It starts with LOVE
This is PART 1 of the HALLMARKS OF A HEALTHY CHURCH message series.
The first characteristic of a healthy/growing church that we’ll look is “loving relationships”. There is a reason why we look at this one first – because this is where it all starts. As we’ll discover, without love – everything else doesn’t matter!
John 13:34-35 (NLT)
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
This is one of Jesus’ most essential instructions to His disciples. Jesus says this on the night before the crucifixion – just after the Last Supper. So you know that whatever He is going to say is important.
I’m going to be leaving you now, and I have given you the revelation and the teaching and the power of the Kingdom of God. I’m about to send you out to spread the Good News and to start the church – which will completely change the world as we know it. You guys will set the tone of what the church – which I will refer to as my body or my family – will be like.
And I have one very simple, but essential instruction for you: LOVE EACH OTHER. In fact, it’s not an instruction – it is a commandment! This is not a request – it is an assignment. Because without love, it all just doesn’t matter!
Your love is proof
You know what stands out to me most here? Jesus says that it is our ‘love for each other’ that will prove to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples.
So often, when I think about how we can reach people with the Gospel, I’m thinking about ways to show love. And we should! We should be the hands and feet of Jesus and show people the love of Christ.
But the words of Jesus point us to the fact that just by being a community of people that simply love each other, care for each other, pray for each other and lift one another up – we are amplifying the message of the Gospel!
And the reverse is also true: nobody will believe what we have to say or receive what we have to give – if we cannot even put it in practice in our own lives and in our own communities! A divided church full of mean and judgy Christians is an anti-testimony to the Gospel.
The horrible pancake accident
Years ago, on a Saturday morning, I wanted to make my wife some blueberry pancakes. I had been looking forward to this all week! I made batter with buttermilk and baking powder (strange ingredients to me because I’m used to making plain Dutch pancakes), put blueberries in, made pancakes, served them proudly… But they tasted horrible!
After a quick investigation, I realized I forgot one of the essential ingredient . Eggs! We had to through away everything – including the nice blueberries. It Starts With Love
Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, gives us a beautiful description of LOVE. But before he does that, he explains how a spiritual effort without love, is like an egg-less pancake. However nice the blueberries may be that you put into the batter – it is still a flop.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
LOVE is the essential ingredient to any Christian community. Without true and authentic love, it cannot produce Kingdom fruit.
You and I are all called to bring something unique to the church. We were created differently, with each a unique gifting and natural talents. But this contribution is meaningless, if it is not accompanied by the one thing we are all called to do – to love one another.
A leadership gift without love produces control and abuse of power
A prophecy gift without love produces pressure and manipulation
A teaching gift without love produces a unhealthy critical mindset and legalism
A hospitality gift without love….. well, I don’t even know what that would look like!
Love is the essential ingredient to any church. Without it, our pancake is a flop.
Questions for self-reflection and discussion
Is love my basic attitude?
Does love impact the choices that I make – the things that I say and the things that I do?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Need encouragement? Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and change the word LOVE for JESUS.
Need a challenge? Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and change the word LOVE for your own name.
When we think of love, we interpret it in terms of affection. I love going on holiday. I love it when my favorite sports team wins. I love spending time with the people I like.
The problem with this, is that this love is conditional. You love holiday, but do you love your daily routine as well? You love it when your team wins, but do you still love them when they lose? You love spending time with people you like, but do you also love the people that you don’t like?
The love, of which Jesus is the ultimate example, is powerful, counter-cultural, goes against our selfish human nature and is ready to sacrifice. For God, love has nothing to do with niceness, or warm fuzzy feelings. It is not a condition-based emotion but a powerful choice. A choice that ended up costing Him everything.
Love makes room
So, it was the desire of Jesus that LOVE would be the hallmark of the church. In Acts, we see that the disciples had taken this instruction of Jesus to heart. Church has always been incurably human – and therefore flawed. But the first church that we see develop in Acts 2 did a pretty good job in loving each other.
Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
This is a community of Christians, where love is clearly present. I think that if they would have taken an NCD test, they would score a ‘10’ on ‘loving relationships’.
So what can we learn from them?
1. LOVE makes room for the power of God
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.
I believe that loving relationships in a church opens the door for God’s power to move. Now, God does not depend on us to show His power. He will show it wherever He wants to.
But a community of Christians that loves God and loves each other, does become fertile ground for what God wants to do. Through love, we are making room for God to move. He doesn’t need room, but I believe that He does like it.
2. LOVE makes room for spiritual growth
This community did everything together! They were learning together, eating together, celebrating communion together, praying together and worshiping together! The loving relationships made room for them to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
I’m convinced that a loving community gives fertile ground for growth, because it combines the theory with the practice. How can you learn more about God’s character, and about all that He has called you to, if you don’t get to experience it in the community where you hear about it?
3. LOVE makes room for numerical growth
And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
God wants no one to perish, but wants to bring every single person into His family. Now, where do you think God would rather lead them to? To a loving community, or one that serves you eggless blueberry pancake-flops?
Love is open and love goes out
With this in mind, let me close off with one more thought. Love always goes out. And love is always open. It is not closed off – that’s not love, but preference.
Churches always run the risk of focusing so much on the community aspect – that they become a closed community. Their ‘love’ for each other is so strong, no one can get in. And there is no effort to bring others in. That’s not love. That’s fear. It is holding something so tight that you’re squeezing it to death. Love is always dynamic.
Water that stands still starts to smell. A church that is only internally focused, praising itself for their love for each other – will start to stink, and shrink. This is how church conflict often starts.
Remember that, the love that binds us together is the love of God. And the love of God is a love that will leave the 99 behind, to find the one. In order to stay strong in God’s love, we need to love what God loves, and have compassion for those He cares about, and go after those who do not know Him yet.
How can we practically make love abound in our church? Here are seven choices we can make that contribute to loving relationships. They don’t require any talent or special gifting.
I choose to always believe the best about others
I choose to love, whether I like the other or not
I choose to refrain from talking negatively about others behind their backs
I choose to let go of some of my personal preferences for the greater good
I choose to make meeting with my church family on Sundays and in home groups throughout the week a priority in my week schedule
I choose to let people know who I really am. I will be authentic and leave my mask at home.
I choose to come to Sunday morning wanting to give, rather than to receive