Some people are by nature tough, blunt, matter-of-fact, unsentimental. Others are tender, warm, soft-spoken, emotionally sensitive. Some, amazingly, are a mixture. In general, what makes these different folks feel loved is very different.
Being assessed by these different people can be dismaying. Their responses to a sermon, or a comment in conversation, can be poles apart — one feeling firmly loved, another feeling put off by perceived harshness.
What should we do? I think we should spend our lives soaking in the Scriptures so that we grow into the kind of people who feel loved by whatever the Bible portrays as loving.
It seems to me that most of us have a harder time feeling loved with tough discipline than we do feeling loved with tenderness and affirmation. Therefore, to guard myself from attributing unloving motives to God or people, I take special note of those places in the Bible where hard things are loving.
For example, Paul makes an amazing statement about the Lord judging us so that we will not be condemned. It’s amazing because it includes slaying us. I could use a harsher word (killing us) or a softer word (taking our lives). Here’s what he says about born-again Christians who were dishonoring the Lord’s supper:
Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:29–32)
So some have died because of abuses of the Lord’s supper. This is called “discipline.” “We are disciplined so that we may not be condemned.” It’s called being “judged by the Lord.” “When we are judged by the Lord . . .”
And why is this a loving thing for the Lord to do? Because the Lord’s aim in slaying his own is so that they “would not be condemned with the world.”
Think about the implications of this. One implication seems to be that God foresees the natural trajectory of a person’s life heading toward a pattern of sin that is incompatible with regeneration. He cuts them off before they get there, and thus secures their eternal salvation.
Two things seem strange (as so often in the ways of God!):
1) Since God inclines the heart (Proverbs 21:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:5), why not protect his people from such future sin by putting the fear of God in their hearts, so that they will not turn from him (Jeremiah 32:40)? Why slay them to protect them?
Answer: He doesn’t tell us. One possibility is that God intends to show us how serious our disobedience is. One way to show our sinful need of a Savior is that God must work in us what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:21). Another way, perhaps more shocking, is the ultimate discipline of death. God has more ways in the bag of inscrutability than we realize (Romans 11:33).
2) If those who are born again and eternally secure (1 John 2:19; Philippians 1:6) are slain to keep them from being condemned with the world, does this mean the elect really can lose their salvation?
Answer: No. But it does confirm that there are patterns of sin which are finally incompatible with salvation. And God will take our lives rather than let us succumb to those patterns.
Therefore, let us soak our minds with such passages of Scripture so that we become the kind of people who will feel loved when our lives (or the lives of our treasured ones) are taken by an all-wise, all-loving Savior.