One of God’s central purposes in the local church is love. In 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul wrote, “Now the goal of the commandment is love from a pure heart.” Different churches may have more or less gifts in different areas. In the area of love, though, every church is commanded to strive for the highest standard – and there are no excuses we can give to the Lord Jesus Christ if we fail here.
Why does love matter?
As we think about this topic, we must firstly be very sure of its importance. We must first remember one of God’s reasons for having churches in the world. In Ephesians chapter 3, Paul writes about his service amongst the Gentiles (the nations). He writes about God’s eternal purpose to make them his heirs, and then writes that God was working “with the purpose that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (verse 10). This verse tells us that angels and all the unseen spiritual powers that God has made are watching the church. Through it, God wishes to display to them something of his greatness. Though angels are much greater beings than we are (2 Peter 2:11), they learn something from the church. The church, therefore, is immensely important. And the Bible clearly teaches that love is one of the first things that a church should be known for.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he did one of his most staggering actions. It was not a miracle – we could say it was greater than a miracle. The apostle John writes about it, saying that at that time “Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father” (John 13:1). More than that, he knew “that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God” (John 13:3). What great thing did he do with this knowledge? John says that he rose from the supper, put aside his outer garments, took a towel, poured water into a bowl, and washed the disciples’ feet. In other words, he showed them his love to them, by serving them in a very humble and very practical way. When he had done so, he then explained to them that he had done so for an example, so that they should do the same to each other (v12-17). Later on in his speech, he gave his famous “new commandment” – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also should love one another” (v34). “By this shall all men know,” he said, “that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.”
Love is the mark of true Christianity
There is nothing surprising when a man loves his wife. That is how it should be. If someone takes care of his brother, or his son, that is what we expect. Jesus reminded us also that even the worst people in society look after each other. Even drunkards buy one another drinks and look out for one another (Matthew 5:46-47). In the same way, in Kenyan politics, politicians often try to look out for people from their own tribe or region. Nobody is surprised by this. The local church, however, is meant to be different. In the church, Christ wants us to love every other believer, whoever they are, whether rich or poor. It does not matter if they are from the tribe which our tribe hates, or if they are illiterate and we are educated. In the world, only people who have something in common normally come together. Christ desires that in the church we should love one another when we have nothing at all in common – except our relationship to him.
This is how the world will know that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. This is how the watching angels will sing praises to God – when they see this love. In the church, we are called to love people simply because they belong to Jesus – not for any other reason. It is when we love people for Jesus’ sake – and for Jesus’ sake alone – that Jesus is truly glorified. In Matthew 25:34-40, at the last judgment, Christ praises his people for serving him by giving themselves in service to the least of his people: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and so on. Unconverted people will never show their love to Christ by serving his people (v41-45) – that is the privilege of believers in the local church.
If this love is so important, how then can it be encouraged? The very first principle is that which Christ gave us. He did not simply teach about its significance. He himself got up, took the towel, filled the bowl, and started washing smelly feet. In other words, he gave a personal example to his disciples of what he meant. This means that love, in a local church, must be personally modelled to the people by the pastors. They must not behave like kings, lording it over the people and expecting to be served by them. That is what happens outside the church, and Christ tells us to avoid it (Matthew 20:25-27). The pastor should instead be like Christ, who gave up all his rights in order to do good to us. It will be useless to preach love to the people without this example. Nobody will think the pastor is serious unless he also acts. Nobody can be expected to perform better than the example and standard he sees. The pastor must not spend his time expecting honour from others, but instead humble himself like the Saviour. He must try to get rid of every kind of behaviour which says “the pastor is a special person”. Only then can he truly be a true servant of Christ.
Going on from here, the Biblical duty of hospitality is very important. True love involves true sharing. Christians together in a local church are meant to be living shared lives. Church is more than sitting together on Sunday and then separating. Hospitality is one of the ways that the Bible gives us to get to know each other better and grow together. When one believer opens his home to another and they have a meal together, it is an important act. It is a way of showing that he truly accepts his brother or sister – that we have welcome them into our hearts. This is why the Bible teaches that hospitality is not an option. It is a duty for everyone. The apostle Peter, immediately after mentioning the importance of love, then wrote, “Use hospitality to each other without grudging.” (1 Peter 4:8-9). Paul wrote the same and said that nobody should be allowed into church leadership unless they regularly practice it (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). Therefore, churches that want to encourage love must encourage the duty of hospitality.
Another important area for showing love is in involvement in one another’s problems. The Bible recognises that problems and difficulties are normal in the Christian life. Even Paul’s fellow-workers (or Paul himself!) were sick and had their plans defeated sometimes (2 Tim. 4:20), or had painful problems whilst in the work (1 Tim. 5:23, Gal. 4:13-15). There are thus always lots of opportunities. The Bible tells us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-36). There is a saying, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. Real, practical love has a great opportunity to show itself at such times. Leaders must teach believers to take interest in each other’s lives, to ask about problems, to pray about them, and to remember to ask again and see if anything can be done. This is what happened in the early church (Acts 4:34-35) and is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work.
As well as these beginnings for encouraging love, we must also know some of the dangers to love in a local church. It can take a long time and much patience before we can see this tender plant growing. There are weeds which can quickly grow and kill it before it bears any fruit. One set of sins that can destroy love very quickly are sins of ungodly speech. Gossip, rumour-spreading and unkind words can ruin relationships very rapidly. “A gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28). “Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from trouble” (Proverbs 21:23). Bad talk can only spread when it is listened to, so it is also important to instantly forget whatever rumours we hear, and interpret what we hear in the most generous way possible. “Love does not imagine any evil … but bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” A culture of suspicion and distrust is one in which love cannot survive.
The rewards of love
The rewards of a loving local church are very great. People come to hear the gospel and feel welcomed there. The preaching is believed much more easily because its power is being seen. The love of Christ will not just be an idea on the pages of the Bible, but seen to be real and true. Members will be at meetings because they know it is a very special place. In an atmosphere of self-giving, believers will offer themselves more willingly for service. In many ways, love is the engine of the gospel. We live in a world of hatred (Titus 3:3). Christ came for us because of God’s love (John 3:16). The goal was that we too should learn to love. We need to look hard at our churches and our own lives, and test to see if this goal of God’s has been ours too.Print This Page