Paul praises the Ephesian church for their love toward all the saints (Eph 1:15). Faith and love are two tightly-woven characteristics of genuine disciples of Christ. Faith is a given, but let’s not overlook the Bible’s emphasis on love.
On the last night Jesus spent with his apostles before his crucifixion, he told them, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).
Apparently, John, in particular, was profoundly impacted by what Jesus said that night. His first epistle is basically an exposition of what Jesus said over the course of the meal. In 1 John 2, he wrote:
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)
Faith should not only draw us closer to Christ, but also to those who are in Christ. As one believer moves closer to Christ while another believer moves closer to Christ, those believers are simultaneously moving closer to one another.
Someone once asked me whether the truth of God’s Word is more important than loving other people. My answer was no. The thing is, truth and love are not mutually exclusive. There is no choice between the two. We can either obey the truth and love one another or do neither. We cannot choose one or the other.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Every commandment of God is wrapped up in the commands to love the Lord and love one another. In a very real sense, truth is love, and love is truth. If we think that we should sacrifice love for truth or vice versa, then we don’t understand either of them.
Sadly, the Ephesian believers lost their love along the way. In Revelation 2, Jesus had this to say to the church at Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4). Simply stated, the indictment against them was a lack of love.
Whether they failed to love Christ or one another, it was a deadly serious charge. Jesus said to them, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev 2:5). In other words, God would remove his light. The church would cease to exist.
There can be no church without love. Paul said:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
What does this love look like? Paul continues:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
A suspicious, critical spirit among the members will kill a church faster than false doctrine. Pride and bitterness will destroy us from the inside out. People fighting over trivial matters will light a fuse that’s hard to extinguish. When Christians fail to love as the Bible defines love, never mind the enemies attacking from outside of the church. We’ll implode without them.