Minister Speaks: Theology loves God and serves neighbor
Sometimes it seems that we fall into the trap that either we love theology or we love our neighbor. Either we love the Word of God or we love God Himself. But this is a false distinction, one which our Lord does not make in His Word to us.
Instead of separating the two, the Lord shows us that love and theology are completely and totally bound up to one another. It’s like mixing the batter for a cake; once you put the flower, oil and eggs in and beat them together, they become inseparable but also still individually important. The cake won’t come out right if you don’t have the proper ingredients. Neither will our life look as it should if we don’t have the right things flowing into and out of it.
We need theology to teach us who God is, who we are, what He does for us, how we are to live holy Christian lives, what He promises to us on the last day, etc. If we don’t have theology, we can’t know any of that. If we don’t have theology, we don’t know that we’re supposed to love God and neighbor, because it’s theology that tells us that’s what we should be doing. We need love, to be sure, but we need theology to show us what that love looks like and where it comes from.
I’d like to illustrate this point with an account of one of the martyrs of the early church, Cyprian of Carthage. He was brought in to make a false confession of God, offer incense to the Roman gods, and to confess “Caesar is Lord.” His response was “I will not.” The sentence for refusing to do this was that he’d have his head cut off. His response to that was “God be praised!” Here he showed his love for God.
When he was led out to be executed, after tying the blindfold around his eyes, he paid the executioner 25 pieces of gold, not so that he could possibly escape persecution, but so the executioner could make sure there was food on his table. Here he showed his love for neighbor. Cyprian loved God, and his neighbor. And He did so because he had learned from the Word of God (theology) that He was to do this. He had been brought to faith by that same Word of God (theology). He had been sustained in that faith through that Word of God (theology). And He died in the faith, boldly confessing the faith given to him in the Word of God (theology).
Theology is not distinct from love. It can’t be. Theology which does not have love is nothing more than ivory tower academics that cares nothing for the God who gave us His Holy Scriptures, nor for our neighbor who is God’s gift to us. But love apart from theology is also useless. It has no direction. It has no guide. It has no substance. Love without theology is empty emotionalism which ultimately can’t love our neighbor in the way best for them, nor can it love God, for it doesn’t know who that God is.
Theology needs love. And love needs theology. Love God. How? Have no other Gods; use God’s name rightly; keep the Lord’s Day holy. Love neighbor. How? Honor authority; protect life; uphold the good of marriage; help your neighbor protect their stuff; don’t gossip about your neighbor but speak well of them; don’t desire what God has given to your neighbor.
These are the Lord’s commands to us, commands which are theology, and commands which shape our love. And all of this points us to the only one who has ever kept them perfectly in our place. The one whom Cyprian trusted in. The one who promised him eternal life and his head reattached. The same one who promises you the same.
Our Lord Jesus Christ who died the death we deserve. Who rose victorious on the third day. Whose blood sets us free to be people of God. Whose blood covers our sins. And whose Word continues to urge us to hear the Scriptures (theology) and to learn from them how to serve (love).
The love of Christ is given to us to strengthen our faith (loving god) and our Christian living (loving neighbor). And we receive that Love through theology. We love because He first loved us and gave Himself up for us. We love because theology has told us of the love of Christ for us and for our neighbor. We love because love is our response to the Gospel that our sins are forgiven in Christ.
Love God. Love your neighbor. And love theology, which tells you what that looks like.