We’re the ones who like to estimate how important we are.

Some singles groups try to split themselves up by age, or former marital status, or by whomever has kids, or whether or not their jobs are more prestigious than others. And to a certain degree, depending on the dynamics within your faith community, some of these reasons and divisions may make more sense than others, at least for a season. Frankly, however, the Bible provides no such model of fellowship, and instead encourages practices like sharing and commonality. Shouldn’t we, then, be cautious when we start looking for ways to separate ourselves? Is phileo love built best in social hierarchies, or shared objectives?

And what about people outside of our faith communities? It’s not only fellow believers towards whom we should be demonstrating the love of God, is it? He loves the unsaved through what’s called “common grace,” a beneficence which He extends to all of His creation in basic forms like this inhabitable planet, the very capacity for unbelievers to experience love, and the dignity of life itself. Common grace is what compels us to advocate for the unborn, for human rights, and even for people who don’t look or act like us. Many evangelicals readily support pro-life causes, but we’re also quick to find reasons why justice for the poor and oppressed can be deferred. Single parents, despite growing in number, can still feel ostracized, and people struggling with mental issues, unemployment or underemployment, and even sexual sins are regularly marginalized.

Some of us claim we’re out and about in the world, being salt and light. Evangelicals who conspicuously bar-hop these days, for example, compare their behavior to Christ’s eating and drinking with the carousers of His day. But we like to draw limits for ourselves based more on our personal comfort zones than what’s righteous and how Christ expects us to model His holiness and discernment. To be sure, phileo love is not dependant on our willingness to expose ourselves to sinful behavior, and doing so without properly acknowledging sin’s cunning dangers and praying God’s hedge of protection around us only blunts us to the evil that seeks to consume our society. Nevertheless, how useful is it when we condemn an entire class of people based solely on their sexual orientation, or political ideology, or other perceived moral deficiencies?

For those of us who are saved, we should rejoice in God’s salvific love expressed through His grace and mercy. And we should also recognize the responsibility that comes with God's salvific love. Christ teaches that “to whom much is given, much is required,” and in the context of His gift of sacrificial love to us, we should honor Him by being an expression of His love to the world around us, whether we think somebody’s saved or not.

Many people who fall in love may not have much choice in the matter – true romantic love simply clicks. But ordinary affection for people around us doesn’t always click. It rarely comes naturally. Often, it’s plain old hard work, especially in a church environment, where cliques are amplified, stubbornly mirroring more the world’s standard than God’s.

That’s why love is a hallmark of Christ’s followers. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes it happen. In us, through us, to others, for His glory.

“And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.” – 1 John 3:23-24

From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.

Publication date: June 6, 2013