How Does the Church Show Caring Love Today
How indeed? The short (though true) answer is this: in the same way that it has always done. And what is that? According to the Scriptures. In the precise manner laid down in the Word of God. But we need to say more. Our brief is to answer the question of our title from Romans 12-16, majoring upon the mutual love of the brethren, but addressing also the overflow of Christian love to those who do not belong to the church of Christ. In the interests of article space, I would invite readers to have their Bibles to hand, in order to look up the references as we go along.
Caring love should always be a badge, a mark, an adornment of every Christian and every church. This is no optional extra. We are at the heart of Christian life and testimony. This is a holy exercise.
1. The doctrinal foundation of showing caring love
This is given to us in Romans 12:1-2: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’. The apostle’s choice of verb (‘I beseech you, appeal to you, exhort you, urge you’) carries a mixture of both apostolic authority and apostolic passion. Here is a man ablaze with Christ and ablaze for Christ. Four things strike us from his words:
The mercies of God
The previous chapters of Romans have dwelt much upon the divine mercies (the word here is in the plural). They constitute one of the strongest motives to us to live to God’s glory. So what Paul says is this: as you live as converted people, sinners saved by grace – as you work out your Christian faith in both general and detailed practice day by day – as you function as congregations of God’s whole church, always keep God’s mercies in view. Reflect continually upon how God has dealt with you, and deal with one another and others accordingly.
This is what our bodies (standing here for our whole beings) are to be, because all we are and have belongs to God. We are not to be half-hearted, two-timing or insincere. Christ lives in us and we live in him.
Our ‘spiritual worship’ or ‘reasonable service’
The call is to wholehearted devotion to the Lord. Anything less would be totally inadequate and (worse still) dishonouring and disobedient to God, and falling far short of how we should be, live and love as Christians.
How important our minds are as Christians! They are totally renewed and increasingly transformed by the Holy Spirit, and so captive to the Word of God. An inward change has taken place which issues in outward action.
2. The practical expression of showing caring love
Here is a series of concrete examples in their order of appearance in our Romans chapters.
A sober view of self
With this attitude and outcome: always being ready to take the lower place. 12:3 is the key verse here: ‘For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith’. This ties in absolutely with Christ’s own teaching in passages such as Mark 10:44f and John 13:16. High-mindedness, thinking well of ourselves, promoting our own interests, conceit, jealousy, walking over all others in order to draw attention or praise to ourselves, is the very opposite of what befits a Christian as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let there be, in the church of Christ, no seeking of the personal pre-eminence, but a readiness and willingness to be the servants of all.
The appeals of 12:12: ‘continuing instant in prayer’, and 15:30: ‘Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me’, ring out loud and clear. The call is to persistence in prayer – not only for ourselves but for one another as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We shall never love one another as we ought if we neglect prayer for one another. And put it this way as well: if we pray for one another, how can we not love one another? It will be all the more difficult to fall out with, despise, or wish or do ill to one another, when we have got up from our knees having prayed for one another. Mutual prayerfulness is a valuable guard for Christian love.
Meeting temporal necessities
We must not miss 12:13a: ‘Distributing to the necessity of saints’ – a relief ministry, so that there are not those in the fellowship who are in great need and so experiencing distress when we have it in our means to help them. Such a ministry (whether it shows itself in cash, kind or ‘helps’) will not be done condescendingly or patronisingly, nor to put someone in debt or obligation to us, but solely to the glory of God. The (genuinely) poorer saints are the special care of the church. The particular Christian virtue on display here is generosity – highly appropriate in those who have received and do receive all that we have from our exceedingly generous God.
This occurs in 12:13b: ‘given to hospitality’, and is something to which we are to be ‘given’, something which we are to set about and to look for opportunities eagerly. It is a matter of obedience to God. But it need not involve great labour and expense, especially on the Lord’s Day, a day which should not revolve around the kitchen. Let it be simple, genuine and unhurried; and let it involve that Malachi 3:16 sort of fellowship, where we speak together of the things of the Lord and join together for family worship. How important are our Christian homes!
Mutual rejoicing and weeping
12:15 is a famous verse in this connection: ‘Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep’. What is envisaged here is a genuine entering into each other’s joys and sorrows, with no ulterior motive and no unwarranted intruding into one another’s business which is none of our business. Caring love will never stand aloof from or be unobservant of our brothers’ and sisters’ joys and sorrows. And of absolute importance in this regard is the strict keeping of confidences.
Our attitude to the weak
Here 14:1: ‘Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations’, and 15:1: ‘We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves’, are the key texts. How are we to treat the ‘weaker brethren’ (however their weakness manifests itself)? We are to welcome/receive/accept them – not cut them off, look down on them or be dubious about them, but include them, be warm towards them, take time and trouble with them, bear with them, and seek to do them good. They are to be welcome in the fellowship and welcome in our hearts. We are not to quarrel with them, or forever be bringing up and arguing about the things we see differently. Intense mutual patience is required, something which is a ripe fruit of the Holy Spirit and not that which grows naturally in the garden of our heart.
Not being stumbling blocks
Observe 14:13: ‘Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way’. It is to be a rule with us to seek at all times not to put hindrances in brethren’s ways, nor yokes around their necks, nor burdens upon their backs. Our guiding thought must be: how may I most and best glorify my Lord and Saviour in dealing with this and that person and handling their case? We are not in the Christian life to please or gratify ourselves (15:1 again), but to do one another good in the gospel, to build one another up in Christ and the Scriptures.
3. The logical extension of showing caring love
Here we turn to consider the matter in relation to those outside the church, remembering as we do so the Galatians 6:10 principle that the caring love which begins within the church will not stop there. What begins inside carries on outside. Ensuring first that all is well ‘at home’, how may we show caring love to those outside as well? Again, we shall take some examples in their order of appearance in our Romans chapters.
12:13b again: ‘given to hospitality’. The Christian home can have a vital role in this, with its opportunities for genuine ‘people time’ and the showing of friendship. Valuable fruit can follow. Moreover, quite apart from many useful conversations which may ensue, this may be the first sight an unbeliever has ever really had of a Christian home, marriage and family life.
Note carefully 12:14, 21: ‘Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not... Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good’. We need not restrict ‘persecutors’ to those who literally do that; rather, for our purposes, it may include opponents, detractors, and (at its widest) those outside the kingdom of God. Our Christian love is challenged greatly here. We must never underestimate the power of loving those who do not love us. At its simplest, it can give them a complete surprise (if not a shock!), for it is the very opposite of what they are used to and might dole out themselves. This is part and parcel of what is meant (in the best sense) by the ‘victorious life’ and being ‘more than conquerors’.
12:15 again: ‘Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep’. What an opportunity is given in such circumstances to show the grace and compassion of our gracious and compassionate Saviour. Sometimes, as Christians, we find that unbelievers come to us at such times, instead of going to their regular worldly friends; and let us be ready ourselves to make the first move when we hear of needs arising.
12:20: ‘Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head’, is the overflow of our ministry to the saints in 12:13a: ‘Distributing to the necessity of saints’. Again, this may well surprise them. The ‘burning coals’ signifies either/or, both/and, of two things: deeds of actual kindness, and causing our ‘enemy’ to be filled with shame for his poor treatment of us.The two will often go together. Go the extra mile(s).
Pay attention to 13:7-8: ‘Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law’. In all things – domestic, financial, business – part of our loving our neighbour is seeing love as a ‘debt’ we owe, an obligation we have, not an option we are just left to choose when it appeals to us. It is a significant commending of Christ and the gospel for Christians and churches to be known, without question, as faithful and true, reliable and dependable, honest and straight. When this is not the case, great damage can be done to the Lord’s cause.
In 13:10: ‘Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law’, we have an example of what is called, grammatically, ‘litotes’: a negative expression which implies a strong affirmative. In this case: love does not do wrong, harm or ill (far from it); what it actually does is good, benefit and right. The examples Paul gives from the moral law (adultery, murder, stealing and coveting) will all do great harm, each in obvious ways – whereas the Christian’s responsibility always, in loving our neighbour, is to seek their best and highest good. Such ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’, and this commandment should not be burdensome to us.
We finish with this, and (of course) ultimately this is the most important way of all in showing caring love to unbelievers. Note 15:21: ‘But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand’. Here is Paul the evangelist and missionary revealing his heart, which is so very much also the heart of the Saviour who absolutely delights to save sinners as well as being wonderfully willing to do so. Delight – willingness; willingness – delight. Is there any higher desire we can have to do them good than this – the eternal welfare of their eternal souls? In this connection, the importance of offering the Lord Jesus Christ as freely and as widely as possible whenever we have opportunity (whether preaching indoors or outdoors, or in personal witness and testimony) is to be emphasised and insisted upon. And to encourage us in this we are given in Scripture every possible incentive and encouragement we could wish for, in terms of the divine statements and invitations to sinners, including the joy there is in heaven over sinners who repent. May our heart of love towards unbelievers never be in doubt.