Love the Church over Its Health

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This one goes out to the doctrine lovers. The ones with opinions about church.

There’s a temptation you and I are susceptible to: we can love our vision of what a church should be more than we love the people who constitute it. We can be like the unmarried man who loves the idea of a wife, but who marries a real woman and finds it harder to love her than the idea of her.

I remember overhearing a church elder complain about a family who let their unbaptized children receive the Lord’s Supper. What struck me was the elder’s tone. It was contemptuous, as in, “The fools!” It felt like this elder loved his vision of the biblical church more than he loved those individuals. But these people were untaught sheep. Of course, they don’t know better. And God had given them this elder not so that he would complain about them, but so that he would love them toward a better understanding.

How easy it is to respond like this elder.

When Christ died for the church, He made it His own. He identified it with Himself. That’s why persecuting the church is persecuting Christ (Acts 9:5) and why sinning against an individual Christian is sinning against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12; cf. 6:15). Individually and corporately, we represent Him.

This means that Christ has put His name on immature Christians, on Christians who wrongly give their unbaptized children communion, on Christians who love shallow praise songs, and on you and me. He says, “They represent Me. Sin against them and you sin against Me.”

How wide, long, high, and deep Christ’s love is! He places His own identity and glory on the immature and the untaught and the unhealthy like us.

And so we should love one another within a church. We share one another’s glories and sorrows. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). We have taken on the same family name, and so we are now brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:50; Eph. 2:19). If you insult my brother, you insult me. If you defraud my sister, you defraud me.

Loving our brothers and sisters involves working for their health. But we love them whether they are healthy or not.

To say that we should love the church over its health means this: we should love people because they belong to Christ, not because they have kept the law of a healthy church, even though that law may be good and biblical. It means we should love them because of what Christ has done and declared, not because of what they do.

Remember the words of the prodigal’s father to the older brother: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31–32). So we also should celebrate over all those whom Christ brings in to His people.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.