Not long ago, this nation saw the senseless massacre of twenty kindergarten children an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, plus six other adults. The shooter's motives were unclear, although it was reported that he was "troubled" and perhaps "autistic" and "weird." His grade school classmates and neighbors are not surprised at all that his life ended this way. He seems to have been a time-bomb just waiting to go off.
Obviously, his actions in killing so many people—and children especially—show no love at all. One would have to be "cold," without feeling, to do such a thing. It brings up another verse, II Timothy 3:2, where the apostle Paul prophesies that the last days would be dangerous because "men will be lovers of themselves," and in verse 3, "without self-control, brutal." It seems we are seeing this prophecy fulfilled in ever-greater frequency, as people seem to have less and less compunction about terrorizing and taking the lives of their fellow human beings. Under the grip of a merciless narcissism, many are losing their humanity.
Even so, Matthew 24:12 is not speaking about such people; it is not addressed to the people in the world at large but directly to Jesus' disciples and their spiritual descendants. How do we know this? Jesus uses the word agape for the love that grows cold. Such spiritual love, godly love, is unattainable by those driven by the spirit of this world. This agape love—the love of God—is the kind that is "poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit [which] was given to us" (Romans 5:5). Jesus, then, is warning His church that the wickedness of the world will increase to such an extent that it would sap the spiritual heat out of His own people, causing their love to grow cold.
This has two major ramifications: 1) People in God's church will love Him less, and 2) they will love each other less. These are the two recipients of godly love. We will see the effects of this drop in the temperature of our love in reduced time and respect for God and in deteriorating relationships between brethren. We will ease off in our prayer and study, relax our formality before God, and behave carelessly ("sin in haste and repent at leisure"), assuming that He will forgive us our every trespass. Yet, we will gossip about our church friends, take advantage of their kindness and forgiveness, betray them when convenient, and judge them mercilessly even for their most minor faults. None of these things express godly love; they all portray love growing cold.
Late in his life, the apostle John wrote almost exclusively about agape love. Most of his audience probably thought it was an obsession with him, and they likely turned a deaf ear to him, complaining that the old man was ranting about his pet subject again. But perhaps John remembered hearing these words from Jesus' lips decades before and realized that love was what the church needed to be reminded about. "This is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (I John 3:11). "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 4:20).
Clearly, he saw the practice of godly love in the church as critical to those living in his day. How much more critical is it to those of us who live so much nearer to the horrors of the end time and the return of Jesus Christ? The horror of the murders in Newtown, Connecticut, should remind us that we need to stoke the fires of God's love as we see the Day swiftly approaching.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Even though we might fancy ourselves as expert judges, at times it can be tricky to determine by observation whether the agape love is truly cooling. This is because the word "love" can be a subjective term, and even the phrase "sacrificial love" is wide open to interpretation.
To illustrate this, suppose I asked you to turn in your Bible to page 949. In my Bible, on page 949, in the left-hand column, about half way down, are Jesus Christ's words, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Are we on the same page? Technically, we are, but at the same time, we may not be looking at the same passage. My page 949 is probably at least a little bit different from yours—maybe even very different—though, strictly speaking, we are on the same page. My page 949 contains parts of John 13 and 14; the quotation above is John 13:35. Chances are good that your page 949 is not only different from mine, but that it also differs from page 949 in other Bibles you may have.
This exercise demonstrates that, while we are on the same page with regard to sacrificial love and the need for it, the exact application of that love may be different for each of us, even though it is still exercised within the bounds of God's law. How we show love to others and what we look for in terms of love from others will not always be the same.
This is because we each have facets of God's love, but we do not have the totality, the whole, of it. Each child of God resembles Him to a degree, but each of us resembles Him more strongly in some areas than in others. Each of us learns or is directed to sacrifice in slightly different ways. This does not mean that agape love is absent. It simply means that agape love is not complete in us in the way that God's love is complete.
For example, some people are quite outgoing and excel at making people feel welcome and cherished. They know how to build up, affirm, and encourage people verbally. These are modern types of the apostle Barnabas, whose name means "son of encouragement" or "son of consolation." However, not everybody has that facet of God's love to a significant degree. There was, after all, only one Barnabas among the apostles. Though the other apostles were probably encouraging and affirming in their own ways, only one was named for that aspect of God's love.
Others may not have as much to say, but they will give the shirt off their backs to the needy. They will even have it dry-cleaned first. If it needs to be a different size, they will make sure of that, too.
Some serve behind the scenes, and we may not even be aware of all their sacrifices. They resemble the tireless service of an ox, just as Christ did. Nevertheless, not everyone is able to sacrifice in this way.
Still others have the means to give materially. That may mean giving financial assistance or slipping someone a small token of appreciation or admiration that, even though it does not have much intrinsic worth, stands for a more meaningful sentiment.
As another example, a man I know has a plaque in his office with four short words that explain another facet of God's love. The plaque reads simply, "I teach. I care." But not everyone has that kind of sacrificial love. Other people may instead reflect God's love differently.
On the flipside, because of the way we are as individuals—because our page 949 is not universal—we may not easily recognize the sacrificial love of another if we are looking only for one application of it. Because of the way some people are wired, they may not feel like they are loved unless they receive a hug every time they see you. That is not a shortcoming but simply the way they are. Yet, for others, hugs may make them uncomfortable. We may have to give them more personal space.
Some feel as if they are out in the cold unless they receive an occasional handwritten note. Others may get such a note, but it is not as valuable to them as the sender spending meaningful time with them. Both the card and the time can be examples of sacrificial love, but each means more to one than another.
Some may feel unloved unless the love is verbally expressed to them; for them, "silence is deafening." For others, though, "talk is cheap," and the real evidence of love on their page 949 is some form of physical service or gift.
Thus, although we are all on the same page in one sense, we are not all seeing the same thing. If God is our spiritual Father, then we know that His love is poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5), and it will be evident in some way. However, that evidence will not be identical in every case. If we are only looking for one facet of God's love, we may miss a great deal of His workmanship, His outworking, and His image in His other children.
David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?
In recent years, the indicator in verse 12 about "love . . . grow[ing] cold" has often been cited when a grievance toward a particular church organization or group arose. This verse, however, can easily be misapplied, so it behooves us to more fully understand what it means so that we can know if or when it is being fulfilled.
Understanding the word translated "love" is a vital first step. It is the well-known Greek word agape, the love that people have only because God has given it to them (Romans 5:5; II Timothy 1:7; I John 2:5; 4:7-8). The people whose agape love is growing cold must have had it in the first place, so it refers to those whom God has called into a relationship with Him (John 6:44).
It is important to differentiate between this agape love and the other types of love mentioned in the Bible. Phileo love means "to be a friend to" or "to be fond of" a person or object, indicating "having affection for," whereas Strong's Concordance notes that agape "is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety" (emphasis ours). Similarly, philadelphia love means "fraternal affection" or "brotherly love." Agape love, though, is manifested first toward God, because it is a dutiful, submissive, obedient love, one that does what is right regardless of how a person feels about it. In other words, agape love has a moral core rather than an emotional one.
The Bible shows that, in general, we show agape love to the Father through our obedience and submission, especially to His law (John 14:15-23; 15:10; I John 2:5; 5:2-3; II John 6). We show agape love to each other through sacrifice, just as Jesus' example of love—to those around Him and to us—was through sacrifice (John 13:34; 15:12-13; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 5:2, 25; I John 3:16, 18; 4:9-12).
The meaning of Matthew 24:12, then, is that agape love will grow cold because of lawlessness, even though there may still be brotherly love, kindness, and human affection. Remember, we show agape love to God through obedience—the opposite of lawlessness—so when disobedience increases, agape grows cold. An example of this appears in the letter to the Ephesians, where Jesus says that they had left their first love—their first agape—and He commands them to repent (Revelation 2:4-5), that is, to turn away from their lawlessness. When there is compromise, or the setting aside of God's standard of righteousness and holiness, then the submissive love toward God and the sacrificial love toward man will begin to grow cold. It is a simple cause-and-effect relationship.
In this prophecy, Jesus Christ is describing an ongoing breakdown in the relationship with God. Since that most important relationship is the source of agape love, if it is waning, then it will be evident in other relationships. A symptom may be that sacrificial love toward other people is decreasing, but the real cause is that the relationship with God is cooling off.
A cause of this deterioration is found in the preceding verse: "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). While a true prophet always upholds God's law (Deuteronomy 13:3-4; Isaiah 8:19-20; Romans 8:7), a false prophet is willing to compromise with God's standard of holiness when it suits him. Those following a false teacher will likewise slide into lawlessness, becoming separated from God (Isaiah 59:1-3).
David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?
This is a warning to us—that the iniquity that is in the world will cause a loss of love in the church. If we understand the progression of events in Matthew 24, then verse 12 speaks of the time of the Tribulation. We are leading up to that, living in a period in which the stresses against the church—from the world—are increasing. As they increase, it can have the psychological effect—because we begin to get weary of dealing with it—of becoming apathetic, that is, without feeling for what we formerly loved so dearly.
So the iniquity is in the world, but resisting it is a constant stress because it exerts tremendous pressure through an appealing façade—to give in and go along with it. As we live with it and everybody else is doing it, the world's behavior gradually becomes acceptable to us, thus giving evidence that apathy is taking over.
We need to look at every aspect, even in areas we may consider "minor things." How do they dress? What kind of music do they listen to? What are the world's movies like? What are their attitudes in dealing with each other—in stores, on the street, in communities? In many places, we can hardly get anybody on the street to greet us! There are many little behaviors like this. The iniquity is in the world, but it pressures us into doing things as it does—and then it becomes our behavior.
This is just hypothetical, but what if we evaluated ourselves against the world ten years ago and judged that we were 50% more righteous than the world. Then today, we did exactly the same thing, and figured that we are at least 50% more righteous than the world. However, if the world had become more unrighteous during that same period, then, even though we may be 50% more righteous than the world now, we have actually gone backwards in those ten years—right along with the world!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
The Bible shows us the damage caused when God's people do not believe how special we are to Him. How do we keep our love from going cold? We must go to the source to replenish it. Where is that source? Where does real love come from? The answer is found in I John 4:19: "We love Him because He first loved us."
The next verse, Matthew 24:13, reinforces this thought: "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." Jesus sets up a contrast. Verse 12 describes people without faith in God's love for us growing cold and not enduring. In verse 13, "but" suggests that those with faith in His love will endure and be saved.
What happened over the past decade or so is nothing compared to what is ahead for some of us. The time of Jacob's trouble will be terrible. Many will face famine, pestilence, and persecution. Friends and family may turn on us. Church members will die. When all this happens, there may be no physical evidence to see how much God loves us. How will we endure those times? We will, but only if we absolutely believe in how special we are to God, how much He loves us. That is the faith we will need to endure any trial.
Faith to Face Our Trials
Today we live in cultures that lure people into a spiritual stupor that gradually desensitizes people to true spiritual and moral values. Jesus warns that the time would come when, because lawlessness abounds, the love of many in the church would grow cold (Matthew 24:12). He also warns through Paul that in this time people would be so perverse as to be without even natural affection (II Timothy 3:3). We live in those times, and it requires a clear vision and a steadfast conduct to avoid being sucked into following the worldly crowd. God has given our cultures over to allowing the carnal mind to spend itself on continuous sensation-seeking stimulation. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are virtually running wild.
One paraphrase of Romans 1:28 changed the term "reprobate mind" (KJV; debased mind, NKJV) to "degrading passions seeking stimulation." Another rendered it as "irrational stimulation resulting in monstrous behavior." Without a strong resistance to this almost unrelenting pressure, such stimulation will gradually produce a stupor, an apathy, an unfeeling indifference toward the highest priorities of life, that is, our relationships with God and fellow man. If a person does not defend himself against lawlessness, he will lose his God-given love. A Christian must guard himself strongly against becoming caught up in the stupor-inducing spirit of the times of which Paul forewarns us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)
Of all people, we who have left the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in the past decade should be most aware of the antinomian spirit working in the church of God. The doctrinal changes that began to be instituted mere months after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong had as their goal the removal of God's law, particularly the Sabbath, from the church's beliefs. WCG's subsequent heavy emphasis on "grace" and "love," along with its renunciation of "legalism" exposed its antinomian position. Because of these changes, it has joined evangelical Protestant "Christianity" to the point that it now worships on Sunday, encourages celebration of Christmas and Easter, and permits the use of crucifixes and images of "Jesus" by its ministry and membership and in its publications.
The "Christian" churches of this world are predominantly antinomian to some extent. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism belong to what can be termed Hellenistic Christianity, that is, a form of Christianity heavily influenced by Greek philosophies, particularly Gnosticism. Catholicism is the more moderate of the two, having retained obedience to the Church and its traditions as well as requiring certain works for salvation. However, its belief of the afterlife, with its levels of heaven, limbo, purgatory, and beatific vision - not to mention its belief in an immortal soul - brand it as Gnostic.
Protestantism is more antinomian, having rejected Catholicism's works during the Reformation. Martin Luther's doctrine of salvation by grace "through faith alone" removes God's law from the equation altogether. Pure Protestant theology is so antinomian that it claims that lawkeeping in any form - which it terms "legalism" - is detrimental to the soul's growth in spirituality. This form of Christianity also champions the doctrine of eternal security, the idea that, once one accepts Jesus, he can never lose his salvation, no matter what sins he commits ("once saved, always saved"). This doctrine knocks out law and judgment for sin in one blow.
Of course, the world itself is antinomian because it is under the sway of Satan the Devil, who despises God's law (Ephesians 2:2; I John 5:19; Romans 8:7). He even tried his antinomian tricks on Jesus, who countered with quotations from the law (Matthew 4:1-10)! Certainly, our adversary will tempt us similarly, trying to get us to put God's law aside so we can fulfill our desires.
Jesus, however, in his prayer in John 17, asks God to help us in this, and He also gives us the antidote to antinomianism:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep [guard, protect] them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (verses 15-17)
Knowing God's truth and practicing it to become holy will protect us from the rampant antinomianism of this world, this age that is soon to end. Still to come are the Beast and his False Prophet, who will exemplify this anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-law spirit. To endure to the end, to survive the mystery of lawlessness that will mark the end time, we must hold fast to God's Word and seek His righteousness. "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the [New Jerusalem]" (Revelation 22:14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The apostle John declares that sin is the transgression of God's commandments (I John 3:4, KJV), including the two great commandments Jesus spoke in Mark 12:28-31. The word translated as "sin" literally means "to miss the mark." Combining these principles gives us a very broad definition of sin: Sin is imperfectly loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and imperfectly loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Romans 3:23 declares that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In other words, all have sinned in the past, and in the present all fall short in reflecting God's love, which is a major part of His glory. Godly love does not have to grow cold for it to be shown imperfectly. It will be shown imperfectly when it is demonstrated by God's still-imperfect children. We all are in this state.
This is not to say that we should give up trying to perfect God's love. On the contrary, we have every responsibility to do our utmost to perfect it (I John 2:5; 4:12, 17-18). At the same time, it should not shock us when our spiritual brothers and sisters show God's love to us imperfectly, for we are guilty of the same toward them—and toward God.
Perhaps we find ourselves in a situation where it appears that God's love is growing cold. Maybe we see God's standard of holiness being ignored or compromised, and some form of lawlessness is beginning to show up. We may see little evidence of sacrificial love, and relationships are beginning to be strained. What should we do?
There are two possibilities. The first is that our discernment is correct, and what Jesus Christ foretold is coming to pass, perhaps not in its ultimate fulfillment, but at least in type. The second is that our discernment is incorrect, and that God's love is actually present and not growing cold, but we are having trouble seeing it.
If our discernment is correct, and we truly are in a circumstance where agape love is waning, Jesus has already indicated what He wants us to do. Matthew 24:13 says, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." When many are letting their relationships with God deteriorate, the emphasis is on patient, active endurance.
I Corinthians 13 gives a beautiful description of agape love, which parallels Jesus' exhortation to endure in several points. Verse 4 says that godly love "suffers long." It displays patience and endurance, even in the face of being loved imperfectly. Verse 7 adds that godly love "bears all things" and "endures all things." However, if we are not showing patience or endurance in response to imperfect love, then we are simply responding with carnality rather than with God's love.
Similarly, verse 5 says that godly love "thinks no evil." True love pays no attention to a suffered wrong, nor takes account of the evil done to it. It does not keep a running list of all the ways it has been offended or loved imperfectly. That, again, would be responding to imperfect love with carnality. So, if we find ourselves in the midst of a fulfillment of Matthew 24:12, we really have our work cut out for us because we will have to endure patiently and continue to display God's love rather than allow our own agape to also grow cold in response.
Conversely, God's love may be present, but our discernment may be incorrect, and we are missing it by looking for agape only in one application. We may be continually waiting for a specific type of sacrificial love, and if we do not receive it, we may suppose that God's love is absent. However, we are not all the same in how we show love or how we recognize it. We may need to take a step back and look for facets of God's love that are present, rather than focusing on what may be absent.
In addition, given that human nature is still present within us, we also have to remember that nothing inhibits or damages our ability to see things clearly like focusing on the self. That is, we tend to evaluate whether God's love is present based on how we feel or how we are affected, rather than on objectively looking for God's spiritual workmanship in the overall situation.
David C. Grabbe
Is the Love of Many Growing Cold?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:12: