As the pastor of a relatively small church who is always looking at the condition of not only the congregation I lead, but to investigate the history of churches that have seen divisions, splits, and much more. Since long before I was ever called to ministry, I have “suffered” from a constant yearning to know “why” and “how”. It is just part of my core being.
As a pastor, I try to grasp the whys and whats of a church’s history – why people join or leave a church, why young people (as much are wringing their hands today over) seem to be leaving churches in alarming numbers, and even why a church might split. Part of that ongoing series of quests is a look at the problem of swollen church membership rolls – that often include names that possibly no current member even knows the identity of! I believe one of the core problems (or diseases) responsible for a lot of these symptoms and issues is a spiritual issue – and in many cases, the problem is unregenerate church membership.
Bear with me for a bit – as this will take a few steps to explain. You see, Jesus assembled His church – that first local church (as Christ’s Church is nearly always referred to) in Israel – a “church” that moved around following Him until He returned to His rightful place in Heaven. That church settled in Jerusalem where it gained the respect – dare say even admiration from their neighbors (Acts 2:47 records that they had favor with all the people). What inspired this period of favor (that also appears to have drawn people to Christ – and thus to be saved?) – the relationship these members of that first church had with each other – they were:
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ACTS 2:44-47)
Quite simply, their love for one another was such that they made sure everyone in need had their needs met (through sacrificial giving), worshipped God gladly and sincerely, and were day-by-day (regularly, even daily meeting together including fo worship). This early church was demonstrating what Jesus identified as one of the biggest of hallmarks of being a genuine Christ-follower:
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
The word love here comes from the same Greek word (ἀγάπη – agapaō the same self-scarificing love Jesus demonstrated on behalf of His sheep on the cross! And this is the exact same term translated as love in the source passage for my tltle today:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)
This is the same love that Peter wrote of in 1 Peter 4:8 to the church under great persecution: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
I have long chewed on the concept of “love covers a multitude of sins”. A genuine, personal, self-sacrificing love for your brothers & sisters in Christ overcomes/covers more sins than we can comprehend – just as Jesus’ perfect demonstration of this same kind of self-sacrificing love covered 100% of the sins of every person who would ever trust Jesus alone for Salvation – His sheep. We are called, time and again, to have and to demonstrate self-sacrificing love, beginning with our “brethren”. It is this same love that drives a God-called pastor to fulfill the charge Paul had for Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to be ready in and out of season to REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT. Indeed, anyone claiming to be a pastor who is unwilling to reprove (put to the proof – point out error based on proof), rebuke – to boldly address, call out, to put/shut down errors, and to exhort – to call to action/correction – literally to plead with urgency for change. A pastor who loves his (Christ’s) people is willing to stand on Scripture and to take the steps necessary to correct those in error (sin, as well as doctirnal/theological errors).
And out of love for Christ and love for their brethren (including such a pastor), born-again church members should desire and even be glad to receive such correction with a right attitude.
Likewise – even a pastor with the best of intentions can make an error, and should have such a love that he can take correction with gladness.
Within the local church – genuine, intentional discipleship begins when members have this same self-sacrificing love tha they are willing to invest of themselves and their time to walk side-by-side with fellow believers to teach, lead, and help mature those believers.
It is the same kind of unselfish love that will draw together a local church as nothing else will – and will actually attract those around them who need to experience that same kind of love.
And it is this same love that will lead the born-again to regularly assemble together to worship God, to grow spriritually, and to edify their brethren – and lead you to not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25).
Which brings us full circle to the title verse – and the sobering reality penned by John under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John – that we boil down as beign able to identify thsoe who are not abiding in life (Christ) by their lack of love for the brethren.
Do you love your fellow Christians? Does that love cover a “multitude of sins” – aka when they mess up, as humans do? Do you desire to be WITH Christians – beginning with the regular meetings for corporate worship as the local church, but also that you would spend a significant portion of your life with fellow chrisitans sacrificially giving to them of your time and self (disicpleship)? Does the church you are a member of have a pastor who loves you enough to be willing to deal with the real and hard issues and to reprove, rebuke, exhort the body to follow Scirpture?
Or do you abide in death?