We just finished a two-part series on our church’s purpose, reminding one another that Forest Brook Community Church exists to “love God and love others”. As I prepared for my part in that mini-series I kept thinking of how incredibly deep that purpose actually goes. For some it could just be a cliché, but it shouldn’t be. It should never be! I came away thinking there is still so much more to say on what it means to be a congregation characterized by love.
My devotion this morning only reinforced that conviction. I was reading and praying through Philippians 2. It’s another well-rehearsed passage which tells us that we’re supposed to be like Jesus in our approach to life. But it’s what Paul wrote just before that famous fifth verse that arrested my spirit. Paul says, ‘Hey, since you folks are in Christ …’
“Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Verses 3 &4).
Wow. If that’s not a picture of what it means to love others, I don’t know what is. I mean, go back and read that again. Let what Paul is saying sit in your mind and spirit for a while.
Think about the world we’re living in right now. There have always been differences between people and groups in our society, but has it ever been so fragmented? And “fragmented” is the right word. We’ve gone way past mere philosophical differences. Political, social and even theological lines have become hardened. There is increased polarization between viewpoints on so many issues and dialogue between positions has often been reduced to characterizations, insinuations and, at times, even demonization (i.e., “they’re not just wrong, they’re the enemy!)
The church has not been immune either. We have some of the same factions within, but also others that are more petty. We argue over our preferences. We want more of the kind of music we like (and less of what we don’t like). We want more of the kind of “biblical” teaching that we think people need. We want more times of silence. We want to make everyone come back into the building on Sundays – now? We want “the church” to take a stand on the vaccination issue (normally on the same side we’re standing on, obviously).
We want, we want, we want … There’s a word for what happens when we become so focused on our own desires, preferences and convictions that it no longer matters to us what others think. That word is entitlement. And if there’s one thing that Philippians 2 teaches us, it’s that a spirit of entitlement is not the spirit of Christ. Far, far from it.
That these attitudes exist in our world, or even in our church, shouldn’t surprise us, but it does make us sad. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the way of love. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your own mind on things like political preferences or your choice of music at church. But loving others means, as we read in Philippians 2, that we don’t make our preferences more important to us than other people. In another place Paul wrote that he wasn’t surprised to learn that church people saw things differently from one another. But, he said, how we treat one another in our differences is what shows where we are in our relationship with God (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).
The spirits of division in our world are in hyper-drive at the moment. And some of that is finding its way into the church. But this is not Christian. This is not loving others. When we say that we exist to love God and love others, we are saying that we choose a different way – the way of love, as demonstrated by Jesus. The way that seeks the well-being of others ahead of our own. Always.
So perhaps you can see why I feel there is still so much to say about what it means to love God and love others. Love is not merely sentimental. It is ultimately practical, concrete and active. Loving is a choice. And Christian love is the commitment to love as Jesus loved. That is what we are here to learn, together, as His church.
Whatever else we think we’re here for – to save the lost, heal the sick, feed the hungry, warn the sinner – whatever we think it is, let’s never forget that our main purpose is to learn to love, like Jesus loved. If we make that our focus, all the other pieces will fall into place on their own.