Is Loving Christ the First Love of the Church?

I want to write a follow-up to the post I wrote last week on what I believe to be the source and solution of the problems in the church. I want to say again how much I appreciate everyone who participated in the discussion and particularly the grace with which you did.

In the discussion that followed the post, we began to look at what is involved in worship and whether or not the “first love” of the church is actually love for Jesus. Some very good ideas and arguments were presented from a variety of viewpoints.

I think we can all agree that love for God and love for the brethren are inseparably linked. I think the question that remains is, are they one and the same?

While the two are closely linked, I believe there is a distinction between loving God and loving people. I listed several reasons why I believe this in one of my comments, let me briefly reiterate some of those reasons now.

1.  It is possible for unbelievers to have a degree of love for one another, but I believe that only believers can love one another in the way that God has prescribed. Thus, a relationship with God is a pre-requisite for loving the brethren.

2.  When asked about the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:35-39), Jesus first named loving God, then listed loving the brethren. He even made a distinction between the two, calling the one the “first and great commandment” and the other “the second”.

3.  In John 15, Jesus spoke of His disciples loving Him first, then gave the commandment to love each other.

4.  In I John 1, John begins the epistle (which many think was written to the Ephesian church) by describing his close relationship with Christ, then expressing his desire to fellowship with others based upon that relationship.

Now having given those reasons, let me say that our love for Christ will not be fulfilled until we love the brethren. I would never want to discount our love for one another. Those who have read my series of posts on I John from last year will know the value that I place upon koinonia and agape. But love begins with our love for Christ.

It is only when I am walking in love with Christ that I will be able to love the brethren in the way that God wants me to love. I think we could describe this as vertical love/fellowship and horizontal love/fellowship. The vertical, of course, is our relationship with Christ while the horizontal is our relationship with others.

We could illustrate this concept by comparing it to the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Ideally, when aiming a scope, the vertical crosshairs need to be straight up and down which by default causes the horizontal crosshairs to be properly aligned. When the crosshairs are properly lined up, the target will be hit. I learned this lesson the hard way last deer season when I missed a nice buck trying to shoot it from a cock-eyed angle.

When my love for Christ (vertical) is properly aligned, it will cause my love for the brethren (horizontal) to be properly aligned as well. In this way, they are inseparably linked, yet the focus is on Christ. When both are properly aligned, we will hit the target of glorifying Christ in the church.

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10 responses to “Is Loving Christ the First Love of the Church?

  1. I agree. The two are distinct yet inseparable. The first will inevitably produce the second. Neither is perfected without the other.

    Good post.

  2. Gordon, excellent post. I also enjoyed the discussion on getting to the root of the problem a few days ago.

    I can’t help but think that this is a bit of a chicken and egg problem since both love for God and love for fellow man are so intertwined in Christianity. (Yes, there are limits to the extent that the analogy can be applied.)

    I liked your analogy of the spiral: loving God helps us to love our fellow man more deeply. Loving our fellow man helps us to love God more deeply. To that extent, does it matter which of those “loves” came first to start someone in that spiral? What I mean is this: for me personally, I needed to love God first in order to truly love my fellow man. That’s how I needed to enter the spiral. However, I do know people who had a deep love for their fellow man first that led to a deep love for God.

    But again, once one enters that spiral, the love for God and for your fellow man will feed off the other and grow.

  3. To that extent, does it matter which of those “loves” came first to start someone in that spiral?

    This is an excellent question, byevad. Thanks for presenting it. I believe that it is possible for a Christian to “stall”, if you will in their progression in the spiral. That is, they can become focused on one aspect of love to the exclusion of the other. I believe this is what happened to the Ephesian church. Their works were commended by God, and yet they were told to return to their first love.

    We can apply the Martha/Mary situation here. There are times when we should serve others, and there are times when we need to sit at the feet of Jesus (the head of the church). I am convinced that our love for others must come from the overflow of our love for Jesus, otherwise our love for others will become empty and dry.

    By the same token, if our love for Jesus doesn’t cause us to love others, then our worship of Christ is not sincere.

  4. Let me simply say a hearty AMEN to your last paragraph. I personally do not feel that the traditional church setting is what He had in mind when He started this whole church thing however too many believers out there think that re-focusing the church’s view toward its members and the world is the answer…it is not…only a stedfast view of Christ will suffice. Oh that I we would “see” Christ and as your brothers on the road to Emmaus experienced…our hearts would burn within us and from there would be a great outpouring of Him to our brothers and sisters and to the world.

  5. Tim A. Blankenship

    Gordon,
    Great words there. I find myself in full agreement with you.
    There is one thing we know for sure, and that is that God loved us first. Without that we could not love at all.

  6. Gordon, as one who has “stalled” out before, I whole heartedly agree! A little bit of balance goes a long way.

  7. JG, I think we are on the same page where passion for Christ is concerned.

    Bro. TA, thanks for your thoughts. You are absolutely correct that our love is a response to God loving us.

    Byevad, thanks so much for your part in the discussion. It’s always good to have you around.

  8. Hope you will read my blog: The Meshubah Church. God bless, Tim Leonard

  9. A truth I have found in the Bible is that God relates Truth in accordance to “His omniscience” (i.e. if the One who is all knowing says first love God and then says love your neighbor) then it is clear to me (of limited knowledge) which is the starting sequence! Remember, we grow towards Heaven like tall trees seeking the light … But then again, even though they grow taller than they are wide above ground, their route system in the earth equals the height and width of their branches below ground. Therefore it seems we must be equally rooted (spiritually above ground toward heaven and physically below in the earth with our fellow man. Please note also, that we are to love our “neighbor” as our self and not just our brother in Christ as our self.
    Respectfully submitted, Peter

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