We use the word “love” in many different ways—from the trivial to the profound. I “love” Taco Bell, and I “love” my wife. One of those is a trivial love and the other is a profound love...and it better be clear which one is which! The real test of your love for any given person or thing is what it takes to lose that love. I love Taco Bell, but if they start using dog meat in their tacos or replace all their tortillas with lettuce wraps, I won’t love Taco Bell anymore. Why? Because I love Taco Bell for what they give me. If their food goes bad, I won’t love Taco Bell anymore—it’s a trivial love. My love for my wife should be much more profound than that. It should be deeper than any disagreement or obstacle that might come between us. In fact, my profound love for my wife should motivate me to resolve any disagreement or remove any obstacle that might hurt our relationship. If my love for my wife was like my love for Taco Bell, it wouldn’t take much to lose that love.
When it comes to our love for the local church, I fear that our love is often trivial. It doesn’t take much for us to leave one church for another or be critical of the church as a whole. Our love for the Church is often like my love for Taco Bell: it’s based on what the church can give me. We may say we love the Church, but one bad experience or mishap can shatter that love forever. But shouldn’t our love for the church be so much deeper than that?
If you want to see an example of someone whose love for the church was anything but trivial, look no further than the Apostle Paul. He described his attitude toward local churches as a “yearning” (Phil 1:7–8) and “affectionately desirous” (1 Thess 2:8). He could even say to a problem-laden church like Corinth, “I give thanks to my God always for you” (1 Cor 1:4). Paul’s love for the Church was far deeper than a mere triviality. How is it that he could give thanks to God always for a Corinthians church that was infected with party spirit, immorality, and arrogance? How could he love a church like that? In short, he loved the church because God loves the Church. When we see the Church the way God sees it, it should transform our trivial love into a profound love.
Love the Church Because It Showcases the Father’s Baffling Wisdom
We know the verses that describe God’s creation as showcase for his glory and wisdom (Psa 19:1; 104:24; Prov 3:19; Jer 10:12; Rom 1:20). But there is the one verse in Scripture that blows my mind: In Ephesians 3:7–13, Paul is describing his mission to proclaim the “mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things” (v. 9); namely, the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile into one new entity called the Church. This mystery, Paul says, is to be proclaimed so that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Think about that. Yes, God’s majestic creation points to his wisdom and glory, but when he really wants to display his baffling wisdom, he gathers together all the spiritual powers and authorities and then points his finger at his Church—this mishmash of Jew and Gentile, man and woman, with totally different backgrounds, personalities, ethnicities, strengths and weaknesses, formerly dead sinners who are bought with Christ’s precious blood and gathered together in local assemblies to worship and adore their Savior. God tells the heavenly powers, “Do you want to see a perfect picture of my wisdom? Just look at my church!”
Do you realize that, when you gather with your local assembly this Sunday and praise your glorious Savior and give thanks for your undeserved salvation, you are participating in something into which “the angels long to look”? We have the privilege of being placed in the very center of what Christ is doing in the world today. There are many noble pursuits that can occupy your time, but none of them are as important or exciting as your involvement in the ultimate display of God’s baffling wisdom: the local church.
Love the Church Because It Showcases the Sacrificial Love of the Son
In Acts 20:28, Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Jesus owns the Church because he bought the Church, and he paid the ultimate price for it. Should we not seek to love the Church as much as Christ does? But not only did Christ buy the Church, he unifies the Church to himself. We are his body. In Ephesians 5:25–31, when Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives, he uses Christ’s love for the Church as an illustration of his point. Although the main point of the passage is the husband/wife relationship, we can draw a deep theological truth from the illustration Paul uses. Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies just as Christ loves his body, the Church. For Christ to love the Church is to love himself. Just as everyone nourishes and cherishes his own body, Jesus nourishes and cherishes the church.
We are both bought by Christ and identified with Christ. We are unified to him through his blood. Do you really think that Jesus would have a “trivial” love for his church—his own body? For us to hate the Body of Christ is to hate Christ. Perhaps now we can better understand why 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, “I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” You cannot separate Christ from his body, and you cannot love Christ without loving his Church. He shed is own blood for it. How dare we treat it as a triviality?
Love the Church Because It Showcases the Fruitful Work of the Holy Spirit
Although the Holy Spirit indwells each individual believer, the local church is the place where the Holy Spirit’s gifts are designed to be exercised. Our spiritual gifts are meant to be used within the context of a local church (1 Cor.12:7); genuine, heartfelt corporate worship is a result of being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18–19), and it is the Holy Spirit who builds the Church toward unity in the faith (Eph 2:22). The Holy Spirit is working in you to contribute to the growth of the Body of Christ. The Spirit’s presence within you should draw you toward the Body of Christ. Of what use is the fruit of the Spirit in isolation?
You should love the Church because it is the context in which the work of the Spirit becomes obvious. It is here that you have the opportunity to build up a fellow believer with your spiritual gifts and be built up by the spiritual gifts of others. It is here that you can experience Spirit-filled worship with fellow believers. It is here that you can experience a unity from diversity that only the Spirit can accomplish.
Now, I am under no delusion that there aren’t churches that are unhealthy, unsafe, and downright unbiblical. Jesus himself confronts local churches in Revelation 2–3, even threatening at times to remove their lampstand from its place, unless they repent (Rev 2:5). But even his chastening was motivated out of his undying love for the church (Rev 3:19). Yes, there are a lot of messed up churches out there, and there are times when it is appropriate to leave a church. But don’t let the sins of man tarnish your love for what God has created in the Church. Don’t let one bad experience marr your view of the Body of Christ.
The church showcases the baffling wisdom of the Father, the sacrificial love of the Son, and the fruitful work of the Holy Spirit. God loves his Church with a profound love. May we all strive to love the Church as God does. Our love will never reach the profundity of his love for the Church, but we can try.
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University. He, along with his wife, Hanna, and daughter, Brooklyn, currently live in Detroit, MI, where Aaron is pursuing his MDiv degree while serving as the Director of Recruitment at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and working on staff at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter @AaronMBerry
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