Church Life

The Oxymoron Church: Conditional, failing love

Love. It could be the most powerful verb in any language. When we love and then act out of love, the possibilities are endless.

God’s desire to love and be loved motivated Him to create the human race. Scripture proclaims: God is love. It also tells us how we are ambassadors of Christ. If Jesus is fully God and fully man, and we are His representatives on Earth, we are supposed to be representatives of love.

The love of God, which motivated Him to create the universe and to later send His only begotten Son for our salvation, sets a high bar. Souls are searching for this love when they come to church. If only the Oxymoron Church knew how to love.

Love is supposed to be the number one marker of a Jesus follower.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)

After teaching about the need for one another in the Body of Christ, Paul gave us his most famous portion of Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. To truly be the church we must learn to love. For no matter what we do, if love is not the driving force, it is all for nothing.

Regardless of how many Sundays you’ve been to church in a row, how much money you give, which Sunday School classes you taught, how many pastors you know, or how many years you have been a church member, if it was not motivated by love, it is as useful and valuable as a pile of trash.

The Oxymoron Church considers love to be lesser in value than earthly accolades. It prefers gold star status, plaques on the wall, pictures on the screen, first place in line at the potluck, and a chairperson’s seat on church committees. It demands honor and respect, and a say in the matters that matter. But it does not know how to love.

The unique love of God

If you are new to talking about love in the church context, we are looking at a very unique kind of love. The word for love in the original language, as it applies to this discussion, is agape.

According to one language expert, agape is “a purely Biblical and ecclesiastical word” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). This is important to note because of our tendency to try to fit the things of God into the understanding we already have.

The love we are supposed to have in the church cannot be compared to an earthly equivalent. it is uniquely heavenly. Agape is not just the love God has, but the love God is.

When Jesus told us to love one another, the example He gave us to follow is very specific. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV).

The love found in the Oxymoron Church is so earthly it shouldn’t surprise us when few, if any, are attracted to it. In some cases it falls below even earthly standards for love.

The truth about conditional love

A fundamental flaw in the Oxymoron Church’s love is how conditional it is. Though agape love is unconditional, oxymoron love is only dispersed sparingly to the few willing and able to fit the necessary criteria.

Conditional love is not love at all. It is a temporary stamp of approval. Though it takes a long time to earn, it can be revoked on a whim.

Because the one longing for love invests so much time and energy to obtain it, this love is extremely important to them. They sacrifice, change, squirm, and wiggle to fit the mold desired, purchasing the love at high personal cost.

What often goes unrealized is how those giving the love consider it of so little value. Deep inside they know it is not really love. They want you to work hard at earning it, but if you falter from their standards, it means nothing to tear their love away from you.

The agape love of Jesus stands opposed to the conditional love of the Oxymoron Church. He loves all, even those who refuse to accept His love. He gives without thought of receiving anything in return. He has paid all that is necessary, making it both extremely valuable because of its cost, yet available to any who will receive it.

There are times when a church gets close to offering unconditional love, but one sticky point often gets me frustrated by their attempt.

Churches try to use “acts of love” as a marketing technique. They will do something to show love to a family or community, but with the motivation of winning them over to attend their church or to increase number of salvation decisions.

It sounds good, but this isn’t really love. Jesus ministered to so many, not to win them over, but because He loved them. He even knew many would turn away from Him and reject His message. Until we learn to act without expectation of response, our good deeds are not acts of love.

Love that holds with care

Just as flawed as demanding conditions for love is allowing it to fail. “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8a). This phrase appears in a paragraph showing how elements we consider spiritual will eventually end, but love never will. Yet it isn’t enough to say, “Love never ends.”

The word Paul used for “fails” means to fall or drop. I think of the responsibility I had to hold on to my children when they were young, and how afraid I was to drop them. You hold on to your children so they do not fall. In the same way, we hold each other up by our love. Or, our love fails and we drop one another, let each other fall.

Too many believers want a lesser love than agape love. They prefer a love where we all mind our own business, where we can all choose which parts of Scripture we want to agree with, and one that allows them to bring harm to themselves and the church.

When met with discipline, told they cannot hold a position, or are faced with consequences for disruptive behavior, they condemn the church or pastor for not being examples of love and grace.

The love of Christ is not what they are looking for: “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6 NIV). The trick to being open to a love that corrects and rebukes, is to have a love that trusts and receives.

Like the liberty of Christ is not a license to live in sin, the love of the church is not a license to be destructive to the Body as a whole or the individuals within it.

Love, though powerful, is also complicated. But without the love of Christ, the church is not the church.

It is love that motivates us to minister and serve, as much as it leads us to worship. Without love all we are doing is making noise and we become a members only club with a creed. There are a lot of gold stars and assigned seats, but little life change or hope.

Those who are lost in this world without love, who work so hard to receive it in the various circles of their lives, aren’t supposed to work for it in the church. The true church has its arms wide open with God’s unique agape love.