It’s been popular in evangelical churches during the past several years to do initiatives under the heading, “I Love My Church.” A quick web search will show dozens of sermon series, t-shirt designs, and even promotional materials to help churches roll-out this type of campaign. In fact, one website offers 5 sermon outlines, 5 mini-movies, small group study guides, social media images, and more for only $49.99. While I’d argue the marketing-campaign approach can create other problems (but that’s a topic of another article), the underlying theme is a biblical one. We should love our local church. I’m certainly not opposed to t-shirts and banners and the motives are often pure, but I want to remind you this month that the lasting fruit of more ordinary, less obvious demonstrations of love over the long-term are the goal.
As we’ve been studying 1 John these past few months, the command to love other believers has been a primary theme. Recall, love for God and others is one of the three avenues of assurance for Christians and was a dominant idea in the sermons from 2:7-11, 3:11-18, 4:7-12, and 4:17-21. As your pastor, I’m confident this study has provided a timely and important word for our church family. Each one of us should relate to the local church through covenant love in ways that are similar to marriage. This commitment extends to each individual member and for the Body as a whole. This command is tough in any context but is made more difficult by our culture’s confusion related to love and relationships.
Borrowing from Jonathan Leeman, I’ve defined love as an affirmation of and affection for another person that generates a commitment to his highest good. This definition, of course, depends on a proper understanding of each term and a belief that a person’s highest good is knowing God through Jesus and ongoing conformity to Jesus’ image. In contrast to this concept of love, the culture overwhelming encourages us to define it in terms of personal, temporal pleasure that is most often grounded in our expectations of the other person. However, flowing from our new birth, our faith in Jesus, and our love for God, we must obey God in loving one another according to his definition and expectation. Once again, I pray the exposition of 1 John has been helpful in explaining the biblical case for this obligation. I want to reinforce the truth and provide a few practical ways for us to seek the highest good of our church family.
1. Pray for your church family. This includes lifting up specific needs and concerns from your small groups and close friends, but it should extend well beyond that. Consider making it a priority to pray for our Sunday gathering on Saturday evenings, to pray for our leadership regularly, and to pray for each person in our directory by name throughout the year.
2. Demonstrate love in sacrificial, practical ways. While many of us serve one another through our church’s ministry programming, our love extends well beyond. The list of possibilities for loving each other is endless. You could send an encouraging card, provide a warm meal, make a phone call, invest in meaningful conversation, listen intently, express concern for their spiritual well-being, or invite someone to lunch. These individual acts are important, but don’t neglect the primary way to obey this command is often to show up every week on-time and with a joyful heart for congregational worship.
3. Bear with one another. Your fellow members are human beings who will, if given enough opportunities, disappoint you. God is forming each of us into Christ’s image, but none of us is completed yet. By the power of the Spirit, be hard to offend, quick to forgive, and always ready to reconcile. Refuse to criticize, assume the best in others, go out of your way to defer, and make peace whenever possible.
4. Support the ongoing ministry of the church with your time, energy, and resources. Again, use your gifts when they’re needed, give financially, listen discerningly, and allow your presence to encourage others.
Parkway Baptist Church is a gift to us. She is one of God’s instruments for shaping each of us into the image of Christ. At times she may feel like coarse sandpaper and at other times like a soft finishing cloth, but don’t despise the gift that she is. In obedience to God, let us love her well.