— 6 —
What is the most important
characteristic of a church?

Without hesitation, love is the most significant component of the church. Jesus made it very clear that his entire teaching was hinged upon it. He said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40). Jesus went as far as to say that love was the identifying mark of a Christian — that love between the brethren is what identifies us as His disciples, the church. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

The Apostle Peter described love as the highest priority of the church. He said "...Above all things have fervent love for one another" (1 Pet. 4:8). Paul also placed precedence upon love in relationship to other spiritual virtues. He wrote, "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). Furthermore, John likewise described that it is not possible to know God apart from love — in fact, he made it crystal clear that any relationship with God was not possible without an extended love for our other brothers and sisters too. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love... If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:8,20)

We need to, however, understand the kind of love we're talking about here. Sometimes when we discuss Christian love, there is a lack of understanding of its meaning. The Greeks had three basic words for Love:

(1) EROS - This was the name of the Greek god of love, the son of Aphrodite. The word was used in reference to sexual love, and is the root word for erotic. The characteristic of EROS refers to a self gratifying, gimmee, gimmee type of love. Perhaps like a small baby's need or want of his parents. It is never used in the text of the New Testament.

(2) PHILEO - This is a humanitarian type of love. It's similar to a give and take, "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," type of love — such as friendships. It is used in scripture to describe man's kind of love, his kindness or affection.

(3) AGAPE - A giving, sacrificial type of love, without expectation of anything in return. This is God's kind of love — the Christian type of love between our brethren, and between ourselves and God. This is the kind of love we're referring to in the scriptures used here.

More than any other trait, AGAPE love is the church's most important feature. It is the foundation of all of Jesus' teachings — it is the very personality of God, and is the essential proof that shows that one truly knows God. Love is the chief component of spirituality, heading the list of virtues which describe spiritual fruit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love [AGAPE], joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23).

Above all other things in the church, love must be demonstrated, taught and emphasized to the saints. Love will bring about the qualities of harmony, loyalty, and faithfulness that the church needs to thrive. Not only will it help to promote the stability of the fellowship and dissolve division and strife, but love produces the motivation for the church to fulfill its missions — to care about people, to reach out to the lost and needy of our world. Agape love is the spiritual fuel on which the church is powered.

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.