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. Continue reading

Loving God By Loving Others (1 Corinthians 8:7–13)

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A chapter on “meat sacrificed to idols” may not, at first glance, look like the most relevant subject for us modern technophiles, but as is always the case—the eternal Word of God is living and active and never dull in bringing piercing insight to our lives. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses the strong and weak consciences of the Corinthian believers and challenges those with “knowledge” (a key idea in this chapter) to use that gift to care for and edify their weaker members in the church.

This chapter is one of a few key passages that deal with conscience (the others include Romans 14–15; Galatians 2; and Colossians 2). It also shows how love must be worked out in matters where Scripture does not give a specific command. From the love God has shown us in Christ, we are to love in steadfast and sacrificial ways, to people who are not like us, with the goal of spiritual unity and edification.

In preparation for this message I found great help from a book on the conscience (Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley) and from considering the the nature of idolatry and meals in Corinth. You can find a few reflections on Naselli’s book here and notes on the culture here.  For further reflection, you can listen to the sermon, read the sermon notes, or discuss the questions and resources below. Continue reading

Loving the One, True, Triune God (1 Corinthians 8:1–6)

sermon photoIn the Gospels, Jesus says the “Great Commandment” is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (e.g., Mark 12:29–30). Indeed, it is impossible to love God and hate others (1 John 4:20–21). Just the same, it is ultimately unloving to do good to others without reference to the God of love; true love labors and suffers to increase another’s joy in the love of God.

This week our sermon considered this intersection, how knowing God means loving God and then loving others. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, love for God looks like rejecting culturally-acceptable idols and sacrificing our own rights to serve the needs of others, especially our church family. You can listen to the sermon here or read the outline here.

Below you can find discussion questions and further resources on the love of God and fighting idolatry in our day. Continue reading

15 Disciplines of a Loving Church (1 Corinthians 5–7)

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After spending the last eight weeks (JuneJuly) looking at Paul’s instructions on sex, singleness, marriage, divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 5–7, we pulled back the lens yesterday to see how these three chapters inform our understanding of church discipline.  As Jonathan Leeman argues in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love“local church membership and discipline . . . define God’s love for the world” (17).

In our sermon, we too considered from the text of 1 Corinthians how a church displays love through church discipline. If this sounds like a contradiction in terms, please listen to or read the sermon and read this article on objections to church discipline.

(If you are still not convinced, order Leeman’s book and a set of steak knives. The fusion of holy love and church life is a feast to consider, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is not a milky doctrine but true meat for the maturing disciple). Continue reading

Love Disciplines: Addressing Five Objections to Church Discipline

sheepLast year the elders of our church preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message in that series turned to the important but often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding Matthew 18, our elder-turned-fulltime-seminary-student, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.

This Sunday we return to the topic of church discipline, as we summarize and apply 1 Corinthians 5–7. For the last eight weeks, we have walked through Paul’s instructions on church discipline (ch. 5), legal proceedings and sexual purity (ch. 6), and singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7). Now we will consider how these teachings are meant to shape life together in the church.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, let’s consider five faulty objections that come against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.

Five Objections to Church Discipline

1. “It’s none of my business.”

In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brothers keeper.  Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

Lawful Love: How the Law Preserves and Propels Our Love

law loveFor the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
 – Romans 13:8 –

What is love?

Often it is defined as some sentimental feeling. Some emotional experience. Some pitter-patter in your chest. Rarely, is love associated with law-keeping, rules, or righteousness.

In our “if it feels right, do it” sort of society, love does not shack up with legal requirements. But in the Bible where love is defined by God (1 John 4:8) and demonstrated on the cross (1 John 3:16), love is regularly related to the law. In fact, Romans 13 says, “Love is the keeping of the law” (v. 8) and “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Likewise, Galatians 5:14 reads, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Following the teaching of Jesus, Paul reiterates his Lord’s view of the law. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). And later in the same Gospel (22:36–40), Jesus explained that the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments: to love God (Deut 6:4) and to love neighbor (Lev 19:18). Indeed, against popular opinion, the Law was not given to merely enforce rules. It was given so that the people of Israel might love one another with absolute righteousness. To say it differently, God’s love is defined and delimited by covenantal laws. Continue reading

A Debt of Love: How God’s Grace Makes Us Debtors with an Infinite Bank Account

love1Owe no one anything, except to love each other, . . .
 – Romans 13:8a –

Proverbs repeatedly instructs us to reject financial commitments that make us slave to the lender (Prov 22:7). It is good stewardship to buy what we can pay for and not to spend more than we have. But what would happen if you received an infinite inheritance? What kind of moral obligation would you have “spread the wealth”?

Imagine that the unbeknownst to you an oil baron died and left you all of his fortune. Though never communicated to you, your father had saved this man’s life by sacrificing his own. Indebted to your father, this tycoon had promised to one day repay his kindness. With no children of his own, he decided on his death bed to give his “saviors” children his entire estate.

What would you think? Surely, this windfall would provide you an endless supply—more than you could ever exhaust. If such a boon came your way, how would you employ this vast treasure? Would you live a life of unfettered hedonism? Or would you strive to follow in the footsteps of your father and improve the lives of others? Continue reading

All the One Anothers: Streams of Light from the Prism of Christ’s Love

lightOn Sunday I preached on Psalm 133, emphasizing how the local church is one body in Christ and individually members one of another (cf. Rom 12:5). While not using the words “one another,” Psalm 133 speaks of the family of God dwelling together in Christian unity. This is the foundation of all the one another commands.

We can’t begin to obey the Lord’s commands towards one another until we begin to see ourselves as united in Christ. But neither can we manage to love one another until we see what that love looks like. This Sunday we will consider John 13:34–35 and Jesus’ new commandment to love another.

To help you consider the content of the one anothers, I would suggest that “Love One Another” is the main command and that all others explicate this first and great command. While the New Testament lists three dozen one another commands, these are not 36 disparate injunctions. Rather, they are various but united manifestations of the love God pours out into our heart. They are the colorful streams of light that shine from the one prism of Christ’s love.

While each command deserves its own consideration, it is worth observing that the multitude of commands can be generally classified under five headings. In what follows I have listed each passage under one of these five headings. In the weeks ahead I hope to look at each passage individually.

  1. Love One Another
  2. Be at Peace with One Another
  3. Show Hospitality to One Another
  4. Do Good and Not Evil to One Another
  5. Edify One Another

Continue reading

One Anothering: How the Church Does Life Together

one another

 So we, though many, are one body in Christ,
and individually members one of another.
– Romans 12:5 –

There are in the New Testament roughly 100 places where the word ἀλλήλων, usually translated “one another,” is used. Beginning with Jesus’ command in John 13:34–35, the apostles develop a vision of church life that presses people of different backgrounds to follow Christ with one another. Using dozens of metaphors, they describe the church as as a body, a bride, a priesthood, a temple, a household, and a family.

In these word pictures, the One Another’s function as the imperatives that call brothers and sisters to get along in the Lord. Elbows and earlobes are called to honor one another in the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles are taught they who were once divided are now united in the one new man, Jesus Christ.

Still before giving attention to the manifold imperative of loving one another, we must first realize that we are one of another. As Paul puts it in Romans 12:5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Before we can love one another, forgive one another, or bear up one another, we must realize the One Another’s are set in the context of the local church. Continue reading