By Chuck Lawless
I was a young pastor, and I was sure everybody in the church was kind, gracious, and Christian. Everybody would treat everybody else with the love of God. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to learn that even in the church are people who don’t quite get there. Some people are really hard to love.
At the same time, I couldn’t avoid Jesus’ telling us to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). Nor could I run from New Testaments commands that we love one another (1 Thess. 4:9, 1 Pet. 1:22, 1 John 3:23). I would be lying to say I never struggle now, but I’ve learned something about loving others. Here are ten reasons why we must love even unlovable church members.
- God loves them. I take these words literally: “For God loved the world in this way. . . .” (John 3:16). He loves the arrogant church member, the person caught in sin, and the follower who denies Him. That’s the point: He who loves all of us with an amazing love expects us to love others similarly.
- We show the power of the gospel by loving all people. Jesus said our love for one another would be one way to show the world His love (John 13:34-35). The church is indeed a miracle – people from varied backgrounds and different races, all loving each other as a family brought together by the blood of Jesus. Being family means we must love even those who occasionally drive the family crazy.
- We live in Christian obedience when we show love toward all. Christian love, while not being devoid of emotion, is an active love, a doing love – evidenced by how we act toward others. Our faith does not allow us to say, “Because I just don’t love you any more, we can no longer be in relationship.” Rather, Christian love means we act as a Christian toward all people, even when our feelings aren’t there.
- Some unlovable church members need Jesus. Let’s face it: Jesus had a fake in His followers, and we’re not going to do better than He did. Among a church family are likely to be those who believe they’re Christian, but who never truly repented and believed. They sometimes act as non-believers act . . . because that’s who they are. They need to see genuine Christian love so they might recognize their need for Christ.
- Some unlovable church members are undiscipled believers acting like undiscipled people. Some believers have never been taught. Their churches led them to the Lord and baptized them, but they often did not pour themselves into these believers. Consequently, some church members are still babies in Christ, despite their years in the church. They need someone to help them see how much they need to grow – but it needs to be someone who truly loves them.
- Love motivates our praying for unlovable church members. We can’t change unlovable people. No program will fix the person who is power hungry or judgmental. Lasting transformation occurs only under the power of God – and that means we must pray for even the church members we like the least. To not pray for them is to be unloving; indeed, it may be to be more like them than we care to admit.
- Loving unlovable church members is an act of faith. Jesus called 12 men to follow Him, and they were not always lovable. They fought among themselves, didn’t always listen, and sought the best places in the kingdom. Still He loved them, knowing what the Father would do through them. We must love unlovable church members with that same kind of trust and faith.
- Unlovable people are often loners, and loners need help winning spiritual battles. The church of Jesus Christ is designed to be a body, a family, an army, a people of God. We have never been intended to fight battles alone; instead, we fight together, guarding one another’s back. Loving an unlovable church member is one way of helping him fight spiritual battles he’s likely losing on his own.
- Only genuine love allows us to carry out church discipline when needed. The time may come when a New Testament church must carry out the hard work of church discipline on an unlovable church member. When that happens, though, it must be motivated by, and carried out with, Christian love. Anything less becomes ungodly judgment.
- We are all sometimes unlovable. All of us sometimes act less than Christian. Maybe nobody sees it, and perhaps it doesn’t happen often – but it’s still un-Christlike. We, too, will have those days when we need undeserved love. Perhaps others will model then the love we’ve first shown them.