Making Pride Month Meaningful, No. 3: How Love and Law Go Together

Jun 21, 2024 by David Fowler

Making Pride Month Meaningful, No. 3: How Love and Law Go Together
If our society is going to celebrate Pride Month, can we jettison bumper-sticker conservations like “Love is Love” and “God hates Pride” for something more meaningful? Here’s my suggestion for a conversation starter: In what kind of atmosphere does love, like a flame, either flourish or die? Material comfort? Attraction? Compatibility? I will try to demonstrate that the right answer is the one least likely to come to mind: law.
I suspect many think law crushes and suffocates love. For example, I believe it’s behind the thinking of those who say a marriage license doesn’t make a marriage and love is more than a marriage license. There is an element of truth in that.
However, marital love also entails commitment, and a marriage license strengthens that commitment because the license is a public acknowledgment by the couple that law should hold accountable the one who breaches that commitment.
But, still, what gave rise to that love?
Material comfort is out as an answer since there are many lacking in material possessions who love deeply. However, attraction and compatibility are tougher to discount as providing the atmosphere in which love flourishes. These two seem to fit with my experience. But what if my experience is lying to me?
What Jesus Says About Love Seems Very Damning of Everyone!
In the following words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-44), Jesus explodes what I might have thought based on my experience with attraction and compatibility:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
And then he says why: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (v. 44).
Next, Jesus demonstrates how the Heavenly Father role-models the love His sons and daughters are to have: “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In other words, paraphrasing the simile we use to describe child-parent similarities, “the earthly nut never falls far from the Heavenly tree.”
Following this he lays to waste the idea that attraction and compatibility can define the kind of love he’s speaking about:
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? (Matthew 5:46-47)
In other words, it is easy for homosexuals to “love” each other and heterosexuals to “love” each other, though we know not everyone in their respective groups loves everyone in their group. That’s why the next thing Jesus says seems outrageous.
After saying the Heavenly Father is our example and loving those we naturally love isn’t the kind of love He’s looking for, he gives makes a statement that flows from this example:
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
If that is a command and entails, as it clearly does, loving those who hate and curse you, then I suspect we all would see that as impossible. We are all damned. But that’s where knowing what law is and what it’s for comes in.
What’s Law Got to Do with Love?
To paraphrase a Tina Turner song about love, “What’s law got to do with love, got to do with love?”
I could not have told you until the Holy Spirit pushed me, as a Christian and policy person, into asking, “What can I do in response to Pride Month that is beyond ‘cursing the darkness?’”  
Getting mad and pointing fingers—ways of cursing the darkness—is easy for a person like me who takes seriously the simple plainness of the sexual ethic set forth in the Bible: Sex is confined to a martial relationship between a man and a woman.  
My beliefs about sexual intimacy are the same as ever, but over the last week the following words of Jesus, which have intrigued me for the last several years, demanded a deeper dive:
And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).
The root of the Greek word translated lawlessness is “nomos,” and it means law. Apparently, then, nomos or law provides a context, an atmosphere, if you will, that is conducive to love, and without which love loses its fire.
Thus, if Jesus’s words are to be taken seriously, we need to lay aside what we think about the behaviors and attitudes of others to find out what this law is. His words compelled me to ask:
What kind of law is lacking in a society that is increasingly marked by factions within our shared humanity and in which the spheres of attraction and compatibility for even basic civility seem to get smaller and smaller?
The Law That Makes for Love’s Flourishing
In the Bible, law can have several meanings, but here the meaning is straightforward. The law Jesus speaks about here is the moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments.
To this, the Apostle Paul adds this bit of information to help me answer my question: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Sounds like love has some kind of legal character pertaining to the moral law.
Making a Right and Wrong Use of the Moral Law
Paul adds another bit of information necessary to my inquiry in his first letter to Timothy. Paul writes to give him instructions on the organization of and life in the church, including the moral law.Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith,” which is what I said in last week’s commentary makes love evangelical (1 Timothy 1:5).
Understood in this way, he says, “the law [is] good” because it is being used “lawfully” (Timothy 1:8).
Then Paul lays down a truth that should give pause to everyone on either side of Pride Month who think of Christianity only or primarily in terms of ethical prohibitions, proscriptions on attitudes and behavior. He says those in the church who have “strayed” from this “lawful” use of law “have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1Timothy 1:6-7 NKJV).
That sounds damning. And it is, because it means they have not yet gotten the point he subsequently makes, namely, that the “the law is not made for a righteous person” (I Timothy 1:9).
Instead, Paul says, the law is made for “the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane,” and then he goes on to give examples of what those persons look like. (1 Timothy 1:9).
I don’t think verses 6 through 9 get enough attention. A lot of preaching by those who profess to be teachers of the law puts the stress on the negative—not being like one of those bad people mentioned—and the “steps” to take to avoid being one of them.  However, others who also profess to be teachers of the law take these verses as justification for dismissing law altogether as if love has no legal shape or character.
So, which is it?
What’s the truth about the relationship between love and law?
To answer this question, I must return briefly to what I said earlier. After quoting Matthew 5:48—“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect,”—I wrote, “If that is a command and entails, as it clearly does, loving those who hate and curse you, then I suspect we all would see that as impossible” (emphasis supplied).  
But it’s not a command! The verb is in the indicative mood, not the imperative mood. In other words, it is a statement of fact about certain kinds of people, and its tense is future. Jesus is telling the persons he is talking to what they will trend toward as they go forward in life.
How Could Perfect Love Ever Be True of Any of Us?
That’s where the gospel comes in as great news: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). The word translated “end” is the Greek word “telos.”
In other words, Jesus doesn’t make the law irrelevant, as some might preach today, nor does He make the law damning, as others might preach today. Jesus’s statement about perfection is a non-damning, full of hope indicative statement about what is going to be true of his listeners because the Sermon on the Mount was spoken to his “disciples” (Matthew 5:1).
Disciples—those who see the glory of God in the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6)—find in Jesus the law’s summation and conclusion, its resting place, its destination.
When a faith beyond mere reason yet still reasonable grasps this as true about the person of Jesus and that they are united to Him by an act of His Holy Spirit, they come to an assurance that His perfect love is imputed to them, i.e., declared by God to be true of them. Then, by that union, they know that, in time, the perfection of love that is God and in the still-living but glorified human being who is Jesus will become theirs in the end.
How This Applies to Me
I know I am far from the promised perfection, as does everyone else who knows me. But the good news—actually great!—is the love of the Heavenly Father revealed in Jesus not only covers a multitude of my sins, even in relation to those who I should most love (see 1 Peter 4:8), but it has changed the way I see the moral law of the Ten Commandments.
It has made all the difference in the world to see the moral law as received from the hands of Christ and not from those of Moses only (compare 1 Corinthians 9:20 and 21; Hebrews 12:18-24). And why wouldn’t it? It now comes to me from God who I now see as love and in whom I delight.
And that, of necessity, begins to transform the law that comes from Him into something I “love” (Psalm 119:97) and in which I take “delight” (Psalm 1:2). God’s law is understood as an expression of Him.
Thus, the law of God becomes what keeps real love on track toward its final destination—eternal fellowship with the God who is love.

Subscribe to Email Updates


Donate to FACT

Make a Donation