A healthy church is a loving church
7th June 2019
I hope that in our studies of Romans Chapter 12, we've seen that if a Christian will allow the Holy Spirit to renew His mind, he will be transformed, and will think and act in an increasingly loving, gentle and godly way. I hope we've also developed a desire to be part of a church where love, gentleness and godliness have become normal - a healthy church.
Wouldn't you love to be part of a church that doesn't hurt people? Shouldn't every church be like that? So many Christian people I know have been hurt by church. And many non-Christian people have been put off church because people get hurt in church. This is heart-breaking. I pray to the Lord God that I and my church never hurt another person again.
This side of heaven you and I will never be perfect, and our churches will never be perfect, but God is calling my church, and surely yours, to be one place where we can tell people "You'll be safe here." This has become my absolute passion. So far as you and I can allow the Holy Spirit to do it, may our churches become safe churches, godly churches, kind gentle churches.
I want to be more like Jesus, and I want my church to be more like Jesus! If we become a truly healthy church - if we're kind, gentle and loving, and if we all get involved, and most of us turn up most of the time, then God will use us for His glory, by redeeming the lost through us, by calling home the prodigals home through us, by nurturing baby Christians through us. That's what all Christians really want to see, isn't it?
Many Christians who've been saved for decades will be tempted to respond at this point, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, tried that before..." But God's doing something significant in English churches right now. Some churches are turning away from the word of God, and are doomed unless they repent, but many churches are holding firm to Biblical truth. To those churches, I think God is saying, live out Biblical ethics. Be kind, gentle and godly.
I want my church to be the kindest, gentlest, most godly church we can be. Because the people who live near us need a church like that. I'm sure you feel the same.
As Paul continues to teach us in this chapter, the next verses give us an overview of what healthy church looks like, and they begin with teaching about love:
It seems obvious that Love must be sincere. but so much love isn't sincere. It's very easy to sing songs like "Jesus, I love you, I worship and adore you", and then go and break his holy law. It's so easy to sing about how we love Jesus, and then say I can't be bothered to go church next week. It's so easy to say we love one another and sing "Bind us together", and then speak negatively behind one another's backs. Love for God and for each other must be sincere. As John put it:
1 John 3v18
The Greek word translated as sincere here is anypocritos, "not hypocritical". It means "not play acting, not wearing a mask". We should not pretend to love more than we do. We should just get on with the business of loving one another. Imagine a church where we don't just pretend to love each other, we actually love each other. Paul is saying: don't play at it, do it. Don't try to look loving, actually care for one another.
The Greek word translated as love is agape, the same love with which God loves us, self-sacrificial love - the love that took Jesus to the cross. Jesus said:
If you want your town to notice that your church is different from the world around it, start with genuinely loving one another. If you need to repent of not loving your brother or sister, please take a moment to apologise to God and ask for His help.
And Paul says: "Hate what is evil, cling to what is good". You cannot love God without hating what is evil. You cannot love God without clinging to what is good. So let's especially not be hypocritical in our love towards God. If we love God, we will love what is good. If we love God, we will hate what is bad. When I was a young Christian, I was taught this prayer: "Lord Jesus, help me to love what you love, and hate what you hate". Otherwise, we're in hypocrisy. We can sing all the songs and pray all the prayers, and then go out and indulge in sin. May it never be again!
And then Paul says: "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love". The Greek word translated devoted is philostorgos, which means family love, particularly the love a parent has for a child. Paul is urging us to love one another the way we love our children. A good parent will nurture his or her children, will protect them, teach them, comfort them and feed them. Good parents will always let their children know they're glad that they're around. And Paul says that in a healthy church, the members have the same nurturing love for each other.
Paul says "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love". The word translated brotherly love is philadelphia - love for a brother. It seems very sad that, presumably for reasons of political correctness, the latest version of the NIV has deleted the word "brotherly". Have you got a brother or sister? Do you get on with them? Love each other like that because, as we've already seen, we are family. We are God's family. The members of your church actually are your sisters and your brothers. To love without hypocrisy, then, is to love them as a sister or a brother.
When a sister or a brother asks to borrow some of your stuff, you tend to let him do it. When he's done a bad thing, you tend to tell him, and then forgive him. Love like family because you are family. In fact you are family in a deeper sense than your natural family is family. Natural family is wonderful, or it should be. But church should be even more wonderful. We are God's family.
And then Paul says: "Honour one another above yourselves" - think of each other as being better than you are. A logician would say that there can only be one person in the church who is worse than all the others, but there are good reasons why I can esteem you more highly than I esteem myself. Firstly, I know all my sin, but I don't know all yours. Therefore, from my perspective, you are a better Christian than I am. Secondly, I should be focusing on my weaknesses, not on yours.
Here's one of the great hypocrisies of Christian "love": you claim to love your brother and therefore every week you must correct him. This is not nearly as loving as you might want to think it is. Celebrate your brother, and correct yourself. That's Christian love.
Members of a healthy church show honour to others. Members of a healthy church celebrate one another, like families do. In church, when someone does something well, we should say "well done!". That's normal in healthy families, and in healthy churches.
Does all this give you a flavour of church that’s different from what you've experienced in the past? Wouldn't it be amazing if we actually lived this stuff? Wouldn't it be great if this was the kind of community God was making your church. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every time you entered a church gathering, you knew that everybody was glad you're there? It's probably true, but some churches are really not very good at showing it. Let's excel at welcoming one another, and serving one another, as brothers and sisters should.
In these two verses, God inspired Paul to use three different words for "love": agape, philostorgos and philadelphia - divine love, family love and brotherly love. God really wants us to love each other. And what a great church we would be if we really did!