Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, AND SO FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST. Galatians 6:2
…[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:22-23
So, yes. It’s no secret. It’s love. Love is the greatest thing. It may seem simple, but it is the most profound, most impossible, most supernatural thing in the world if you can really find the true thing, and without it your house church community will not survive. And neither will you. By love, we will fulfill the law of Christ. Looking at how these verses above intersect, if we think about the greatest commandment to love God and one another, we do that by forgiving one another, correcting one another in gentleness, and bearing one another’s burdens so we can all carry the light load of the ministry of Jesus, both to us and through us. Let’s look at two metaphors used to describe this kind of radical love found in the church: the building and the body.
I am of course not talking about a physical building, but the spiritual household that happens when lives are joined together to be the church, not just attend a church (1 Peter 2:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:15). So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Just as a physical building loses integrity when a wall caves in or a window or beam is removed, so we lose integrity if our building is damaged in any way. The foundation matters (Christ and the apostles), the bricks matter, the beams matter, and without any of these, the building would be broken, not whole, not complete. We have to be careful how we build and join ourselves together (1 Corinthians 3). When we use our spiritual gifts we are actually allowing God to build up the body through us! And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12) You get to help build the building that you are a part of. That’s pretty amazing.
We are also different parts of the “body of Christ” held together by love, as strange as this sounds (1 Corinthians 12:4-13). It doesn’t matter if you are a hand or foot or eye, you, as a person (not your gift) are necessary for full, vibrant functioning of this body. I can honestly say that when a person becomes a consistently participating part of our local body and then leaves, we feel it. It feels like we are missing an arm or a leg and we have to compensate for not only their spiritual gifts or the love and encouragement they brought to the body, but for just them as people! Loving one another as a body means that we hold on fiercely to one another and we need one another to function well. We are interdependent, and that’s actually really important. It’s not a matter of organizing or delegation (who makes the coffee, who sits with the kids, who greets people). It’s that we need you! And we don’t just need the talkative ones or the fun ones. We need you! Just you as a person.
People in our community make fun of me because I always say, “We love you, we need you, we miss you when you are gone.” But it’s true! We need you whole and functioning and present in order for us to be functional and whole and present as a working body of believers.
Storytime!…Recently, I have been struggling with a debilitating leg issue that flares up so much somedays that I have trouble walking and my husband has to help me with meals, and, well…pretty much everything. If anyone has ever been in the position of needing help physically for a while, its horrible. You feel guilty and ashamed for asking for help and then you feel mad when things aren’t done the way you want and then you feel guilty and ashamed for being mad about that…yes. Horrible. SO ANYWAYS…one night I left the house to spend the night out of town. I told him I needed a break. But the truth was, I left not because I needed a break, but because I felt like he did. I was tired of being a drain on him. I was even believing the lie that my family functioned better without me. That night the Lord convicted me for lying and I called and told him the truth about why I had asked to go away for the night. I will never forget what he said to me. “Taking care of you is not a burden to me. We’re one. You are a part of my body. Taking care of you is no greater burden than taking care of myself!” (yes, that is a true story. I can’t make that stuff up. That’s why Jesus told husbands to love their wives as Jesus loved the church–because marriage is not the culmination of intimate relationships, but a mere metaphor of the intimacy we have with the Father and with Jesus and with His church!)
So we have missed something huge if we think this is a matter of taking care of other people. This is SELF-CARE. It’s where I am a part of you and you are a part of me. Let me say this to you and then you say it back to me and everyone in your local body of Christ.
WHAT ABOUT WHEN TAKING CARE OF THE BODY IS HARD
If you are shepherding/discipling people, this little note is for you (including parents discipling their children). There will be times when you feel like everyone is pulling on you with their needs at all the same time and you may be be overwhelmed and tired to the point that you cannot function. Your flesh will be tempted to pull away and hide or feel sorry for yourself. You may feel alone even in a time of really fruitful ministry. God cares about your loneliness but He will not let you wallow in it (1 Kings 19 is my favorite story about God taking care of our loneliness and ministry exhaustion) If you get to this place take time with God to re-focus.
Remember, we have missed something huge if we think this is a matter of taking care of other people. If we shift the focus to self-care of the body (Jesus working through us to care for His OWN body!), we might compare it to personal hygiene. Do you complain when you have to brush your teeth or brush your hair? Only my 4 year old complains about taking care of the basic needs of her own body!
It’s “no big deal” to do self-care for our own body. And it’s “no big deal” to care for Christ’s body either (also, if you’re doing it right, He does most of the work!). The love factor is ignited, we become genuinely interested in one another as ourselves, and taking care of one another becomes a great joy, not a burden.
SELF-CARE FOR LEADERS!
Also, believe it or not, there will be times when you, super-spiritual, amazing, Jesus-following leader, will be that needy person that needs a lot of help and prayer and encouragement, especially if you are discipling or shepherding a lot of other people. If you are in the kind of community that sees themselves as a body and you have been practicing being led by the Spirit, you will have people that God tasks with sharing the shepherding task of taking care of you as well as others and they will WANT to cover you and pray for you. It should be embedded in your community DNA. Let them do it. Don’t resist them, or make them beg, or force them to arrange for an intervention. Do not consider yourself a burden to them. You are a part of them. It is no burden to take on the burden of your own body! It is just normal life.
The body should respond. If they don’t respond there’s a deeper issue you need to address,
DEEPER ISSUES MAY INCLUDE spiritual warfare, self-absorption, or bad teaching or baggage about what discipleship is supposed to be (we try to coach our people to disciple alongside one another as brothers and sisters more than mentors/mentees (Matthew 23:8-12)). Train your people and model how to go to God with their own needs directly (though sometimes we all need help from one another), and then focus outward with God. Ask Him this EVERY DAY.“God what are you doing today and how can I be a part of it? Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
For those who do not believe me, let me put it stronger. Isn’t it bordering on arrogance to think that you can handle your own issues and problems and others can’t, while you are busying yourself with their burdens? I may be speaking from experience here. Humility is often found in asking for help or prayer when you need it. Acknowledge any pain and woundedness and address it quickly so you can be healed. If you are in pain, say “ouch!”
BROKEN BODIES AND BREACHED WALLS
This is all well and good until something really hurtful happens among your community. Before I go there, I just want to highly recommend a book that helped me so much with forgiveness and offense. It’s John Bevere’s Bait of Satan. It’s great…go check it out if you struggle with unforgiveness (or even if you don’t).
Alright, so what about the times when you have an unlovable situation being caused by one of your people? OK. I want you to think beyond church discipline here. Think about love. We know what happens when the physical human body is not working in alignment. If one part is wounded or disabled, the rest of the body compensates for it but only cuts it off if it is already almost completely severed or contagiously infected and poses a risk for killing the whole body (think gangrene–sorry for the mental images). In other words, conventional wisdom suggests that we should try everything we can possibly do to keep the body together in one piece! Our goal is restoration, repairing, helping a person be whole again and help relationships function again. That is the art of peacemaking.
REPAIRERS OF THE BREACH
Too few of us have learned to be peacemakers because it requires patience, persistence, and that we lay down our tendencies toward jealousy and comparison. If we were to master peacemaking, we would no longer find ourselves drawn to gossip and backbiting, but encouragement and love of one another, even and especially behind each other’s backs! It’s beautiful when brothers and sisters dwell in peace and unity together and seek and promote peace (Psalm 34:14).
We also move gently and lovingly as we correct and make peace. Paul talks about treating the less presentable parts of our body with modesty. We cover people who are weak still and not currently not modeling freedom in Christ very well (1 Corinthians 12:21-28). This does not mean we let sin go unchecked. We address it by gently correcting our brother or sister and bearing their burdens with them, fulfilling the law of Christ (to love), being careful not to fall into temptation ourselves (Galatians 6:1-3). And we do this in the way Jesus taught us (Matthew 18:15-17). Here’s what He says.
- If someone has sinned against you, reconcile directly with your brother or sister. Make peace.
- If that doesn’t not work, get another brother or sister to go with you to that person. Make peace. Be peacemakers.
- If that doesn’t work, bring it before the church (where, by the way, you should pray together and listen to the Spirit directing you how to (drum roll please…) MAKE PEACE! 🙂 But then Jesus then says something really difficult as a next step.
- If the person does not stop sinning, then stop treating them as a brother or sister.
Wow. That’s harsh. But it’s still loving. If you have gently corrected over and over and the person does not submit their lives to the leadership of Jesus and the command of Jesus to sacrificially love those in the body (especially if they are spreading infection), your community needs to pray and consider disconnecting them from the body, at least until they repent and reconcile with God and the hurt person. Trust God with this and keep encouraging reconciliation, but be led by the Spirit and brave enough to do this loving act. Do not do this harshly but with love and compassion, like Jesus would. This is not about vengeance, this severing is a surgical act (not brutal) revolving around the survival of the community, protection of the sheep, avoiding temptation, and allowing the sinner to have space to fully realize and mourn his/her sin and reject/renounce it in true penitence.
BUT! This has not happened to us yet in our house church. Thankfully, we have never gotten to this point of asking someone to leave us. And you know why? Because we operate in radical love and forgiveness. I mean RADICAL love. The seventy times seven kind. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4. If we live in this way, we quickly learn that nothing is permanently broken in our body, Jesus can heal and restores literally everything if we partner with Him by obeying in love and forgiveness. Here’s how it works.
THE MIRACLE OF FORGIVENESS
What happens when someone sins against you? They owe you a debt. And you are in a place of being able to pass judgment. But what happens if you obey Jesus and waive that right (Matthew 7:1-6)? What happens if you can forgive every time? This is why Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers because they would be children of God (Matthew 5:9). This is why Jesus talked about the rich man and the debtor (Matthew 19:21-35). This is why Paul says love is the more excellent way and if we speak in tongues of men and angels, prophecy, and give all we have to the poor, and we do not have this thing, our worship will be meaningless (1 Corinthians 13). Love is the very essence of who we are. We love as Christ loves us: sacrificially (your needs above mine), no strings attached, without caveats, without demanding our own way, and without end.
And LOVE, my friends, covers over a multitude of sins.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.1 Peter 4:7-11
Have you considered lately that God has given YOU the ability to forgive sins if you have received the Holy Spirit? …[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:22-23
What are you going to do with that superpower? Will you hold forgiveness away from someone like a carrot on a stick–a reward for consistent good behavior? No! Will you continue rationalizing your own sin and be so absorbed in your own shame and continual need for repentance that you cannot hear God calling you to more or see the broken around you? Of course not! No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10) You put sin or offense behind you, die to yourself, and start extending the love and life and forgiveness of Jesus to a dying world.
What are you going to do with the authority to forgive sins (under the authority of Christ)? What if you broke the yoke and set captives free by the power of God? What if you decide to keep short, honest accounts with one another so that you can hold no grudges? That is love for God and love for our neighbors. You are partnering with the heart of God in His passionate love for this child of His and you decide to never see them as anything less than robed in the righteousness of Christ. They are not better or worse than you. You meet together as brothers and sisters at the foot of the cross. This is part of what communion is. In reminding us of Christ’s body and His love for us, it reminds us that we are also participating in one body under the leadership/headship of Jesus.
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17
This does not mean ignoring sin. It does mean that if the person is repentant, you pour mercy and unmerited favor (grace) out like a river. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13-14). How do you do that? How do you live this way? You must partner with the heart of God for that person. You lay your pain and complaints at the feet of Jesus, yield your rights to His right to judge, and walk away free. Roots of resentment and bitterness can ruin a community like poison, but they will not rule your life or chain you down if you make love the rule and stick to it as if your life depends on it. Because it does.
We cannot function as a body if someone who is a committed part of us gets offended and leaves. We are broken. Their offense matters to me. But more importantly, their offense needs to matter to them. You have to have a heart so set on love that there is no room for the pain of hurt or loneliness or rejection to nestle in and get comfortable. Those things breed fear and there is absolutely no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment and we have been made whole by the love of God! (1 John 4:18) It should be love alive in us, not fear of what people are thinking about us!
WHERE DO I FIND THIS KIND OF LOVE?
You will find it only one place–in corporate and personal times of prayer and worship, and by this I mean practicing intimacy with God and one another in His presence. Not just talking about it. Not just singing a couple songs. I am talking about the place where the physical world fades and and you enter the spiritual throne room of God by the blood of Christ, where we can look at Him and He can look at us, and we see ourselves again as HE sees us (as His delight) and we see one another as He sees them (our delight and His) and we see God rightly (our delight and His). This is the place that changes our perspectives and realigns us with our Father’s heart.
He is not someone who wants to ignore your pain or the injustice done to you, but He wants to take the trauma and pain of that event and put it on Christ so that you do not have to bear it anymore. That’s the invitation. The only catch is that you have to forgive and release judgment back to God, the only one capable of judging rightly between good and evil. We refuse to taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil anymore. Instead we are emptied of all our hatred, comparison, jealousy, rudeness, self-seeking, and sin, and filled with the rivers of Living Water, His Spirit–and we bear this fruit–love, joy peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control! We are filled as vessels with the oil by which we shine as lamps on lampstands as communities of faith (Revelation 2). It is in our obedience to decide to forgive that we will feel power flow through us to act in love toward our enemies and pray for those who hurt and persecute us. It’s not natural. It’s supernatural! It’s totally miraculous. Worshiping together is healing because fear, shame, pain, hatred, cannot exist in the presence of God and if it is residing in us, God will not tolerate it there in his presence. We will burn inside until we reconcile with our brother or sister in the presence of God. SO go there often together and see why love is such a popular subject when it comes to being the church! More on worship later!
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11
WHAT LOVE CAN DO:
- It will make us more like Jesus (Matthew 9:36)
- It will lead us to a more excellent way of church order and discipline (1 Cor. 12-13)
- It will lead us from death to life. (1 John 4:14)
- It will set you free from God’s judgment and will move us from just talking to full obedience and reassurance before God.(James 2:13-14)
- It will be proof of His Spirit in us in the way we cultivate pure and holy intimacy with God and one another. (1 John 3:24)
- It will reassure us when our hearts condemn us (1 John 3:18-19ff) because God has given us HIS Spirit, which is the only way we have HIS love to give.
- It will make us obedient to release His forgiveness into the world and therefore freedom to the captive (John 20:22-23, Isaiah 61)
- It will be proof to the world that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35)
- It will hold us together as a body and building (1 Corinthians 12-13)
- It will wreck the plans of the enemy against us. (1 John 4), destroying fear and accompanying power and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)
Love is the greatest thing. It is an impossible and therefore miraculous thing. It is an unfading thing. And we have it friends. Go and live in this truth and you will be unbreakable. Or else, what hope do we have? Everything else is just false religion.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 1 John 3:14-24
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:7