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TEXT: I John 4:16
SUBJECT: Baxter on Christian Love #4: (Phony Love)
For the last several months, we've spent our midweek services in the study of great Puritan authors. These men were not inspired, of course, but they taught the Word of God with a depth and power rarely seen today. Though long dead, they remain a gift of Jesus Christ to His Church.
One of the greatest Puritans was named Richard Baxter. He was an English pastor who lived from 1615 to 1691. His theology was mixed-up at times, but his advice on practical living is the best I've read outside of the Bible.
He wrote on...well, almost everything. But we're reading him on Christian Love. Thus far, we've studied Loving your enemies, Loving your neighbors, and Loving your fellow believers. Next Wednesday--I hope--we'll see what he's got to say about Loving special friends.
But for today, we have a short chapter that he calls "The Counterfeits of Christian Love".
This assumes that not all Christian "love" is love at all. That some "love" is phony. Is that true? Of course it is. I John 3:18 warns,
"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth".
We've all experienced this kind of "love". Someone says how special you are to him, but when you need him most, he's not there for you.
Some love is counterfeit. It looks real from a distance. But when you get closer, it's seen for what it is: phony.
Baxter gives a dozen examples of "Counterfeit Christian love", but not all of them apply to us. We'll look at those that do.
1."It is but counterfeit love to love but one sect or party of Christians which you suppose the only party or church; and not to love a Christian as a Christian, and so to love all true Christians whom you can discern to be such".
When I read this, I wonder if Baxter was a Landmark Baptist or a Reformed Baptist! These are the people I know best. And love best too. Most of them love Christ and want to serve His people. But their view of the Church is so narrow, that they have little fellowship with brethren outside their immediate group. If you listen to them talk about other believers, you have to wonder how much love they feel for them.
My old Landmark friends say "Protestant" as though it were a four-letter word! The Reformed Baptists often use "Arminian" or "Dispensationalist" in the same way. To many, they're not just theological errors, but moral defects. Defects so serious that we can't have fellowship with them. Or think of them as "Brethren, beloved of the Lord".
Baxter says loving a brother because he belongs to the same church that you do is not Christian love at all. It is the Publicans' love. For even these rascals,
"Love those who love them and greet those who greet them".
Baxter is not alone. That's the very thing Paul rebukes in I Corinthians 1-3. There was plenty of love in that church. The problem is, it was narrow love. "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter, I am of Christ". Four divisions in the church, each rallied around one teacher. Plenty of love within the groups. But none between them. Paul says that sort of thing is carnal, immature, and divisive.
Christian love loves other saints because they belong to Christ--not to your church! This means if someone leaves the church--for a good reason or bad--we're still obliged to love him.
Loving others because they belong to our church or group is a "Counterfeit Christian love".
2."It is but counterfeit love to love only those Christians who are your relatives or those who have been in some way benefactors to you".
There is a special love for the family. When everyone in the family is saved, this love becomes even deeper. But we mustn't love only our relatives. Infidels do that much. Believers have to do more.
The same is true of "benefactors". Some believers have been very good to you and have a special claim on your love. By all means, love these dear saints. But not only them. Love those who've done less for you. Or nothing at all.
Our Lord said,
"When you give a dinner or supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But...invite the poor...and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you..."
He's not forbidding love for friends or family or the rich. What He's doing is forbidding favoritism in our love--loving only those who can repay us in some way.
Beware of this! Look for the unpopular, the lonely, the unloved, the people you feel funny around, and love them too, for Christ's sake.
Loving only your relatives or those who can help you--Baxter warns--is "Counterfeit Christian love".
3."It is but counterfeit love to love Christians only for their familiarity, or kind and loving conversation, and civil obliging deportment among men".
The wording is clumsy, but the meaning is clear: Don't love other Christians only because they're nice, friendly, or well-mannered.
Some are. And they're easy to love. They were well-liked before they were saved! Our love is to be deeper than that. We're to love others--again--not because they're nice, but because they belong to Christ.
Loving others because they're charming or beautiful or smart is a "Counterfeit Christian love".
4."It is but counterfeit love to love them only for being godly [at a distance], so they will not trouble [you] with their godliness, though they do not love those who [know them well] and reprove them".
Again, the wording is fuzzy, but the insight is crystal clear. It's easy to love Christians you don't know and who don't bother you. I know a man who's in love with the Universal Church. He loves every saint--living, dead, and unborn! Every saint, that is, but those he knows well. Loving the Universal Church, he hates every local church he's attended. He loves mankind, it's the people he can't stand!
That kind of love is a "Counterfeit Christian love".
5."It is but counterfeit love to love them only for holding strict and right opinions".
This is similar to what he said about loving others who belong to your church or group. But here the emphasis is on theological agreement. Loving others--not for Christ's sake--but for the sake of some doctrine.
I think I told you this last week, but it's worth repeating. I once heard a pastor say, "I have more fellowship with the unsaved that with Arminians". I hope he didn't mean that, but I think he did. That tells me he thinks more of his Calvinism than he does of His Savior.
His love may be real, intense, and loyal. But it's not Christian. For loving others because they agree with you on some doctrinal point is a "Counterfeit Christian love".
6."It is but counterfeit love to love them in fits only, as Saul confessed, with tears, to love David; but to have no constant love".
By its very nature, love is a constant and fixed thing. Paul says it "Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things". In short, "Love never fails".
If it doesn't last, it's not love. Brotherly love should be like a marriage, not an affair. It may not burn white hot, but it's real and lasting. It's based on commitment, not feeling. Loyalty, not emotion.
Warm, consistent love may sound boring, but if you've ever had it, you know it's the best thing in the world.
If it's not a consistent love, it's a "Counterfeit love".
7."Lastly, it is a counterfeit love that costs you nothing".
Love gives. And giving to others takes away from you. It takes away your time, your privacy, your money, your energy, your sympathy, and maybe your life.
This is true of God's love, isn't it? John 3:16. It's also true of our Savior's love. His love redeemed us, but at a terrible cost to Himself, I Peter 1:18-19. Paul's love for the church cost him dearly, II Corinthians 12:15. John's says our love will cost us too, I John 3:16.
That's an easy one. I'd gladly lay down my life for you. You know why? Because I probably won't have to! But then he gets down to the details. This sacrificing love includes things like giving you money when you need it--I John 3:17. . And I might need to do that!
Yet anything less than this--giving up yourself and your things--is a Counterfeit Christian love.
God forgive us our phony love. And turn it into the real thing. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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