The Limits of Love
Galatians 2:11 - 14
When we started this part of our three on three series we said that love is not a feeling, but rather an action. Then, we attempted to apply that principle to the problem of dealing with enemies. This morning, I want us to wrap up our look at love with what I think is a very crucial question; does love ever set limits?
Does it ever say, "Enough is enough." That seems like an easy enough question, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: 8, "Love never fails." One verse earlier he said, "Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." When you consider that Paul uses the words "never" and "always," it would seem pretty safe to say that love knows no limits.
Well, let's test that conclusion in the crucible of real world experience:
A woman at your office shows up for work wearing a pair of sunglasses. But it's a cloudy day. And besides, the florescent lights in the office aren't that bright. Yet throughout the morning, she hides behind those Foster Grants. You don't even bother to ask why. You know why. You've seen her do it a dozen times in the last year and a half. Her husband has blacked her eye again.
You asked her, once, why she put up with it. "He really loves me," she answered. "And I love him. And I know that the Bible says that love always hopes, always perseveres and never fails." Does God expect that woman to keep on showing up for work trying to hide a bruised face with thick make-up and dark sun glasses? Does love ever say enough is enough?
Or consider a man in his mid-fifties who is responsible for caring for his aging mother. He's taken her into his home, manages her finances with utmost integrity, schedules her doctor appointments and provides transportation to them. He takes her to church every Sunday morning and Sunday night. To everyone who knows her, she is a sweet, faithful saint, living out her final years with grace and dignity.
But when he and his wife are alone with her, she is verbally abusive, impossible to please and mean-spirited. She uses her vast knowledge of the Bible as a weapon to carve up her caretakers for all their faults, failures and shortcomings. She constantly criticizes, demeans and dismisses everything they do. And she is a master at manipulation by guilt. This isn't a new thing brought on by old age. He knows she's always been this way.
Does love require him to take her verbal stabs regardless of how much emotional blood she draws? Or does it permit him to confront her and demand that she stop quoting the Bible so much and start living by it. In other words, does love ever say, "Enough is enough?" Does love ever set limits?
Look again in 1 Corinthians 13:4 - 8. I love it when something new leaps out of an old text for me. You may have seen this years ago, but I got the pleasure of experiencing it for the first time this week. Listen to Paul's familiar words again, this time with the question of love's limits in the front of your brain. (Read text)
Eight times Paul uses the word "not." Paul spends fifty percent of his time and ink telling us what love does not do. In other words, Paul spends as much time telling us about the limits of love as he does telling us how far it is willing to go. Every time he uses the words "not," or "no," he's showing us one of love's boundary lines.
Let me explain why I think this is such an important question. The choice to love someone is a risky choice. It makes us vulnerable. We open our hearts and souls up to the people we love. If they respond to us in Godly love, it's a blessing.
But if they choose, they can take advantage of us. They can abuse us verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually. They can seize the opportunity afforded them by our love to manipulate, dominate and control us. And they often do all of that in the name of God. So it is important that we understand that God's word identifies some limits where love is concerned.
The most obvious limit of love has to do with the law of God. True love never asks you to disobey a command from its creator.
Law and love always agree with each other. Which may sound a little strange to some of us. We have a hard time getting law and love on the same page. The Bible, however, not only puts them on the same page, but frequently places them next to each other in the same sentences.
Romans 13:10 says, "Love is the fulfillment of the law."
Galatians 5:14, "The entire law is summed up in a single command; Love your neighbor as yourself."
1 John 5:3 puts love and obedience together: "This is love for God; to obey his commands."
So does John 15:17: "This is my command; Love each other."
In 1 Timothy 1, Paul orders Timothy to confront some people in Ephesus adding in vs. 5, "The goal of this command is love."
Go created love. He authored the law. True love, Godly love, then, will always be consistent with his law. Love never violates God's law. True love seeks to bring it's object as close to God as possible. And you can't move closer to God by trying to get around his law.
Listen to how Paul put it in Romans 13: 8 - 10. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
The only way for love to remain harmless is for love to remain law abiding. True love never asks you to disobey a command from its creator.
The Second limit of love is that Love will not allow us to allow sin to go unchallenged.
Now I understand that when I say the word unchallenged, that for most of us that is a fighting word. In counseling we are told to stay away from fighting words and persuade others from using them. And I also understand that we are called to live like our Savior, the Prince of Peace.
But at the same time I remember that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said blessed are the peace makers and I fear that we have misinterpreted it to say blessed are the peace keepers. Honestly there are some times and some things that are worth ruffling a few feathers over.
Be honest with yourself, are there times that you are willing to let things slide just to keep a little peace? I’ll admit that I am guilty of doing just that. There are times with the boys that it is easier to let thing go than endure the drama of correcting them. There are times with some of you that it is easier to let things slide than endure the drama of correcting it.
You understand I’m sure, and we say that we only let the little things slide. I mean we would never let a big thing, a big problem, or a big sin slide so we could have a little peace. And I know that’s what we say, but isn’t that the story we are watching unfold in a college up north? Folks decided that to say something was more trouble than letting it slide.
You understand that we have to ask another question, in God’s eyes, what are little sins and what are big sins? And if we really believe that every sin separates us from God then we have to be willing to challenge folks behavior.
What does love require if someone is excusing sinful behavior?
What does love require if someone is violating God's law?
What does love require if someone you love is being abusive toward you?
Does love just sit back and take it? Or does love require us to step up and stop it?
Our text for this three week look at love has been 1 Corinthians 13. The apostle Paul authored that book. But he also wrote the passage that was read for us today from Galatians 2:11-14. I want you to look at that text again this morning so we can see how Paul put his teaching into practice in his own life.
Paul tells the story about the time that he had to challenge Peter over the sin of hypocrisy. And to be honest for most of us, what Peter did seems like such a little insignificant thing. But I think that’s because we don’t really understand what is going on in Antioch.
Apparently in the Church here folks were able to put their prejudices aside and share a common meal together. In our day and time that’s not really a big deal, I mean if we go out to eat we would like to have a table for just our group, but if we have to share space that’s ok as well.
For instance, a month or two ago I met with Tony Williams in Beaumont for lunch. We were going to try out Willies Hamburgers and the place was packed. I stood there with my drink in my hand waiting for a table to clear, when I head someone say, “Excuse me sir, if you would like to sit at the other end of the table we don’t mind.” And that’s just what we did. Tony and I sitting at one end sharing a table with some polite and kind strangers. We didn’t stop and ask them about their ethnic back ground, or worry about the color of their skin. We just shared a table and a meal with these strangers.
No big deal right??? Well to the Jew, while there was no rule forbidding eating with Gentiles, Leviticus 11 sets forth dietary laws for Jews that included forbidden food present or the table at joint meals. But the Pharisee's felt the need to add laws that would built a hedge around the law of Leviticus 11. This way Jew’s wouldn’t transgress God’s laws. So they taught that while you could eat in the same room as a Gentile, you were not allowed to eat at the same table as a gentile. It was just another way to separate the Jews from the Gentile dogs.
Apparently Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, celebrating his freedom in Christ. But when the Judaizing teachers arrived from Jerusalem he compromised what he knew was right to gain their approval. In the process he lead the other Jewish Christians, including Barnabas the Gentile missionary, astray.
Should Paul, in love, keep the peace or should love cause him to ruffle a few feathers? We see that the loving thing for Paul to do was handle the problem in a Biblical manor. The God Paul served demanded the same of him that He demands of us.
Matthew 5:23-24 "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Jesus says here that making things right with someone who you have offended is more important than worship.
Matthew 18:15 "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. Here Jesus looks at the other side of it.
It’s this beautiful picture of one man leaving his home and another man leaving the temple. They meet in the street in an effort to make things right. Jesus doesn't say it’s fun, or it’s easy, He says it’s the loving thing to do.
If someone has wronged you then you need to seek them out in private. In these two passages Jesus paints a beautiful picture of two brethren meeting one another half way to make things right.
Paul had to confront Peter because of his love for Peter and the church. You see Peter was clearly in the wrong, and his behavior was hurting the Church. So Paul did the most loving thing that he could, confronted Peter's behavior.
If Paul had not confronted Peter, Peter would have continued to behave in hypocritical ways. Others, like Barnabas, would have continued to be led astray by Peter's behavior. The Gospel would have been compromised. Relationships between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians would have been badly damaged. Does that sound like love?
No, the most unloving thing Paul could have done would have been to remain silent. And sometimes that’s just what we do. We are guilty of standing by and watching someone we “love” hurt, or destroy themselves and we just watch helpless, not loving enough to accept the personal pain it would take to get involved.
But that’s not how it is with God. God’s love never says "Enough!" In his letter to the Ephesians Paul said, "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ."
God's love for us is unfathomable. But it is not unlimited. There will come a day in which God will indeed say, "Enough." He will not force His love on you. He gives you the freedom to accept or reject His love. If you want His love, it will never be taken from you. But if you refuse it, he won't force it. It’s your choice.
Today you have a choice to make accept the Love of God or reject it. But you must be willing to understand the limits of His love. You cannot love God and transgress His will for you. And you cannot love God and allow sin to go unchallenged. We must lovingly serve God with our lives.
Questions To Consider
How would you describe love?
What is the hardest thing about loving others?
What is the hardest thing about loving people you don’t like?
Do you believe that love has limits?
Have you ever known someone who endured physical or emotional abuse in the name of love? How did it make you feel to watch them endure the pain?
How can setting boundaries be the most loving thing you can do?
Peter’s sin was trying to win the approval of men over God. Why is it unwise to value the approval of people rather than the approval of God (John 12:43)?
How does doing the difficult things show love?