Church isn't tangible. It doesn't fit into a neatly, beautifully wrapped box. Church is us.
We all know that, and yet we find ourselves talking about "going to church", separating what happens on Sunday from the rest of the week. We will fail to follow Jesus as we should until we view our interactions with people throughout the week as significant as we view "church" on Sunday.
In all of us, individually, church becomes more about doing more, going further, figuring out, finding answers, and answering questions. We are afraid to make mistakes and afraid to be in error because we know God has a clear design for the church and we need to obey His Word. After all, Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments" (John 15:14).
But we have been slowly realizing that figuring out, putting the pieces together, and answering questions aren't what church is supposed to be about.
People I know have pointed out that in asking 100 people what church is supposed to look like, you would get 100 different answers. There are both positive and negative aspects to that. The positive is that we are diverse people, so the things that we think should be emphasized in the church are qualities that are personality driven, gifted passions from God to individuals. The negative side is that if our answers can't be summed up in loving the Lord and loving the body of Christ, we're missing the point.
The key to Jesus' words are that if we love Him we will follow His commandments. If we are in love with our Savior, our default setting will be obedience. It shouldn't be something we have to force ourselves into.
Certainly, lack of love is not a justification for disobedience, but how can we expect our church to be perfect when it's made up of believers who could never love Jesus enough?
Jesus asked us to love Him before He asked us to obey Him.
He knows that we cannot obey Him as we ought until we love Him as we ought.
I have been meeting off and on for the last year with an international student who is now a dear friend of mine, and as a baby Christian and as someone whose first language is not English, her understanding of the Bible is drastically different (but certainly not less) than mine.
When we were talking about 1 John 4, two things stood out to me:
1. "God is Love." (1 John 4:8)
Similar to how my friend's nationality is Chinese, God's love isn't conditional. In her words, love is His identity.
2. "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
I asked my friend what she thought that meant, and she understood it in such a personal, incommunicable way. This a paraphrase of what she said: "He loved me first. I didn't know God when I came here. But when I was in the airport, my host family told me they were praying for me. I knew that was powerful. And when I came back to America, I had no problems at the airport. I didn't know God, but He loved me first. He took care of me."
Having a sense of Christ's sacrifice is one aspect of how God loved us first, but that was before any of us were alive and could have loved Him. My friend recognizes, though, that God loved her first too in this very specific way, while she was having difficulty with her flights back to China, when she could have known Him and loved Him, but she didn't. He loved her first.
It is that kind of recognition that causes us to love. We love because He first loved us.
Also in 1 John 4 is a brief mention of the judgment seat of Christ. Naturally, my friend was confused by this, and being forced to talk about it in a way that made sense to her, in a way that didn't preach a salvation or security by works, taught me something about the judgment seat of Christ that I couldn't wrap my head around before.
Why is the day of judgment mentioned in this passage? What's the context? Love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:16b-17
"So that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus." Not because of what we do, but because of with what motivation we do what we do.
If we live in love, that is a clear indication that God lives in us.
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
Okay okay, everything I've said is common knowledge. I know I'm not breaking any new ground here. But try explaining how God is love and how we are to love in response to someone who is hearing it for the first time.
Even secular Americans know a lot about Christianity, but this isn't so with my friend from China. She does not have the kind of exposure that we have here, and I am so thankful for that (at least for her sake!). She is genuinely amazed by who God is and she doesn't know all the right answers or the Christianese language. Everything that comes out of her mouth is personal and sincere.
I think I'm learning more from my Bible studies with her than she is.
I learn by breaking concepts down that I've heard a million times. It forces me to sincerely consider and understand things I've known forever. Nothing is more awe-inspiring than that.
Secondly, her response to what we read brings me back to my first love (Revelation 2:4).
Instead of trying harder, smiling bigger, and doing more, we need to love harder, love bigger, and love more-- our Savior, who loved us first, and then, naturally, the body of Christ.
Our churches are going to be unrecognizable if we start loving Jesus more and loving each other better.