The church is a unique sort of community. All those in Christ are brothers and sisters (adelphoi) within the family of God. Blood ties are relativised. The issue of Paul’s day was that being Jewish is no longer of any spiritual significance within the covenant. Membership of the family is by faith in Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.
But the thing about a family is that you don’t get to choose who else is a member. Family life ain’t always easy and often it can be damned difficult.
Same with the church – you have no control over who else is in the household! There are differences of age, culture, language, personality, opinion, doctrine, maturity, gender, taste and well … you add your own to the list …..
As we’ve talked about in a couple of recent posts, conflict is an inevitable part of family life – whether at home, the church or a Christian organisation.
The crucial ingredient to maintain strong healthy family life, without which any family will eventually fall apart, is that crazy little thing called love.
Love is hard to define and pin down. You tend to know it when you see it or experience it from someone. Often it is easier to spot unloving behaviour. Paul does a bit of the latter in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says what love isn’t:
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil
But he also says what love is
4 Love is patient, love is kind … love rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails
Paul has a ton to say about love. Scholars have long recognised that it lies at the core of his ethics. Most of his letters are written to address some sort of community problem of one sort of another. He knew about the importance of love.
If love was absent, he could write letters til the papyrus ran out and they wouldn’t make a whit of difference. Paul is no romantic idealist when it comes to love.
One of his more remarkable statements is this one from Galatians 5:6
‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’
Faith (and not the Torah / circumcision) has been the big theme of the letter. This is a radical thing for a Jewish man to say. But Paul knows how easy it is to be ‘correct’ theologically and yet miss the point. For faith in Christ to be authentic it must express itself through love.
Elsewhere in Galatians:
– love is the primary characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit (5:22).
– The entire purpose of the law is summed up by ‘Love your neighbour’ (5:14).
– The goal of freedom in Christ is to ‘serve one another in love’ (5:13).
And that’s just Galatians.
Elsewhere, Paul talks lots about how God loves his people, most supremely in the self-giving death of his Son. Christians are to love one another (repeated theme). God has poured out his love into their hearts by the Spirit (Rom 5:5).
Christians are simply to do everything in love (1 Cor 16:14).
Now this sort of love to those outside the immediate family would have been considered bizarre in the Greco-Roman world. Love for others, across boundaries of race, gender, social status, hierarchy, culture and religion was alien and unparalleled.
Such love is as counter-cultural and counter-intuitive today as it was then.
I’ll say it again – Christianity should appear to be crazy when compared to the norms of wider culture.
And if all this is true, what are some implications?
Why is love so easily sidelined, and often little talked about, in a lot of Christian ministry? What takes its place?
Can or should churches and Christian organisations (and individuals for that matter) do some sort of ‘love audit’? A check on relational health? Have you heard of this sort of thing?
One thing is sure I think: the longer a Christian, a church, a ministry continues rolling along, busy in activity yet without love, eventually the wheels will fall off.
And there is nothing more powerful, missional, transformative and attractive than love being put into practice. For love makes visible the presence of God’s Spirit.
Comments, as ever, welcome.