A few weeks ago I preached a sermon with the same title as this post, explaining 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, with a special focus on verse 6 (you can watch it by clicking here if you’re so inclined.) My main concern was to address the twin and inverted current cultural tendencies to elevate rhetoric about “love” (and “tolerance”) while simultaneously rejecting absolute truth and our ability to know the truth. The question is, how can you be certain you are affirming “love” if you’re rejecting truth? Indeed, how can you be certain of anything if you’ve rejected absolute truth? I wanted to make the congregation I serve aware of this cultural duality and equip them to respond biblically.
Let me summarize the sermon, then interact with a comment Prof. John Lennox made at the Oxford Union.
My thesis for the sermon was: love and truth are inseparable, and therefore we must ensure we keep them together in our speech and interactions with others, especially those who disagree with us.
We know truth and love are inseparable from experience. I began with this question: if you were sick, though you were unaware you were sick, which of the two following doctors would you say cared about you and your wellbeing (i.e. which one would you say loves you) – the one who told you that you look great, there’s nothing wrong with you, not to let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you, and went out of his way to make you feel good about yourself; or would it be the one who compassionately delivered your diagnosis and gave you the necessary treatment plan?
But more than our experience, we see that truth and love are combined in God’s nature. God is love (see 1 John 4:8; cf. Exodus 34:6f) and is the source of love (1 John 4:7). And we all know John 3:16. But it is equally true that God is truth. We see this attribute in both Testaments as well. Each Person of the Triune Godhead shares this attribute. God the Father is truth. Jesus said about Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). And about the Holy Spirit Jesus says, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
Of course, truth and love are combined at the cross as well. That the cross demonstrates God’s love is clear (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10), and few would argue with this point. But the cross also pronounces truth about us (we are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and curse), about God (that He is holy and cannot simply ignore sin, but that He is also loving and provides a way of escape from His wrath for the sinner), and about salvation (there is no other way). In short, while the cross magnificently and clearly demonstrates God’s love, it is not there to affirm sinners in their sin and to make them feel good about themselves. It proclaims a diagnosis (we are sinners) and the remedy (trust in Christ’s shed blood and repentance from our sin). This proclamation of truth is love.
My second major point, after God is Love and Truth, was Where Truth is Denied, Love Unravels. I began this point by distinguishing two kinds of truth: “higher” and “lower” truth. Higher truth is God (and His Word), and therefore higher truth is a Person. Lower truth is what we typically think of as truth: things like categorical statements, logic (whether deductive [including math] or inductive [including the scientific method]), definitions, etc. The main issue I wanted to raise here was: when we reject Higher Truth, we have no objective basis for lower truth. To put it another way: rejection of God and His Word necessarily results in relativism. What may be true for you may not be true for me (rational relativism). What may be right, and therefore loving, for you may be wrong and unloving for me (moral relativism).
At this point, I’d like to interact a bit with a statement John Lennox made at the Oxford Union (which you can see here), because it is an important supplement and clarification of what I said in my sermon. My contention in the sermon was that the person who rejects Higher truth has removed any objective basis upon which to ground his or her understanding of truth or ethics. What I did not say (mostly for time), but what I think is important to understand, is what Prof. Lennox said before many atheists, including Richard Dawkins, at the Oxford Union:
“Ethical behavior, like rational behavior, of course, does not itself require religious belief. This is consistent with the fact that humans are created in God’s image as rational, moral persons.”
It is important to keep in mind that a major argument by atheists is that they are capable of being moral persons. My contention was simply that, while that is true, they have no objective basis on which to ground their ethic. They cannot adequately answer the question as to why their particular ethic is to be preferred over an antithetical ethic.
However, I love how Prof. Lennox engages in some apologetic judo. “Of course you are capable both of rational and ethical behavior,” he is essentially saying, “because you are made in the image of God Who is Truth and Love,” if I may put my own spin on it. It is because God is Truth we are rational at all, and there is any rationality at all, and Love is the summary of the God-commanded, Christian ethic.
There is so much talk of love and tolerance and acceptance today, but those with the loudest social voices tend also to reject any objective basis upon which to define those terms. God, Scripture, and the cross establish, proclaim, and give us the basis for true love. Of all people, Christians should be the most outspoken public proponents of truth and love, all while speaking the truth in love.