The Rule Of Love

Authority.

That’s not a popular word these days.

It doesn’t seem loving to rule over others.

That’s because there have been so many negative examples of authority throughout history, and we have all likely been negatively affected by someone who has abused their power and not used it to cultivate life. This happens in homes, businesses, governments, and churches.

This disdain that many have for authority figures can seep into the church if we’re not careful. At many times, this clearly does. The church becomes a place in our minds that has no authority over us as people. This creates a culture of Christians that move from church to church,  never submitting to the rule of a church over them.

Instead of churches full of Christians that are holding each other accountable, we have churches full of independent Christians, which in my mind is an extreme oxymoron.

In his book, The Rule of Love, Jonathan Leeman sets out to show how the authority of God over us is not at odds with His love for us.

In the opening chapter, Leeman begins by showing how our culture’s view of love is way off course. Our culture makes love about self, finding happiness. We have allowed consumerism and tribalism to seep into our views on love. We see this consumerism by the way that men and women evaluate their ‘purchasing power’, measuring themselves up to what they believe they deserve in another man or woman. Tribalism shows up when we define ourselves by our own group, whether that be race-related, career-related, or likes-related.

This false love comes into the church in a detrimental way when we only submit to the body when the programs and worship styles make us as a group feel comfortable, or if it’s the best we can consume individually.

Leeman continues his book with a chapter on how various theologians throughout church history have thought about love, whether that be God’s love or the love of man. This chapter got a little tiring for me, but there were some intriguing points of discussion.

After this, we get two chapters on God’s love for Himself. Now that’s certainly a topic I don’t hear a lot of conversations about in our churches, but it’s an important one. God loves Himself. That’s a confusing phrase and theme of Christianity, but it is the basis and foundation of what it means for us to love each other. I would encourage you to dig into articles on this, and pick up this book for a thorough study on this topic.

At the conclusion of these two chapters on God’s love for Himself, we are given a list of how this applies to the local church, in the areas of membership and church discipline.

  1. Holy love impels a church to evangelize and do good.
  2. Holy love impels a church to mark of members and practice church discipline.
  3. Holy love impels a church to teach and disciple.
  4. Holy love motivates a church to worship.
  5. Holy love creates a distinct and holy culture. 

The second of these points gives us one of the main thrusts of this book.

According to Leeman,

A church that chooses to emphasize God’s love but not God’s holiness is a church that doesn’t actually understand what God’s love is. God’s love, I’ve observed, is wholly fixed upon God and his glorious character in all aspects. It’s holy. A church characterized by holy love, likewise, is jealous for God’s glory and fame. 

We live in a day and age in our Christian culture where membership and discipline are frowned upon. They both seem too authoritarian at best and unloving at worst. To not welcome all and accept all is to not show the love of Jesus to others, we say. I’ve heard that said explicitly and implicitly countless times. Yet it becomes pretty clear that if we are to model the love and holiness of God, this includes setting clear distinctions between those who are in the body and those who are not. If we are to model the love and holiness of God, then we should enforce church discipline. This can be abused yes. Definitely. But the abuse of authority by some should not hinder the attempts at God-honoring authority by others.

In chapter five, Leeman goes on to talk about God’s love for sinners. It was a pleasant chapter full of the good news of the gospel.

In chapter six, Leeman continues by speaking on the idea of love and judgement. As he has done several times throughout the book already, he shows how judgement is an unavoidable aspect of love. Our daily lives are full of judgements about what we love and don’t love. Do I love keeping my body healthy or eating Pizza Hut? Do I love clean teeth or getting to work? These are silly examples but they should serve to remind us that we all make countless judgments every day about what we love.

The final chapter is about the relationship between love and authority, ultimately what the entire book is about. The following quote was so good that I had to stop and write it down in my journal,

Good authority loves. Good authority gives. Good authority passes out authority. – Jonathan Leeman

Yes, there are authorities in our lives that hate, take, and refuse to delegate.

But that is not the type of authority that God desires us to model, in our homes or in our churches. As a man who has been given some authority over certain aspects of my current church, I have been tasked by God to cultivate what I reside over. Too often I fail to do that.

This book was ultimately a pretty good read. It wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read recently, and it wasn’t one of the worst. I think that many people would get bogged down in some of the monotonous sections of the book, but if you push through to the last couple chapters you will find some great truths.

I have received a free copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an unbiased review.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Non-Christian Prayers

PRAYER LIST

  • Susie has pneumonia
  • Youth group fundraiser night is coming up
  • Bob broke his leg
  • Jim is having surgery on his knee
  • Roseann has the flu
  • Kyle needs a job
  • Frank is fighting for our freedom overseas
  • Adam has been having bad migraines
  • Emily’s dog is in need of medical care

If you are part of a local church, you likely see some sort of list like this frequently, whether in the church bulletin or via an e-mail blast to all the church members. These lists are good, and useful for the church to become aware of the ailments and needs of the members.

That being said, I believe that as followers of Christ, the prayers we engage in both privately and corporately should go beyond the sicknesses, ailments, and trials of the congregation.

Here’s why: I believe the church should pray the things that we see in Scripture. the Bible for sure commands us, exhorts us, and encourages us to pray for healing from sickness.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14

Yet to limit our private and congregational prayers to just healing is to take a theme of prayer in the Scriptures that honestly is not super prevalent and make it the onus and center of our whole prayer life.

I’ve written in the past that to pray for healing is Biblical and necessary.

That being said, our prayer lists in our churches are often filled with prayers that nonbelievers wouldn’t find weird. They’re filled with prayers that nonbelievers who don’t understand the gospel could pray. They’re filled with prayers that nonbelievers would affirm. While this isn’t explicitly wrong, I don’t think it sets the church apart.

The church should sing, proclaim, share, and pray God’s Word.

As the people of God, we should be praying deeper prayers than just the health of our members.

In his book Word-Centered Church, Jonathan Leeman gives the following list of Paul’s prayers as examples of deep, gospel-centered prayers:

  • He (Paul) prays that the Ephesians would be given the spiritual sight to see the glorious inheritance awaiting God’s saints (Ephesians 1:16-19)
  • He prays that the Philippians love would become more discerning and knowledgeable so that they might pursue only good things and live holy lives (Philippians 1:9-11)
  • He prays that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they might live pleasing lives of good works and growth in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10)

Now those are some prayers that would perturb the nonbeliever. Those are prayers that would seem weird, that wouldn’t be prayed around the dinner table of a nonbelievers’ home.

These are the type of prayers that I believe we as Christians are called to pray for one another. These prayers are gospel-centered, God-centered, and produce eternal fruit rather than our measly “I want this” type prayers. We do our congregations a disservice if we limit our private and corporate prayers to praying for the sick.

I’m thankful to be currently serving under a pastor who prays genuine and bold prayers for God to be glorified amongst our congregation. During our Sunday morning gatherings, I look forward to his prayers. As he prays, I can see that his public prayer for God to be glorified is the overflow of his private prayers for God to be glorified.

Here are some other types of prayers that the church should pray, setting themselves apart:

  1. FOR OUR ENEMIES. Praying for our congregants is admirable, but not all that surprising. Praying for our neighbors, and even those most adamantly opposed to all that we stand for is most definitely surprising. Too often, my prayers against the wicked are all judgment-based. I should seek instead to pray that the wicked are redeemed from their wicked state by placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. FOR AWARENESS OF SIN. This one is a doozy. We live in a culture where sin is downplayed, even in our churches. Yet as Christians we miss out on experiencing in our core the forgiveness and mercy of God if we don’t acknowledge our needs for His forgiveness and mercy. The puritans of old would pray for the ‘gift of tears’, meaning they would ask God to bring them to tears over their sins. While I think this is somewhat extreme, I do believe it’s important for us to pray that God would make us aware of our offenses against Him so that we can in turn confess and experience the forgiveness already extended us via the cross.
  3. GOD’S WILL. Most nonbelievers would not be surprised or caught off guard by a man or woman praying that God would bless their individual will for their life. That’s often how we treat God, as if His role is to bless us and prepare the way for us to achieve all that we desire and dream up. That’s not how that’s supposed to work. We should as followers of Christ (looking in the mirror like crazy on this one) be praying that God’s will would be done in our lives. This is a prayer that would be weird to a nonbeliever.
  4. NO MORE UNSPOKENS. I understand that people have been burned by church members in the past, if not ministers. Unspoken prayer requests are likely a symptom or result of these heartbreaking situations. That being said, if a church is healthy, if a church is doing what it is called to do via praying for one another in love and grace, then there should be no need for unspoken prayer requests. Yes, be wise and don’t air dirty laundry publicly before the congregation. But be in a community of faith at some level of the church where you can reveal your sin, your struggle, or your doubt in fullness.

Please keep your prayer sheets and prayer request lists. They are good, and they do good.

I pray that you and your congregation go deeper than that though. Don’t just pray in ways that nonbelievers would. Pray in ways that shows that we are the people of God, set apart by God, praying the Word of God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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