Dear Church Family,

Last month we thought about some of the fruit produced by our love for God, but that is not our only motivating love. In fact, 1 John 4:20-21 claims, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Now I would encourage you to read the whole letter of 1 John in order to more fully grasp the context and content, but even from those two verses did you catch John’s argument? He wants Christians to know that they do not love God if they do not love His church. Or, to state it positively, all true Christians will love their brothers and sisters in Christ.

You might have noticed that I am interpreting the “brother” in the passage I just quoted to refer to a Christian and not merely a biological connection or close friend. I understand the text this way because of the letter as a whole (see especially 3:10, 13-14; 4:7), but probably most clearly in 5:1 as it connects with 3:1-2. If we have been born again, we are Christians. If we are Christians, we are God’s children. If we are God’s children, He is our Father. If He is our Father, we are brothers. (Lord willing, I will write about why “brothers” and not “brothers and sisters” is used in Greek in the near future.) Yes, in 3:12, John is using “brother” to refer to a biological family member, but even there he is using it as a metaphor to describe an even deeper connection—being in the family of God—which he brings home in the following verse.

Now aren’t we called to love everyone without distinction? Absolutely—just from the Gospel of Matthew alone we see this in 5:44; 19:19; 22:39. So, why did I take the time to belabor the fact that John is telling Christians if they don’t love other Christians, they don’t love God? Because I want you to see that if you are a “loving” or “spiritual” person who does not love Christ’s church, you will go to hell. I do pray you would feel the weight of that statement as you read it that I do in writing it. There is little pushback from saying Christians must love God, but a growing number of those who claim the name of Christ don’t want anything to do with His Bride. John writes to encourage and warn Christians to love one another because it is impossible for someone to be a Christian without loving the local church.

Maybe some of you aren’t uncomfortable yet, so let’s dig just a little deeper. Who decides the definition of what it means to “love” the church? God does. How does He communicate His definition to us? His Word. What does His Word say it means to love the church? 1 John 5:2 explains, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” You want to love God? Love His people and do what He has said. You want to love His church? Love God and do what He has said. Interestingly, the common denominator for loving God and His church is keeping His commandments. This means the love God expects from Christians is not a feeling—it has hands and feet. This love is immensely practical and not merely theoretical or emotional.

Are you feeling the weight now? Our love for God demands our love for the church, which drives us to individual faithfulness as we strive to obey His Word. Yes, we love everyone in some ways, but there are other ways in which the depth of our love can only be displayed in the local church. The Christian’s love for God is most clearly revealed in his or her relationship to the local church. Why the local church and not just the universal church? Remember what John said about a brother you can see? Well, while we are called to love all Christians generally, we demonstrate our love for the whole by specifically relating to the local church to which we are physically connected. In fact, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Love for God results in love for the church which is proved and revealed in the local church. This is how we are to be set apart in the world.

So, how do the members of our local church love one another? How do you?