John 13:34-35 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is quite easy to talk about love. About loving others. Most people would claim that they exercise love, at least toward those closest to them. I suppose the most wicked man or woman has at one time or another mouthed that phrase, “I love you.”
And we certainly see this among people who profess to be Christians. What local church, for instance, doesn’t have signs and slogans about how everyone there just loves one another? Church advertisements often use jingles similar to “loving God and loving one another.” That kind of thing.
And yet….is all of this really the real deal? I suggest to you that most of it is not. Think about the things that go on in the typical church:
- People leave because they say the sermons are too long
- They depart because they don’t like the music
- The nursery isn’t up to par in their measure
- The associate pastor resigned after a blow up and took a lot of the people with him
- Suddenly the pastor is gone and no one seems to know why
- Jack blew up at the annual membership meeting because of a budget item he disagreed with
On and on we could go. You know these things are true. Why? What of all the talk of “love”?
I will tell you why. It is because these churches are full of people who are not born again. They claim to be Christians, but they are not, and their behavior shows it to be the case. They will tell other members how much they “love this church,” but about the first time they disagree or are offended at something, they depart. Gone. My parents were like that. We bounced from church to church, but us kids never really knew why. We thought….well, I guess that’s just how church is. And it would be many years before I realized this is NOT how the real body of Christ is.
What does genuine love look like? The kind that is of Jesus? The kind that He, by His Spirit, puts in us and enables us to exercise ourselves? What does love for the brethren look like? We have, of course, Christ’s description of it in 1 Corinthians 13. In fact in that passage we learn that if someone does not evidence this love, they are nothing. John says it over and over again in his first epistle. Hate your brother? You aren’t saved. Nope. No way.
You cannot manufacture this love. It is a product and fruit of the Spirit of Christ in the heart that has been made new – born again. You cannot invent and launch some “love program” down at the church so everyone gets along and the bickering stops. Only Christ can make it happen.
I think this is what the Bible means about that “holy kiss” thing. You know:
Romans 16:16 ESV Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
No, it doesn’t mean we are to start going to church on Sundays and plant one on the first person we see. You start doing that and you shouldn’t be surprised if you get the boot. But what it does mean, to translate it culturally, is that our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ should be characterized by a warmness, by a love, that is far more than superficial nicities. It means that we will really have loving relationships. It means that when we do greet each other, in whatever form is appropriate, that greeting is motivated by a warm, authentic love that isn’t phoney.
Don’t settle for a fellowship that is any less. If you do, you will be settling for the counterfeit. For a church that is no church at all.