It’s complicated. I don’t know who first coined the description but in an era where millions use Facebook to define their lives it has become the go to description for relationships that just aren’t working as they should. Any time I see a friend set their status to ‘It’s complicated’ I start to worry about them; it’s not that I don’t recognise that life is complicated, but rather that when a relationship is defined by its complications that’s usually a very negative situation. What really saddens me is when people seem to have a relationship to the church that they’d define in the same way.
There are no two ways about it; if we are followers of Christ then we should love the church. No excuses, no sighing and saying that it’s complicated and then going a little bit evasive on the subject. A follower of Christ who doesn’t love the church is a paradox that can’t be sustained. Either we are drawn irresistibly into the life of a church, or we drift away from following him with all our heart. There can be no middle ground where we flirt with church and hook up for occasional dates, no grey area where we have one Sunday stands and then don’t get seen again for another month or two.
About thirty years after Christ, Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus about the nature of love. He wanted to describe to them the way in which a man should love his wife, to get past society’s expectation of marriage as being about property and duty and explain that it was so much more. So what did he use as an example?
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
– Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)
This passage is often used in marriage classes and relationship books but I want to look at it from the other angle. Paul was looking for an analogy that people would understand – that’s just how analogies work, you explain something your audience doesn’t know by talking about it’s likeness to something they do. The fact that Christ loved the church was already such common knowledge that it could be used in this way. Today we are often aware of the marriage ideal, even if it is sometimes rejected in our society, but people can be less aware of the example that inspired it; the fact that Christ loved the church with so much passion that He gave himself up for her.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
– 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV)
There is a call on our lives to follow Christ, it’s central to the very idea of being a Christian. There are so many scriptures that talk about this idea of being transformed into His likeness. If loving the church is a central part of who Christ is then it must become a central part of who we are. The idea that we can be Christ like without having this love is totally incorrect. To be like Him we must love His church. This still applies when we’re having a bad day and still holds strong if the Pastor says something that gets on up in our comfort zone. It applies if we aren’t the biggest fan of a particular guest speaker. Heck, it even applies if we think that one of the leaders looked at us funny and assume that we must have done something to upset them. It’s in the love relationship with church that our lives will flourish.
Loving the church changes everything. It’s a continual choice. When Paul talks about Christ loving the church it’s not just an emotional response or even brotherly love, he uses the word agapate. It is a very specific type of love, it’s a type of love that only believers have. It longs for, it takes pleasure in, but it is rooted in a reasoned choice to choose and prefer the things of God. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon further describes it as “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it”. You don’t wake up one day and find you stopped loving the church unless in the preceding season you’ve decided to abandon the reasoning and choices that the love was rooted in from the start. It is a relationship and should be treated that way. As the saying goes, if the grass starts to look greener elsewhere then it’s time to water your lawn.
Peter exhorts us in his first letter to “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins”. That doesn’t say that love endorses a multitude of sins but rather that it covers them. When you don’t have that connection of love then any little thing you don’t like becomes a big deal. Have you ever noticed that someone you love can do something you aren’t so keen on and yet you forgive them, if it even registers at all, and no offence is taken? Love recognises that we’ve all made mistakes, every last one of us, and that the core of the gospel is grace. When we have that love for each other in church, we’ll find that keeping the unity that is essential is so much easier. We find that our response to each other’s mistakes is grace and love and a welcoming spirit. Love really does change everything.
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 11:2 (ESV)
We can’t live our lives in an ‘it’s complicated’ style relationship with the church. We are called to be planted, we are called to be in love, we are called to be the bride of Christ. If we don’t love the church now, how are we going to spend eternity together? If your relationship status with church is set to single or it’s complicated, why not take the steps to change that now? Make that reasoned choice that you’re going to be part of the bride of Christ and watch as your life flourishes because of it. It’s in the love relationship with church that our lives grow.