THE COLLECTIVE LOVE OF JESUS
Sometimes and in some seasons, I have experienced great frustration with the church. And historically, there have been more than just frustrations–there have been atrocities.
But in these moments and with these realizations, I have to remember how much Jesus loves the church. And I have to pray for Jesus’ perspective.
All the hypocrisy and harm that have sprung from and seeped out of the church are the inevitable result of the still-sinful humans who make up the church. And may we ardently work to rectify these wrongs in Jesus’ name.
At the same time, may our eyes be open to the healing, hope, heart-change, and humanitarian efforts that continue to shine through the church–bringing beauty and goodness into the world. We as Christians can’t allow ourselves to be puffed up or take any credit for these. Because any good is the inevitable result of a present and loving Holy Spirit working through the church, in spite of us.
So when I find myself disenchanted with the church, I return to Jesus’ love for the church. In fact, he is waiting–I imagine with great anticipation–for the day that he returns to gather up his church for himself with great delight and celebration. I embrace the description that Christ uses to describe his love for the church–he calls us his bride, and he is the groom. What an incredibly romantic and devoted love that is.
And I come back to this truth: one cannot have a relationship with Christ without the church. This assertion may rankle you, but think about it like this: what happens to a family when there is deep love for a son or daughter, but a very strong aversion for the person that their beloved family member chooses to marry? It never works out very well, does it? How can a person be both “one” with their spouse and still be involved with a family that doesn’t approve or share in that binding, love-filled commitment? Likewise, how can we live in relationship with Christ and say we love him, while we remove ourselves from the church that he has chosen to be “one” with?
Furthermore, Christ loves the church regardless of our faults and sins–just like he loves us as individuals. In fact, he willingly died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We so often gratefully embrace the second truth but don’t want to admit the first, especially when we are angry with the church. But we know this to be true because of what we find in Revelation 1-3. We see this beautiful picture of Christ walking among the lampstands, which symbolize the local assemblies that were part of the larger church. As he walks through them, we see that he has a very personal involvement with his churches. He knows what they are doing, how they are faring, and where they need encouragement and correction. Christ’s relationship with the church is loving–and neither distant nor fickle, even though ours can be.
One of the beautiful complexities of the cross is that the love that compelled Christ to die for us is personal, universal, and collective–all at the same time:
1) He died for you and me in a very personal way;
2) He died out of a love for the whole world (John 3:16);
3) He died to break all barriers and collect all who would come to him.
Jesus loved and died to gather us together and establish a body and build a spiritual house of living stones.
John 10:14-16: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
1 Peter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Ephesians 2:14-18 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
Sometimes I think we are too far removed from the first-century church to truly appreciate this awesome, gathering love of God. What must it have been like in Old Testament times–to be outside the nation where God’s blessings rested. God still loved and cared for and blessed people who were outside of the nation of Israel, but that nation was chosen to be his representative to the rest of the world. And with that special designation, its people received opportunities to know and experience God deeply and richly.
But how wonderful it must have been to experience the gathering love of a Messiah who died to bring every person into a close relationship with God. No wonder that on Pentecost–day one of the new church–3,000 people flocked to it. No wonder that there were devotion, awe, sharing, commitment, and gladness as people were gathered into the church. No wonder that the Lord added to their number daily–“church” was attractive! (Acts 2:42-47). Yes, it was the gospel message, and yes, it was the Holy Spirit’s movement, and yes, it was the testimony of the disciples. I have to think it was also the type of community that Jesus’ death and resurrection
had birthed that drew people in.
Oh, the collective work of Christ on the cross! Oh, the collective love of God! In light of it, how can we choose to be detached from the church? When we stand alone, we in effect stand in opposition to the work of Christ on the cross. But when we engage with the church, love the church, fight for the church, honor the church–how that must bless the Bridegroom!