This is the second characteristic in our new series entitled “Ten Marks of a Healthy Church.”
In our last entry we considered the first quality – a working faith, not mere belief, but trust. Such a faith is essential to being rightly related to God. Faith is the antidote to anxiety, pride, fear, shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, lust, and a whole host of other ills that plague us. We learned that the true nature of strong faith is found in day-to-day persistence. Faith gets up every morning and goes to work. Genuine saving faith produces fruit and draws others to Christ.
The second mark of a healthy church is a laboring love. Again, Paul has combined two terms here that bring together a quality (love) and an action (labor). The virtue of love (here the term is agape and carries the nuance of high regard and appreciation) is proven by what it does. In this case, Paul uses the word kopos. This word is a little different from “work,” with a bit of intensification. While “work” connotes normal activity, “labor” indicates hard work, toil, and hardship.
Love is not a natural response. Human nature protects, pleases, and promotes itself. Loving Jesus and loving others means that you will often clash with the impulses you have naturally. To overcome is a labor. If a church is going to be healthy, its members must be motivated by love. Why else would someone arduously labor, sacrifice, and work to the point of exhaustion? Love drives selfless labor.
If I were to ask you what is the opposite of love, you might be quick to answer “hate.” But I want to you reconsider that notion. When you expend the energy required to “hate” someone, you are really not as far from love as you might think. If loving someone is to care for them, then not caring would be its opposite. The word for that is apathy.
Our world is very self-centered. People in our world, Christian and non-Christian, have developed an overemphasis on self. And what that does is destroys relationships that should be built on mutual concern for one another. When you are hyper-focused on yourself, you do not care about others.
The church has a real opportunity in this culture. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Christians can show the world something different. Genuine love is a rare thing in today’s world. People do not care. And Jesus said, “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12).
Paul offered this thought, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Tim 3:1-5). The word “heartless” is a shocking word. It means “a lack of love or affection for close associates or family—‘without normal human affection.’ [Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 292].
Let’s take a quick look at love in the Bible. Let’s start first with Jesus’ teaching on Love. Matthew 22:34-40. The Greatest Commandment is to love God with all our being. The second greatest is like it — to love our neighbors as ourselves.
How did Jesus define Love? “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Love is selfless and sacrificial.
Now let’s move to Gal 5:22. “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. If we are filled with the Spirit, we will show love. The Spirit of God empowers us to obey the Word of God – the commandment to love. If a person is not loving, they are not saved. 1 John 3:14 – “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.”
What does love look like? We find that in 1 Corinthians 13. Genuine love cannot be divorced from truth. In contrast to the way love is defined in our culture, it is not purely emotional. Love is commitment . . . it does not fail; action . . . it is not words alone; choice . . . it is not a whim that comes and goes; selfless . . . it puts others first; sacrificial . . . it is willing to suffer for the good of others
Now, you may say, there are too many people for me to do that for everyone. And that is true. I believe that biblically we have a responsibility first to our immediate family – spouse and children and parents, in that order. Next we are responsible to the family of faith, fellow church members with whom we have covenanted ourselves. After that, those who are outside those circles. Christians are called to put their love to labor. Leave a legacy of a laboring love.
Love begins when we are rightly related to God. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:5-6, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The Good News is that Jesus lived and died and lived again so that you might truly live. Will you turn your life over to Him today? Will you let His love wash over you and change you? Yield your heart to Him today.