This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Dear Sister in Christ,
My husband and I have a long-running joke. When he’s forced to go shopping with me but would rather read a book, he relents, saying, “It’s about the relationship, isn’t it?” When we’re talking and one of us needs sympathy and understanding instead of an immediate solution—“It’s about relationship.” This philosophy has spilled over into our parenting. When we’re busy but one of our kids wants to talk, work on a project, or watch a movie together, we set aside our plans because it’s about relationship. Spending time together and talking with one another is how we express our love. And good relationships are built on love, aren’t they?
As Christians, our priority relationship is God. How do we know his love? Of course, we spend regular time with him, reading his Word and praying. But what I want to impress upon you in this letter, sister, is that you really won’t know the full extent of the love of God without loving and being loved in your local church. This is because it’s about relationship—both vertically (with God) and horizontally (with his people).
We tend to read Scripture individualistically, but actually, the whole Bible is about relationship—both with God and with one another as his people. Throughout the Old Testament we see that God created and rescued a people for himself that he might dwell with them through the temple. The Old Testament history, Psalms, and prophets were addressed to God’s people as a whole. In the New Testament, too, God redeemed us to be “living stones” fashioned together into a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5) where God dwells among us and where we love and serve “one another” in relationship (Heb. 10:25, 1 John 3:23). The New Testament was written to this house, the church.
The apostle Paul writes to the church at Ephesus about the wondrous love of God, praying that they:
being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehendwith all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.—Eph. 3:17-19
The root and ground are in Ephesians 2:4 where Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” The work of Christ is the root and ground out of which we grow. His work is the overflow of God’s “great love”—a love that is deeply personal, but not individualistic. It is love that calls and creates a people. Notice that Paul prays for the Ephesians to have the strength to comprehend this love together “with all the saints.” We cannot measure the breadth and length; we cannot reach the height or plumb the depth of the love of Christ without our brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, the church enables us to comprehend the limitless dimensions of God's love.
I enjoy studying the Bible. My favorite time of the day is in the morning when I (now that my kids are grown) have unhurried time in God’s Word. I see God’s love for his people written throughout the Scriptures as he repeatedly rescues unfaithful sinners and redeems his treasured people. It makes my heart sing! But when I hear God’s Word preached in the gathered assembly, when I join with the congregation to sing loud praises that extol the glory of God, and when a dear sister speaks faithful truth from the Scriptures to me, I see afresh how broad and long and high and deep is the love of God in Christ Jesus. I witness the riches of his glorious love in the salvation, sanctification, and strengthening of his saints.
I’ve also experienced the love of Christ in practical help from sisters in my church. Several years ago, my husband brought unwelcome guests home with him from a trip. They were bed bugs. I never saw them, but started waking up every morning with new welts on my arms. Those bugs brought me to my knees—not just because of the painful, itchy bites, but because I couldn’t figure them out. I couldn’t find them, which meant I couldn’t get rid of them. Then I asked Sandhya to pray for me. Sandhya was a busy mom, doctor, and women’s Bible study leader in our church, and by the grace of God she had experience with bed bugs. She came over, took our bed outside in the 100-degree Dubai heat, and used her leftover poison to get rid of those bugs. We threw out our carpet, heat treated the floor, and after hours of work were finally bed bug free. In Sandhya’s sacrificial love for me, I felt the love of Christ.
Sister, don’t try to follow Christ alone. There is no substitute for your commitment and service to your local church. As you love others and are loved by others, your knowledge of Christ’s love will grow. Experiencing life with fellow church members is like looking through a kaleidoscope from different angles, seeing new visions of his marvelous love. Your sight will be blurred if you don’t press into the church.
Sister, don’t try to follow Christ alone.
Paul prays for the church to comprehend something that is incomprehensible. He prays for us to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). He uses dimensions to describe something that is limitless. This is because, while the most joyous duty of our lives is to know the love of Christ, we can never exhaust this knowledge of Christ’s love for us. We’ll never come to the end of it. We can increasingly comprehend it throughout this life and continue to know it even more clearly in the next. For eternity we will rejoice in new visions of God’s glorious love.
There is much serving to be done in a local church. Chairs need to be arranged, meals prepared for new moms, grieving people cared for, and weddings planned. These are all important tasks worth doing, but they are means not the goal. Remember, “It’s about the relationship”—speaking God’s Word to each other, extending hospitality that enables genuine fellowship, rejoicing and grieving with one another. This is how we experience the love of Christ in its boundless dimensions. It is only “with all the saints” that we truly know the fullness of God’s love. Love others in your local church. Let them love you. And know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
In the love of Christ,
Keri Folmar is the author of How Women Can Thrive in the Local Church.
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