Cold love

Jesus was asked about the “end of the age” and his answer offered some surprises.

“And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

This forecast dismisses the sort of triumphal ending we might expect from God. Jesus left us with the Spirit to draw and change hearts. And for a time the church grew like a wildfire. Yet this text—with promises of betrayal, hatred, falsity, and lost love—seems closer to a collapsed project than a divine success story.

Later in the Bible we find another ‘declining-love’ passage when John reported Christ’s critique of the Ephesian church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4).

What caused this erosion? Once again, we don’t know. But we read in the same summary that the Ephesians were, at the same moment, commended for their hard work and resistance to false leaders. So they remained orthodox even as their love was fading. Works and love were, in this setting, distinct issues.

Let’s return to the Matthew text again. How does lawlessness make love grow cold?

From the New Testament narrative we know that love is often linked to a law-keeping life—as Jesus affirmed in John 14:15—but it is also clear that love and law-keeping are separate issues. The Pharisees, for instance, loved the law but hated Jesus. And the Ephesians were still obedient even as their love for Christ faded.

One clue for us is Christ’s restatement in Matthew 22:37-40 of the Deuteronomy Shema: “And [Jesus said], ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

This reminder came earlier—by two chapters—than our target text and sets out an explicit link between the Law and love: the Law and Prophets actually “depend” on our love for God and neighbor.

Can it be, then, that the Law needs love in order to operate properly? This was certainly Paul’s understanding—but in a way that may surprise us.

In both Romans 13:9-10 and Galatians 5:23 Paul reminded readers that laws are meant to protect people from others. And wherever love is active—a love that seeks to the very best for others—the law fades from view. Why? Because applied laws are meant to protect us from unloving—“evil”—people. So a man who loves his neighbor won’t covet that neighbor’s resources, or lie to him, or seduce his wife. But when love is missing a host of rules are needed.

Law, in other words, is just a litmus for the lack of love in any relationship. So, by extension, we are reminded that our hearts are wandering from God’s love whenever we collide with the law.

Yet the point remains that the Ephesians mentioned in Revelation were still behaving properly even as their love was fading. Once again, law-keeping didn’t prove the presence of love; but law-breaking normally points to a lack of love.

So if we return to Christ’s list of growing corruptions at the end of the age—of betrayal, hatred, and falsity—it certainly represents a lack of love. Lawlessness is obvious. But we still need to ask why Jesus treated lawlessness as a cause of cold love.

The insights of Trinitarian theology will help us here. As seen in Genesis chapter one, we were created in God’s relational “image and likeness” as beings-in-communion—and not as self-defined individuals.

Paul’s off-handed comment about authentic Christians in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 captured this: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

This “Christ to God” communion is an aroma that spreads God’s intrinsic communion—through our own participation in Christ—to those around us. It also displays the forms of union Jesus requested for all his followers in his prayer of John 17.

And, conversely, this Trinitarian understanding of love also points to a loss of communion with God in the last days; and to a concomitant growth of individualism. This is the opposite of an “image of God” humanity. The spirit of this age, the devil, draws people by offering his own versions of self-concerned success. And this sort of success carries with it betrayal, falsity, and hatred.

It also dawns on us that Christ’s vision of a successful project is measured by the presence of Godly relationships and not by the number of recruits. Love by God’s paternity is the real measure of success.

What, then, can reverse a loss of love? Or, in the terms Jesus used, what helps us endure to the end? Is it some sort of will-driven perseverance—shaped by individual efforts?

Hardly!

Try this instead. Always look to Jesus who, alone, is the author of a faith working through love. His warm heart and captivating presence can reawaken even the coldest of loves.

Share

This entry was posted in ARTICLES on by .

About R N Frost

R N (Ron) Frost is a student of history, especially the history of Christian spirituality. Ron served for more than 20 years at a Portland, OR, college and seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was a professor of historical theology and ethics. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. This involves a number of trips to worldwide destinations each year, each by invitation. All his services are gratis, so ministry partners are needed and welcomed. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.