What is the purpose of the local church?

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What is the purpose of the local church?

Embracing the command to love

June 24, 2024 -

Group of people holding hands praying. By Rawpixel/stock/adobe.com

Group of people holding hands praying. By Rawpixel/stock/adobe.com

Group of people holding hands praying. By Rawpixel/stock/adobe.com

To read the first three articles in this series, you can go to these links:

A recent study by Nuvance Health concludes, “From sharpening memory and thinking skills to boosting mood and the immune system, feeling and expressing love can help everyone feel happier, healthier and more connected to each other.” Clearly, being loved and expressing love are important for a human’s well-being.

Would it surprise you to know that the epitome of the local church’s purpose is fulfilled through love? This is undoubtedly the case, and a look at Scripture will confirm this idea.

Three commands

If you have been following this series, we have established that belonging to the Lord and a distinct community that assembles together in his name are important aspects of the church’s foundation.

Subsequently, the local church’s purpose is tied up in its community continuing the ministry that Christ began. And we can understand its role, or purpose, in the ministry of Christ through three basic points from Jesus’ commands in the New Testament that all center around love. Edward W. Klink informs that the first two “are given by Jesus in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28).”  In addition to Jesus clarifying their significance among other commands (which will be demonstrated), the fact that these commands are repeated in these three places demonstrates that they were important to the authors of our Gospel books, as well as the ultimate author of Scripture: God.

Love God

The first of Jesus’ commands is designated as the Greatest Commandment. In context, Jesus is asked by a religious teacher what the greatest commandment is, and he answers with “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This command goes back to the Old Testament, and Edward W. Klink reasons that such a “command to ‘love God’ carries the force of all the laws and commands in Scripture regarding a Christian’s (and therefore a church’s) responsibility toward God.”

One could think of many reasons why we should love God. First and foremost, he is the creator and sustainer of life. But he is also the provider of an eternal life that we did not deserve and the reason the body of Christ exists.

Additionally, the command to love God is best expressed through worshiping him, which is an act of submission. Rick Warren suggests that “When we express our love to God, we’re worshiping.” Thus, the local church should love by worshiping him. And its first responsibility is to facilitate its members’ participation in this practice. The specific ways the church should do so will be covered in the next article.

Love Neighbor

Second, only to the previous commandment, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Edward W. Klink expands on Jesus’ words by proposing that the act of loving “God is most clearly explained and expressed in loving your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Moreover, Klink confirms that “neighbor” is most accurately defined “as anyone in physical or geographic proximity to us.” Those whom believers encounter in their daily lives are their neighbors. Similarly, those within the same city of a local church are its neighbors. Naturally, many of these respective neighbors will be unbelievers, but they are to be loved just as much as Christians in the congregation.

This idea is not meant to diminish the value of one’s own life. Rather, Klink affirms the importance of all human life and suggests, “Just as Scripture places a high value on every human life, so also must that high view of human life be extended equally to others.” Caring for another person is one of the best ways to express love because it shows him or her that their life is of considerable worth, and this is a responsibility of the local church.

Local churches must make a great effort to care for the communities in which God has placed them. Such a commitment will spread the love of Jesus and attract people to him.

Love Each Other

The third command comes in John 13:34-35. In this passage, Jesus presents a new command and instructs the disciples to love one another. He then suggests, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In other words, the presence of healthy relationships and love between believers is what shows the world we are followers of Christ. This is because a loving community is impressionable to all people. The reception of unconditional love is something that humans desire, and it ultimately stems from the love of Jesus. Thus, when people see love within a Christian community, they will naturally be drawn to the source.

But loving one another is also beneficial for Christians. God never intended for our lives to be a solo sport. Moreover, life poses challenges that we should not face alone. While he intends for us to depend on him first, it is apparent that God established relationships for Christians to build each other up and serve one another through love. And this is a foundational component of the local church.

What’s love got to do with it?

The local church’s purpose is not to collect an astronomical amount of money through the observance of an offering. It is not to beat the record of attendees on a given Sunday. It is not even to be the center of moral perfection. The local church’s purpose is to love God, love its neighbors, and love its members. Why? Because love is at the center of the gospel.

Whether it be an individual or group, humans can do nothing better than love God. We are commanded and made to do so. But we are also commanded to love others “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Extending Christ’s love to believers and unbelievers alike is powerful in drawing them to the source.

Moving forward, we are going to look at how the church can carry these commands out. But that step will mean little if you haven’t first embraced Christ’s call to love in your own life first.

So take a few moments to ask God how well you are fulfilling this purpose today. How can you love him better? How well do you love your neighbor and your fellow Christians? And, most importantly, is that love motivated by gratitude for the fact that he first loved us or a sense of obligation that stems from the knowledge that you are supposed to love?

Only the former can sustain the kind of love we—and, by extension, the church—are called to give.

What is motivating your love for God and others today?

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