Because God is love, the most important lesson he wants you to learn on earth is how to love. It is in loving that we are most like him, so love is the foundation of every command he has given us: The whole Law can be summed up in this one command: Love others as you love yourself.
These words take on even greater significance for those in spiritual leadership. The level of love within your church reveals the spiritual health of the fellowship. Paul makes this point: No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, Im bankrupt without love. Jesus said our love for each other not our doctrinal beliefs is our greatest witness to the world. He said, Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
Love isnt just something you must emphasize in a sermon from time to time, like tithing or evangelism. You need to consistently teach your people to make love their top priority. The Bible says, Let love be your greatest aim. Help your church make relationships their highest ambition by teaching them three simple truths:
1. Life without love is really worthless.
Often we act as if relationships are something to be squeezed into our schedule. We talk about finding time for our children or making time for people in our lives. That gives the impression that relationships are just a part of our lives along with many other tasks. But God says relationships are what life is all about.
Jesus summarized what matters most to God in two statements: love God and love people. He said, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments. After learning to love God (worship), learning to love others is the second purpose of your life.
Busyness is a great enemy of relationships. People become preoccupied with making a living, working, paying bills, and accomplishing goals as if these tasks are the point of life. They are not. The point of life is learning to love God and people. Life minus love equals zero.
2. Love will last forever.
Another reason God tells us to make love our top priority is that it is eternal: These three things continue forever: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.
Love leaves a legacy. Mother Teresa said, Its not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters. Love is the secret of a lasting heritage.
I have been at the bedside of many people in their final moments, when they stand on the edge of eternity, and I have never heard anyone say, Bring me my diplomas! I want to look at them one more time. Show me my awards, my medal, that gold watch I was given. When life on earth is ending, people dont surround themselves with objects. What we want around us is people people we love and have a relationship with. In our final moments, we all realize that relationships are what life is all about. Wisdom is learning that truth sooner rather than later.
3. We will be evaluated on our love.
One of the ways God measures spiritual maturity is by the quality of your relationships. In heaven God wont say, Tell me about your career, your bank account, and your hobbies. Instead he will review how you treated other people, particularly those in need. Jesus said the way to love him is to love his family and care for their practical needs: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
People need to understand that when you transfer into eternity, you will leave everything else behind. All youre taking with you is your character. Thats why the Bible says, The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Knowing this, encourage people to pray this simple prayer every morning: God, whether I get anything else done today, I want to make sure that I spend time loving you and loving other people because thats what life is all about. I dont want to waste this day. Why should God give you another day if youre going to waste it?
Until next week,
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.