1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (CSB) — 1 If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Today’s Church is expending unprecedented amounts of resources to evangelize the world and yet 70% of American churches are in decline. Why? What is neutralizing our evangelism efforts in America? What do we, with all of our vast wealth in the American Church, lack to reach the lost and grow?
I believe the answer is very difficult to hear even though Scripture speaks it loud and clear: “you do not have love.”
Notice what Paul identifies as exercises in futility if they are pursued apart from love:
- Spiritual gifts
In each case, we have entire movements within Christendom that pursue these points on their own merits: Social justice warriors pursue philanthropic activities in and of themselves; advocates of hyper-grace unswervingly preach salvation through faith alone to the exclusion of work; academics view Christianity purely in terms of an intellectual assent; Charismatics have set their flag on the spiritual gifts as the pinnacle of the Christian faith. But when these things are pursued apart from love, we gain nothing.
LOVELESSNESS IN THE BODY
I remember talking to a brother from the charismatic persuasion about the spiritual gift of healing and being told that I’m lost because I suffer from a chronic disease. He told me that it is God’s universal will to heal all Christians through faith. My chronic illness was proof-positive that I didn’t have faith. Is this love?
Likewise, American Christianity is currently reeling from a new wave of social justice warriors who are pushing for “reparations” to be made for “white privilege”. In many cases, they condemn those who fail to make reparations as having denied the gospel. Is this love?
One might argue that these stories illustrate doctrinal error, and you would be correct, but is it also possible that the reason people believe these doctrinal errors is because they do not have Christ’s love and, therefore, cannot understand his mind? How many stories can we tell that illustrate the abuses of people who possess correct doctrine without love? We cannot separate truth from love because the One who is the Truth is also the Love of God.
What many onlookers from our communities see when they look at the Church is bickering, infighting, and hypocrisy. They see people who are more concerned about advancing their political agenda in the government than advancing Christ’s mission in the world. They see slander, gossip, backbiting, and malice, and they see church leadership tolerate these things. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear from disconnected Christians that they stopped going to church because their unbelieving friends were nicer than their church family!
The common response from many churches is that “truth hurts” and “tough love offends”, and while true, this fails to deal with the realities that many people have experienced in the Church. Like Daniel, who repented for the terrible sins of Israel – though not likely guilty of those sins himself – churches who do display the love of Christ need to be heartbroken that these sins exist in our universal brotherhood because, in many cases, our lovelessness has made us become like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal in our communities.
LOVE IS THE FOUNDATION OF EVANGELISM
John 17:20–23 (CSB) — 20 “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. 21 May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. 22 I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.
The Church’s testimony about Christ is validated when the world sees the holy love of our unified Christian fellowship.
Denominational Christianity has convinced us to settle for division and caused us to become complacent towards the very contradictions that are invalidating our testimony in this world. The idea that division is acceptable to Christ has perpetuated further and deeper divisions within Christ’s body.
The reason we are expending unprecedented amounts of resources on outreach and yet remain in decline is that our lovelessness within the body has invalidated our testimony in the world. Our claims about the love of God mean nothing to the world because we do not show the love of God in ourselves; they are like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals!
The love that the Christian Church lacks in evangelism is not philanthropic love, but the glorious love of Christ that is supposed to abide in the fellowship of the Church.
DEAD AND DYING FAITH
James 2:15–17 (CSB) — 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.
1 John 3:16–18 (CSB) — 16 This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.
Galatians 5:6 (CSB) — 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.
The consequences of lovelessness in the body of Christ are severe and we rarely take them seriously. But James made it clear that when Christians fail to demonstrate Christ’s love to their brothers and sisters, they prove by their lovelessness that their faith is dead. We cannot experience God’s love if we do not abide in love towards others, especially towards our brothers and sisters in Christ!
Time prevents me from going on about how love fulfills Christ’s discipleship call to “deny yourself daily and carry your cross after him” (Lk. 9:23ff); or how the “goal of Biblical instruction is love” (1 Tim. 1:5); or how “the whole law is fulfilled in love” (Ga. 5:14). Suffice it to say that our real problem in the Church is that we have forgotten the supremacy of the love that never fails!
Colossians 3:14 (CSB) — 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
The answer to our problems is that we need to be conformed to the image of Christ by putting on holy love. We cannot fix our problems by throwing more money at them or by creating new church programs. Our problems require our personal transformation in the holy love of Christ.
More money will not make our evangelism more effective. The next trend in evangelistic strategy will not make the gospel more powerful. More eloquent speakers and greater intellects in our pulpits will not persuade people to die to this world so that in the power of the resurrection they can be made alive to Christ!
We need to be clothed in fresh garments of holy love! We must put off the deeds of darkness that harden our hearts and lead to slander, malice, anger, bitterness, and division. We must put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive” (Col. 3:12-13).
The kind of holy love that I am talking about here denotes a love that is set apart to God for his divine use. It is the kind of love that Christ showed to his disciples and called on them to show to one another. It is the effectual expression of holiness and faith.
Holy love will be the basis for Christ’s judgment when he returns:
Matthew 25:31–46 (CSB) — 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 “ ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you didn’t take me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of me.’ 44 “Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
My experience has taught me that life begets life. Churches grow as the life of the Church is filled more and more with holy love. No amount of marketing can convince people to come into a dry desert where there is no life. And no amount of trials and tribulations in this world can keep people who hunger and thirst for righteousness away from the springs of living water in Christ.
John 15:1–5 (CSB) — 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.