We use the English word love in many different ways. We use it to talk about something that we own, maybe we say “I love my car!” We can use it to speak of family, when we say, “I love you.” We can also use it to speak of friends, “We might say, “I love you man!” All of these uses refer to different type of love. So what does Jesus mean when He instructs his followers to love their local church?
We launched a new series this past Sunday, you guessed it, called “I Love My Church.” It is a series that focuses on what makes your local church so special and how you can demonstrate your love for it. I was impacted once again by a passage that I refer to a lot in my teaching on conversations. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35) There are many significant truths packed into these two verses but let me focus on one. Jesus calls his followers to love each other. Now in the Greek language there are four primary words for love with three of them, or some variation, used in the New Testament. The one word not used in the New Testament is the word for sexual passion. The other three words focus on relations. The first two emphasize our feelings for our friends and our family. The third word, while it can include our feelings, is really about our commitment to love those that are unlovable, or do not deserve to be loved. It is a term that means to put the needs of another before our own. You might have guessed this is agape love. This happens to be the word for love used four times in John 13:34-35. What it speaks to is our need to be committed to our local church. Now Jesus is not speaking about the physical building. He is also not referring to the organizational structure, doctrinal beliefs or the denomination or faith group. He is speaking about the people that make up a local church.
First, Jesus is calling us to be committed to a local church. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot be a practicing Christian if you are not an active part of a local community of believers. There is nothing of a “Lone Christian” in the New Testament. The verse above is just one of many passages that remind us that Jesus intended Christianity to be lived out in community!
So how do we do that? Second, the simple truth is that a local church is made up of many different kinds of people. There will be people that you get along great with and there will be those that you don’t. We often think that finding a church is finding people that we like. Jesus admonition is to find a church where we can love others and many times this includes loving the people that are least like us! Of course our example is Jesus Himself.
What I find interesting about this passage is that it is happening on the night He was arrested at the last supper. Just prior to these verse Jesus washes his disciples feet. He tells them what is coming. And then he reminds them of the new way of doing things, about “agape” loving each other. He then mentions in response to Thomas’ question that He is the only way to a relationship with God the Father. And it is in the midst of these final events that Jesus reminds us followers that one of the greatest ways to reach those that do not yet know Jesus is through their relationship with their local church! Join me over the next several weeks as I unpack what “Our Love for Our Church” looks like.
-Pastor Joe Parkinson