The Dividing Line of Love to Christ
by Rev. David Silversides
Preacher: Rev. David Silversides
Text: 1st Corinthians 16:22
"If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha."
Our theme is: the dividing line of love to Christ.
We've been looking at faith and works. In the three previous addresses we've been looking at Abraham and his faith, justification, and works. We move from Abraham now, but still sticking with the theme of 'faith and works'.
In this letter the apostle addresses many problems in the Corinthian church. Some of these problems they had raised with him by way of questions. Others were problems he had heard about and which caused him deep concern. As he closes this rather difficult letter, probably having dictated to a scribe up until this point, he closes by writing with his own had: "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand" (v.21). Then he gives these solemn words: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha" (text). 'Anathema' means accursed. When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, this word was used to signify those things which were pronounced accursed and devoted to destruction: those things or persons that were devoted to destruction according to the Old Testament Scriptures. The term 'Maran-atha' is a Syriac term, probably something of a watchword among the Christians meaning 'Our Lord Comes'.
This verse has itself been used of God in the conversion of sinners. Some of you will know perhaps the remarkable story of John Flavel, the seventeenth-century Puritan who preached in Dartmouth in Devon. As an old man he preached on this verse. As he came to pronounce this benediction he wept and said, "How can I pronounce the blessing of God when so many of you are accursed". Flavel died and went to his reward in heaven, but in the congregation that day, when Flavel preached on this verse, there was a young boy. That young boy became a man and emigrated to America, and lived as an ungodly man until a very great age: it has been suggested he was near a hundred years old. In his old age he remember the old minister back home and his tears as he spoke about this verse, and after all those years that man was converted and brought to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. That surely illustrates for us how God can use His truth, as, and when, and how, He pleases.
1. A UNIVERSAL DISTINCTION
First of all then, we have here: a universal distinction.
"If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema [let him be accursed] Maran-atha" (text). If anyone, anyone at all, anywhere, loves not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. It is a distinction that is universal in application. It applies to all, but it doesn't apply to all in a general sense. It applies to all individually. If any man, any individual, love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema, let him be accursed. You may remember Christ's parable of the marriage feast of the king's son and there appeared a man without a wedding garment. The text says there was 'a man' without the wedding garment - just one. That is not to tell us that only a very few will be lost. It is telling us that the discrimination which the Lord will make comes down to individuals; it is a very narrow sifting that no one, as it were, will get in on a bulk ticket. The Lord Jesus at the Judgement will discriminate to the individual. So it is here that this distinction applies individually to all. The distinction is not between decent people and nasty people. It's not between respectable sinners and the openly wicked, wild and violent. It is between those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ. Every one of us belongs in one category or the other. We either love the Saviour or we do not love the Saviour and are under the curse of God. That's true for every individual here and everywhere else.
2. A SURPRISING DISTINCTION
But then secondly, we can say that it is: a surprising distinction.
At least, in a certain way it is a surprising distinction. As evangelical and Reformed people, we think of believers and unbelievers, and there are many verse of Scripture that divide mankind into 'believers' and 'unbelievers': "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3, 36). There mankind is divided into those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and those who do not and remain under the wrath and condemnation of God. But here it is different, a distinction is made - "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ" (text). If any man 'love' not, not if any man 'believe' not. Of course, there is no contradiction, nor is the apostle teaching that love to Christ earns acceptance with God or contributes to acceptance with God. He is not saying that. We've seen throughout this weekend thus far that acceptance with God is on the basis of Christ's merits imputed to those who trust only in Him.
What is behind this text is that it is so absolutely inevitable that those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will love the Lord Jesus Christ, that the apostle can invoke the curse of God on those who love not the Lord Jesus Christ, without the slightest danger of pronouncing God's curse on one single believing and forgiven sinner. So absolute is the connection between being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that faith bringing with it love to the Lord Jesus Christ, that to divide mankind into believers and unbelievers, and to divide them between those who love and those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, is to make exactly the same line of distinction. There is no one, no one on the face of the earth, who trusts Christ as his Saviour, who does not begin to love the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not one single exception in all the world. There is no one who has believed upon Christ as their Saviour without bowing the knee to Him as their Lord whom they love, whom they have begun to love and obey. Every true believer loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Not as much as we ought; not one of us loves Him as we ought. We cannot love Christ too much, but we can and do love Him too little. Every true believer does love Him.
The word 'love' here is a weaker word for love. There is more than one Greek word and it is the weaker one here, because none of us loves Christ as we ought, and our love is weak compared with what it ought to be. But the question is not how much we love Him, but do we love Him. Do we have in us any love to the Lord Jesus Christ? - because everyone who has truly trusted in Him, does love the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who do not love Him are under the curse of God.
3. A PRESENT DISTINCTION
But then thirdly notice it is: a present distinction.
"If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ" (text). It is not that anyone has once loved the Lord Jesus, who does not love Him still. Despite the ebb and flow of our devotion to Christ, those who have once loved Christ still do love Christ. Our love to Christ does wax and wane, sadly; there is great inconsistency in us if we are believers. But those that do not love Christ now, never did love the Lord Jesus Christ. What this does show is we are not to rely on a mere past profession as if it was genuine, even though there is not a glimmer of love to Christ in our hearts now. If there is no love to Christ in us, there never was, and we were never converted to our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Northern Ireland, and I have referred to this already, but it really is a problem there, there are many who have learned the language and claim that they were saved in the past by which they mean when the evangelist said, "Come to the front", or when he said, "Put your hand up", or "Sign a card", or "Say the wee prayer after me" - they did it and they say, "I was saved". But it turns out they claim to be backslidden ever since. The fact of the matter is that they were never converted to Christ. They are relying on this event of profession, albeit manufactured profession, in the past as somehow an insurance policy for the world to come but have not the love of Christ in them.
We mustn't do that. "If any man love not..." (text). If your profession of faith was genuine in the past, there will be love towards Christ in your heart in the present, inevitably. Love to Christ fluctuates but it never completely vanishes in the child of God. It's never present in the unconverted and it is always present in some degree in those who are Christ's.
4. A DISTINCTION WITHIN THE VISIBLE CHURCH
But then fourthly: a distinction within the visible church.
Whilst it is a universal distinction - "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ..." (text) - yet it is addressed here to the church at Corinth. This must mean that the apostle is saying that even within the Corinthian church in its outward form - "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema" (text) - let him be accursed. So the distinction we mentioned earlier is not between the decent and the openly wicked. We can further and say it's not even between the churchgoer and the rest. It's not even between the churchgoer who is outwardly a church member and the rest. That's why, as we mentioned in the discussion yesterday, the apostle in 2 Corinthians says to the Corinthian church members: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13, 5).
Do not make outward alignment with the church, even a sound church, your confidence and your refuge. There were hypocrites in the apostolic church; there was Ananias and Sapphira, there was Simon the magician in Acts 8; even within the band of disciples, there was Judas. Christ was not fooled but the other disciples were. When Christ said at the Last Supper, "...one of you shall betray me (John 13, 21); they didn't all turn to Judas. Judas didn't look like a villain. He looked the same as the rest. They all said, "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26, 22); but it was Judas. Don't make your alignment even with a sound church the basis of your confidence, our confidence must be in Christ and no other.
5. A DISTINCTION THAT IS ENDORSED BY ALL WHO DO LOVE THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
But then fifthly: a distinction that is endorsed by all who do love the Lord Jesus Christ.
"If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema" (text). He does not say he is accursed, he says "Let him be accursed". The apostle agrees with the verdict of God and so do all true believers. They don't argue with God's verdict. They don't quarrel with God. There are at least two reasons for this. One is the great wickedness of not loving the Lord Jesus Christ: the great wickedness of not loving the Lord Jesus Christ. In the next verse the apostle says, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (1 Corinthians 16, 23). To the people of God the Lord Jesus is our Lord Jesus, He is our beloved. When the ungodly say, "What is thy beloved more than another beloved?" (Song of Solomon 5, 9), the Christian has an answer: "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. His mouth is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven" (Song of Solomon 5, 10-11), "This is my beloved, and this is my friend" (Song of Solomon 5, 16). Therefore for the believer, those who do love the Lord Jesus Christ, whilst they acknowledge that it is of God's grace that that is true of them, yet, they do, surely, view with abhorrence sinners hearing of the Saviour of sinners, sinners hearing of this Lord Jesus and despising Him.
There is within the believer a revulsion that sinners should hear of Christ and yet despise Him. That's not inconsistent either with Christian humility or Christian compassion. But those who love the Lord hate that which is sinful and offensive to Him, and unbelief of the Gospel is a monstrous wickedness. The Gospel is given for the obedience of faith among the nations. What shall the end be of them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Christ looked upon them in anger because of their unbelief. The people of God have that same revulsion at unbelief. We bewail our own measure of unbelief, but there is a righteous abhorrence of unbelief. Therefore the people of God endorse God's verdict: "O wicked man, thou shalt surely die" (Ezekiel 33, 8).
Unbelief of the Gospel adds greatly to the guilt of those who are already guilty sinners. You don't have to hear the Gospel to become guilty. God sent the Gospel to the guilty. Men are guilty sinners should they hear nothing of the truth of God. But the Gospel, heard and despised, makes men more guilty: "It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgement than for" them. (Matthew 10, 15). That applies to you of course, if you are a Gospel hearer who despises Christ; you are amongst the most guilty sinners on the face of the earth: that you should hear of the only begotten Son of God and despise Him. So there is the wickedness of unbelief. But there is also the fact that God's people agree with, acquiesce in, the justice of God in condemning those outside of Christ. Whilst men and women are in this world, the people of God compassionately pray for their conversion: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" (Romans 10, 1). When Paul spoke before Agrippa and those around him he said: "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds" (Acts 26, 29). He prays to the sovereign God and desires that they also might be in Christ as he is. So the people of God have a compassionate, praying disposition towards the unconverted but they do not quarrel with the justice of God. They are on the Lord's side; even in this world, they are on the Lord's side. They don't apologise for the justice of God. They don't apologise for His judgements in this world, even though they cannot understand why God manifests His displeasure again sin in one place over against another. But they don't quarrel and they don't apologise before men for God's judgements.
Some of us were talking about the Tsunami, when the Tsunami came and multitudes were swept into another world. Christian compassion does not mean pretending that God is not in control. At the time we had the wretched spectacle of the atheists proclaiming great compassion for the victims, but scarcely containing their glee as they pinned down the liberal churchmen: "What about God? - your God of love?" and the liberal churchman squirmed and slithered and pathetically apologised and made God out to be less than almighty. As if He couldn't really have done anything about it. True Christians don't, either deny God's sovereignty over all things, nor do they apologise or suffer embarrassment for the acts of God - because they agree with God. What God does is my definition right. What God does, what God says, what God approves, is right. If we have a problem with it, we have a problem. It's something wrong with us, not God.
But the same is true of the final judgement. However long we long and pray for the conversion of sinners in this world, as we ought to do, we do not quarrel with the fact that those who die in their sins "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thessalonians 1, 9). True believers are on the Lord's side. That will become all the more evident in the world to come when the people of God shall say, "Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgements" (Psalm 119, 137). So this is a distinction that is endorsed, or has the complete acquiescence and agreement, of those who do love the Lord Jesus Christ.
6. A DISTINCTION TO BE FULLY MANEFEST
It is: a distinction to be fully and forever manifest."If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha" (text). Our Lord comes; He comes to judge the world in righteousness. The people of God long for the coming of the Lord Jesus and the glorious vindication of His Name. When the Lord Jesus comes, He will judge, He will separate the sheep and the goats. He will bring this distinction to manifestation for ever in the blessedness of the redeemed in heaven and the misery of the damned in hell. This distinction will be made clear for ever and ever: "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you: And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power: When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day" (2 Thessalonians 1, 6-10). This is speaking of the coming of the Lord Jesus as a single event.
There is no preliminary coming and the rapture of the church, or anything like that. Nor is there a thousand years of Christ visibly reigning on earth. When Christ comes, He comes for the end. It's the end when Christ comes. He comes to visit everlasting destruction on those that know not God in the same day as He comes to be admired in all them that believe. Christ's return is a single event. God has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained. When He comes, the distinction in our text will be clearly, completely, irreversibly and eternally manifest. There will be a complete and eternal separation between those who on earth were born of the Spirit, trusted the Saviour and began to love Him, and who now love Him perfectly in the world to come; and those who despised the truth, if they have heard it, and who loved not the Lord Jesus Christ - and who never shall love Him. Those who did not begin to love Christ on earth shall never love Him. In hell the wicked will still hate Him. They will see His Name honoured and vindicated in their own eternal destruction. They will still have hearts at enmity with Him, but be utterly powerless to bring to any meaningful expression their hearts desire of contempt for the Lord Jesus Christ. They will be eternally frustrated in wickedness as part of God's judgement upon them.
FIRSTLY, the feeblest love to Christ is evidence of true faith in Him.
Struggling believers take courage. If we love Him at all then we are not in a state of nature. By nature we do not love God as He truly is nor do we love the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. So then, you may say, my love for Christ is exceedingly poor and feeble. That may well be so but, if there is any good thing in us toward the Lord God of Israel, if there is anything of love to Christ in us, how did it get there except by the Spirit of God. Without the renewing of the Spirit of God we would never have the slightest flicker of love to the Lord Jesus Christ. So take courage, not to become complacent to seek increase of love to Christ, we must do that; but neither to despair because our love to the Saviour is so feeble. True believers do have some love to Christ but if we have some love to Christ, any love to Christ in us, it must be because we are true believers and have been born again of the Spirit of God.
Then SECONDLY, the reason why true believers always have some love to Christ in them.
Why is it? How does it work shall we say? How does it come about that every true believer in Christ has in him some love to the Lord Jesus Christ. We know it is so from the Bible but how does it come to be so? How is it that there is never anyone who trusts Christ without beginning, however feebly, to love the Lord Jesus Christ? I want to give you basic doctrinal bearings here. There are two things to bear in mind.
First of all, faith in Christ and repentance toward God, go together. They are two sides of the same coin: two sides of conversion. The apostle Paul tells in Thessalonians how they turned to the living and true God from idols. Every true convert turns to Christ and from sin. Every real convert turns to Christ and from sin. If someone turns to Christ but doesn't turn from sin, that that cannot be. In the Garden of Eden the serpent said to the woman: "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3, 5). In that temptation to sin, there was a temptation to disbelief of God. There was a temptation to pride. In fact, the seed of all sin is found in that first sin and that temptation that the serpent brought. But there is the temptation to a proud desire to be independent of God. The serpent is saying, "Don't depend on God. Don't rely on God to tell you. You need to go your own way. You need to be independent of God. Find out for yourself; experience for yourself. Ye shall be as gods; you won't need God. You won't need to rely on God. You'll be autonomous, you'll be independent." That desire to be independent of God is the essence of what sin is. Sin in its very essence is the desire to be independent of God. Fallen man has been pretending ever since that he can be independent of God. So that is the essence of what sin is.
What does the Gospel tell sinners that they must do? It tells sinners that they must depend utterly, absolutely and entirely upon God's appointed Saviour, Jesus Christ in order to be forgiven and accepted with God. The Gospel tells men that they must turn from that arrogant desire to be independent of God and come as helplessly dependent creatures and sinners and depend utterly and entirely on the Lord Jesus Christ to make them accepted with God. So there can be no faith in Christ without a turning from that desire for independence of God. Faith in Christ expresses utter dependence upon God and His appointed Saviour for acceptance in the sight of God. That is why the Scriptures teach that sinners are justified through faith alone and at the same time they tells sinners, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13, 3). There is no faith in Christ without repentance of the proud desire in the heart of man to be independent of God.
Secondly, the other thing to remember is that: faith and repentance are both the result of the new birth.
The new birth is the cause of a sinner being willing to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That's an important order. Arminianism teaches the opposite: you repent and believe and then you are born again. That's Arminianism and it's not true. Whereas the biblical, Reformed, Calvinistic view is that the new birth is what God does, sovereignly, in the heart of a sinner and the result is that he is willing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why Christ told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and wither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3, 7-8). We cannot control the Spirit of God in regeneration at all, any more than the wind. We see its effects, we hear it as it were, but we cannot control it. God sovereignly renews the hearts of those chosen by Him before the foundation of the world. That is what causes a sinner to be willing to do what he ought to do and was commanded all along to do, which is to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The new birth, that fundamental changing principal of the nature that makes a sinner willing to come to Christ, means that every true believer is a new creature in Christ Jesus. That new nature in principal shows itself in repentance and faith in Christ and brings justification and deliverance from the guilt of sin; that new nature goes on showing itself. As the Spirit of God increases great in the heart so it increasingly shows itself in love to the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him. Having declared the doctrine of justification by faith alone he says: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Romans 6, 1). He's not saying, "Well if we're justified through faith in Christ and on Christ's merits, shall we not say let's just live as we please, it doesn't matter." He says: "God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6, 2). He doesn't say, "Let's not do that". He doesn't qualify the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He simply says that a true believer will not say that. He won't! How did he become a believer? Well because he's born again of the Spirit. The old man, the sin-dominated man, has been crucified with Christ. The new nature is evident; the new man is raised to life. "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6, 2).
So those who are justified by faith in Christ won't say that because they do have a new nature. They still have indwelling sin, of course - we are not perfect in this world, far from it - but there is a new nature in a true believer and he therefore will not be indifferent to sin. He will have something of the love to Christ in him and a desire to obey Him.
One last word. If you are not a Christian, if you are not a true believer, you must come to the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins before you will ever begin to love Christ. There must be no mistake on this point. You cannot love Christ and then trust in Him: "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared" (Psalm 130, 4). 'Feared' there is not the fear that has torment, that tormenting dread; it is loving, reverential fear of the Lord. That verse says, "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared" (Psalm 130, 4). It is the forgiven man who begins to fear the Lord, to love the Lord, to reverence the Lord. It is only the forgiven man who loves the Lord Jesus Christ so it is no use saying , "Well, I'll come to Christ for forgiveness when I've tidied up things and begun to show love to Him", because you will never love Christ as an unforgiven sinner. Never! No unforgiven sinner ever has the love of Christ in his heart. You must come to Christ as a sinner needing forgiveness of sins. You must come to Christ for that which you need so much - the cleansing away of your sins. When you come to Christ for forgiveness and are accepted of Him, then your grateful heart will begin to love the Saviour and to seek His glory in holiness of life. You must come to Christ seeking cleansing from all your sins and acceptance with God and then you will find that love to Christ is in your heart and you desire to honour and glorify the great God and Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rev. David Silversides is Pastor and Minister of Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church in County Down, Northern Ireland.