What is our goal in loving others? What is it that we are trying to accomplish? The world and the church typically have radically different answers for these questions. Outside the church, you may hear about the goal of love as higher self-esteem, a sense of belonging, or mere happiness. While Christians would agree with some aspect’s of how our culture defines the goal of love, we would certainly differ on the chief goal.
As Christians, we are called to reflect the love and mission of Christ. Therefore, we must give thought to the purpose of Christ’s redeeming love. While I stand with those who say that God’s highest goal is His own glory, it’s important to consider how God is glorifying himself through the salvation of his people.
The apostle Paul tells us the goal of this redemptive act of love. In Colossians 1:22-23, he writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” Jesus’ love is neither shallow nor limited to words, but it is in action. Though preeminent over all of creation, the Son of God came to die at the hands of his creation in order that the created ones may stand righteous before their Creator. Likewise, the sending of the Spirit of Christ is directed toward your experiencing the riches of Christ in order that you may be conformed to the image of Christ.
As our minds are lifted to our triune God’s work on our behalf, it should then drive us to respond by adopting the same goal in our love towards others. Reflecting on our own love’s goal is vital because the goal or purpose dictates what form that love takes.
For instance, if my highest goal in parenting is that my kids would never cry or be sad, that is going to send my parenting on a far different trajectory. Discipline is going out the window, and they will have that late-night candy that they desire. Likewise, if my highest goal is for them to have material success in this life, I’m going to push them in a certain direction, to get into a certain university and to pick a certain field of study.
In the same vein, if our highest goal in the church is simply to make the other congregants feel good, that will drastically affect what congregational love looks like. From a pastoral standpoint, this will determine the sorts of sermons that are preached and the songs that are sung.
Our love, though, should be directed in each other’s holiness. Christ has died so that they will be made holy, and while I have no power in myself to sanctify a person, the Lord has given us means by which we can spur on one another in Christ. This is what drives our interactions with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Therefore, consider the love of Christ on your behalf today. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was raised so that you might stand perfectly holy before our infinitely holy Lord. Let that drive you all the more to pursue righteousness in your life.
Likewise, consider your love for other brothers and sisters, specifically those in your local church. What is the aim of that love? Has it been limited to some abstract notion of closeness? I believe this is one of the most severe weaknesses facing churches, particularly Southern Baptist churches, today. Don’t settle for less than the Lord has called you to. Settle in your heart to intentionally pursue relationships in your church where you point others to their identity in Christ and others point you to that same reality.
In the following parts of this blog series, I am going to discuss the practical means by which God conforms us to the image of Christ. This will help us put feet to the truth that Christ has saved us to be holy, not just in our standing before God, but also in our everyday life.