Driscoll and Piper on Love and God’s Commands

I follow Mark Driscoll on Twitter and just watched a little 4:27 video that he tweeted about: “Song of Solomon Q&A 3.” I’ve embedded it below.

It contains some solid practical advice for troubled marriages. On the whole, it’s good stuff.

Two items caught my attention—particularly because of how they seem to be at odds with things John Piper teaches:

  1. “If [love is] commanded, that means it’s not a feeling.”
  2. “God couldn’t command you to do something that was impossible for you to do.”

Here’s a transcript of the relevant portion with the key parts in bold:

Do you know that love is commanded in the Bible? If it’s commanded, that means it’s not a feeling. You ever thought about that? See, we live in this day when—”I don’t feel like I’m in love.” Well, the Bible says, “Husbands,” Ephesians 5—what?—”love your wives.” Titus 2 says that older women should train younger women to love their husbands. If it’s commanded, it’s possible. You say, “But, I can’t love them. I don’t feel like I love them.” The love doesn’t begin with you. God is love, 1 John 4 says. God’s love comes to you to love your spouse. The great lie is, I don’t love you so we shouldn’t be married. The answer is, you need to get closer to Jesus, and you’ll have all the love you need. God couldn’t command you to do something that was impossible for you to do. He couldn’t tell you to love someone if he wasn’t willing to give you the love to love them.

Love Is Not a Feeling.

On the first point, I wonder if Mark simply meant that love is not exclusively a feeling. I’m inclined to think so, but the words themselves struck me as being the very kind of thinking that Piper takes such great pains to refute in Desiring God (and elsewhere):

One thing is for sure: Love cannot be equated with sacrificial action! It cannot be equated with any action! This is a powerful antidote to the common teaching that love is not what you feel, but what you do. The good in this popular teaching is the twofold intention to show (1) that mere warm feelings can never replace actual deeds of love (James 2:16; 1 John 3:18) and (2) that efforts of love must be made even in the absence of the joy that one might wish were present. But it is careless and inaccurate to support these two truths by saying that love is simply what you do, and not what you feel. . . .

The very definition of love in 1 Corinthians refutes this narrow conception of love. For example, Paul says love is not jealous and not easily provoked and that it rejoices in the truth and hopes all things (13:4–7). All these are feelings! If you feel things like unholy jealousy and irritation, you are not loving. And if you do not feel things like joy in the truth and hope, you are not loving. In other words, yes, love is more than feelings; but, no, love is not less than feelings. (116–17)

Even if Mark believes that love is not exclusively a feeling, his conditional statement “If it’s commanded, that means it’s not a feeling” is logically flawed. There are plenty of commands in the Bible that deal with our feelings. Again, Piper comments,

Positively, Christians are commanded to have God-honoring feelings. We are commanded to feel joy (Philippians 4:4), hope (Psalm 42:5), fear (Luke 12:5), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11), grief (Romans 12:15), desire (1 Peter 2:2), tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32), and brokenness and contrition (James 4:9). (Desiring God, 89)

While I’m not completely sure of Driscoll’s view on love as an emotion, my gut feeling is that there probably is no real disagreement between Driscoll and Piper on this point. I do wonder, though, if all of Driscoll’s listeners walked away with the understanding that love is both volition and feeling and that God often does command us to feel certain things.

God Doesn’t Command What We Can’t Do.

I’m nearly positive that Driscoll would disagree with the notion that God’s commands are possible for unbelievers. This is precisely the logic of Pelagianism—and a large segment of the church today: God wouldn’t tell people to do something they have absolutely no power to do, so God’s commands may be taken as indications of man’s abilities.

In this video Driscoll is dealing with believers, not unbelievers. But is it true that “God couldn’t command you to do something that was impossible for you to do”?

When I heard these words, my mind immediately went to Piper’s treatment of Hebrews 6:3. Here are some selections from Piper’s sermon on Hebrews 6:1–3, “Let Us Press On to Maturity”:

1. God governs the progress of sanctification (or maturity).

In other words, he has final say in whether we overcome our bent to sinning and make progress toward maturity. We will press on to maturity if God permits it. That is, we will make progress in our sanctification and holiness if God permits it. He decides ultimately if and how fast we advance in holiness.

. . .

3. God sometimes wills that something come to pass which he forbids us to bring to pass.

That is, he sometimes decrees what he forbids. In this case, for example, he may not permit someone to press on to maturity. Nevertheless he commands us to press on to maturity. So he is decreeing immaturity while commanding maturity.

If Piper rightly understands Hebrews 6:3—and I think he does—it would seem, then, that God can and does command believers to do things that are at times impossible for them to do (i.e., by virtue of His decree, that is, His unwillingness to enable us to do them).

Does anyone know if Driscoll deals with either of these two issues in more detail elsewhere? I’m curious to know if he agrees with Piper and, if not, how he would interact with Piper’s teaching on these points.

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5 Responses to Driscoll and Piper on Love and God’s Commands

  1. Raj Rao June 2, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    There is a poem, On His Blindness, by Milton, where Milton writes, “Doth God exact day labor, light denied?” Apparently yes. I am also reminded of Jesus telling his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

    What you blog about is actually a difficult teaching and I don’t mean simply theologically – but practically.

    One thing though, I think that if a Christian finds themselves in a situation, where they feel, that God has asked them to “be strong and courageous” and find themselves balking, then they can actually ask God why He is asking them to do something and not giving strength to do it. I vaguely recall a verse, in the Psalms, I think, where the Israelites ask God why He hardens their hearts.

    *Note – I am just speculating. There is mystery here.

  2. Robert September 2, 2009 at 8:00 am #

    Driscoll’s point about our capacity to carry out what’s commanded drives me nuts. You rightfully pointed out that there are plenty of things that are commanded that we aren’t the final word on….

    PS: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…

    Of course none can…so there you go…. :)

  3. Cameron September 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    Love is an action but the action can and will become a feeling too. The misconception is that it’s not a feeling always moving us to act, but really the other way around. We need to be careful to make sure that we don’t go to the other extreme and say that love is ONLY an action too.

    As far as being commanded to love, we are expected to love because it’s commanded, but NOT love perfectly. There’s the balance I think. We wont love perfectly until we’re glorified!

  4. Cameron September 12, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    Above I meant to say: “Love is an action but the action can and will become a feeling too. The misconception is that we need feelings to cause us to want to act first, but really it’s the other way around where we choose to act, then the feelings come. We need to be careful to make sure that we don’t go to the an extreme and say that love is ONLY an action and we never feel anything.”

  5. kisanri September 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm #

    I think the reason people object to “Gods giving us commands we can’t keep” is a form of relativism, i.e. that commands to be just must be relative to the one receiving the commands, rather to objective standards of right and wrong.

    Liberals (painting whit broad brushes) tone down the commands to suit themselves, fundamentalist tone down the law too, not as mush and in a different way.

    However we are commanded to be perfect. (As if God would say “it’s ok to hate once in a while”) We fall horrible short even on our best days. All glory and praise to my substitute!!