Does Jesus love His church?
Enough to leave Heaven, take on human flesh, and be tortured and cruelly put to death so as to rescue us from our self-imposed deception and filth. Yes, of course He loves His church.
And did He love Old Testament Israel? Yes, of course – a myriad of Scripture can attest to that.
Then why speak so harshly to them? Why give such dire warnings?
What did God do because of the deceitfulness of the hearts of His people? He sent messengers to express to His covenant people what they needed to do to be in right relationship with Him. Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Deborah, Samuel, David, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, the so-called “school of the prophets” that produced numerous unnamed “men of God” in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Joel…and many others. These messengers were almost exclusively sent to the covenant people of God, and their message was almost exclusively one of condemnation, calls to repentance, and promises of future restoration and the coming of Messiah.
So much more could be brought forward from the Old Testament along these lines. Isaiah 1:10-17, 59:1-13ff, Jeremiah 16:10-18, 2 Kings 21, Ezekiel 21, on and on it goes.
Perhaps the history is best expressed in God’s summary statement in Jeremiah 35: 14-15 -
I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me.
Read the prophetic utterances recorded in the Old Testament, if you dare. Here is what you will find – rebuke after reprimand after admonition after call to repentance after proclamation of sin after expression of disgust over idolatry, wickedness, and violence. God brought His message to His people by calling out and equipping certain of His people to bring that message. He could have chosen to thunder forth a message, spell it out in clouds, drop showers of parchment from Heaven or whatever else. He chose to use certain of His people to bear His proclamation.
These messengers from God had to confront and attempt to overthrow the worldview that was prevalent in the visible covenant people of God in their day. Specifically, the Hebrews were trusting that Yahweh would never destroy the temple that He had ordered built. They were God’s people, God’s chosen, God’s bride, the only worshipers of the one true God. Thus they fell into idolatry, false worship, willful ignorance of the Word of God, and systematic idolatrous murder of children. God was patient with their idolatry for a long time, but once King Manasseh of Judah had nearly finished his 55-year reign, God had overtly decided to destroy Jerusalem. Take Jeremiah 19 and 32 along with 2 Kings 21 together and one gets the strong impression that when Judah started sacrificing their children to Molech, that was the final straw. Yet even as the overwhelming Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem, the idolatrous culture who was unrepentantly guilty of systematic child murder still refused to listen to the prophets’ rebuke and still responded “The Temple of the Lord”, meaning that their trust was in the earthly institution, rather than in God’s grace. And that did not end well for the Hebrews.
Moving on to the New Testament, one hardly need mention that the epistles are full of admonition. The two Corinthian epistles, Ephesians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Titus, John’s epistles – all contain some measure of rebuke to the churches who had fallen into sin and deception to some extent. The epistle to the Galatians contains Paul’s harshest language of all, as he considers aloud whether the Galatians are even redeemed and born again due to their strong flirtation with the Judaising heresy.
The Lord Jesus Himself was not above issuing reprimands and admonition to people at various appropriate times. He admonished His own mother twice, admonished the apostle Peter, calling him “Satan”, and of course, one could easily point to the many times He rebuked the Pharisees and the once or twice He drove out the moneychangers in the Temple.
Also, lest we all forget, the Lord Jesus is the one speaking in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 to the 7 churches of Asia Minor, during which 5 of the 7 churches addressed are given reprimands of varying gravity.
The church at Ephesus, Revelation 2:1-7, toiled with patient endurance, tested and rejected false apostles, persevered, and hated the works of the Nicolaitans. Yet they had abandoned the love they had at first. This abandonment caused them to fall, and to cease doing the works they did at first. For this reason Jesus calls them to repentance, lest He remove their lampstand. The lampstand is, as we’re told in Revelation 1:20, a symbol of the church itself, so presumably if He removes the lampstand, that would mean a judgment of destruction on that church.
This is very important – this church has a lampstand. Further, they were preaching the Gospel. Yet Jesus warns them to repent lest He take the lampstand away. Lest that local church, that local manifestation of the Body of Christ, be no more. They have numerous commendations in their favor! Yet the Lord’s message is: Repent.
Because sin really is that bad, God will not have patience with sin forever. God knows that sin is destructive and horrible. It destroys those who commit it. God loves His bride too much to let her remain in her sin.
Proverbs 27:6 – Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Gal 4:11, 16 – I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain…Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
James 5:19-20 – My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
We seek to obey these Scriptural commands and the pattern that God in the Old Testament and Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament laid down. To reach out to a brother or sister who is in sin to draw them back from their evil is a highly loving thing to do and makes us more like Jesus. Calling a brother or sister (or for that matter, a lost person) to fidelity to Jesus the Messiah is good for the one who proclaims and for the one who hears. Better is open rebuke than hidden love – Proverbs 27:5. Calling someone to holiness who is indulging in the sin of apathy is not hateful but actually loving and Christlike.
What is the outcome when a brother or sister is in sin, then receives an admonition? It’s painful, there can be no doubt of that. Here is what the Hebrews 12:11 has to say about that:
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
If the question is: Who gives us the right to love people enough to tell them the truth, to try to be used of God to rescue people from sin, and to preserve churches lest they be judged and destroyed?
We have all the justification we need to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus told us to. He left an example of how we are to love people who are in sin, and if that requires measures that are upsetting and uncomfortable to the apathetic and comfortable, that is what we must do. It is for the sake of the glory of Jesus, the purity of His church, and the lives of those created in His image who are being murdered daily while the church sits around and does very little to help them, that we do this. We can do no less.