What Does Love “Always Protects” Mean?
Observe the definition of agape love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Verse 7 says that agape love “always protects,” which explains why John instructed Christians to not welcome so-called believers into their homes who contradicted the essentials of Christianity:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
2 John 10-11
John’s purpose was to protect the disciples within his circuit of assemblies from being tainted and misled by false doctrine. Parents adhere to this principle when they object to their children hanging around kids of questionable character. They object because they love their children and instinctively realize that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Love protects. It’s a wise principle by which to live.
Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Why is it so vital to protect your heart? Because whatever you allow rooted in your heart will determine what you will become; in other words, who you are. Proverbs 27:19 puts it like this: “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” Also consider what Jesus said:
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
You could also say: “For out of the overflow of the heart the person acts.” This is essentially what Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-23 where he pointed out that any carnal trait you can name stems from what we allow rooted in our hearts. Of course, all sin originates from one’s sinful nature, but you won’t habitually act on fleshly impulses until they get rooted in your heart. How do they get lodged in the heart? Through (1) your eyes, (2) your ears and (3) the atmosphere you allow, which includes the company you keep. How do they grow? By feeding a fleshly desire through thought, imagination and word. The more you feed it the more it grows; and when the desire grows big enough you’ll act on it (James 1:14-15). The more you act on it the deeper it gets rooted; and the greater the bondage.
I occasionally hear preachers erroneously proclaim that the heart itself is “desperately wicked,” quoting Jeremiah 17:9, but this simply isn’t true and Jesus Christ himself disagreed with it, as shown above in Luke 6:45. Actually, the human heart is neutral and akin to soil in the Bible (Luke 8:15). Just as soil grows whatever a planter decides to sow in it, so the human heart will produce whatever a person chooses to plant in it, whether spiritual or fleshly. This explains Jesus’ declaration that a good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart and the evil man brings bad things out of the evil in his heart.
If this is so, how do we explain Jeremiah 17:9? Simple. This verse refers specifically to the stubborn hearts of the people of Judah of that time and place, not to every human heart throughout history. This is supported by Jeremiah 16:12, 17:1 and 18:12, which verify the context of 17:9 and, as they say, “Context is King.” Besides, verse 10 says that the LORD examines the heart, which would make no sense if the heart is inherently wicked. After all, why search the heart if it’s always “desperately wicked”? No, God searches the heart of every human soul to see what’s planted there because whatever we allow in our hearts becomes who we are. Hence, although the heart certainly has the capacity to be desperately wicked, it could just as well be exceedingly good or somewhere in between. It’s contingent upon what each person allows sown in his or her heart.
Are you getting this? YOU decide what’s planted in your heart and therefore what it regularly produces. Is your heart producing negative things like worry, fear, folly, sexual immorality and fits of rage? Rip it out! Start planting and watering seeds of peace, faith, wisdom, virtue and self-control. Be patient. Although weeds sprout up overnight, it takes time and effort to produce a good crop. But the fruit will come and you’ll be blessed. Just stay on track and, if you miss it, be honest about it and quick-to-repent (1 John 1:8-9).
Needless to say, if you love yourself – and I hope you do, since it’s impossible to love others if you don’t love yourself in a non-narcissistic way (Matthew 22:39) – be diligent to protect your heart! Put it at the top of your list of priorities.
The “Love Protects” Principle can be Abused and Misused
It’s important to point out, however, that this “love protects” principle can be abused and actually hinder believers from advancing spiritually. For instance, just because a certain denomination, camp or church labels something a “false doctrine” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s really an unbiblical teaching. It may simply be a Biblical doctrine of which the sect is presently ignorant. In that case it’s a truth they actually need. We should keep in mind that Christendom went through a millennial “dark age” and didn’t start coming out of it until the Protestant Reformation, which involved masses of Christians objecting to all the unscriptural baggage that had accumulated over the centuries.
Many of the great truths of the early church were foolishly discarded and laid dormant during this dark age. But since the Reformation the Holy Spirit has been restoring these truths one after another over the past five centuries. With each wave of restoration the Holy Spirit would raise up a person or people to proclaim a long-dormant truth and usually a denomination would result. Some camps or churches have kept up with these restorations and others haven’t, which is understandable in light of the fact that every legitimate restorative wave is accompanied by flakes and counterfeits.
Regardless, it’s a mistake to have an arrogant “know-it-all” attitude that resists restorative moves of the Holy Spirit. This is a stubborn spirit that refuses to consider the possibility that one’s present understanding may be incomplete or even erroneous, including partly erroneous. This is all done under the guise of conservativism, of course – protecting the heart, protecting the faith, protecting believers, protecting the core doctrines of one’s sect – but that doesn’t make it right.
A good example would be the truths of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit, which were restored to the church in the early 20th century. While this movement — known as the Charismatic Movement — has had its share of flakes, untold millions from numerous camps have accepted these truths in the many decades since and have been immeasurably blessed.
Yet, to this day, a large portion of the body of Christ refuses to embrace them, to their own limitation. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they’re inauthentic Christians. The bible teaches: “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn that man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:3-4). Those who reject the baptism and gifts of the Spirit should be embraced as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord (and vice versa) but, the fact remains, they are limiting themselves by not eating everything the Word offers.
The bottom line is this: Be diligent to “guard your heart as the wellspring of life” but don’t be so stubbornly protective you resist legitimate truths that will keep you from spiritual stagnancy and dryness. Protect yourself but be wise and balanced; don’t be a stuffy “know it all” religionist. Flee rigid and stifling sectarianism like the plague (Luke 9:49-50, 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 & 3:3-9).
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