How Should We Love the Church?
Since today is Valentine’s Day, many of us are focused on celebrating the love that we have for our spouses and others whom we care deeply about. Of course, this is appropriate since God’s Word says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). At the same time, I am struck by the final statement of this verse which reveals how much Christ loved the church. He gave Himself for her! Christ gave himself over to curse of death on the cross out of His deep love for the church. Or as Paul proclaimed to the elders in Ephesus: “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). God in the flesh purchased us with His own blood.
Here’s my question then: How do we love the church that Christ loved enough to die for? Sadly, I fear that many today do not share His love for the church. They only think of their personal relationship with Jesus, not about the love that our Savior commands us to have for one another (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10, 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11-12; 2 John 5). What does this love for one another look like? How should we love Christ’s church? Here are a few principles:
Love One Another Universally
Christ’s love for the church created a new people—the family of God. God the Father has adopted us as His children and we are brothers and sisters in Christ. So if God in His infinite wisdom and providential care has drawn someone to Himself by applying to them the blood of Christ, I must love him. I must love him even if we are different, even if we are in different stages in life, even if we are from different cultures, even if we don’t seem to have anything in common, even if his personality rubs me the wrong way, even if he sins against me. If he is my brother in Christ or she is my sister in Christ, then I love them. My love for the church should be as universal as Christ’s love for the church is.
Love One Another Practically
Our love for one another is not an abstract love that I agree to in theory; it is a concrete and specific love that I put into practice. Christ summarizes God’s commandments with love—loving God and loving your neighbor—which means that keeping God’s Law is how we practically fulfill our love to Him and to our neighbor. In a similar way, Christ’s commandment to love one another is a summary of all of the “one another” commands in the New Testament. So if you want to understand what this love looks like in the church today, take a look at Scripture’s “one anothers.” In my own study of the “one anothers,” I found 32 different expressions of the love that we are commanded to carry out in each other’s lives. I would encourage you to also engage in this study while asking yourself how you could practice this love with those who are in your church directory and who surround you in your pew at church.
Love One Another Daily
There is a “one another” passage of Scripture that has really caused me to reflect deeply on what it means to love one another in the church—Hebrews 3:12-14: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” Do you know what I keep coming back to? The word “daily.” You see, our love for one another not only happens when we meet together as a church on the Lord’s Day. It continues through the week—every day! And why must we exhort one another daily? Because our sin can harden our hearts into unbelief and lead us to depart from Jesus Christ. Now I believe in the perseverance of the saints unto salvation, but this warning must be taken seriously. What it shows us is that Christ has given us each other in the church to encourage one another in the gospel which will keep us from falling away from the faith. Our love for one another is the means through which we draw close to Christ. And this love must be practiced daily, because the deceitfulness of our sin requires the ongoing encouragement we give to one another!
Love One Another Sacrificially
As I consider all of the “one anothers” of the New Testament, I quickly recognize how much time and devotion my love for the church requires. Frankly, this love isn’t easy. It is a sacrificial love that I must prioritize so that I do not neglect my love for the church in the business of my life. Even as a pastor, I can struggle in loving the church as Christ has called me to love her. But this doesn’t excuse me from loving her well, and I cannot neglect the needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes this means that I need to adjust my schedule. Other times I am reminded that I should call or visit a member. Yet other times I have to drop whatever I am doing to serve someone through a challenge or struggle. Real love is difficult and demanding.
Love One Another in Christ
The truth is that when I consider my love for the church, all too often I fail to love her as I ought to love her. But rather than wallow in guilt or give up in defeat, I remember that it is Christ’s love for His church that gives us life. I cannot and will not be the lover that His church needs, but He never intended for me to bear this burden. Christ’s love for His church is more than sufficient! With this in mind, I turn away from my lovelessness and selfishness in repentance so that I can be forgiven of my sins and cleansed of my unrighteousness. I look to the cross of Christ, which is a greater love than I can ever comprehend. And I pray for the Holy Spirit’s power to love the church as my Savior has commanded me. While we cannot love one another in our own strength, in Christ we can love one another until the day when He returns and His love will be fully manifest in a restored world!