When my husband first moved to our town, he literally knew no one. He had just graduated from college and was ready to begin his career as a physical education teacher. Very few jobs were available in our state, which led him here to Marlboro County, several days after school had already started. He drove straight to his new school with his belongings in his car and nowhere to stay. The librarian at the school graciously took him home to her family where he was welcomed with open arms and invited to stay until he secured an apartment. Her only condition was that he attend church with them, which he was happy to do. Her generosity and hospitality led him to a place of love and acceptance in a community that was foreign to him.
That defining moment was the beginning of a lifetime of friends and family in that church (not to mention, that’s where he met me). The relationships we have built over the years that stem from that one church are some of the strongest and most enduring ones that we know.
Shortly before going to the cross, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples:
“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another'” (John 13:34-35).
Jesus explained to His closest friends that the world would recognize them by the love they showed to one another. He tells them to love as He has loved them. How had He shown His love to them?
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1, NIV84).
Jesus proceeded to get up from the meal they were sharing, take off His outer garment and wrap a towel around His waist. He then poured water into a basin and washed His disciples’ feet. I don’t know if that does anything for you, but, seriously, I can’t imagine. Jesus calls us to imitate a love that humbly serves others.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9-10).
The world can tell if our love for each other in the church is sincere or not. They are watching us to see how we treat each other. Our love within the body of Christ is a great witness to unbelievers, so when we fail to love as we should, we are hurting the testimony of Christ. Just from my own experience and the Word of God, I want to share four ways I believe we can love better in the church.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Sincere love for others in the body of Christ expresses itself through our humility and desire to connect with others. We need connectedness in the body of Christ. Deep down, it’s what we all long for. We want to matter to someone else and know that if we hurt, someone else hurts. If we rejoice, others rejoice with us.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
The early church enjoyed that kind of connection and fellowship as they spent time together. They didn’t just go to church. They hung out together and enjoyed fellowship with one another. As they did, the Lord added to their number daily, because their love for one another was a witness that made the world sit up and pay attention.
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46b-47).
Sincere love connects with others in true fellowship, being vulnerable and accountable to one another.
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).
Notice it doesn’t say covers “up.” The Bible isn’t talking about sweeping someone’s offenses under the rug and pretending that some grievous sin didn’t occur. Scripture is clear about how to address the issue of sin in the church, but this verse is about not stirring it up. Ouch. Unfortunately, that tends to happen a lot among Christians today. We hear something about somebody, and then we have to share it with fifteen more people as a “prayer request.” Let’s be honest. We just enjoy spreading gossip. But love covers.
“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9).
I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of this one. But what would happen if the next time someone shares a “gossip request,” we just politely said, “You know, I don’t really know what happened, and I don’t want to think badly of that person, so I would rather not talk about it.”
The person in question may have been wrongly accused, misunderstood, or may be in sin and need a friend to come along beside her and help lead her out of darkness. I have been misunderstood before and gossiped about, when telling the truth would have exposed someone else’s sin. It’s hard to stay silent when you want to defend yourself (or your child), but sometimes it’s the most loving thing you can do.
“Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
When we confess our sins and repent, God covers our sins. When you see a brother or sister in sin, don’t expose them. Come alongside them and encourage them to turn back. Their response is up to them, but either way, our job is to cover and protect them in love.
I’ll make these last two quick.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
We usually quote this verse along with the next one about not giving up meeting together, but I love what this first part says. We are to actually consider and think about how we can encourage each other to do good.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
Love will look for ways to encourage and build others up. Call and check on people when they miss church. Send a card. Take a meal. Just listen. Love cares.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2).
Love doesn’t have to always have an opinion or always be right or always get her way. Love can be quiet and cooperate so that the work of the Kingdom can get done.
Do you know why Jesus was able to humble Himself to wash the stinking feet of His disciples? Because He knew who He was.
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” (John 13:3-4).
If we know who we are in Christ, we will have the humble confidence to be vulnerable and connect with others, to mind our business and cover over a brother or sister’s faults, to look for ways to reach out and encourage someone else, and to let others have their way in order to keep peace.
Jesus asks us to love as He loves. He put on a towel. Will you and I have the courage to do the same?