships are being destroyed.

The church is battling with itself, and the community is laughing, saying, “They’re no different from us.” And Satan too is gleeful.

People are different. They will disagree. They will hold differing opinions, tastes, ideas, and preferences. Yet Christ’s love for us, being exhibited through us surpasses these transitory differences and binds us as the family of our merciful King.

It’s good to be different and unique, but not at the cost of damaging our fellowship with others and with God.

“All’s fair in love” is a vicious lie. The truth is, “Love is all-fair.”

Love seeks truth and justice, not rumor and half-truth. Love is peace- seeking, always working toward reconciliation, not divisiveness. Love looks for the good and forgets the bad.

And love forgives and forgives and forgives. Forgiving and forgetful love, imparted from the Father through the Son by the Spirit, is the Church’s life and hope. Without observable, forgiving love and open hearts, the message of the gospel to the world will become worthless.

We must walk away from the past’s pain and obey the command to love at all costs, even if it means loving with a broken heart. Because the cost of not loving and not forgiving is even greater.








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