Love for the Church

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love Thee.” 

Psalm 122:6

Do you love the church?

Love for the church is the mark of a Christian. Devotion to the church of Jesus Christ is the duty as well as the privilege and born again desire given to the child of God. The reason for this is to be found in what the church is: she is the bride of Christ, the dwelling place of God, the mother of believers, the body of Christ. Therefore a believer in Christ loves the church as he loves Christ.

It is a noteworthy and beautiful thing that the Psalms are filled with this idea of love for the church. If we were to confine our search of this love to the Psalms only, we would find sufficient material in which to discover that the Old Testament saints loved the church. We are well acquainted with this idea by our singing Sunday after Sunday from the Psalter. How many times in our lives have not we gathered on Sunday mornings in the various sanctuaries across the land to sing from Psalm 84: “How lovely, Lord of Hosts to me the tabernacles of Thy grace; O how I long, yea, faint to see Thy hallowed courts, Thy dwelling place; for Thee my heart and spirit sigh, for Thee, O living God, I cry.” And again the versification of Psalm 87, “When the Lord shall count the nations, sons and daughters He shall see, Born to endless life in Zion, and their joyful song shall be, Blessed Zion, All our fountains are in Thee.” 

But there are many more examples. Consider Psalm 137, the mournful cry of the captives in Babylon who sat down and wept when they remembered Zion. Jerusalem was a pile of rubble, her honor lay in the dust, her people were scattered, and the public worship of Jehovah on Mt. Zion had been stamped out. Their captors jeeringly required of them a song of mirth and joy. Yet their harps could not comply. No mirth, no joy was possible while they were separated from the church. And in Babylon they make a vow: “O Zion fair, God’s holy hill, wherein our God delights to dwell, Let my right hand forget her skill If I forget to love Thee well. . .let my tongue from utterance cease, If any earthly joy to me Be dear as Zion’s joy and peace.” What love for the church! It is a love which prompts the Old Testament believer, speaking at the end of the psalm, to call upon God to curse and destroy those who jump up and down with glee over Zion’s low estate (Edom). “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” 

Remember David, how he made God’s house his care, as revealed in Psalm 132; how he swore before the mighty God of Jacob that he would give no rest to his eyes nor seek any earthly pleasure until he found a habitation fit for Israel’s mighty God. Recall how the glory of the church is so beautifully described in the conclusion of the psalm, as versified in Psalter number 367: “Thou, the Lord, hast chosen Zion, Thou hast ever loved her well; This my resting place forever, Here, Thou sayest, I choose to dwell.” 

This love for the church found in the Psalms is perhaps best summed in Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go up into the house of our God.” Psalm 122 is a song of degrees, that is, a song which the Old Testament pilgrim would sing as he journeyed across Canaan en route to Jerusalem. In the Psalm, David makes the welfare of the church a matter of sincere prayer before God: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” He takes upon his lips the vow, “And for the house of God the Lord, my care shall never cease.” 

Beautiful, isn’t it? The Psalms portray the love of a believer for the church as a “longing for” and a “sighing after.” All earthly joy was forfeited for Zion. They were willing to forsake friends and kindred, goods and life itself for the church. They traveled to Jerusalem in joyful tunes of praise. They wept and fell into depression when separated from God’s house. And repeatedly, they pledged undying love for her. 

Does this love characterize the church today? 

Does this same devotion belong to us? 

This warm love for the church expressed in the Psalms stands in bold contrast to the current cold indifference evidenced in much of the church world. Men and women are filled with apathy towards the church. They arrogantly claim no need for the church, and they attack those who love the church. They loudly proclaim allegiance to the Cross of Calvary; they insist that they are members of Christ’s universal body, but they despise, ignore, and ridicule the instituted church. “The Bible is enough,” they claim, and besides, “the church cannot save you.” They say that the organized church, which displays the three marks of the true church, the pure preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of discipline, is old-fashioned, out of date, and a relic of the past. 

Such people hate Christ. They hate Christ because they hate His body which is the church. Anyone who despises or speaks scornfully of the local church, which manifests the marks of the true church, speaks scornfully of Christ. We may justly apply the contrasting style of the Apostle John: “He that loveth not the church institute which he hath seen, how can he love the church universal which he has not seen?” “He that says he loves Christ and hates His body, the church, which is the gathering of believers and their children under the pure preaching of the Gospel, is a liar.” 

But our love for the church can fall far short of the high standard set forth in God’s Word! We are not always running and jumping with the love which we are in duty bound to show to the church of Jesus Christ. Church attendance can become a drudgery, a mere habit involving no conscious spiritual thinking and preparation. Sunday mornings in our homes often reveal an attitude far poorer than the one conveyed in the versification of Psalm 122: “My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound, The call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer.” We easily seek our own interest and recreation above the church. We find little time for the church and her activities which seem to interfere with our busy calendar. How sharp we can be in criticism of the church. The notion lurks within us that respect for the officebearers of the church applies only when we agree with them, but when we disagree they are open season to ridicule. Nominations for elder and deacon find us unwilling to serve. We can become harsh in our judgments of the members of the church, land when we are offended, we think we can live independently from the church, not needing the communion of the church which is the life of the saints. 

It is not for nothing that David makes the whole matter of love for God’s church a matter of prayer! The sin of our flesh is always to live independently and selfishly.We always stand in need of the prayer which beseeches God to grant us His grace so that the flame of love for Christ’s body may burn brightly as it should. 

Why must we love the church? 

We love her because God loves her. There is nothing dearer to the heart of God than His church. No writer can ever capture in mere words that love of God. God’s love for the church is an eternal love rooted in Himself. This is exactly why the Old Testament saints loved Zion, because God loved her and held Zion as altogether precious and lovely. In His love for the church, God elected her in eternity according to His sovereign good pleasure. He chose each individual member of the church; and He chose a certain, definite number. But He chose the church as a body as well. “But now hath God chosen the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him” (I Cor. 12:18). In eternity God fashioned in Christ a beautiful body in which the place of every member was decreed, a place which that member alone can occupy. And with this eternal love of election, that love wherewith He loves Himself, God loves the church. 

The love of God for His church is revealed in all of its brilliance and splendor at Calvary. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us. . .not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9, 10). God’s great love for the church is seen in that He gave His only begotten son for her so that He might redeem her to Himself. Upon the basis of the Cross of Calvary, God made the church the body of Christ. With the same love that He has for the Head, which is Christ, so He loves the body of Christ which is the church. 

If Calvary does not show us the love of God for the church, nothing will. If Calvary does not teach us how precious the church is to God, we will never learn. God loves the church in His eternal, sovereign, particular, unchanging, saving love. She is altogether His. He chooses her, He redeems her, He gathers her, He defends her, He preserves her. The church is God’s and is the object of His love. We ought to love the church because God loves her. 

We must love the church because she is our Mother (Gal. 4:26). Tenderly God through the church has fed and nurtured us spiritually so that we have grown up into Christ. He has instructed and clothed us by her in His Word. From earliest infancy God has protected us in the bosom of the church. It is an ugly thing when a man turns against his mother. Honor thy mother, the church! We ought to love her for all that God has given us through her. 

We must love the church because of what we enjoy through her. God is pleased to have the voice of His Son heard there through the official preaching of the Gospel. In the Gospel we hear the soothing voice of the Good Shepherd calling us who labor and are heavy laden to rest. In the same preaching we receive the authoritative declaration that our sins are forgiven. In the church we enjoy the communion of the saints which is a slight foretaste of eternal life. We ought to love the church for all the blessings we enjoy in her, blessings which are found nowhere else. 

How do we show love for the church? 

We love her by faithfully attending her worship services and by being active and lively members. When our Belgic Confession was written many Christians, fearing the fierce persecution which raged against Calvinism, refused to join the church. Article 28 of the Confession was written for the purpose of condemning those who for any reason would separate themselves and live independently from the true church. “We believe. . .that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in separation from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it. . . .” Our membership is to be wholehearted. We must use the talents God has given us for edifying the body. We must sing with all our hearts in the worship services, making melody to God. We must diligently attend to the Word of the Gospel. We must faithfully attend the activities of the church. We must seek out the members to comfort and instruct one another in the truth. 

There are many ways in which true love for God’s church will manifest itself. It will be seen in love for the members of the church, for one cannot separate between the body and its members. It will become evident in dedication to the truth of God’s Word upon which the church stands. It will be manifested in a respect for the development of the truth by the church in the past, especially as we have that development in the three Reformed Creeds. Love for the church will be revealed by faithfully training our children to seek the church and to live out of her. 

Great blessedness is to be found in loving the church. “All they that love Thee shall prosper well.” This prosperity refers to the conscious enjoyment of salvation in Jesus Christ. In a hearty love for Zion we will experience the fellowship of God Who dwells within the church and the fellowship of Jesus Christ, Who is the King of the church. What is more, we shall prosper in the enjoyment of the communion of the saints which is, in principle, the life of Heaven. 

Love for the church is as a seed that is sown. It sprouts and brings forth fruit. Oh, when we sow in disgust and contempt for God’s church, another kind of fruit is produced: a bitter fruit. Then we will see our children standing by the sidelines of the church and joining in the cries of the children of Edom, “Rase it, Rase it even to the foundation thereof” (Psalm 137:7). But when love for the body of Christ lives in our homes and dominates our lives, then by God’s grace, the fruit is that we will see joyful sons and daughters singing with us, “Blessed Zion all our fountains are in Thee.” 

How blessed are they who dwell in Zion. Their prosperity extends even to the church victorious, the church at rest. 

Do you love the church? Delight now in the house of God and sing in your heart the songs of Zion. 

“Blest are they who dwell within Thy house, 

Their perfect strength Thou art; 

Their joyful praise shall never cease, 

Thy ways are in their heart. 

Their tears of grief, like early rain, 

Sweet springs of joy shall fill; 

With strength renewed they journey safe 

To Zion’s holy hill.” 

Psalter 225