Our loveliness blossoms out of the love of God for us and in us, and it is affirmed and magnified and publicly displayed in the love we have for one another. It stands before the watching world as an invitation: come and see God’s love displayed.
Loving the People God Loves
What God loves, we must love. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2). If we are beloved children, we must walk in Christlike love for his people. Repeatedly in the New Testament, God calls the members of his beloved church to love one another.1 Love for the church ought to be a fundamental characteristic of our lives. You have a people. They are your local church. And our love ought to mirror God’s love in three important ways.
1. Loving the Unlovely
Since the fall of Adam, sin has made everyone unlovely. Listen to some of the words that the Bible uses to describe fallen people: enemies (Rom. 5:10), strangers (Eph. 2:12), rebels (Ezek. 20:38), and haters (Rom. 1:30); impure (Eph. 5:5), disobedient (Eph. 2:2), hopeless (Eph. 2:12), and ignorant (Rom. 10:3). Our sin not only makes us repulsive; it rightly places us under God’s wrath and displeasure (Eph. 2:3). There is nothing attractive about any of this. But, thankfully, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). When we were unlovely, God loved us. We did nothing to deserve his love, but he loved us anyway. In what might seem like circular reasoning, God explains his love for his people this way: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:7–8). God loves his people because of his own eternal, sovereign, good pleasure and nothing else. His love is “uncaused, un-purchased and unconditional.”2 His love is “uninfluenced.”3
He loves us because he loves us. So we love God’s people simply because God loves them. Hear the words of the apostle John: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). God’s people are not always lovely. Every one of us can be thoughtless, immature, unkind, foolish, and repeatedly snared by sin. And those are just our obvious failings. We probably don’t even know the worst about the people in our church. But God does, and he loves us anyway. When Christ hung on the cross, he died for each particular sin of each particular person the Father had given him. There is no sin of his people yet to be discovered by the Lord and nothing that can disqualify his true children from his love. As we walk in love for the local church, our love models the love of God himself. There was nothing lovely in us that caused God to love us, so we don’t wait for God’s people to seem attractive in order to love them. If God in his sovereign good pleasure has set his love on these people from eternity past, uniting them to his Son and gathering them into his church, then it is our privilege to love them too.