We Will Love
I groaned when I heard the word.
I had been praying for some time regarding the future of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I knew He had called us to be a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family. But as this Jesus-focused, Spirit-empowered, world-evangelizing family, what were our priorities to be?
On a long, overseas flight, I sensed the Spirit saying to me that we had to start with one word: love.
I was embarrassed. My pride resisted. After two years of being president I was going to stand before Council and announce that our first priority was love? It seemed so basic. I feared the response would be one large, corporate duh.
Yet this is what God seemed to be saying. His Holy Word certainly backed up what I was discerning. Soon, conversations with many leaders (especially the young leaders) further validated that I was hearing correctly from the Lord.
In the months since Council, I’ve increasingly spent time with the Lord trying to better understand His heart. When He says to love, what is He calling us to be and do, whether individually or as a church?
Perhaps I’m premature in expressing these thoughts with others; I may well have deeper insights in the years to come. But here are the themes arising in my heart (with overtones of 1 Corinthians 13) as I consider this single, powerful word: love.
The Loving Person
Love is not about “look at me; see what I can do.” It’s not about how smart I am, how cool I act, how witty I can be, or how much God has used me. It’s not about how big my ministry is, how many books I’ve sold, how many books I’ve read, how many likes I get on Facebook, or how many people like me at all. Love isn’t about how much I’ve sacrificed or how hard I’ve worked. It’s not about my talents, my interests, my success, my anything.
Love isn’t primarily about me.
Oh, certainly, I do love myself—and I should. Self-loathing is unhelpful, unhealthy, unwise, ungodly . . . ungodlike.
Clearly, my love for myself is quite well established. Every day I feed and clothe myself. Many days I don’t even think about feeding or clothing others, but I never miss a day for me. I’m often quite delighted with my ideas, my plans, my wishes, my whims, my wants, my ways, my who-do-you-think-you-are-by-doing-it-some-other-way responses. I’m quite patient with myself. I put up with behaviors in me that I scorn in others. I’m rather kind to myself, buying or doing things for myself on a consistent basis. I protect myself, trust myself, place more hope in my ideas than yours. And I’ve been doing all this for a very long time. I’ve persevered for me.
I love myself, and to a measure, that’s all fine and good. But, as a Christ follower, my call is to live—and love—beyond me. I’ll keep feeding, clothing, and believing in me, but how eager am I to do that for you?
A Life of Love
As Christ followers, we are all called to live beyond ourselves. Pity the person whose world is no bigger than their own whims. Blessed is the person whose heart has been made large by the love of God. Redeemed by a loving God, we are recipients of God’s love. Imagine! John’s heart nearly explodes as he writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Loved by God, loved by the Creator, loved by the King, loved by Love Himself. With good reason and great clarity, Paul teaches, “as dearly loved children . . . live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . .” (Eph. 5:1–2).
Live a life of love. What would that look like?
Love is patient with the person who doesn’t get the point the first or the fifth time.
Love is kind enough to do for another person at any moment what we wish others were kind enough to do for us.
Love is happy for someone when he or she succeeds, gets a promotion, a raise, a great vacation, a nicer car, a nicer home . . . has another child, a happy marriage, good health. Love is happy for those who are living the dream we can’t seem to attain.
Hearts large with love are rare, priceless, divine. Such love doesn’t naturally arise from within us. A divine source—the divine source—is needed for such love. Frustrated is the person who tries to contrive or pretend such love.
You see, only the love of God can rejoice with those who rejoice in the very circumstances we mourn in our own stories—when they get what we can’t seem to have. Without that love, we do what all people do when others get to live the dream we can’t: we envy. Their good creates bad in us. We pity ourselves, take a victim role, cast blame, shake our fists at God, or seek to undermine that person’s success. Envy reigns when love does not.
Love is eager to give others the credit. It doesn’t need the spotlight, the kudos, or the bonus check. Love elevates others’ contribution, courage, creativity.
Love is not rude. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not easily angered. It doesn’t keep track of everything everyone has done against us. It doesn’t keep a “he wronged me” list.
Love doesn’t take offense. Love forgives because Love has forgiven us.
Love is free—free to not be offended, free to forgive, free to embrace, free to give another chance. It is free to speak truth, to have the hardest, most awkward, best conversations.
Love is fearless. Those awkward conversations require courage, don’t they?
Love is faithful. Anything less than love gives up quickly: “That relationship isn’t worth it.” What if God loved us with the measure of love we have shown others? Thank God for God.
Love is open-hearted, open-handed . . . open. Less-than-love closes, blocks, shrivels, recoils. Love enters where others withdraw, perseveres where others quit, believes where others doubt, adopts what others abandon.
Love is risky. Let others play it safe; love puts it all on the line.
Love is often confused with license: “Your love will allow me to be who I want to be in the manner I want.” No, that often is the most unloving thing we can do for ourselves, a child, or a friend.
Real love—the love of God—makes us more like God. Real love aligns us with who He is: His character, His desires, and His Kingdom. Real love doesn’t make me more who I want to be in my own volition. Real love makes me more in line with His desire as His creation. Love positions me with His purposes for me . . . who He designed me to be when He knit me together in my mother’s womb.
To the Source
All of this drives me to one of two places: condemnation or Jesus. I either slip into an “I can’t do it; I don’t measure up” funk or I come back to the source of love once again. My lack of love drives me to Jesus, who has an unending, unrelenting supply.
Lord, I pray, once again, that I need You because I like Your character better than mine. Thank You that You live and love through people like me.
The Loving Church
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight . . .” (Phil. 1:9).
As its founding pastor, Paul longed for the Philippian church to have greater knowledge and deeper insight into what love is. He prayed that the congregation would experience an excessive amount of this love. As its current president, I pray the same for this church known as The Christian and Missionary Alliance.
As I’ve been asking the Lord to allow my love to “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” I’ve continued to reflect on 1 Corinthians 13. What would it look like if I had greater love? What would our churches look like?
A Loving Church Isn’t . . .
If our pastor has the best sermons and if we have the most talented worship team, but we don’t love, in heaven it all sounds like noise.
If our church is filled with activity mobilizing the spiritual giftedness of our congregation, but all the activity is less than an expression of love, we’re just a whirlwind accomplishing nothing.
If we are a sacrificial church—giving extravagantly of our money and our lives—but our extreme generosity flows out of something other than love, we’ve not benefited anyone.
Too often in the church, love is secondary. We’re so infatuated with talent, fame, excellence, and a great presentation that love for people just doesn’t seem that important. We’ll overlook a lack of love if we like the program. Love is frequently counterfeited by busyness or heroism, yet we can be busy or heroic for many reasons other than love.
Isn’t it surprising that words like “heroism” aren’t on Paul’s list? Certainly love can be heroic. Yet, when Paul unpacks love, he presents it to us in a much more “ordinary” manner. He defines love with words that can be easily overlooked—words like “patience” and “kindness.” If our churches are to abound more and more with a deeply insightful love, we need to take such ordinary words seriously.
A Loving Church Is . . .
A patient church: One way you can identify a congregation weak in love is that it retaliates in anger. Angry boards drive out one pastor after another. Angry congregants make life unpleasant for the worship team. Angry congregational meetings more closely resemble a feud than a fellowship.
A loving church is a patient church because it knows how lovingly patient the Lord has been with us. Love extends to others the grace it has received.
A kind church: It is commendable when one human does something kind for another, because showing kindness is a direct expression of the One in whose image we have been made. Even the most godless people reveal their origin when they act in kindness toward others. God, Designer and Creator of all, cares about those other than Himself and expresses that care in countless ways, even to those who scorn Him. Kindness is one expression of divine love.
Kindness is more than merely being nice. It carries with it the idea of moral goodness—good manifested in such a way that another human is served in a meaningful manner, often at some cost to the giver. Cruelty delights in someone else’s pain and loss; kindness delights in their well-being and profit. Did someone in our community have a better day, month—life—because they crossed paths with our church family? Do we serve for the profit of those besides ourselves? That’s what love does.
A humble church: By “humble” I don’t mean a church with a cheaply built and poorly maintained facility. Instead, I’m referring to a church that isn’t envious, boastful, or proud (1 Cor. 13:4). Would a church ever be envious of another church? Yes, sadly, the comparison game is often played. Churches that have had a rich history but are now in decline are often blind to their own ineffectiveness as they continue to boast of their past. Pride runs through some churches like the weary carpet in their hallways. Members feel superior over society and other churches around them, unaware that their “salt” is losing its “saltiness” and will soon be trampled as worthless.
The humble church doesn’t keep turning to its history or its accomplishments. Rather, members keep turning to their Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. The humble church realizes that we need Jesus every moment, every service, every decision . . . every everything. The humble church prays naturally and frequently because it wouldn’t think to try to just run a program, meeting, service, or ministry on its own good ideas or abilities. The humble church knows its power source. We have God among us, or we don’t have anything. We abide in the vine, or we waste away.
The humble church is grateful for the spiritual gifts and abilities represented among its members but isn’t “wowed” by them. They are, however, very impressed with the Gift Giver. They are wowed by the mysterious Father, Son, and Spirit.
May these preliminary reflections send our hearts on a quest to experience more fully what Paul means as he prays for the church’s love to abound in a knowledgeable and insightful lifestyle.
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