A Community of Love
What is so special about the Church? What makes it unique, different and special? What makes it more than a religious club, where we just gather together with a common interest in religion?
Football has been defined as a game where 36 players who do not need exercise run around and play a game before thousands who do. What makes us different from a football crowd which gathers to see a game, assesses whether the event was a winner or a loser, and then go home?
Church is not a spectator sport where we scrutinize the performance of the choir, or the preacher, the organist or the Bible reader and then mentally give them all some kind of mark out of ten, and if they have all done well we have worshipped.
Worship is less about the performance of others than what we bring to church to make corporate worship a blessing. Sure it helps if everything in a service goes well, but worship happens whether or not everything is to our liking. We can still pray, sing, read the Scriptures and listen to the Word of God taught.
What we bring to worship: a prayerful spirit, a humble and open heart, a sense of penitence, a joy in being with one another, delight at being able to give our money for God’s work, help us to worship and bring glory to God.
Bring active worshippers together as a community is what helps to make us different and unique. What makes us different is what John 15:9-17 tells us about. It is about right relationships, especially with one another. Relationships of love. Yet these relationship are derived from another relationship, one spelled out so beautifully in this reading.
Verse 9 – ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’
Do you see what this says? That the church is the community of the loved. You are God’s beloved. Sure He loves all people, but love’s greatest joy is when it is responded to.
A devoted school teacher might love all the children in class, but the greatest joy is when some of the children respond to that love.
The same with a parent. How gratifying when a child expresses love in response to us.
Love invites love. Love is blessed when it receives love in return. Love is like a two way radio signal, it is sent out to a received and when it is picked up, and responded to, it is complete. Love invites love.
And of course this is love not so much as an emotion but as a commitment, a selfless giving for the sake of the other. It is the love in verse 14 where the lover gives his life for his friends.
In Christian thinking, love is defined in two words: the cross. There love died for his beloved, even as they fled, even as they nailed him, even as they mocked him. The cross is the Christian definition of love.
Love goes so far that it dies so that the beloved can be blessed. As Romans 6:8 says, ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ You are the beloved, and you must accept that and receive it – through faith.
You cannot really love until you accept that you are loved. That though we do not deserve that love it is a free gift, a gift called grace. Unworthy as we are, we are Jesus beloved.
Second, Scripture says that to whom much is given, much is expected.
You have been given the love which makes you whole, which accepts you even when you cannot accept yourself even when you dislike yourself. The light of God’s love has shone upon you from the cross of Jesus.
Now what is expected is obedience and love.
First, obedience. To love the Lord is to obey him. Obedience is the flip side of faith. Faith says we believe in Him, obedience says we want to please and follow him. Obedience is a tough concept for our age. We say, whatever feels right must be right. The French Enlightenment has triumphed with a Roussain view of nature. This says that people of themselves are good and uncorrupted, they are corrupted by social norms and institutions. People have within themselves all they need to know, and our job is simply to bring it forth like ointment out of a tube.
And that wordview affects parenting, schooling and Christian education. It is a long way from obedience. Obedience hears the word of God and does it despite the cost.
Verse 10 tells us that it was no different for Jesus. ‘I have obeyed my father’s command and remain in his love.’
To love him is to obey him – to obey him is our joy.
Finally, we are told to obey the command in verse 12. ‘Love each other as I have loved you. Lay down your lives for each other, in principle and if necessary practice.
One of the things that Satan does is draw our attention to one another’s faults, or the faults of the church in the hope that we won’t love one another.
CS Lewis recounts that when he first started going to church he disliked the hymns, which he referred to as fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. As he continued he said, ‘I realized that the hymns were nevertheless being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic sided boots in the opposite pew, and then realized that if you aren’t fit to clean those boots it gets you out of your solitary conceit.’
The devil wants us to think of all the reasons we have for not loving one another. All the excuses we have to avoid being a community of love. The Devil wants the church to be divided and disobedient. But the Master does not.
Let us invite the Holy Spirit, the active source and embodiment of love, to renew us in our love and our obedience. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to affirm in us that we are loved, and so are freed to love by sharing that love. That is love, that lays down its life for others.
Let us repent that we have not always obeyed his command, or loved as he would want us to. We have thought there are some people I cannot and will not love. But Jesus doesn’t say just love those who love you, or to just love those you like or agree with you, who have never offended or hurt you. He says love one another as I have loved you.
To be loved is to be freed to love. It is to know joy, to be accepted, forgiven, pardoned and renewed.
Let us ask the Lord to help us to grow as a community of love, a community in love in Christ with one another.
By George Robert Iles