As part of normal life maintenance, I often ponder what sort of church I want to call home for me and my family. This is by no means an indictment against our current congregation! Instead, I classify this as a regular maintenance activity to determine if our faith routines have drifted off course or out of specification – a kicking of the tires and reading of the oil dipstick, if you will.
Some of the attributes are obvious: our church must be Christ-centered and Bible-based. No argument there! The characteristics to which I am referring may seem equally concrete at first but are in fact much more difficult to pin-down to specifics beyond a handful of broad brush statements – some positive and others negative – supported by healthy doses of explanation and outright preference. This is much deeper than the style of worship music (or lack thereof), the frequency with which communion is celebrated or even the question of whether blue jeans are acceptable Sunday morning attire. In a nutshell, I’m seeking a church that loves with confidence.
As it should be, love is a primary ingredient in any healthy church. Paul summarizes this absolute truth in 1 Corinthians 13, but due to the world’s uncanny ability to muddy what should be crystal clear, the apostle also weaves a series of clarifying caveats into this seminal chapter. What I seek follows a similar pattern. I want to attend a church that demonstrates godly love to such a degree that its members are inspired to be everything God created them to be, other congregations cite as an example of what they aspire to become and non-believers cannot help but be curious about what’s going on. While correction is appropriate at some points in time, fire and brimstone should not be the norm. We serve a God who loves us, has our best interests in mind and wants us to willingly approach Him. Proper, heavenly love will also never paper over sin or characterize knowledge as an acceptable substitute for faith, and it refuses to advance a worldly lifestyle of health, wealth and stealth. As Paul instructs, love is patient and kind, but it is not self-serving and should never be used to induce trauma or incite a war.
Love is indeed supreme, but the means by which that love is exchanged between believers and carried to the outside world is of critical importance, too. If love is what believers are to do, then with confidence is how we are to do it. Here is a trustworthy saying: Jesus already won the ultimate contest between life and death, and we’re on His side! So why don’t we act like winners – not smug or cocky, as is vogue today; but confident, as Jesus modeled. He could have condemned the woman caught in adultery and put her accusers to public shame, but instead He patiently taught His adversaries a powerful lesson and gently instructed the woman to sin no more (John 8:1-11). In the garden of Gethsemane, more than twelve legions of angels were at His disposal to vanquish those who intended to do Him harm (Matthew 26:53-54), but He willingly went like a sheep to the slaughter. Soon after, He was cruelly challenged to come down from the cross (Matthew 27:39-43), but He gave up His spirit and died for our sins. Jesus had complete confidence in His Father’s plan and refused to be lured into petty debates and self-righteous “I win, you lose” demonstrations. Has this lesson been lost on modern believers? Do we win converts to Christ with angry political rhetoric, back-biting comments and a lust for personal revenge? Indeed, we are specifically instructed to be subject to our leaders (Romans 13:1-7), abstain from gossip (multiple references in Proverbs) and yield to God for the administration of vengeance (Deuteronomy 32:35). Does God need our help to defend Him? If we truly believe He knows all and is in control of all, then it may be wise to consider diverting a good portion of the resources we currently expend on air-tight apologetics and fiery blog comments toward the practice of placing our confidence in the simple fulfillment of the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). In today’s world, it is so easy – convenient even – to lash out in frustration at sin and ungodly attitudes. As Christians we must resist this urge and follow the example Christ laid-out for us.
Older married couples are a prime example of loving with confidence. They implicitly know that each has the other’s best interests in mind and understand completely that there is no need to defend who or what they are to others. They love with confidence. A church modeled in the same fashion would be one that anyone would be proud to call their home.