Loving other people can be hard. I mean have you met people? Try to have relationship with them and you find out they’re flawed, messy, and might hurt you. Sure they can also be encouraging, positive, and fill your life with joy, but they’re not like that all the time.
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just have a relationship with God and not deal with other people, at least the ones that are hard to love? It seems like a nice idea to some. “Just me and Jesus,” they say and think that’s all they need.
But that’s not how God means for His church to function. He wants an individual relationship with you, yes, but He also wants you to be part of a church that He collectively describes as the body of Christ and the temple of God. And He expects you to love everyone in that church even when it’s hard.
Because God Is Love
If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21, WEB)
Those of us who claim to love God have to love the people around us as well. If we don’t love others it proves that we don’t really love God. The reason for this statement is clarified earlier in John’s letter:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, WEB)
Being born into God’s family and having a relationship with Him changes us. When we know the God of love, we learn to love as He does. If we can’t or won’t love other people the way God does, then we don’t really understand Him and haven’t really been born of God.
This doesn’t mean making a mistake gets us instantly kicked out of God’s family. There are times we won’t love the way we should, but God will forgive us when we recognize that we did something wrong and repent. But we have to keep committing to a practice of loving others. The direction and habit of our lives must be growing more and more like God all the time if we’re trying to live as true Christians.
Unfeigned Love For All
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the opening verses of Romans 12. This is the passage that talks about being a living sacrifice and not conforming to this world. We’re going to look at the next few verses, which shift the focus from an individual to the collective body.
For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us (Rom. 12:3-6, WEB)
Isabel Meyer took the title of her book about Myers-Briggs personality types, Gifts Differing, from this passage. We each have individual strengths, interests, gifts, passions, and roles which we can use to serve the God who gave us those gifts. After talking about some of these gifts, Paul adds,
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate to one another; in honor preferring one another (Rom. 12:9-10, WEB)
We must respect differences within the body, use our gifts to help others, love without hypocrisy, and have tender affection for each other. Our love can’t be an outward show or something we just claim to have. It has to be genuine, which means it’s going to change how we live our lives and how we interact with everyone around us.
Keeping The Body Healthy
Jesus is the head of the church, which is His body. As in a human body, the spiritual body doesn’t function well if different cells start running around doing their own thing, trying to change their proper role, or chew-up the surrounding tissue. That’s how you end up with disease.
Shun empty chatter, for it will go further in ungodliness, and those words will consume like gangrene, of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; men who have erred concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past, and overthrowing the faith of some. (2 Tim. 2:16-18, WEB)
The spiritual body can become diseased just like a physical body can. When that happens, the offending part must either be healed or cut out. In an earlier letter, Paul talks about delivering Hymenaeus and another person “unto Satan, that they may be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20, WEB). Evidently Hymenaeus didn’t learn his lesson and continued teaching false doctrine that overthrew other people’s faith. This puts Hymenaeus in a precarious position, for “if anyone destroys the temple of God [corrupting it with false doctrine], God will destroy the destroyer” (1 Cor. 3:17, AMP).
The Lord is very patient with us, but He does not tolerate people inside His family/temple hurting the people around them. Having His love in us is vital for maintaining the health of the body and also to make sure we get to stay in that body. The Lord doesn’t want anyone to perish, but if someone doesn’t “continue in his goodness” He can and will prune them out for the health of the body (Rom. 11:17-24 — also note they can be grafted back in if they repent and change).
We Want To Be Like God
Learning to love the way God loves moves us ever closer to the goal of unity within God’s church and between us and God. Paul writes about this goal in several of this letters, urging the church to pursue peace as a primary focus. In Philippians, he writes, “be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Then, just a few lines later, he says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:2, 5 KJV).
Unity comes from every person in the body of Christ acknowledging and submitting to His role as the Head while learning to think, love, and live as He does. Genuine love patterned after Jesus’ and the Father’s example is the key to true unity within their Church and growth as an individual Christian, Without this love we crumble but with it we draw near to God and each other.