If Southern Baptists have the best preachers in the world but don’t have love, we are nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If Southern Baptists have the strongest institutions and believe we can accomplish all we’ve set out to do but don’t have love, we are nothing. If Southern Baptists give all our money to missions and evangelism and send all our children to the mission field but don’t have love, we gain nothing.
Clearly, I borrowed the preceding lines from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. The Corinthian church, while extremely gifted, was thoroughly divided. As the apostle Paul exposes their divisions, he climaxes his letter in chapter 13 with his strongest rebuke yet—lovelessness nullifies any good that the church may claim for itself.
Lovelessness is blasphemous. When we’re not loving we lie to the world about who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. As we gather in Dallas for the Southern Baptist Convention, then, let me call us to love one another (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It is by this love that the world will know we belong to Jesus (John 13:35) and believe that the Father has sent Jesus to save (John 17:21). What does Christian love look like?
Love is patient and kind. We can express love in the simplest of ways, patience and kindness. When we’re patient and kind, we display God’s character to our spouse, our children, our church, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers and one another.
So let’s begin the 2018 SBC with a commitment to these simple expressions of love—patience and kindness—not just with one another, but with all who will serve us during our stay in Dallas—waiters and waitresses, hotel housekeeping staff, Uber, Lyft, and taxi drivers, and convention center personnel.
Love does not envy or boast. Southern Baptists like to boast. Admit it. We have a reputation for boasting about numbers—attendance, offering, baptism numbers and so on. Actually, if it can be counted, we boast about it. Of course, those whose numbers are down may envy those whose numbers are up. And the pressure to report high numbers may lead others to inflate their own numbers.
I get it! Numbers represent people. But love demands that we walk in humility. That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the work the Lord is doing among us and through us. It means, though, that when we celebrate God’s blessings, we give God the glory and recognize that anything good that happens in our churches and in our convention is all by the grace and mercy of God. It also means that we humbly admit our weaknesses, errors and sins.
Love is not arrogant or rude. Arrogance and rudeness are rooted in the lie that “I am better and/or more important than others.” When we believe this lie, we will be rude.
But, we equally bear God’s image. By faith in Christ, we’re all sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. By God’s Spirit, we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, in Dallas, let’s consider others better than ourselves—as Scripture commands—and instead of tearing one another down, let’s build one another up.
Love does not insist on its own way. Too often, we insist on our own way—with the TV remote in hand, behind the wheel of a car, even at church. And yet, the Christian life is one of sacrifice.
As we gather in Dallas, let’s defer to one another. Let’s inconvenience ourselves for one another. Let’s serve one another.
Love is not irritable or resentful. When things don’t go our way, we get irritated. When people don’t do what we want, we resent them. If we’re not careful, our children will irritate us; we’ll resent our spouse; we’ll get frustrated with our pastor(s) or other church members. But because love is patient and kind, love is not irritable or resentful.
When we meet in Dallas, let’s not get irritated with one another. Let’s not resent individuals who step up to the microphone to offer a nomination or motion or resolution. Instead, let’s be patient and kind; let’s think the best of one another.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. The call to love is not a call to abandon truth. Love does not rejoice in sinfulness or worldliness, error or false teaching. Love rejoices with the truth God has revealed to us in Scripture. And, ultimately, that revealed truth is a person—Jesus. Jesus not only lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, he also went to the cross and received God’s justice for human sin. You see, the very gospel we preach is a gospel of truth and love, of justice and mercy.
As Southern Baptists, we affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as sufficient for our cooperative efforts to advance the gospel. Love demands that we not fight with one another over non-essential doctrines or differing theological convictions that are not contrary to the BF&M 2000. Instead, let’s rejoice over what we affirm together and let’s join together to take the gospel to all peoples everywhere, beginning where God has placed us and our churches.
Paul summarizes what love looks like. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
So, here’s my call to us: Whether we gather in a major city as a convention or in a small town as a local church, let’s love one another in both word and deed, in speech and action. Let’s bear one another’s burdens; let’s believe the best of one another; let’s hope for the best in one another’s ministries. Let’s endure in love, displaying the glory of our God who demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners he sent his own beloved Son to die as a propitiation for our sins. This is love! Let’s, therefore, walk in it.