Do you love the church (members)? All of them?

I get some ministry newsletters to keep myself encouraged and refreshed, and feel compelled to share some comments from a recent article I read by Jonathan Leeman. He is in charge of the web content on the 9marks website, a treasure trove of helpful information regarding ministry and the local church.

In this article, Leeman reminds us to love the people of the church, with all their warts, and wrinkles, and misunderstandings, and weaknesses, and idioscyncrasies. Those problems are, in fact, true of ALL of us in varying degrees. But, as he points out, these are the very people upon whom Christ has willingly placed his own name (Christ-ian), the ones for whom He has died and risen again, and in whom He is presently dwelling and conforming to His own image. We are all a work in progress, so let’s encourage and strengthen, rather than tear down, or demean.

He says:

When Christ died for the church, he made it his own. He identified it with himself. He put his name on it. That’s why persecuting the church is persecuting Christ (Acts 9:5), and why sinning against an individual Christian is sinning against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12; cf. 6:15). Individually and corporately, we represent him.

Think about what that means. It means that Christ has put his name on immature Christians, and Christians who speak too much at members’ meetings, and Christians who wrongly give their unbaptized children communion, and Christians who love shallow praise songs. Christ has identified himself with Christians whose theology is underdeveloped and imperfect….

How wide, long, high, and deep Christ’s love is! It covers a multitude of sins and embraces the sinner. Actually, it doesn’t just embrace the sinner. It places the whole weight of Christ’s own identity and glory on the sinner—“my name will rest on them, and my glory will be theirs.”

We should always come back to the gospel, shouldn’t we?

…One theologian helped me understand an important aspect of gospel love by distinguishing between giving of yourself and giving yourself. When I give of myself to you, I give you something that I possess like my wisdom, my joy, my goods, or my strengths generally. Of course, I don’t really risk losing anything in the process, because I gain praise for such giving. Indeed, I can give all that I have, even my body to the flames, and have not love. When I give myself, however, I don’t just give something that I have, I give my whole self. I identify my self with your self. I start giving attention to your very name and reputation because I view them as united to my own. Any glory that I might have becomes yours, and all the glory that you have is the glory that I most enjoy. It’s mine, too!

This is how we should love one another within a church, because this is how Christ has loved us. We don’t just embrace one another; we rest the weight of our identities upon one another. We share one another’s glories and sorrows. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). We consider one another better than ourselves, in the same manner that Christ has done with us (Phil. 2:1-11). Indeed, we have taken on the same family name, and so we are now brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:50; Eph. 2:19; etc.). If you insult my brother, you insult me. If you defraud my sister, you defraud me. Nothing’s business in the church. It’s all personal, because the gospel is personal. He died for you, Christian. He died for me. So that we might represent and look like him. (Yes, he remains the final focus of our love for one another, just as his love for us was given so that we might love the Father—the final focus of his love.)…

…we should love people because they belong to the gospel, not because they have kept the law of a healthy church, even though that law may be good and biblical. It means we should love them because of what Christ has done and declared, not because of what they do.

If you love your children, you want them to be healthy. But if you love your children, you love them whether they are healthy or not.

Certainly you can rejoice when a brother or sister grows in theological understanding. You rejoice in the greater unity of truth you now share (see 2 John 1). But your gospel love—your “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners” love—should extend no less to the brother who is theologically, ecclesiologically, even morally immature, because such love is based on Christ’s perfection and truth, not the brother’s.

…if your church is filled with weak believers, you should still identify yourself with them as if they were strong. Maybe you feel more “like-minded” (a popular phrase among the Reformed) with the mature brother who shares your theology. Fine. But if that theologically-minded brother asks you to share his contempt for a less theological or mature brother, say to him, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32).

It is not always easy to love everyone. But as soon as we think such a thought, we need to remind ourselves that it cannot be easy for others to love us either, and yet Jesus Christ has loved us with an everlasting love.

Now, it would be easy to take these comments and conclude that one should never disagree, criticize or point out the faults and errors of fellow believers. That is not the case. What is important though, is the heart attitude and demeanor of the Christian as they do those things. It must be motivated by love, it must be saturated by a charitable spirit, and it must be accompanied by an obvious affection for others that leaves the warm embrace of concern on their shoulders, and not a cold shroud of criticism.

May God help us as we learn to love and care for (and about) one another.

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