More Than a Feeling: What Does Love Really Look Like?

buildMaybe you’ve heard or maybe you’ve said statements like this about your church: “I felt so loved in that church,” or “This church feels so loving.” I hope people say that about your church and mine, but I wonder: What does love “feel” like in the church, really? Is it just that, a feeling, or is it something more concrete? Or maybe it is something of both? Can we see love, or should we close our eyes and put out our antennae to pick up the vibe? I jest a little, but it’s an important question, because it will shape our aims in church. What does a loving church look like?

Thankfully, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave us wondering. Love looks like a construction zone, or at least it looks like people denying themselves to build up others and using their gifts to help “construct,” or edify, others in the church. On this point Richard Hays observes a predominant theme in Paul’s letters. The temple-conscience loves to use the verb oikodomein (‘to build up’) and the noun oikodomē  (‘upbuilding, edification’) “to refer to loving actions that benefit the whole community” (Richard Hays, First Corinthians175).

Consider a sampling of verses which show this.

Romans 14:19

19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Romans 15:2

2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

1 Corinthians 8:1

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

1 Corinthians 10:23–24

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful [lit. bring together]. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

1 Corinthians 14:3–5

3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

1 Corinthians 14:12

12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

1 Corinthians 14:17

17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.

1 Corinthians 14:26

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.


2 Corinthians 12:19

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

2 Corinthians 13:10

10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Love Builds Up

What should we make of this observation? Let me suggest three related observations.

  1. Paul’s speaks of the church as a literal temple, not just a metaphor. For him, the temple is not merely a metaphor for the church. Rather, the church is the actual temple that Christ is now building. The conflation of love with construction language does not deny this; rather, they mutually interpret one another. What was made of wood and stone is now made of flesh and blood, as God has come and dwelt with people. Therefore, what builds God’s temple is love.
  2. So, as the Spirit dwells the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3;16; 6:19) and pours love into the hearts of its members (Romans 5:3), so Spirit-given love is the means by which the temple—i.e., the church—is built up. Moreover, the one another’s are the manifestations of love which effectively do the heavy-lifting among God’s people.
  3. Therefore, love is evidenced in gifted members encouraging, serving, and helping one another. Of course love comes with a wide range of emotions, but such emotions must be expressed in the matrix of tangible service and face-to-face (or sometimes face to Facebook) encouragement.

This brings us back to the first question. How do we know a church is loving? Is it a feeling, mystically given by the Spirit? No, love is manifested in people serving people. Such life-on-life builds up others and brings joy from the Spirit-filled to the poor in Spirit.

May God build up your church and mine with such love. May Spirit-filled members love one another by building them up through all manners of service.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds