The Capacity Which We Love
Updated: Dec 4, 2018
Think about the most difficult times for the Church. What are they? Are the most difficult times for the Church defined by declining attendance? Are the worst times for the Church when members of the body are being executed for their beliefs? There is no doubt that Church has seen times of growth and times of peril, but the worst time for the Church is when the members stop loving one another.
There is no specific time period that I can highlight throughout history to show this, but that is because love transcends time. It is a constant; a pure continuum that directly affects the influence the Church has as a whole and an attribute that is ever-shifting in presence. Churches today rise and fall. During times of immense persecution, the first Church flourished. The spreading of God's word moved at a pace that governments could not keep pace with. They deeply depended on one another and "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship..." (Acts 2:42, NRSV).
I am convinced that any congregation that is focused on showing love, that is the congregation that will maintain growth--in attendance and spirituality.
Maybe there was something to this phenomenon that the apostle Paul noticed when he wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth. In this letter, Paul focuses on a number of issues taking place within the Church there, but in chapters 12-14 he focuses on gifts and orderly worship. It is within these chapters that we will do good to pay attention to his true purpose and direction for the Corinthians.
Starting in Chapter 12, Paul introduces this idea that the Church is made up of "many members" (v.12), and that--though there are many differences in those members--"God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose"(v.18). He does this using an analogy in which he compares the parts of the human body to the members of Christ's body--the Church (see Ch.12:12-26). He makes a progression from the gifts that he is referencing, to the fact that they are to be used to show love.
As we move into Chapter 13, Paul explicitly clears the air of any contentiousness that may have been developed since the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to those at Corinth. Love, not gifts, was Paul's true intention with mentioning the diversities in Chapter 12. He goes on to clearly state the methodology by which these gifts are to be used saying, "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NRSV, emphases added).
So why is he saying this?
The evidence is clear from reading these verses that Paul is focusing on the fact that it literally DOES NOT MATTER what superior powers, abilities, acts, or gifts you may have or do. If you are using those things, or doing those things, out of any other emotion--or have any other intention--besides love, you are wasting your time. Now, let's make clear that the prophetic powers, the knowledge, the tongues, etc., these are not the gifts that we need to be worried about within our congregations today, as they have ceased (See 1 Cor 13:8-13). Nevertheless, the Spirit still moves the members today, and God can utilize any member He chooses. The underlying message remains the same. If you have any ability whatsoever, but do not have love, you are a noisy irritant, a useless instrument, and are nothing of beneficial use to God's church.
These things may sound harsh, but that is certainly not the intention of this (my) writing. What I notice is that as time moves, the world experiences change. So, too, does the Church see change. The churches in the United States look different than the ones in Indonesia. With that difference alone comes a difference in members, or Christ's body. The experience that every congregation goes through as our old pass on and the young come up may also affect the influence or the impact that the respective congregation may experience. If the new culture within the congregation is one of selfishness or envy, the congregation is likely to see a declination in membership. That is not always the case with change. In some cases, change is a positive thing where new ideas surface and new abilities are used. With the latter, it is much more likely that the congregation is setting its focus on the wisdom that Paul provided the Corinthians, and that will be why that church experiences growth--in attendance and spirituality.
Our priority attitude today should be to love. There is no question about it: "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14, NRSV, emphasis mine). If we would only focus on the love that should go with all of the work, these struggles that some are experiencing would disappear. The truth will become clear with love. God's message will be made plain with love. We will have success, but only with love. Let these words seep in to every one's heart who reads them. We need to set aside all personal agendas, and we need to start focusing on God's plan and seek His wisdom. We are only going to change the world to the capacity in which we love.
As always, if there is any
thing that I can do to help you in your walk, please let me know. If you need prayers, please reach out. I would love to speak with you about any issue or question.
Until next time.