Loving the Church

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35 NIV
“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15: 17 NIV

Of all Jesus’s teachings, this one is one of the most important as Jesus did not just commission us, or demonstrate for us, or teach us, he commanded us. It is therefore crucial for us to frequently check in with Him on how we are doing when it comes to truly loving His church.

First off, I say the above while being guilty myself of not loving the church as well as I should. I have felt hurt, and instead of turning to Jesus, I have turned to others to gain sympathy and vent my feelings. I have felt indignant towards a congregant member’s behaviour and have actively judged them. I have even judged the church at large; other denominations that don’t align with how I believe we should be living out scripture. The worst part is, I have then voiced those judgements to unbelievers because of a misguided belief that I’m helping to point them to Jesus, ‘Don’t look at the church — especially that church and those Christians!’ While the church and Christians have been a massive stumbling block for unbelievers, what we often forget is that loving the church and our fellow Christians despite their flaws — especially when they hurt us — is the perfect opportunity to go against the ways of the world and demonstrate what difference faith in Jesus makes.

So how do we evaluate and grow our love for the church?


Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 NIV

My husband shared with me an amazing experience he had at church, whereby he looked around at his fellow congregants during worship. He suddenly felt a profound compassion for the sins, struggles and hurts that all people carry and he was moved to an overwhelming love for each and every one of the congregants in the room with him. He believes it was a moment that was enabled by the Holy Spirit and it was a glimpse into how God sees and loves all of us.

When we come to understand that the church is made up of mere humans like us and are therefore distinct from the world only by the fact that they have accepted the salvation of Jesus, we will learn to understand and care for them the way we understand and care for ourselves. If we could permanently see and love them as God sees and loves us, then this would be no effort at all. But we can not do this in our own power, and we need to go to the one who has an unending supply of love for the church, to equip us in loving her.

We show our love and compassion for one another by being there for each other in significant times whether they be happy or grievous, by listening to each other’s troubles and by praying for one another. We also love each other by helping one another grow in our faith, and this means sometimes having difficult conversations. Many mistakenly think that actively caring means saying yes to every request that is made, but we must remember that there are times when the more caring thing to do is to say no in case our help would be enabling a wayward sin in a fellow Christian. This is why relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our compassion will allow for us to love our fellow Christians in a way that is helpful rather than detrimental to their faith.

Offense: When we are the offended

If we were able to feel the compassion that Jesus felt for people on a permanent basis, we probably wouldn’t struggle with offense within the church, because we would already understand the frailty of our fellow Christians — including elders — who are also subject to sin and therefore can offend.

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11 NIV

In this world, it is our instinct when someone offends us to defend ourselves, lash out in an equally hurtful way so as not to appear weak, or to quietly hold them in contempt, all of which will lead to discord within the church. But this is not the love that Jesus demonstrated for us, and nor is it what he condones, especially when it comes to our fellow Christians. We forget that unbelievers are observing us more than we think, so when we allow an offense to distance us from church or a fellow Christian, we are not demonstrating our faith which should be rooted in the validation of God alone.

Some may see the attitude of forgiving offenses and not retaliating as weak, but this is not true, just as the phrase, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ from the children’s hymn is not true. Jesus was not gentle, meek, and mild when He called out the hypocrisy of the pharisees nor when He drove out the money changers from the temple, and He certainly won’t be gentle, meek and mild when He returns, but that’s a discussion for another day. Following Jesus’ example of humility and forgiveness of one’s offenders is not weak. It takes more strength to hold one’s tongue than it does to let the words pour out in anger. It takes more strength to love and forgive than it does to hate. It certainly takes more strength to stay and persevere, than it does to shut out and run away.

When we choose to work through an offense with God and rebuild relationships in the church even when we are the offended, we are going directly against the ways of the world and in so doing shine Jesus’ light for those who may be observing from the sidelines. But more importantly, we are following Jesus’ example of love in the face of animosity: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34

When we persevere in the face of offense, we are embracing the opportunity for powerful sanctification as God works within us and sharpens an authentic faith that looks to God alone, and not people. Conversely, when we allow that offense to drive a wedge between us and the church or a fellow brother or sister, we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by pride and a need for people’s affirmation.

Offense: When we are the offenders

It is also often the world’s attitude that if someone is offended or hurt by something we have said or done – but we don’t see it as being wrong – that it’s their problem and it is not for us to apologise or acknowledge their feelings. However, this is not Jesus’ teaching:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5: 23-24 NIV

Admitting to wrong or offering an apology can be very hard for many as it makes you vulnerable, but our resistance to vulnerability is often an indication of pride, which we know is not acceptable to God, and therefore we should be looking to embrace opportunities to grow and rid ourselves of pride. While at times we may not be at fault and instead were messengers of a hard truth, it is loving to be willing to acknowledge the feelings of the receiver, and therefore apologising will never be un-Godly.


Of course, we won’t get to practice compassion or dealing with offense and thereby experience the fullness of sanctification if we are not in fellowship. We also can not display our love for the church if we are not in fellowship. But most importantly, we can not know the fullness of relationship with Jesus if we are not in fellowship.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25 NIV

The church as seen as the bride of Christ is a theme that runs throughout the New Testament. Yet there are too many of us who live in isolation from the church; we believe we can still experience a deep relationship with Jesus without the church. While an individual relationship is important, we cannot experience the full freedom of relationship with Jesus if we don’t actively love His church.

Jesus compares His love for the church as the love of a husband for His bride. How do you build a deep relationship with a man truly in love with his wife if you refuse to see or speak to her? There would be no freedom in your relationship because he would not be able to share the joy in his heart that he feels for his wife knowing that it’s one that you can’t genuinely appreciate; there would always be certain things that would be off-limits in your relationship because he would be forced to choose either you or his wife to share the moment. Similarly, we can not experience the full freedom and shared joy of Jesus if we live apart from his church.

Lord Jesus, please forgive me for all the times when I have not loved the church as I should, when I have avoided fellowship or when I’ve played a part in sowing discord, even unknowingly. Please guide me in my relationship with the church and fellow Christians so that I may experience an even deeper relationship with you. I love you, and I choose to love your bride. Amen.

1 Comment
  • Kate Walsh
    Posted at 12:47h, 12 April Reply

    Thank you so much for this post Angela! We always benefit from encouragement to love our church. Love the revelation your husband received during worship….beautiful.

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