The Love of Christ
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
If you want to be successful as a church you must be willing and able to love! And… real love takes us beyond ourselves!
How many of us have ever ventured into a church that was filled with unkindness, where we were ignored or even mistreated? As a pastor, I engage in a tough battle to make sure my flock behaves so that Christ would be pleased. I can try my best to set an example and I can try to teach them to behave by showing them and doing my best to model the words of our Lord, but I cannot force them to behave. Real, authentic, Christian love only comes from our real, authentic, Christian formation, which comes from genuine discipleship. Why is this important? If someone is not growing in the Lord, then they are not willing or able to treat others with love and respect. Care, compassion, and love will be moot, and the church will become that annoying noise of 1 Corinthians 13, modeling what love is not rather that what it is. That church will become a club of stubborn pride, devoid of harmony and brotherly love.I do not believe any of us really want that.
How loving are we?
Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise. Ephesians 5:15
The problem tends to be that we come across as unloving people! Even a good church is not always as loving and a caring as it should be. This comes down to a spiritual problem, a disconnect between what we are practicing and what we profess to believe. We may say and believe His precepts of love and care, but has His Truth transformed and renewed us deeply, on both the inside and out? If your church is having problems (and all do at times), it comes down to the fact of our faith. We will only obey God to the point that we trust Him. When we know He is faithful with us, we can be faith-worthy in Him to do a better job at being a steward of His Church. The solution is to be more loving. And, we do this by further growing in Him, then modeling so others can catch on to what they should be-Christians functioning in Him and from Him.
When we are unloving, it is because we are unsubmissive. Submission is respect, and the honoring of the will of God and righteousness. As an example, submission is never an excuse to batter or put one's spouse down in any way. In the Ephesians passage, the directive to husbands is even more daunting than the one given to the wives. Husbands are called to love, which is much greater in importance and prominence than submission! Love is what sets the tone and standard for the relationship-our relationship with God, with family, and with others in the church too.
The theme of submission to God is understating His love that covers and protects and in turn helps us relate to others more harmoniously. Real submission brings about closeness when it is formed from love. If it is subjugated, such a barrier to God is formed that, according to Peter, even our prayers will not be heard. Thus, compassion, care, and love pave the way to effective, relational harmony and blessing from God. Pride and our strong-willed attitudes set up a barrier, making all we do ineffective, destructive, and meaningless while also creating distrust and suspicion that breeds disharmony and creates gossip. If we want God to be attentive to us, we must do our part by being attentive to others without iniquity. Harmony in Scripture means to show peace in all situations. It is sympathetic, meaning we understand and identify with another person, putting ourselves in their shoes so we can have real compassion. We are called to bless and do good to those who do not like us; when we pay someone back to get even, we only end up escalating the issue and thus hurting ourselves and usurping God's authority to judge. This does not mean we are to endure abuse or unlawful actions; rather, it has to do with our attitude. It is a balance between the exercise of the Fruit of the Spirit and the setting up of boundaries to protect us.
The bottom line is this: be considerate in all that you do, to whomever is in your life, showing love as if they have forgotten what Christ and the Fruit of the Spirit are all about. We must see gossip as the antithesis of who Christ is and what Christian living is all about. If we are healthy in Christ, let us show it by demonstrating the work that He did in us. To make this point in part of the Ephesians passage, "Husbands, love your wives," the verb for "love" (Greek: agapete) designates a continuous routine of action all of the time, not just when one feels like it. Christ loved the church not because it was holy, but in order to make it holy! Thus, we are not only called to know Him more and build our relationship in Him, but also to work at keeping our relationship with others within those parameters of love, submission, and commitment. Even if you make mistakes, misuse your words, and/or manipulate others through impatience, wrong thinking, desires, and/or sin, you still have the call and opportunity to make it right so the church can be better!
We usually do not like to submit in American culture; we think it is against our best interests. But, think this through a bit. In Scripture, the wife is in submission as a response to the husband's love for her, his provision, and his having her best interest and care at heart. It is like our response of the fruit of our service to Christ because of His love for us and because of His free gift of grace. We do not earn salvation for our service; rather, it is a fruit of our gratitude. In the same way, this is how submission works. It is not to be forced, but offered freely in response to love. It is something we replicate as we respond in kindness, so our response to one another fuels the other's response, and so forth. In this way, we are escalating love and kindness instead of repression and dysfunction. In like manner, we are to run our churches this way; the context of the Ephesians passage indicates the Church.
Christ and the church are the prime models for us in a lifelong commitment of a monogamous marriage. So, the Church needs to be that model, monogamous in Christ; He is to be our One Mate. If our church breaks down in its fruit production, so will our families and then so will our society. Remember, Jesus did not give up on us when things went from bad to worse. His grace, forgiveness, and perseverance came through. It is the model relationship for the home, for loving of children, and for the fellowships and relationships we are to have. The church is the bride of Christ, and He loves her. Your church will either fall or grow depending on how you and the leaders model righteousness, love, commitment, and holiness. These fruits are to be practiced and exercised in the best and fullest way possible!
© 1999, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org