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The New Testament Church Is Divine In Love
There are many legitimate perspectives from which the subject of love can be discussed. However, the usage: "I love ice cream" (though I confess I do) is not the subject of this article. Rather, toward whom should the love of the New Testament church (and its members) be directed? In what form should these expressions of love manifest themselves? Further, what motivating factors should underlie and encourage the exhibition of such love? Will this love be rewarded by God? What are the outstanding qualities of love? Finally, what are the calculated consequences of the New Testament church exercising a divinely prescribed love?
"To whom should the Lord's church show love?" is concisely answered by Jesus himself.
God wants his people to practice a multi-directional love. Generally, we must love God and our fellow man. This principle undergirds everything God desires his church and the Christians who comprise it to do in worship, duty and Christian living. We cannot hope to please God or satisfactorily do the bidding of the Lord in any regard, except we possess this multi-directional love.
First, one must love God foremost. The degree of love that rightfully belongs to the Godhead cannot be shared with another (Matthew 6:24). Christians must be careful, therefore, not to love parents or children (Matthew 10:37), money (1 Timothy 6:10), worldliness (1 John 2:15-17), pleasures (John 3:19; Hebrews 11:25) or even life itself (John 12:25) more than God. We have the comforting assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God (his for us and ours for him) unless we allow it to happen (Romans 8:35-39). Love for God is something that must be nurtured or cultivated and sustained (Jude 21). Further, God knows who loves him (1 Corinthians 8:3), and those who do not love God stand condemned (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Man's love for God naturally results in the manifestation of love toward his fellow man as well.
Wherever hatred, prejudices and bigotry are found among Christians, love for God is lacking. Man is ill prepared to love his neighbor until he has learned to love God; but unless he loves his neighbor, man is unable to demonstrate sufficient love for God. However, when one truly loves God, it is much easier to love his fellow man. Loving one's neighbor is a prelude to loving an unseen God. Perhaps a paradox, loving God and loving man produces a reciprocal affect upon our multi-directional love. Loving God promotes our love of man, whereas loving man also promotes our love of God; so much so, that failure to love either God or man excludes sufficient love of both.
Many verses teach that we should love our "neighbor" (Matthew 19:19; Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8) or "all men" (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Yet, it may not be easy to love some neighbors, especially if they are our enemies. However, Christians are obligated to manifest love toward enemies also (Matthew 5:43-44). Loving those who do not love us is one of the primary differences between the children of God and the rest of the world (Matthew 5:46; Luke 6:32). Love is the badge of discipleship that should be clearly visible to both the world and our brethren.
Interestingly, more New Testament passages exhort Christians to love each other than direct us to love God or the lost. While we certainly cannot please God except we love him supremely and love those outside Christ too, so many exhortations to love the brethren are a divine emphasis worthy of special attention.
Repeatedly, the Gospel requires Christians to "love one another" (John 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 12; 2 John 5). Brethren are encouraged to practice "brotherly love" (Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1), "love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:17), "love as brethren" (1 Peter 3:8) and "love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).
Of course, within the scope of either loving our brethren or perhaps those outside Christ, we should love our families, too. Mom and dad head the list of family members toward whom we must show love (Matthew 19:19). The Gospel says more about exercising love toward one's spouse than any other family member (Ephesians 5:25-33; Colossians 3:19; Titus 2:4). God highly values the divine institution of marriage and knows how essential love is to it. The family, after all, is the basic unit of both society and the church.
How Should The Church Show Love?
Especially the apostle John noted by inspiration in his writings the inseparable relationship between love and obedience. One simply cannot successfully contend that he loves God while refusing or neglecting the commandments of God.
How should the church show its love? Is there possibly a better way or an alternative to the biblical prescription? Besides, by practicing love, Christians will be compelled to also practice everything else within the Gospel toward everyone respectively. For instance, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments" (1 John 5:2). Love is perfected in us by keeping the Word of God (1 John 2:5).
Why Should The Church Love?
Why the Lord's church should practice love is also concisely answered in Scripture; "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). My favorite passage anywhere in the Bible is Romans 5:8 because it illustrates this truth; "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Though mankind was in the depths of sin, unable to lift himself from that miry, hopeless pit of despair, yet not even caring about his own eternity while seeking all the gusto one time around, God cared, and cared enough to send the sinless Son of God to die for us. I simply cannot fully fathom the measure of such divine love by a matchless God for fallen, despicable man, of whom I am one.
Will Love Be Rewarded?
Yes, love will be rewarded, both in this life and the eternal life awaiting the faithful. Now, God's providence works on behalf of those who love him; "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Ultimately, "the crown of life" or the eternal "kingdom" will be presented as the reward for loving God.
Quality of Love
What is it that makes love a more admirable pursuit than anything else men pursue? Let's see. Love makes no pretense, but is open, true and sincere (Ephesians 6:24); it is not two-faced (Romans 12:9); and, it is "unfeigned" or heartfelt (2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22). Further, love seeks opportunities to serve those who are the object of its expression (Galatians 5:13); this could be God or one's fellow man. Love is a frequent and familiar companion to faith (Ephesians 6:23; 2 Timothy 1:13). High esteem of others and love go hand in hand (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Christian love is listed in various catalogs of qualities worthy of attainment (1 Timothy 6:11; Galatians 5:22-23; Eph. 5:8; 2 Peter 1:7, "charity"). God thinks so much of love that he freely gives his children the spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7).
True love is not an academic player only, but an action player; true love does something (1 John 3:18); and, true love labors or works (1 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10). Love is also the quality that, along with other attributes, permits God to dwell in the Christian (1 John 3:17). Love tempers and motivates speaking the truth (Ephesians 4:15). It, further, is a way of life; we "walk in love" (Ephesians 5:2), abound in love (Philippians 1:9) and are "knit together in love" (Colossians 2:2). When love actually exists in the life of a Christian, there is ample evidence or "proof" (2 Corinthians 8:24).
Then, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is likely the Bible's single most definitive passage about love ("charity").
Consequences of Love
Probably among the two most important consequences of love are its affect on our (1) relationship with God and (2) subsequent, triumphant entry into heaven itself.
Love can greatly help man arrive at his intended destination; so much so, without it he will not arrive. Shouldn't we provoke one another to love so our love might be multiplied (Hebrews 10:24; Jude 2), since love is superbly suited to be an essential, contributing benefactor for the present life and the one to come?
Far more important than whether we love ice cream, is do we truly love God first, and then our fellow man. Paramount in importance is the practice of love toward fellow Christians. The church and the individual Christians who comprise it can only thrive in an atmosphere of love.
Obedience to the commands of God is the proper response to love already extended to man by the Godhead. Happily, God will reward his children for their imitation of his love.
Pursuing Bible love can make each of us exactly what God wants us to be. Life will go better with us now, and eternity in heaven with God will be bestowed upon us as well, if we will only practice love. Love even eliminates fear of death and judgment. Why would anyone not want to acquire this love of the Bible in view of what it can do for man now and eternally?