Monday, February 17, 2014

Do We Really Love? Part One

Having grown up in a pastor’s home and seeing young people in the throes of decisions, homes in the heat of the battle, and individuals daily, weekly, monthly embraced in decision-making that will affect the rest of their lives, I submit this first article in this series as a specific question directed to members of IFB churches.

IFB churches and schools are regularly given harsh criticism from external sources, but within the own local church proper, no lack of charity should ever exist!  And yet, I have watched happy, contented, thankful people grow angry and bitter over time and leave within a decade (or less!) of their arrival in such a church.

We are negatively evaluated for our school handbooks, dress codes, and demerit systems.  Authorities are criticized for harshness, discipline, and a “lack of mercy.”  Again, while critics come in all forms, this post deals specifically with those within a congregation. Rarely do the preacher’s critics take seriously the command given in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without dissimulation.  Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”

The above verse commands that members in the local church body love with no difference between those we prefer and those we don’t naturally get along with.  Hatred is never toward an individual but to evil.  Good is that to which we cleave—not to criticisms, irritation, or complaining. 

If every believer in an assembly determined to practice biblical, self-sacrificing love (as described in I Corinthians 13), that church would be a completely different place.  The local community would be transformed; homes would be restored; lives would be brought back together.  Believers and families within every assembly must practice biblical charity.

The kind of love depicted in Romans 12:9 encompasses the following:  No negative discussions at home about people at church.  No talking behind people’s backs.  No storing up frustration or anger in the heart.  The same kind of love, appreciation, and kindness evidenced to every member of that body of Christ, whether it be kindness toward the person with occasional body odor, or the woman who is overweight, or the guy who talks too loudly in the lobby.

Truth is one thing, but charity must serve as the mouth of truth:  if we speak words of criticism we must utter them from a heart of love, as described in I Corinthians 13.  Love is patient, kind, not easily provoked.  Love thinks the best of others, does not plot evil, rejoices—yes, rejoices—in truth!  It seems the loudest voices are often the critics, but that need not be the case!  God’s people can cleave to good, rejoicing because of truth.  Everything that is good and godly they can hold dear.

“If you love me,” Jesus said in His final sermon to His disciples before His crucifixion, “keep my commandments.”  Oh, how we must embrace the biblical injunctions to love, which sprinkle themselves generously throughout God’s Word, which evidence the loving heart of God!  Defining love God’s way is a task completed through His Book.  It’s an incredibly rich experience, looking at and studying these verses on biblical, self-sacrificing, agape love.  But take just one passage, John 14:15, part of Jesus’ final words to His disciples before His crucifixion, and see that love is obedience in action.  If every member of every IFB church took only one of God’s commands today and decided to live by it—just one—practicing it now and continuing in a regular, consistent manner, our assemblies would be transformed!  Consider Romans 12:10, for example:  “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.”

The phrase, “kindly affectioned” is used only once in the Bible.  Thayer defines it as
1) the mutual love of parents and children and wives and husbands
2) loving affection, prone to love, loving tenderly
2a) chiefly of the reciprocal tenderness of parents and children. 
What an endearing, tender description this phrase offers us concerning our familial ties specifically to those within the local church assembly! This is a heart attitude—a spirit of kindness that envelops our innermost being and manifests itself outwardly toward everyone with whom we come into contact! 

Practically speaking, then, others within the church will be the objects of good words, which make the heart glad.  We will be givers, not takers.  We will be caring, surrendered, joy-filled individuals toward every believer!

“In honor preferring one another,” Romans 12:10 concludes. God says we are literally to prefer others within the local assembly to ourselves. Many critics of “standards” or “preferences” seem to indicate that their opinion is as important as God’s own Word, but that idea is not taught by Romans 12:10.

It’s so much easier to point fingers at others than to blame ourselves.  I know.  I’ve been there.  I remember literally putting tally marks on my notes paper at one time for every grammatical error a preacher made in his sermon!  My focus was on his mistakes, not on my need to embrace truth. 

In his poem , “To A Louse:  On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church,” Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote words that, without the Scottish dialect, read… 
“What a gift God would give us—to see ourselves as others see us!
It would free many blunders from us and foolish notions.
What airs in dress and gait would leave us, and even devotion!”

The fine Miss Lunardi seemed unsuitable for such a despicable visitor such as a louse upon her person, but sure enough, out from underneath her very pristine bonnet, a louse crawled.  And Burns saw it, the poor Miss Lunardi completely oblivious to such a show. While she seemed to assume she manifested flawlessness, Burns saw her inadequacies.

If we perceived the error within our own way, that our opinions are not infallible, that our criticisms may be incorrect, that our perspective is not as important as God’s Word—our demeanor would change.    Our pride would crumble.  Our love would grow.  Let us prefer our brothers and sisters within the church to ourselves, live by God’s book, embrace His commands, and show true, biblical love one toward another.  In every situation.  Regardless of our own natural inclinations.  That’s love.
--Heather Ross

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