Brother or sister, if you are to love the “unlovables” in your church, you must begin to grasp how unlovable you were when Christ chose to put his love on you, and how unlovable you remain today even as you are secure in his love.
“But That’s Impossible” Is the Whole Point
God often asks his people for the impossible. In Exodus 13–14, God led his people out of slavery in Egypt and into an impossible predicament. They were trapped between the Red Sea ahead and the pursuing army behind. Yet God led them through the sea. I love how Isaiah put it, hundreds of years later:
Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters.
In other words, this is not merely something that God did once upon a time. Making a way through the sea is his signature move! Jesus tells the man with the withered hand to stretch it out (Matthew 12:13). “But that’s impossible!” He tells the crippled man to get up and walk (John 5:8). “But that’s impossible!” He tells the dead man to get up (John 11:43). “But that’s impossible!”
This practical guide shares 8 truths to show readers how they can cultivate God-exalting unity by loving those in the church who, if they’re honest, sometimes drive them crazy.
Jesus’s commands offer more than instruction; they empower. At his command, the withered hand stretches out. The lame man walks. The dead man walks.
The same is true of life in your church. Easy love rarely shows off gospel power. But love that stretches beyond what’s possible is a stage, set to display the glory of God.
The Limits of “Ought To”
“OK,” you say. “I’m sold! I love this idea of church as beautiful reflection. I’m going to go build friendships with people in my church who are different from me, where we often disagree and don’t share much in common aside from Jesus. And together we’re going to show off the power of the gospel!” That determination is a good start, but if that’s as far as you go, you’re asking for trouble. Before we go any further, we should rope off one potentially harmful route to obedience.
In friendship, real motives become evident over time. “Do you really love me? Or do you love what it looks like to love me?” That can smell like tokenism, not friendship. And too many of the brothers and sisters in your church who are accustomed to feeling different from the rest have learned the hard way that they are sometimes valued mainly because they make the church look better. These could be people who are different from most of the church in terms of skin color, social class, age, political leanings, and so forth. I should tread carefully here. I don’t want to portray obedience-oriented love as entirely wrongheaded. “Ought to” is an entirely valid reason to love others in your church (John 14:15; 15:12). “Ought to” can be a good starting point for love, but “ought to” cannot be the furthest extent of your ambitions for love. If you love simply because you ought to love, then your love may come across as something less than love. And such love loses its luster once its true motivation comes to light.