Pat Harrison, President & Founder
Whenever I share on love, someone usually points out that Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes “whited sepulchers” (Matt. 23:27) and that He used a whip to drive the money changers and vendors from the temple. How can that be love?
Others will cite examples from the Old Testament of God’s disciplining the Israelites or His instructions to destroy completely their enemies as proof that God isn’t all love. They can’t equate those actions with love. To them love is a feeling accompanied by goose bumps and starry-eyed looks, and it means you never have to say “I’m sorry” (the line from the 1970 movie Love Story). Unfortunately, they don’t understand God or His nature because they haven’t developed a relationship with Him. They haven’t prayerfully and carefully studied His Word and asked the Holy Spirit for revelation of what they have read.
Jesus said that the world would know us by our love. As Dr. Autry so eloquently points out in this month’s It’s Greek to Me, in general people know Christians BEFORE they get to know Christ. In other words, people experience Jesus Christ—the greatest revelation of God’s love—in believers before they experience Him personally. That is why walking in agape love is vital to kingdom increase.
A local church that doesn’t manifest the love and compassion of Christ isn’t going to grow spiritually. I know that statement is hard to swallow, but it’s truth. We need to examine our lives and our ministries to see if they pass the love test. Let me say it again: I’m not talking about the starry-eyed, ooey-gooey kind of love. I’m talking about agape love.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating: If your faith isn’t working, check up on your love walk. I would add this: If you have a problem obeying God, check up on your love relationship with Him. If you have a problem with unholy anger, check up on your love walk. Honestly, if we are having any problem with carnality, our fleshly or soulish man, it can be traced back to our knowledge (limited, incomplete) of the Father God, His love for us, and all that He has done for us in Christ Jesus.
One thing I should probably say right here is this: I am not saying that a church which walks in agape love will be perfect and never have any problems or issues. Until Jesus returns to earth again, there will be problems. That is part of living in a fallen world. But a congregation that is walking in agape love is a congregation that chooses to practice forgiveness, humility, compassion, repentance, restoration, and reconciliation. In other words, it’s a church that treats people as Jesus would.
What should a church that is walking in the agape love and compassion of God look like? Let’s look at what shouldn’t be happening in a local church by examining the behavior of the Corinthian church.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul began by calling them “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “saints.” “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2-3 NKJV).
This is a church that knows how to walk in agape love, right? Not quite. They were sanctified in Christ and were saints; that is what Jesus accomplished with His death, burial, and resurrection. But they had to learn how to walk out what they already were. Thus, Paul wrote them a lengthy letter to explain how the love of God is supposed to manifest among believers.
How did Paul know the Corinthians weren’t walking in agape love? They had division and strife.
When believers are not walking in agape love, you will find division and disunity. Everybody wants to do their own thing, rather than God’s thing. Division comes from a Greek word that was used to describe a coat that had been torn and was a mess. When division and strife enter, a church becomes a mess. Instead of being a place where people can go for healing and hope, it becomes a place they avoid.
In verses 10-17 of chapter 1, Paul pointed out the Corinthians’ lack of unity.
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (NKJV).
Some of the Corinthians were saying, “Paul’s teaching, that’s it. That’s what we need.”
Others were saying, “Give us Peter. He walked with Jesus. He can tell us stories of what happened at Galilee. He was there. Give us Peter. We don’t need Paul.”
Then they had Apollos, a brilliant intellect. “Give us Apollos, a man who can open up the scripture to us.”
The Corinthian church was breaking up into these little camps, emphasizing one teacher to the exclusion of others. Because they didn’t understand the agape love of God, because they didn’t understand that God gave them all these different teachers so that they could grow in their relationship with Him and come into the fullness that He desires for His people (Eph. 4:13), they were forming cliques. Isn’t that what happens in junior high and high school? Aren’t we supposed to mature beyond that? You would think so, but it happened then, and it continues to happen in churches today.
We may not appreciate a particular minister’s style of preaching. If you have the gift of teaching, you probably enjoy others with a similar gifting. If you have the gift of an evangelist, you probably prefer a more enthusiastic, charismatic demonstration. But God sets in the church all gifts, and all are needed.
Each person has his own personality and administration of the call of God, and the Body needs them all in order to have the mind of Christ. We need the pastors, evangelists, teachers, apostles and prophets in our churches (Eph. 4:11). We need those with the gifts of serving, helping, hospitality, giving, and so on to serve the congregations (Rom. 12:3-8). How can we ever mature in faith and patience and agape love, if we never encounter situations and people that require us to exercise our faith and patience and love?
What did Paul tell the Corinthians about their division and disunity? He told them to stop thinking and judging like the world does. That’s what he meant in verses 18-31 of chapter 1. He said that Christ is the power and wisdom of God (vs. 24). “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord” (vs. 31 NLT). In chapter 2, verse 16, in effect Paul was saying, “When you put all those teachers together (Paul, Peter, and Apollos), you get the fullness of Christ. Yes, I have something to give, but so do Peter and Apollos.”
Great things were happening in the church at Corinth. The gifts of the Spirit were in manifestation (1 Cor. 14), which means people were experiencing healing, deliverance from demonic oppression, freedom from bondages, and all kinds of miracles. Because a move of the Holy Ghost always attracts the curious, people were coming in and getting saved.
Because the devil is who he is, he will attempt to stop the move of God. His tactics haven’t changed since the Garden of Eden. He sowed doubt and division in Adam and Eve, and he is still trying to sow doubt and division among God’s people today.
The devil works to destroy relationships because fractured relationships hinder the plan and purpose of God. Now, the devil can’t stop God’s plan and purpose. Ultimately, God’s plan will be accomplished. But the devil’s tactics will cause heartache, slow things down, and even move some people out of the positions God has for them.
How do you deal with division and disunity in the church?
- Pray. Nothing is more important than your relationship with the Lord. You should have daily devotional time with Him so that you are maturing in your walk with Him.
Praying in the Holy Spirit is key to knowing how to lead your congregation. Jesus called the Holy Spirit our Helper and the Spirit of truth. Because He is God, the Holy Spirit knows the future and knows what people are going through, and He will reveal things to you.
Pray the prayers Paul prayed. These are awesome prayers to pray for yourself and your congregation. For the sake of space, I’ll just quote from the books of 1 Corinthians and Ephesians.
He told the Corinthians, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God. . .you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and knowledge. . .so that you come short in no gift. . .that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-8).
To the Ephesians, he wrote, “making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:16-19).
He also prayed, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).
At times I have taken the books of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians and prayed through them.
- Teach your congregation about the love and character of God and how to walk as the “elect of God, holy and beloved,” the one who has “put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:12-13).
- Demonstrate the love of God.
- Teach your people to respect, honor, and value all human life and the gifts and graces that God has given to each person (Rom. 12:3-8).
- In love, confront strife, division, and disunity. Don’t think that they will just go away if you ignore them. The longer you prolong the confrontation, the worse the situation will become. You’re the pastor. You have a responsibility to lead the sheep, and that means exposing the enemy’s lies and tactics.
These are the steps that Paul followed with the Corinthians. He prayed for them. By using the example of the human body, he showed them the foolishness of strife and division. He answered their questions, and in love confronted every issue that was tearing the church apart. He taught them about love and encouraged them to be selfless servants of one another and examples in their community.
In his closing, he told them, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love (agape). . .My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Cor. 16:13-24).
My beloved FCF minister, let all that you do be done in the love of God. My love be with you.