By: Alistair Brown
Churches have various reputations, and certainly not all good. (If everything was wonderful, why wouldn’t more attend and why would anyone leave?) Not many have the reputation of being loving.
That seems so strange. We know God loves us just as we are, and that we did not win acceptance with him because of any merit. And we know Jesus commanded that we love each other, and that disciples would be known by their love. It couldn’t be clearer. So why don’t Christians love others better than we do? And why do we sometimes sound so unloving?
Here are a few theories:
1. A lot of people are not easily loveable. They’re annoying, difficult or in a variety of ways downright unattractive. (Have a look at the April 8th Bible Study posted on this site for people like that I’ve known!)
2. We are people of convictions, and often we believe we know God’s will. So it can seem that a person with a different view just hasn’t understood God’s will. That makes us poor at negotiating, and we easily fall out.
3. We see so many around us flagrantly going against God’s will, and we feel the need to denounce what they’re doing. To us, it’s tough love. To others, it can seem like no love.
4. Church offers positions of some authority, and power all too easily squeezes love out the door.
5. Sometimes it’s as simple as a failure to live out what we believe. The good we would do, we don’t. Theory (doctrine) is easier than practice.
There are probably another ten reasons like that why we seem unloving. Those I’ve listed and others you will think of can sometimes sound quite understandable. What none of them are is acceptable.
Let me encourage you to read or listen to the four Bible Studies I have done (links from the front page of Northern’s web site) on 1 Thessalonians. I have been very moved by how Paul loved the church in all its messiness, how at times he was almost out of his mind with anxiety for their wellbeing, and how he wanted to serve them more even when he was under intense pressure himself. I ‘preach’ any message to myself first, and I promise you I was very challenged. Please check out those Bible studies, some of which are still to appear.
Do you know these words from the Bible: “God is love”? My guess is many Christians do. Those words should not be isolated from the rest of the sentence in which they appear. Here is the whole sentence: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
That may be one of the scariest verses in the Bible. It’s saying, ‘If I do not love I don’t know God.’ Why not? Because then his life – his nature of love – is clearly not in me.
In other words, if God lives in me I will love others. So if I do not love others…?
Our reputation of being loving people is not good at a time when it should be a fundamental and defining characteristic. There is much for us to learn, and many ways in which we need to rethink how we act towards others.