What a Loving Vibrant Church is Like
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself." Philippians 2:35
John 15-17, 21; and Colossians 3
To be a loving church, we need to grasp the incompressible idea that each of us is deeply loved. Yes, this means you and me, he and she, that guy and that lady. Yes, even those whom you find it impossible to love. All loved by God. We are made by love, and we are made to love! So, this should be easy, right?
Being a loving church should be easy; but, in my considerable experience of being a pastor and consultant, it seems more and more rare to find loving churches. The truth is, though, that it all comes down to this: God loves you! He chose you to be one of His holy people. As His Word states, we must clothe ourselves in His love and principles. To get over the not-so-easy part, we all must realize that others have faults. I do. You do. We all do. We must offer the same grace and forgiveness that Christ has given us. We should be unified and grateful as this sets the tone for our lives, spiritual growth, and relationship with God and others. Unity in Christ and gratitude will set the theme for your church.
This is about what we are to put on and discard in our lives. What are we to put on? We are to put on the Fruit of the Spirit, which is the Holy Spirit working in and through us, so we are overflowing with His love to one another. We are to become His masterpieces--the showcases of God's goodness and grace. What is produced? Tender mercies, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. These are virtues that are sealed and empowered by His love for us, which comes from Christ ruling our hearts and His Word indwelling us. This is not a set of ideas we are being asked to consider. We are called these, the "must do"! What do we get in return? Peace, as Christ dwells in us and uses us in the lives of others through our words, attitudes, and temperament (Col. 3:12-14).
Let's look what a loving, vibrant church is like in the Bible. John 15 is one of the key passages that shows us how. Christ is giving us the imagery of God as the Vine and the Church as the Vineyard. Each person is a branch, abiding in His love, life, and salvation that gives us sustenance. The theme is like the relationship among the Trinity, how God loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity intertwines and dwells in us, His children. This can be a prime motivation and inspiration not only to keep God's instructions, but also affecting our responses to His love for us. Our responses must be of unshakable trust and unwavering obedience, which brings joy to us and others. This makes for a church overflowing with the love of Christ.
Let's look at some of the calls we are given from John, Chapters 15 and 21 and Colossians 3 that help us center ourselves and our churches:
- We are Chosen to Love! God loves us so we can love Him and others, too! This is an essential truth and aspect we must not only understand but also apply. Chosen by love to love, for love of Christ! He, by love, makes use of us, molding us, shaping us, and appointing us to be His orchards and fruit-stands of nourishment that the Church must have to function and the world needs to see in action. The Christian and the Church collectively need the substance of Christ and His fruit flowing in us, interconnecting and ever over-supplying. This is what grows a faith, a family, and a fellowship.
God's love authorizes Christianity; Christianity exhibits God's love. Love and obedience go together; neither can be separated from the other. Nor can we separate faith and knowledge from practice if we are to be authentic, mature Christians or fully capable churches. Discipleship and spiritual growth is our response to His love--to be passionate, submissive, and obedient to our Lord. As committed followers of Christ, we must attest that we belong completely and entirely to Christ. He purchased, restored, and renewed us, and He now empowers us, and does so in togetherness. Look at it this way. People who are loved tend to be better at loving others. People who grew up in an unloving or dysfunctional home will, if ever, have a difficult time loving others. When we are in Christ, we are loved.
- We are Called to Love One Another. This is a determined love that is unselfish and sacrificial. Love confirms the truth of Jesus and the mark of the authentic follower! This is also a pattern for Christian relationships and church management, and it signals the importance and value of friendships. This is the vital substance that flows from God to and through us as His servants and His Church to be His guiding light of Hope (Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27; John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 14:13; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 3:22; 4:8; 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 1: 5)!
Look how our Lord exemplifies this theme, greater love is, that real Love is that Christ died in our place. The love that flows from us is not from us, but from God through His Spirit. We cannot prove love. We can only respond to and obey it. Once we fully realize that the love of Christ has been poured out on us, we can identify ourselves in Him. We will be able to identify Christ's interests in others over our own interests (John 15:3; Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor.).
Jesus tells us that the Church is to love and obey; there is no other way! We must understand the importance of our reverence to His authority. We come before a holy God. He is not a pal, friend, or guide. He is our Savior and our Lord. He has our purpose and future in His hand; we have no need to fear other or our future when He is our Light, Guide, and Lord. We can trust Him and let that trust fuel our love (2 Cor. 5:16)!
- Real love is sacrificial! Look how Jesus confronts Peter in John 21, "Do you truly love me?" The two words for love are here--the Greek words Agapas ("sacrificial") and Philo ("friendship"). They designate a continuous routine of affection with action, all of the time, not just when one "feels" like it. Love is "symbiotic," as in mutually loving toward one another to build and improve the other's relationship. It requires our entire behavior, including the will. It is both a joyous and serious matter. There is no mistake about Jesus' call to truly, deeply love and befriend those in Him and for Him to be the model to those outside of Him (Eph. 2:4-7; 5:21-32; Mark 12:28-30; John 5:20; 11:3-11; 1 Cor. 13).
Look at the phrase, "lay down his life". This means a self-sacrifice, as Christ demonstrated His true love for us who are sinners, undeserving of His grace and love. In Greek culture, heroic sacrifice was one of the greatest virtues and pointed to a true hero, while Jews emphasized dying for God's law as supreme. Here, Jesus died in our place—heroically--as well as for God's law, satisfying both. We sacrifice by our surrender, to die to ourselves so we can live for Christ with unmerited forgiveness and effectual love (Isa. 7:9; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; Rom. 5:7-8; 6:4-8; 12:12; 1 Cor. 9:22; 11:1; 13:13; Gal. 2:20-21; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 1:21-23; Col. 1:3-12; 2:2-9; 3:2).
A sacrificial, loving mindset builds up ourselves and others. God wants us to bear a fruitful life and church community that both glorifies Him and benefits others and us! For this to happen, we must not only be connected to Christ as Savior, but we must also be in a deep communion with Him that proclaims He is Lord. This is manifested by our abiding and obedience in response to His love and care. His love and care feeds our lives, grows our faith, creates joy, and increases ministry so that we trust, obey, and remain in right relationship so to be effectual and fruitful. Worries and hesitations are pushed out of the way. The call comes from a mutual love between the Godhead and us that first beckons, then models for us. We can respond by our steadfast adherence to His love and precepts, His nature and call, and by remaining in Him as we will for eternity. Our obedience is the proof of His love for us and our love for Him.
When a sacrificial love is at work, our lives will be filled with joy, proclaiming a testimony and empowerment that will flow to others around us. When we love one another, we show Christ and the joy He can give, the greatest measure of what Christ did for us. Our response is the indicator and beacon as we lay ourselves before Christ, surrendered to Him as servants--even slaves--and He lifts us up as His friends.
All we need to say is, "Yes, Lord"--an affirmation of devotion, trust, and obedience. A real, effective Christian will have Love at his/her core; we must be followers before we can be leaders who will follow Him. Love is the spiritual fruit that comes from God's work in our lives to which we respond to help create real, godly faith, character, and dedication. Love is the engine that exhibits Christ and extends throughout our being, taking on and holding together our relationships. Love combines with the Fruit of the Spirit that flows from the Holy Spirit, creating a kind, purposeful, and content life. Love will be the prime fruit that will advance our ability to relate to all, to grow in all of our relationships, and to better others as well as ourselves (Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Pet. 1:3-11).
- We are Called to "Feed my sheep". Our response of love is the food of the Word. What do we distribute to the hungry in the feed troughs of the Church? Faith, Fruit, and Love. This is the proper shepherding of the people of God and the Church as we answer the call to continue to inspire, lead, teach, protect, and equip His flock with love and care. This is our call to service, and the "feeding" of the Word of God that contains the voice and prime witness to God and the means by which the Holy Spirit instructs and convicts us. This is the Bible that holds His truth, directions, precepts, and call; this is the truth that points us to God. Thus, if you reject the Bible, including its precepts, you are also rejecting Christ and disobeying the witness of God in the Gospel and His Word. Yes, this is "ouch" to me, too, but also "wow!" Look what we can do with Christ as He offers us a hope for both now and also tomorrow (Jer. 23:4; Ezek. 34; Matt. 16:18, 26-27; John 10:1-18; 2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Pet. 5:1-4)!
Thus, we respond to, "Take care of my sheep". We are to shepherd God's children, as in care for them as a good mother cares for her young and as a good father instructs and nurtures. We are His sheep, His children, and His people. God saved us, not to be self-centered, but to be His ambassadors wherever we are and whenever we can. A real, effectual church of purpose will always be about Christ as Lord and our surrender to His Lordship. The call of God is to be on guard so we can still live in a proper, pleasing way to glorify our Lord and so people will see Christ exhibited in us (Psalm 57; 138:7-8; Prov. 19:21; John 10: 1-18; 15; Rom. 8; Phil. 2:1-18; 2 Tim. 1:8-12)!
- Go and bear fruit that will last. is the driving and imperative aspect of our "Great Commission." This is the enthusiasm of our "fruit", and it is what characterizes our Christian service and points others to Christ. When we identify ourselves Go" "in Christ, we will obey and be effective in loving and strengthening each other for His service--something so few of us actually do! A proper witness to Christ will be identified by the distinction between good/false teaching, good/bad love, Fruit, character, and/or a good/failing church (Psalm 66:18; Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-13; 28:19; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:13; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:15-16; 1 John 4:1-6; Rev. 1: 2; 2:20; 6:9; 22:9).
You may think this is too difficult to accomplish. Perhaps, you believe that your congregation will not comply. Or, maybe the congregation will comply, but their fruit is waxen and their love conditional. Consider that Christ takes the initiative in our relationship. He comes to us first by loving us; then, we are free to exercise our will and be enabled to know and receive Him. If He did not choose us, we would not have the desire, will, or ability to receive Him. This is by His work on the cross. In Jesus' time, a committed learner would seek out a rabbi to teach him; here, Jesus picks us to teach. Did you know that as growing and mature Christians, we belong exclusively to Christ (Eph. 1:4-11; John 2:23; 14:13)?
All Jesus asks of us is to receive Him and His love so we can pay it forward to others, to show His love by our display of love so we succeed at His will.
Christ's love is the sap that flows. It is what causes us to know Him and have His love working in and out of us. It causes us to make Him known to others even more diligently. We were sinners; now, because of His love, we are His people--united to Him, reconciled to God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. This love becomes the process of continued blessings for us and others. All it takes is our dedication to Christ, so we can respond with faith, worship, and spiritual formation to carry on His love. Growing in Christ is what the Christian life is all about. It is the lifelong process of discipleship and spiritual growth that builds our faith and knowledge in Him so we can take hold of His love and produce even more of it, giving it back to Him and others. This helps us with our assurance, maturity, character, and spiritual formation. We become changed because we have received Christ, and we can keep on loving. If this is not so, there is something fundamentally wrong with our Christian operating system as love helps us have more hope and reassurance of faith (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 5; Heb. 10: 26-39; 12:14; 2 Pet. 1: 5-11).
- Glorify God. How do we glorify God? Could this also be about love and fruit? If we really read the passages, that will be a definitive "yes"! We are to submit to the Sovereignty, Lordship, Holiness, and the Supremacy of God as well as the uncreated, pre-existing, preeminence of Christ. The application is for our utmost, highest reverence and our call to give Him our praise for His glory by living for Him, which is what our purpose in life is all about. We are holy in Christ. He sets us apart for a reason and a purpose. That purpose is about our Lord, not about our plans or self-interest.
states, "What is the chief purpose of man? Man's (all of Westminster CatechismWe must know that in Christ, as individuals and collectively, our lives have meaning and value. Jesus wants that meaning for our lives to be infused by Him so that our purpose becomes to glorify Him, enjoy grace and fellowship in Him, and share it with others. This is also what the who proclaims Christ as Lord) chief end (objective) is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." "To God alone be the glory" was a critical and important slogan for the Reformation (that must be held to by any serious believer), that all of humanitylife's purpose is to give God glory (Gen. 24:27; Ex. 34:6; Deut. 6:4; 1 Kings 8:1-11; Psalm 25:10; 26:3; 73:24-28; Prov. 16:6; Matt. 17:1-8; John 1:1-14, 18; 6:25-51; 14:9; 17:5, 17:21-23; Rom. 1:6-7; 11:36; 16:27; 1 Cor. 10:11, 31; Eph. 1:5-14; 2:7; Col. 2:1-5; 1 Thess. 3:11; 1 Pet, 2:11-12).
Making the Loving Church Work
The true mark of a mature Christian is the love that is built upon the foundations of our obedience and submission. This is the ability to totally surrender it all upon Christ as LORD, and to be as the Epistle writers demonstrated, His slaves. By so doing, He lifts us up to be His friends. Real friends, listen, forgive, and love, as Christ does with us! It is imperative that we have the commitment to build effective relationships (Prov. 18:24; 27:17; Matt. 5-7; Luke 15:1-2; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; I Pet. 4:9).
What is the solution? God wants you to give Him your hurts and failures. He asks you to surrender to His Lordship and allow Him to be God. He wants you to be His friend, servant, and example. Life is all about Him--not about us! If your heart is cold or confused, turn it toward Jesus; He can use you for the Father's glory. You can be set free! You can be fully engaged in your life, church family, and family. If not, your heart will shut down; there is not a tool in the universe that can open it. You will be bitter, disillusioned, prideful, and pathetic, giving in or giving up to pride and darkness. Your relationships will fail, your church will lose out, and, if you are married, that will fail, too; if you have kids, they too will be destined to darkness and removed from you. The solution is this: surrender; open your heart to the One who created and sustains it, and open yourself to Him! In Christ, you will have a loving church!
© 2017 R.J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/