The Law of Love: Understanding Biblical Love, Offense, and Forgiveness
We’ve all felt the tentacles of ice encroaching upon our hearts at one time or another. It’s one of the most unpleasant feelings one can have. It’s also one of the most dangerous. The spiritual reality behind those symptoms gives evidence to a much deeper issue. As we will discover, the revelation of how mature we are in our relationships, the ultimate condition of our hearts, and by what we measure our love — can be found in how easily we are offended.
The LORD is slow to anger. He is long-suffering, kind, and full of mercy. Christ did not call us to merely love others as we love ourselves. He also called us to love others as He loved us. He demonstrated that love consistently through servanthood, suffering, and sacrifice. Christ’s love spared no expense. He emptied Himself for the world, knowing there would be many who would refuse Him, hate Him, betray Him, and even be offended by Him. When He gave the command to love, upon which all the law and prophets hang, He was not dumbing-down the Gospel message. He was not introducing some nefarious divine reduction. He was, in fact, elevating the Gospel message to a level only God could fulfill, and revealing its glorious simplicity. The love Christ calls us to is not for the faint-hearted and weak. On the contrary, it’s only for those who truly count the cost of following Jesus Christ. This new command was not merely about modifying outward behavior, which the law had governed for centuries. This was about revealing and transforming the deepest recesses of the human heart, which required a rebirth and circumcision, which only the Spirit could bring to those who believe and surrender their lives to Christ.
As we all know — we fall gravely short of this biblical standard of loving others as He loved us. We agree with it. We embrace it. We try to keep that command. Yet we fail miserably. This is why we’re going to talk about it. The simplicity of Christ’s Gospel message is extraordinarily hard. NO wimps here. This is hardball Christianity.
When Christ taught the principle of loving others on the Sermon on the Mount, He set a clear precedent by explaining that loving those who love us is something even the heathen do, and if we’re going to truly be like our Father in heaven, we must also be able to love our enemies — those who hate, curse, persecute, and spitefully use us. To be frank, these are the people who make our life hell. Loving them as Christ commanded requires a supernatural ability.
Enemies aside, it’s no secret that we even struggle to love those in our own circle of family and friends when they offend us. In contrast, these are people we’re intimate with whom we see on a regular basis. Yet the truth is this: LOVING as Christ loved us doesn’t come naturally for any of us, and therefore it requires a power only God can impart through His Holy Spirit.
Love is the fulfillment of the law (see Romans 13:8 & 10; Galatians 5:14). It is the ultimate demonstration of God to the world around us. It is the one thing by which all men will know we are His disciples (see John 13:35). Knowing how to demonstrate that love, however, is something we must deliberately and diligently seek, pursue, and nurture in our daily lives through an intimate relationship with Christ. Opportunities come to us daily; many times a day. When we surrender to this love, a dying to self unlike any other we’ve experienced, will inevitably occur. That is the power of the cross of Christ, which every true disciple is commanded to take up and bear as they follow Him daily.
Biblical Love Defined
Biblical love is most commonly known by the Greek word agape, which is used in the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage, to which most are familiar. According to the King James Version, the word ‘charity’ is used in this instance, because agape is best defined as bestowing good will toward others in a manner that involves and promotes benevolence, affection, and kindness. This is, by definition, an altruistic love that sacrifices self for the benefit of others.
The Apostle Paul draws a remarkable parallel between those things which endure versus those that will perish; and those things which are perfect versus those which are childish. The contrast is stark, revealing love to be not only that which is perfect, but also that which will endure to the end. It is heralded as the very greatest of all gifts given to men, which Paul terms “a more excellent way” (see 1 Corinthians 12:31).
Love is a high calling. It’s the highest precedent Christ has set. According to this passage, it’s the standard by which all things are ultimately measured. Yet sadly, it’s the one virtue most of us neglect to pursue and develop.
When we come to understand the command Christ gave His Church, and that emotions are not the determining factor for the biblical fulfillment of that command, we will no longer be hindered in obeying it.
Your Standard of Measure
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again,” (Luke 6:38, KJV).
We all have our standard of measure. If you’ve never thought about it, perhaps it’s time. Many of the things Christ commands us to walk in are reciprocal, such as forgiveness, mercy, and benevolence (to name a few). The spiritual law in place is one of sowing and reaping. We will be forgiven as we forgive others, and if we do not forgive, then we will not be forgiven. Mercy is shown to those who show mercy. And when we give, we are promised a reciprocation, both in this life and in the life to come. We will all be rewarded according to our works — even for a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name.
Every personality and temperament are unique, and some individuals are much more long-suffering than others. With that said, every person is called to the same biblical standard, regardless of personal tendencies or personality traits. How can this be? Because our ability to obey God’s command is not determined by personality or temperament. On the contrary, it is determined by our level of surrender to His power at work in us through His Holy Spirit.
Whether emotions run deep and hot, or cold and shallow — they are not to be the compass by which we determine our love, nor are they to be the precedent by which our standard of measure is set. The love God is looking for us to bestow is one of good will, kindness, and benevolence — regardless of what we may feel. When we consider how Christ demonstrated His love toward us we come to understand the following:
• We were given that which we did not deserve.
• We were sought before we knew we were lost.
• We were cherished although we stood condemned.
• Mercy triumphed over judgment.
• Grace was greater than our sin.
• Love covered a multitude of our sins.
• We were not only saved from our sin; He also changed our nature.
• We were not merely rescued from hell and death; we were also transferred into His kingdom.
God went above and beyond. He gave it all — and He is impartial to all. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you’ve done: His will is to save and redeem all mankind. He sees each individual as extraordinarily valuable despite our most wicked acts. Does that mean all will receive His salvation? Sadly, no.
In like manner, our will must also be active toward loving others as Christ loved us. It’s something we choose. It’s not dependent upon feelings or emotions, although they may be present.
The love we bestow must be selfless in its motivation. The love given is for the sake of the one we’re loving, and not because we seek to be loved in return. Like Christ, we need to love others, knowing it may never be reciprocated.
With that said, God is not looking for emotional hype and gooey sentiments. He’s looking for a pure heart that genuinely desires the best possible outcome for others, even when it requires self-sacrifice. That means we can love others even though we may dislike them. We can love others although they prove themselves to be our enemies. We can love others although it requires some hard discipline and difficult relational decisions. Sometimes what is best for others does not necessarily equate with what is easy or comfortable for them. Therefore, biblical love also involves discipline and consequence. Consequences are real, and God is just.
Discipline, rebuke, and consequence are all very much a part of biblical love. We see this in the Torah, the prophets of old, as well as in the ministry of Christ and His Apostles. Biblical love will always do what is best for the other person, although it may be painful. God is looking for the best possible outcome. We should do the same. With that said, what is best for someone does not always equate with what is easy or comfortable.
Your Offense Threshold
Welcome to the world of offense. It has officially arrived. We now live in an offended society. In case you haven’t noticed, the spirit of offense is rampant.
Offense is a HUGE deal. And it’s not just in the world — it’s in the Body of Christ as well. It’s responsible for some of the most grave relational dysfunctions. One of the things Christ prophesied about the end times was the increase of wickedness and the offense that would follow. This relational dynamic is all over scripture. Christ has a lot to say about offense in contrast to the love He’s called us to demonstrate. Offense is the primary culprit for the intolerance, hatred and betrayal we see in the world. This spiritual condition is equally as dangerous as it is toxic. Where there is offense, there is almost always unforgiveness, resentment, and bitterness — all which breed hatred and betrayal.
What is your offense threshold? In other words, how much garbage do you endure before the proverbial hammer falls and you call it to the carpet? Do you employ a hardcore zero-tolerance policy to every violation? Or does everything slide with sloppy grace? Let it be known that neither are biblical — and neither are loving. When it comes to offenses, there is a vast spectrum. Christ calls us to use discretion, wisdom, discernment and righteous judgment. Biblical love does not placate sin. Nor does it fear man. Biblical love will always stand for righteousness. It does precisely what 1 Corinthians 13 says: It loves mercy; it rejoices in and upholds truth; and it keeps no record of wrongs. And although it does not keep a record of wrongs, neither does it compromise God’s standard for the sake of appeasing man and coddling sin.
Offense comes in many packages. There are many ways it can manifest, and to varying degrees. Despite our endeavor to obey Christ in loving others, offenses will come. Offenses come because of sins committed against us. Let us remember to embrace the biblical love that believes all things by having faith in the hearts of those we love, and toward those with whom we’ve invested a deep and abiding relationship. Let’s learn to weigh offenses justly, and with mercy. Many who have committed offenses have done so unwittingly, innocently, and even ignorantly. Chances are, if you were to ask them, they would confess to having a clear conscience. Instances such as these are worth investigating if it means saving a relationship. Be careful not to allow the offense to cloud your judgment when confronting the offending party. Be very careful. Always be willing to err upon the side of mercy. Don’t be like the man who demanded payment and strangled his debtor (see Matthew 18:28, KJV) while neglecting to face his own debts so generously forgiven. Offense is a trap, and it will make a hypocrite of anyone who falls into it.
Regardless of the offense committed, Christ never excused sin. He always probed deeper, exposing the heart of its origin and intent. He offered forgiveness and repentance which ultimately brought peace and reconciliation. Knowing how to handle offenses biblically is the key to being victorious, and Christ both shows us and tells us how to do that.
Understanding Offense & Handling It Biblically
We must understand that the nature of offense is to bring division — not merely disagreement. Offense ultimately breeds hatred and betrayal. It focuses on sin instead of centering upon the worth and value of the individual or relationship. It values vindication more than the one who offended us. In stark contrast, God values the offender. He loves people. If vindication is what He truly desired, Christ would not have come to die for us. When Christ died, justice was righteously served against the real enemy.
Let’s recognize the real enemy. When we fall into the trap of offense, we are in league with the enemy.
Hatred operates by a murderous spirit. It kills and destroys hearts, relationships, reputations, dignity, integrity, and in severe cases it even takes human life. When we bring destruction to someone’s reputation, dignity, or any other area of their life we are operating in a spirit of murder. And although vindication may be just and rightly desired, it’s not something we can take. Vindication belongs solely to God.
The judgment reserved for those who follow this spiritual path of destruction is very clear:
Let’s remember from whence we came. All of us are worthy of death and damnation. Not one of us is righteous apart from Christ’s gift. Christ calls us to forgive, regardless of the offense. That is a spiritual mandate.
However, reconciliation is not always mandatory, although it may be sought. Whether the relationship is ultimately severed or reconciled, the goal should always be to pursue and establish a mutual peace. We can offer others our peace by extending forgiveness, although reconciliation may not be something safe, healthy or mutually agreeable. You are not obligated to remain in a relationship. You can offer someone your peace despite a myriad of relational detriments.
Christ talks about how to accomplish biblical reconciliation in Matthew 18:1-35 between the offender and the offended. His lesson is long. I pray you take the time to digest this chapter in full, reading and praying it through. There are important portions of His lesson we are not going to cover in this specific post.
The crux of His teaching is that reconciliation is achieved only through forgiveness which affords a mutual peace. Peace should always be sought. However, in no way does it obligate us to continue in a relationship that is not healthy or where irreconcilable differences cannot be agreed upon. In such cases people need the freedom and grace to part ways peacefully. With that said, be careful before ending relationships that could otherwise be mended. Only the Holy Spirit can lead in that area, and it requires a mutual effort and agreement between both parties. If that agreement is not there, you cannot and should not attempt to force another person into maintaining a relationship they do not want. Let them go, and move on. Keep the peace at all costs.
There are two sides of the coin when dealing with offense:
We should not be someone who is easily offended.
Those who harbor offenses and grievances in keeping a record of wrongs have deeper character issues that can involve brokenness, insecurity, and mistrust — all which require inner healing. When dealing with offense these individuals often fail to distinguish between violations, and subsequently everyone is served the same sentence regardless. Individuals who are easily offended are often very broken and wounded people whose only resolution is to terminate relationships in an effort to self-preserve. Their conflict resolution is poor, and they do not possess the emotional stamina or skills to sustain a relationship through a healing process.
With that said, we should make every effort to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (see Micah 6:8). Again, this means we are long-suffering. We bear long with the weaknesses, frailties, short-comings and sins of others. We all have them. The intimate nuances of relationships will always bring annoyances, frustrations, and inconveniences that do not necessarily involve sin or wrong-doing. Instead, these are human traits all of us must forebear. With these we should be long-suffering, extend grace, pray, and learn to let go.
As for more serious matters, let’s learn to distinguish between relational “misdemeanors” versus “felonies”. Before we lay the axe to the proverbial tree, lets consider dunging it a bit (see Luke 13:3-9). Many times reconciliation requires new boundaries in that relationship after careful evaluation. However, if those boundaries are not mutually agreed upon, reconciliation is not going to be possible. Depending upon the offense, reconciliation certainly should not be sought where there would be a compromise of safety or health and well-being. Therefore, the peace extended and achieved through forgiveness is sufficient — regardless of whether or not the relationship is ultimately reconciled.
God can, and does, call us to leave relationships even though we prefer to keep them, and for various reasons which may be unbeknownst to us. On that note, when God says to get out of a relationship — get out and don’t look back.
We should always be mindful and careful not to offend others.
An offended person is a soul at risk. If they don’t forgive, judgment awaits them. Yet sadly, we many times offend others when we are least aware. In fact, most people who offend others do so innocently and ignorantly, or in the very least naively. We need to carefully consider the motivations of offenses committed against us. People do not ordinarily seek ways to go about deliberately offending. And if they do, they are guilty of much more than causing offense: they are also guilty of malice (malicious intent).
We need to understand that when we offend others we put their soul at risk. The reality of the spiritual dynamic is this: the offended party remains in danger unless they are able to extend forgiveness to the offender. Let us realize that someone who is offended may not have the maturity or ability to do that emotionally, which is why children are Christ’s centerpiece for Matthew 18. They are extraordinarily vulnerable.
Offense is a deadly trap — because forgiveness that is not extended cannot be obtained. And if we’re the reason someone is aggrieved or caught in the trap of offense, we have an obligation to do everything in our power to make things right, although we may be innocent in our own eyes. This is precisely why Christ says that if we know our brother has ought against us, we are to go and seek him out. The offender is to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation:
This is also why Christ says:
When we offend others, we put their soul at risk. As horrible as it is to be offended, according to Christ it is much worse to be the one who offends. Let us always be careful not to offend. And if we have offended, may we diligently seek peace through forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us humble ourselves and seek the peace of those we have wronged, although it may have been done innocently or ignorantly.
This is not to say that we compromise God’s word or standard for mankind in an effort to appease them, which many pastors, churches, and spiritual leaders have done. The Gospel of Christ is offensive to a lost world that is insistent upon rebellion. Therefore, it’s necessary that in our effort to keep from offending others, we clearly distinguish between our own carnal offenses and those solicited by a just and righteous God. Christ never apologized for the offense of His message — and neither should we. Righteousness, truth, and justice should never require forgiveness. Therefore, Christ says this:
The moral of this biblical point is those who are offended at the Gospel will inevitably fall away (see Matthew 13:21).
Handling Repeat Offenders
First, let me say that we are all repeat offenders here. Whether it’s managing our money or our mouth — we’re all guilty.
We all have repeat offenders in our lives. With that said, let’s learn not to set ourselves up for offense. Having unrealistic expectations of others whom we already know cannot deliver will drive a wedge in a relationship unnecessarily. Repeat offenders should always be forgiven, hence Christ’s ‘seventy times seven’ example. When we see a pattern in a relationship, it requires a change in boundaries that are appropriate to that individual. Christ does this with us, and we need to learn to do this with others. It’s really rather simple: If Susie can’t handle something, you take it away. If Bobbie can’t respect your home or belongings, Bobbie doesn’t become privileged to them any longer.
Sadly, some relationships are so narrowed and the boundaries so strict that the relationship can hardly be sustained. If that’s the case, sometimes you have to let it go and count your losses. The truth is you cannot have a healthy relationship with unhealthy people who refuse change, or who are unwilling to allow God to deal with key areas of their lives which are damaging yours. Loving others means being approachable, teachable, and willing to change when change is needed. It means welcoming correction, loving confrontation, and remaining humble before God. It means allowing Christ to perform a deep sanctifying work that makes you a better person — not just for yourself, but for others. Those who fail to see the beauty and blessing of this refinement offered through intimate relationships will forfeit opportunities for significant growth. In the end, they lose. And sadly, the reality is some people truly just do not get along — and they’re not going to get along. Pursue peace and let it go. It’s that simple.
Christ determines what He entrusts to us by the stewardship we demonstrate toward His investment in us. As with any investment, He looks for growth. He clearly says that to whom much is given, much is required. And if we are faithful with little, we will be faithful with much. He also says that if we are not faithful with what we’ve been given, He reserves the right to take it away. That is much preferred to being judged for something He knows we can’t handle. Instead, He either withholds or withdraws it until our faithfulness is proven otherwise.
We must learn to do the same in our relationships. Manage your relationships through appropriate boundaries and proper stewardship that are appropriate for that specific individual. Don’t expect something from someone who can’t deliver, and then be offended when they fail you.
The Company You Keep
People who offend and who are easily offended are, by biblical standards, toxic people. Their love waxes cold. Let it be known that their end has been prophesied: they will not endure unless they repent. Instead, they will become vulnerable to the hatred, betrayal, deception and wickedness which has already become so prevalent.
Be careful with whom you choose to keep company. Not all relationships are those we have the privilege of choosing. Therefore, when you can choose them — choose wisely and well. Today we see the following scripture coming to pass with glaring clarity:
The command is clear.
Love that Endures to the End
Loving others well means seeking their ultimate good, even at your own expense. The love Christ calls us to emulate is self-sacrificing. That is a foreign concept to most, and it’s one we must willfully embrace despite our human nature that is so opposed and even defiant. Christ’s command to love is not an easy one to obey. On the contrary, it’s very difficult, although expressly simple. Welcome to Christianity 101.
Church, it’s time to graduate.
The good fruit of loving others as Christ loves us means offering them what they don’t deserve. It means preferring their well-being above our own, believing the best of them, laying down our lives to make the best possible outcome happen for them, and having good will toward all those around us regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what they’ve done. It means doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. It means seeking peace and pursuing it with all men as far as it depends upon us. It means standing up for God and His Word at all costs, never compromising Him for the fear of man.
The love that will endure to the end is one that will shun offense and choose forgiveness and peace despite the abundance of iniquity, deception, and persecution that will continue to abound.
The love that will endure to the end is the love that will endure all things.
Then you will be like your Father in heaven.
Cheers & Shalom,
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