I read this quote from John Piper recently: “One way to prepare for the second coming and its antecedent sufferings is to submit ourselves with intelligence and wisdom and joy to the absolute standards of God’s law for the sake of warm love, not cold love.” I didn’t know there was such a thing as “cold love.” How can love be cold? Doesn’t one cancel out the other?

But the scripture Piper alludes to — I’ve read that: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Jesus said those words to his disciples. So, what did Jesus mean by “cold love”? How could love lose its warmth? Once chilled, what does it look like, and can it be restored to its former temperature?

First, I have to see the verse in the context of what Jesus was talking about, which was the end of the world. “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).

We will know that his return is approaching by a number of signs, including the ways in which people treat each other and their relationship with Christ. Only the outward husk of love will remain, superficial expressions of regard and kindness, which don’t come from the heart.

Lots of people will act like they care, but that’s the point: they’ll only be acting. In another article, Piper says, “Hate is the final outcome of hypocritical love — just the shell of love where the warmth has gone out.”

Love That’s Not Love at All

In other words, the definition of “love” will look something like “being outwardly nice, but without substance.” “Love” will mean accepting everyone and everything, peace at all costs, peace without God.

But there is no such thing.

How many social media “likes” do you have? What do they actually signify? Those online “friends” might say lovely things to you, but they probably won’t be there for you in a crisis, certainly not in person.

A tiny percentage of those individuals will stand beside you in meaningful, even sacrificial ways, but the average “friend” doesn’t give you much thought except when you encourage and affirm them. When your world is crumbling, the so-called support of such friends will supply no real comfort; no rest; no peace.

There are always exceptions, I’m not suggesting we go to extremes here and discount every friend as a cold person. Real love, however, is rich and warm and it weighs something. Imagine holding it in your hand, the actual seed. Compare its weight to that of a dry seed husk.

Warm Love Is Not Nice

Warm love is not “nice.” Substantial love is often messy, confrontational, and uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s cold or that it’s mean, but love tells the truth in a redemptive way.

John 15:13 says that there is no greater love than laying down your life for a friend. Laying down a life doesn’t always mean taking the fall for someone or jumping in front of a punch.

Laying down a life could mean taking a huge risk, such as standing up to an abuser and saying (out of love) you need help. Your wife and kids are coming to stay with me, until such time as you get counseling, give up alcohol, and prove you are no longer a threat to them. 

That’s the sort of love, which risks physical violence, risks rejection, and potentially causes a huge rift between friends.

But this is more loving than ignoring the problem or choosing not to get involved. Not only does the vulnerable person find protection, but the violent offender is forced to face his sin and the chaos this is causing in his life.

This kind of love says, “I want more for you” and a really, really good friend will also walk alongside his friend during the hardship of facing his sin. That’s love in the sweaty, stinky trenches of life.

Lawlessness and Lovelessness

Piper defines “lawlessness” as “a deep hostility to authority, especially God’s authority.” We reject God’s sovereignty, and we want our way so badly that we walk all over other people to get it. When our love for God grows cold, so does our love for others.

Piper explains that lawlessness and cold love are closely linked in a kind of chicken-and-egg way. We don’t love our neighbor because we are cold. We are cold because we don’t love our neighbor. Uplifting one another is essential to warm love.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and this is a frequent refrain. Build one another up (Ephesians 4:29), “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), and more.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:19-20).

This goes the other way too. If you haven’t loved God, you can’t really love your brother because Jesus is the connecting piece, like an adapter. Without him, we’re just a bunch of incompatible devices and USB cords and none of us fits with anyone else.

You’ll Feel the Chill

John Piper says that cold love will cause betrayal and will break up families, including church families. We see it all the time, with division and argument and people putting their own needs and wants before those of their neighbors and ahead of God’s will.

Cold love is a part of our daily reality, we even fight it within ourselves: it’s a manifestation of pride and selfishness.

But how do we know when our love is growing chilly? I’ll name three signs just to keep things simple:

1. You don’t pray.

2. You don’t care.

3. You don’t rest.

1. Prayer is a conversation with God. Have you ever tried to maintain a relationship, but it was one-sided? The other person did not respond to letters, phone messages, texts, or emails? If you’re not talking to God, asking him questions, and listening quietly for his direction, that’s cold love. He’ll be okay without you, but you can’t love without Him.

2. When I care, I pray about my friends and their problems. God knows what’s going on, he knows what the outcome will be, and he won’t be swayed from his purposes by my prayer. So, why am I praying?

I want God to implant his love for that person inside of me so that I can care more deeply. I long for him to warm up my cold heart. I really need him to teach me to love better, and prayer is essential to helping me care about my neighbor.

3. There is always an upside for me when I pray too: I get more of God. When I give up the concerns that are the foundation of my prayers, leaving them with the Lord, I enjoy rest from worry.

Whenever I hand my concerns over to him, my burden is lightened, whether that’s the weight of a sinful habit that I can’t seem to shake or concern for a child who isn’t following Jesus. If I’m not praying, I’m not resting.

It’s too easy to forget that the Lord is in control of everything that’s going on and to slip into that familiar routine of striving to be good, to behave better, and to earn my salvation. Man is that ever exhausting.

There are probably more symptoms, but I know this: if I’m not praying, not caring, and not resting, my love needs some warming up.

Warming Up the Heart

That chill can be defrosted, however; ask God to help you. He will do this daily if cold love is a daily problem. I need this reminder often, and then Jesus takes away the shame I feel for not having loved my neighbor as I ought to.

Then he heats up my heart, and I really feel the warmth, like plunging a cold limb into a hot bath. It sometimes hurts a little at first the way repentance should, but soon that glorious heat floods my body and fills me. When I ask for help, the Father leads me to his Son, to a fire that always burns even when mine has gone out.

For further reading:

How Do We Know What Love Is?

Does a Friend Really Need to Love at All Times?

What Is Authentic Love?

What Is a Lukewarm Christian?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/a_namenko

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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