What is Love? Working Our Way Through the Challenges of Loving the Church

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”  – John 13:34–35

What is Love?

“Dear God, keep Devin safe. Keep me away from him so I don’t hurt him.” 

The prayer was honest—and it came from the lips of my 4-year-old daughter. I must admit, I have muttered similar prayers when thinking about the family of God. 

Why is it hard to love God’s people? Whether the discussion surrounds vaccine status, racial reconciliation, or women in the pulpit, the church can dominate as the most divisive organism in the nation. 

But that’s not how the Bible tells us to act. It’s not what 1 John instructs us to do. This book, written by a son-of-thunder-turned-disciple who later in life greets his readers with words of “grace, mercy and peace,” has much to say about loving the church.

1 John teaches us many important lessons about our interactions with those we call brothers and sisters in Christ. Stated simply: If we love God, we love his people. But what does that look like? In my blog posts that follow, we will consider the words of John to the believers in Ephesus.  We’ll consider how we might synthesize these words to one ornery group of believers to our own cantankerous crew. 

We Are Not Without Sin

If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth.  But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:6–7 

First, we are to recognize that we are not perfect—without sin. Christ died to forgive us of our sins, yet Paul reminds us throughout Romans that as long as we’re in alive in the body, sin will war against us. John reminds us that to say we have no sin is to walk in darkness. We come to the light when we admit our sin—and our need for a Savior. A delightful surprise awaits us in the light, fellowship with God and community with other believers.

Love God ≠ Hate His People

The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – John 2:9–11 

Next, we are to love our brothers and sisters regardless of what our differences may be. John reminds us that to hate a member of God’s community—Christian believers—is to walk in darkness. It’s a contradictory statement to hate believers. To do so is like walking aimlessly in a dark room. 

Love is Love?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.  – John 2:15–17

A final component we’ll explore is how we love God’s people. We are instructed to not love the world or the distractions of this world. This is a distinct command in that the love God commands us to give to others must line up with something. But what? There’s a directive. The imperative is that our love and corresponding actions line up with the will of God. Paul says we speak the truth in love. John is saying we must also demonstrate our love in truth. 

Can You Hear Me Now?

Like the loop-de-loop of a roller coaster, John returns again and again teaching the same principles to this body of believers. We must acknowledge our need to advocate Jesus, love our sisters and brothers in Christ in word and in deed, and correspond our love and actions to the will of God. 

All In the Family

My daughter is still honest in her prayers and they often include cries for intervention on behalf of her younger brother. But over time she has grown to love him as family. Might we do the same in the family of Christ?

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