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Love or Die: Christ's Wake-up Call to the Church Perfect Paperback – August 27, 2008
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About the Author
Strauch has been a teacher and an elder at Littleton Bible Chapel for the past 25 years.
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Love or Die is subtitled Christ's Wake-Up Call to the Church and is an exposition of sorts of Revelation 2:2-6. In these verses, Christ praises the church at Ephesus for their works, their toil, their endurance and their discernment. But he also rebukes this church, saying "I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." He calls them to repent, lest He is forced to "remove your lampstand from its place." This church, it seems, had once been marked by love; but somehow, in the intervening years, the love had been lost. The sound doctrine remained but the love had waned. Christ gave them this simple admonition: love or die.
Strauch divides his exposition into two parts. In the first, he reminds the Christian that it is possible to have sound doctrine, to be faithful to the gospel, to remain morally upright and to have the appearance of godliness, even while lacking in love. To lack in love is to ignore some of Christ's clearest, most urgent admonitions. And yet many Christians are marked more by an appearance of sound doctrine than by a true love for God and love for one another. When Christ saw this in the church at Ephesus, He reminded the church to "Remember therefore from where you have fallen." In Christ's assessment, the only assessment that truly matters, this church had fallen, and this despite Christ's commendations of them. "Remember, there is always one who walks among the churches, unseen but seeing all. How do you imagine Christ might evaluate your local church body?" Love is to be the distinguishing mark of the Christian.
"No ancient or modern philosopher--Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Russell--ever taught such far-reaching ideas about love. No political figure, from Julius Caesar to Winston Churchill, has made such demands upon his followers to love. And no religious teacher, whether Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed, ever commanded his followers to love one another as he loved them and gave his life for them. No other system of theology or philosophy says so much about the divine motivation of love (and holiness), or expresses love to the degree of Christ's death on the cross, or makes the demands of love like the teaching of Jesus Christ and his apostles."
Christ offers a three-fold remedy to the lack of love in this church at Ephesus. He commands them to remember the love that had once marked their church; he tells them to recall "past joys, deeds, attitudes, and experiences in the life of the church in order to repeat them and act upon them." He commands them to repent, by restoring the love they once possessed. And He commands them to do the works they did at first. They are to "reengage in the deeds of love they had once done but had abandoned."
In the second part of this book, Strauch teaches how we can cultivate love. "Although God ultimately is the one who keeps us in his love and motivates us to love, there is also a human side of the equation. Scriptures directs all believers to pursue love, keep ourselves in the love of God, abide in Christ's love, walk in love as Christ loved, and consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds. Thus it is vital to our church communities and to the spiritual health of individual believers that we know how to cultivate love and protect love." He dedicates a chapter to each of these topics: study love, pray for love, teach love, model love, guard love, practice love.
Following the Bible's model, Strauch grounds love in the local church.
"Love requires both a subject and an object, thus love is a corporate learning experience. We grow in love by engagement with other people, not in isolation from them."
"Christians cannot develop love by sitting at home alone on the couch watching TV preachers or by attending a weekly, one-hour church service. It is only through participation in "the household of God," the local church (1 Tim, 3:15), with all of its weaknesses and faults, that love is taught, modeled, learned, tested, practiced, and matured. By dealing with difficult people, facing painful conflicts, forgiving hurts and injustices, reconciling estranged relationships, and helping needy members, our love is tested and matures."
"One simply cannot grow in love without the stresses and strains of life together in the household of God, the local church. The local church truly is "a spiritual workshop for the development of agape love" and "one of the very best laboratories in which individual believers may discover their real spiritual emptiness and begin to grow in agape love." If you are not a participating member of a local church, then you are not in God's school of love."
We know how the church at Ephesus responded to Christ's rebuke. Some time around the beginning of the second century, Ignatius, one of the Apostolic Fathers, wrote a letter to this church at Ephesus. He had been arrested for his faith and was being taken to Rome to be executed. As he and his guards passed near Ephesus, a delegation of Christian brothers was sent to encourage him as he faced a martyr's death. After this visit, Ignatius sent them a letter thanking them for their care. And in this letter he specifically praises their love, commending them as a church "characterized by faith in and love of Christ Jesus our Savior." He rejoices that they "love nothing in human life, only God" and he comments on their church's overseer saying he is "a man of inexpressible love." He says that in the love shown to him by the delegation he could see the love of the entire church at Ephesus. These Christians heard and heeded the loving rebuke of Jesus Christ.
I know beyond any shadow of doubt that many of our churches--and perhaps your church, and perhaps mine--would hear this same rebuke from the lips of the one who walks among us unseen, but seeing all. This passage from Scripture is a gift from God that we might "hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Though Love or Die is but a short book, it is an excellent one and I commend it to you. It would not be out of place in any church library or personal collection.
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned l the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of o the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches..." (Rev. 2:2-7)
In Love or Die: Christ's Wake-Up Call to the Church, Alexander Strauch addresses both the theological and the practical implications of the abandonment of "the love [we] had at first" (Rev. 2:4), instructing his readers in both the problem of lost love and how to cultivate love within the church.
Regarding the problem, it's not so much that the Ephesian church had stopped loving Jesus, it was that their love had become stale, mundane. "They still loved the Lord, but not like they did at first. They still loved one another, but not like before," writes Strauch (p. 9). Their service was out of obligation, rather than joyful worship. Their study was, perhaps, merely academic, and not transformational. They lacked joy, spontaneity, energy, and creativity. When God's people abandon their first love, they abandon their ability to love each other. Strauch rightly says that Jesus declares these two are inseparable companions.
But when our love for Christ is diminished, what happens? We tend to drift toward trusting "in external religious rituals, traditions, denominational distinctions, doctrinal correctness, and moralistic rules, while we overlook the essential, foundational elements of love for God and neighbor" (p. 19). We become like the Pharisees who "tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God" (Luke 11:42), Strauch warns. We must, therefore, remember "from where [we] have fallen; repent, and do the works [we] did at first" (Rev. 2:5). We must learn to rekindle our love for Christ and for people.
The second half of the book focuses on how we can rekindle our love. Through the study of love, we gain a better understanding of what the Bible really says about this important issue of the Christian life. Strauch even helpfully provides an appendix containing 50 key texts on love for readers to study and meditate on. By praying "to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge," (Eph. 3:19), we gain not only an intellectual understanding of His love, but an experiential and ultimately life-changing knowledge of it. By praying that God would grow our love for others, it will grow and overflow. "The more we see how inherently and perversely selfish we are, the more we recognize our need to ask God to help us to love," says Strauch (p. 39). By teaching love, in our corporate gatherings, homes and small groups, we nurture love. "If you want your local church to be a loving, caring, Christlike church, then you must plan to teach the full spectrum of God's principles of love... Teach the truth of God's Word and give people principles of love to follow" (p. 49). We further nurture love in our church and our relationships as we model love, encouraging love in others through our example. Scripture provides several examples of men and women worthy of imitation in this regard, as so the biographies of departed saints such as R.C. Chapman and C.H. Spurgeon. Ultimately though, modelling of Christlike love falls to our church leaders and to Christian parents, says Strauch.
"Church leaders set the tone for the church community. If church leaders love, the people will love. If they are thoughtful, kind and caring, the people will be [also]... If leaders create an environment of love and hold themselves and others accountable to love, the people will flourish spiritually and many will imitate their example" (p. 55). Parents, likewise, who love, serve and reach out to people will, usually, produce children who do likewise.
We must guard love, by guarding ourselves against the temptation to love something else more than we love Christ. As there are many contenders for our love for Christ, we must always be vigilant, guarding our love for Christ against everything, even the cares of "this present world" (2 Tim. 4:10). "When you sense your love falling to sleep, take corrective action immediately," says Strauch. "The longer you wait, the harder it will be to awaken the spirit of love" (p. 62). Ultimately, we must be practitioners of love, not students. An academic knowledge of love is of no benefit if it does not transform our lives. Strauch rightly admonishes us that we must practice love and exhort others to do the same, just as the apostles did over and over again in their epistles. "Obedience to Christ's commands to love leads to real growth in love" (p. 66). And as our love grows, so to will our joy.
I found this book to be incredibly helpful. Being both an introvert and an intellectually bent person, I was thoroughly convicted by Strauch's loving and humble admonishment. The truth is, I struggle to love other people. I really (really!) like being alone. But if I'm not cultivating relationships with others and investing in them, encouraging my friends in their faith, I don't really love them, do I? And if I only cultivate an intellectual knowledge of love, to the neglect of experiential knowledge of love, I don't really know what love is, do I? I'm spending the next few days going through the study guide, spending time in the Scriptures and praying that God would grow my ability to love Him and others.
One who truly loves is not afraid to say something difficult. Alexander Strauch truly loves Jesus and truly loves the church. Read this book; use the study guide. Study the Word and be transformed.
So I go to church every Sunday. As a leader, I spend a lot of time preparing Sunday sermons - thinking, praying, and researching. And I love our little flock very much! Yet, I realised - as I read through this book - that genuine agape love has to be fleshed out; it must be applied. In the words of a song by Don Francisco - "love is not a feeling but an act of your will"!
At the same time, I did not feel that I would now have to take on extra 'duties', or spend extra time with my brothers and sisters in the Lord in order to flesh out that love. I just needed to be more aware of them, and less aware of myself. And more aware of those outside the church, and less aware of myself.
If you've found church a little 'tough' of late - either as a leader or as a congregant - take some time out to read slowly through 1 Corinthians 13 again. That's what this book challenged me to do. And I've order a number of copies to pass around as I would love our congregation to be one, of which it is said, "see how those Christians love one another"!