Oh, no. The “L” word.

The “L” word with which married folks think we singles struggle the most.

Not “lust,” actually, but “love.”

But relax, folks! Romantic love may have been what popped up first in your head, but it’s not the only version of the “L” word. Indeed, we define love in a variety of ways, and even view it on a sort of spectrum, with a cordial respect towards humanity at one end, to longsuffering caregiving at the other. Whether we’re married or single, love in its different forms cannot be underestimated as a prime resource for all that God has equipped humanity to accomplish.

Accomplish for His glory, of course. All too often, however, the emotional energy we spend on this topic gets lavished on ourselves. How often do we instead look for ways to share God’s love with others? Not just through evangelism, but our everyday interactions with them? Might even the degree to which we love God and what He’s done for us be displayed in how we do – or don’t – fellowship with people around us

Theologians call this type of love φιλία, or “phileo” love. The rest of us, however, usually call it hard!

Indeed, at this point, many of us check-out of these conversations. “If you knew the type of people I have to deal with on a regular basis,” we lament, “you’d know how impossible it is to love them!”

And yes, that’s probably true, in and of ourselves. C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, estimates that phileo love is the least “natural” of the love types (p. 70). With Christ as our Savior, however, the love of God that has redeemed us from the penalty of sin should compel us – even a little bit – to find some way of expressing that “brotherly” love to others.

We single believers don’t get let off the hook simply because we’re not married. The Bible never mentions marital status when teaching how we believers in Christ are to love each other. Consider John 13:34-35, which is saturated with the “L” word: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

According to Jesus, we’re all evangelists when people outside of our fellowship see how well we interact with our fellow saints. That’s pretty challenging, don’t you think? Would residents in your city, people living near your church, visitors to your singles class, or the neighbors on the block where your home group meets readily identify you and your church as Christ-followers based on how you demonstrate love towards each other?

It's also important to note that, within our body of believers, God does not discriminate. Everyone whom He saves He loves equally. We each may have different roles and abilities within the body, but not one of us believers is especially important to Him or loved any more by Him.

This aspect of God’s love is bizarre, especially since we live in a culture that rewards individual accomplishment. Yes, some believers will have a more visible impact for God within our earthly experience. But God doesn’t love the Billy Grahams of His Kingdom any more than anybody else who professes faith in Christ.

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