This is my command: Love each other.
Stop the first one hundred people you meet on the street and ask them this question: "What's wrong with the church today?" You will get plenty of answers!
It's so easy to criticize what others are doing. If you look diligently enough you can find something wrong with everything.
A farmer's neighbor was so negative, criticizing everything and anything. The farmer bought a new plow, the neighbor said it would rust soon. The farmer remarked how it was good to have more rain this year, and the neighbor lamented that his crops would rot at the root with all this rain. It went on ad nauseam.
The farmer determined he would find something to cheer up this bottomless pit of despair. He went out and purchased the finest hunting dog, and secretly trained him to fetch by walking on the water, instead of swimming. When hunting season came the farmer invited his sour neighbor to go with him. When the first flock passed by, the farmer and his friend shot several ducks each. The farmer yelled to the dog, Fetch! The hound darted, his feet barely skimming the surface of the lake. He scooped up four ducks from the water and was back in an instant, dry as a bone. How 'bout THAT? questioned the farmer. Remarked ol' sourpuss, Cain't swim, can he?
Well, the church is something else altogether. If we are honest we can see that most churches are 98% wonderful; the other 2% we manage to mess things up. The problem is that unbelievers, and even critics within, focus on the 2%, and not the productive 98%. It is wrong to judge all ministers by the few who fall into gross sin. It is wrong to judge all committee members by the few who do nothing or just cause trouble. It is wrong to put all members in with the hypocritical few who aren't faithful to their Lord.
We ought to judge the church at its best, not its worst. The church's best are the ideals and principles upon which it was founded by Jesus.
Jesus addressed his disciples, with the command (the word means to point out the goal), to love each other. To love means to seek another's highest good. Our goal is to find ways to lift each other in the church. That puts us at a fork in the road. You can criticize, or you can build up, but you cannot do both.
So this morning we want to talk about our goal as a church:
A deeper study of how to love each other is contained in Paul's letter to the Ephesian church (5:25-32). The passage deals with marriage, but we can see how Paul points to the relationship that brings blessing in the church family.
Jesus loved the church (us), and He saw potential for good in each of us. He called us branches of his own vine. In fact, the word "member" is synonymous with the Latin root for "limb." Each of us who are members of the local church, the body of Christ, is a limb. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. The Lord expects to see fruit produced; He wants us to be great limbs, bearing wonderful fruit.
Now, as any gardener will attest, a crop must be cultivated. It doesn't just happen.
Churches are like that. We are a collection of branches, and the Lord can certainly grow us, but there is also some cultivating that needs to be done. Given the right care, the church can be grown and built up like a vineyard.
So let’s look at the kind of love we can have towards each other; the kind of love that bears
fruit in the Father’s vineyard:
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. Ephesians 5:25(NLT)
Jesus sees that kind of potential in you and me. We are the embodiment of the heart of Jesus Christ. That heart is filled with all kinds of good things. What kinds of things?
In the heart of Jesus was the willingness to be a sacrifice for the whole world. In the church you will always find members (limbs of the body) who are ready to give. Jesus wasn't selfish, and his true, fruitful limbs never demand their own way. One of the things that warms my heart is the generosity of God's people. It is a common sight to see a Christian put another's need before his own.
to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. Ephesians 5:26-27(NLT)
Among the many reasons Jesus gave himself for the church is that the church might be cleansed of things that harm and drag us down. The guiding principle is uplift! Jesus lifts us out of the anger and selfishness of the world. Think of the blind man Jesus healed. With the hand of love the man received his sight, and his life was never the same again.
Jesus cast demons out; he forgave a woman who should have been stoned to death. He even met a murderous young Pharisee named Saul and turned him into a mighty preacher of the Gospel.
Jesus is still touching lives like that with his purifying love. He does it through his limbs – the church members, filling them with the Spirit of hope and forgiveness and purity. This purifying love makes the church a sparkling jewel.
No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. Ephesians 5:29(NLT)
A husband is charged with the responsibility of cherishing his wife. Jesus cherishes his bride, the church. God has seen to our physical needs, and gives as He determines will be good for us. But this verse emphasizes the spiritual nourishment of the soul.
The church meets physical needs sometimes, but our main diet is the building up of the spirit with caring. Groups gather for fellowship, study of God's word and prayer. We become aware of each other's needs. We worship together, building up the spirit with praise.
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. Ephesians 5:30-32(NLT)
If there is one thing a body needs in order to remain healthy and useful, it is wholeness. Wholeness means together as a unit. We are the body of Christ, a unit. We are not all the same. Just like this world, which has a rich variety of different people animals and plants, there is also great diversity in the church. There are more varieties of Christians than opinions in a committee meeting.
Now, in spite of all this diversity, there is one unifying, glorious force: The HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD. It is the Spirit of God who teaches us this unifying love; one Spirit – one body.
We are not all the same, but we are all one in Him.
We may not all act the same; but in Him we can all act in love.
The church, with this unifying love is much like a football team; there are eleven men with different talents, different assignments, but ALL with just ONE PURPOSE: get the ball over the line.
Armies are composed of thousands from all walks of life, but every soldier has only ONE OBJECTIVE – win the war!
Bands have different instruments producing different sounds, but only ONE GOAL – follow the director to play the song.
This is the same as the church with its unifying love. We build together or we fall apart.
Lord Nelson of England was about to enter an important battle. He heard that two of his officers were at odds with each other. He called them in and said, Gentlemen, give me your hands. The two captains put their hands in the Commander's hands, and he squeezed them with a tight grip. Men, he said, Remember the ENEMY is OUT THERE!
The love God wants for his church is tough, enduring, and sees beyond human emotions and selfishness. It gives, uplifts, cares, builds and unites.
The Psalmist said it this way:
How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! Psalm 133:1(NLT)
Sacrificial, purifying, caring and unifying love. That is the kind of love Jesus had in mind when He said, Love each other.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!