Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supported ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:15-16
One of the big signs of an unhealthy church is when the teaching centers on one aspect of truth or one aspect of love, but the two are not taught together, as the Bible calls us to do. Some churches center around preaching the truth, and do a very good job of it, but they do not practice authentic love to one another to balance it out. Some churches do not teach any truth but are filled with compassion and care. These churches are not modeling the characteristics of God as a God of justice but also mercy. The God of law is also a God of grace. We must have a healthy balance of the truth of God's Word and then carrying out real love by our actions. Without this balance, the church becomes one-sided and ineffective.
There is a large church in Southern California with a great pastor whom I admire very much. I attended and taught at this church many times and have had friends that have been on staff at this church. But this church has a fatal flaw: it comes across as being legalistic. Even though their teaching is correct and "hits the nail on the head" so to speak, it is not seen by many of its members and neighbors as practicing the love of Christ. Thus, many people leave hurt and disillusioned because nobody cared for them there.
The other extreme is another large church in Southern California that has very poor teaching; I would go so far as to label that church a cult, theologically speaking. About 20 years ago, I interviewed there to be a youth pastor; I was appalled by the questions the senior pastor was asking, and how he was ridiculing me because of my views that Christ was God and Lord. But to be honest, this was a very loving and caring church. I felt very comfortable there, and the people were wonderful, open, and accepting, characteristics that all Christians should have, but there was no truth being taught there. I keep tabs on this church out of curiosity, as it is a "stone's throw" from what is my church home for many years.
We cannot be so concerned about offending people that we never present the truth, and we should never present the truth without the balance of love. Too many pastors want to be known as great communicators of love or as great communicators of truth. God calls us to proclaim truth and love. If your church emphasizes love and never speaks of truth, it will collapse. And, if your church just teaches the truth without the companionship of love, then it will become legalistic. If there's one thing a non-Christian cannot stand besides hypocrisy and gossip-you got it! It is legalism! You will never reach your community for Christ with a legalistic attitude. Don't get me wrong, we are never to confuse legalism as correct theological teaching, nor are we to compromise the gospel! Absolutely not! We are to have a high view of Scripture and communicate God's Word with power, clarity, and in truth and conviction. What we do not do is boil God's truth down to a list of "do's and don'ts." We are to live out God's love and God's grace, for this communicates the characteristics of Christ more powerfully than a how-to-list.
This is God's plan because God loves us, so we must follow the principles of Scripture in our lives out of love, nurture, and care, and not out of rules, regulations, skewed agendas, and hatred. Yes, we have a God of law as revealed to us throughout Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, and we are under a code, a covenant, a contract, and we need to communicate this effectively within the parameters of love. When we do this, Christianity becomes a big pill that can be swallowed and not a bad medicine to be avoided.God's Love is Our Model
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-32
There is no commandment greater than these. Love must unveil our true gratitude for and faithfulness to what Christ has done, and in turn let that gratitude flow to our friends, family, and neighbors. The mark of the Christian life is love-the love that Christ gave us-and should be overflowing in us so that it is poured out to those around us. The task of love is how we live our lives with trust and obedience, modeling the character of Christ. The manner of that love is how our neighbors view us and respond to us.
God's love must be our model for life. It must flow into us by who Christ is, and in return flow out to those around us. God's love is the ultimate power for the Christian. We are to be fueled and empowered by love in all situations. Christian love is the turning of our backs on our self-concerns and facing forward to our neighbors. If love does not take you beyond your self-interests, then you have lust and not love! Love is a principle, an action over against any emotion. Love is a choice, a lifestyle, a commitment, and a trust, not a fuzzy feeling in our tummy. Out of true love, God the Father gave us His Son; the Son gave us His life in replacement of our own. The Son sent the Spirit to save us, and we should be literally overwhelmed and consumed with extreme joy by what God has done for us.
Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' Matthew 22:37
The solution is simple: to follow God's Word, we need to take God's lead and do what He requires-with truth and with love. Otherwise, you build yourself a house of cards that will soon fall. The aspects of love and the gifts that God gives us are not for our own private benefit; they are designed to be shared with one another. God has not called us to be in isolation from one another, but to be in relationship to one another, as this is a prime aspect of doing Church right. And the driving force of our relationships is the love that "passes all understanding" that is given to us by Christ, because He is the head; thus, we are to take that love and let it infect those around us. The Christ-affected Christian will model Christ and teach the truth in his/her actions, words, and deeds, because Christ first loved us.
These passages in Matthew and Mark are quintessential summation of what it means to be a practicing Christian. This is how important it is for our daily lives and for our church to be healthy and vibrant, so it glorifies our Lord. Thus, in every part of our being as individuals and in every part of our being as a church, love must resound and echo from us through and through. Jesus did not go to the cross so we can defame and malign His name and run His Church our way. His way is better and it is all based on love. The call is simple: love God and then love others. He loved us first, who were unworthy of love, and thus, we can take our grace-filled love and dispense it. Love is the exemplary element we are to have, to be and to use in the Church. Without it, we will fail fast and furiously. So, what will it be in your church? We have been given an incredible gift! That gift is love without merit, His grace. So, how will you repay it? Keep in mind that the role of the Church is to learn His grace and love and then teach it to the world.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
© 1999, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org