Loving relationships are the foundation of the Christian life. In Mathew 22, a Pharisee asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment of the law. Jesus replied:
“‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Jesus not only answered the question, but offered up the second greatest command as well. What do these two commandments have in common? They are about relationships – one with God, and the other with each other. Relationships are central to the Christian life.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul said:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Here, Jesus makes it clear that we can do nothing in His service without love. No use of our spiritual gifts, no act of kindness, not even a willingness to die for Christ will profit us without love! Our ability to disciple others and to reach out to the community are contingent on our ability to love.
So what do these loving relationships look like? Paul goes on to tell us in 1 Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
In these verses, Paul sets an incredibly high standard for love! True love responds to every situation in a way that will build up and edify. When dealing with others, we must be patient and kind. When wronged, we must not even take what was done to us into account. This kind of love is intentional, purposeful, and requires a great deal of practice!
What It Means to Us
There are many wonderful relationships at Westbrooke, and it is easy to imagine Westbrooke as a family. As we have learned with our earthly families, however, a healthy family isn’t something that simply “happens”. When raising children it is important to plan time together, think through healthy activities to participate in, watch for teaching moments, deal with issues as they arise, etc.
Many people have been attending Westbrooke for decades. Over this long period of time it’s no surprise that some relationships have been tested, or that a number of groups have formed within the church. To maintain and build up our church family, we must all be ready to:
Manage existing relationships. Many people have been attending Westbrooke for decades. Over this time we have both formed wondeful friendships and, most often unintentionally, either hurt or been hurt by others in the congregation. We all make mistakes – being a Christian doesn’t mean that we won’t sometimes hurt others. What matters is how we act in these situations once we’re in them. Modern society tells us that in these situations it is best either to ignore these issues in the hopes that they will somehow go away, or to simply find new friends. The Bible leaves no such options for our Christian family. If we wrong others, we must apologize and make it right. If we are wronged, we are to forgive. (1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”)
Create deeper, more transparent relationships. Even the strongest Christians are also faulty, sinful human beings. Though we endeavor to do good, we are all struggling to overcome sin in our lives. To truly strengthen and edify one another, we must come to know each other at a deep level and be ready and willing to help each other through our messy, complicated lives. These deep relationships will enable Westbrooke to create an environment of personal accountability in which we can all support each other as we grow in our walk with Christ.
Seek out new relationships. In America today, many believe that everyone can be broken up into “special interest groups”, and that our identity should be based on anything from age to socioeconomic status to race. This is not God’s plan for His church. On the contrary, our identity should be found in Jesus Christ, and we should bond with all other Christians as family. In this family people of all ages, race, and background must come together, united in purpose and in love (both for Jesus Christ and for each other).
(John 13:34-35 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”)