“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). We become Christians in a very personal way. Individually, we put faith in what Jesus did on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and invite Jesus into our lives to begin a personal relationship to Him. However, it doesn’t stop there. We are not known to be Christ’s disciples by how much faith we have in Christ’s death on the cross or how close our personal relationship is to Him. According to John 13:35, all men know Christians to be disciples of Jesus because we have learned to love each other. We receive Jesus Christ individually, but, once we do that, we find ourselves as a part of the Church. The growth in our faith does not come from only understanding more of who Jesus is, but primarily from learning to love the others in the body of Christ. That isn’t easy. Those of us who follow Jesus aren’t as easy to love as He is. Some of us may be the very people you would try to avoid, except for the fact that you keep running into us in church on Sunday. Nothing stretches us in our growth as disciples more than learning to love other Christians.
Some people stunt their growth as Christians by not becoming deeply involved with a group of God’s people. They just keep attending a church until something happens that they don’t like, then they move on to another church, hoping to find one that will operate the way they like. According to I Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” Paul goes on to list other things that define love. If in the church we always saw things alike, we would never have to exercise our love. If we never exercised our love, we would not grow as disciples of Christ. It is important to be a part of a church, not only for the support we receive, but also for how working together stretches our ability to love. That is the best reason I know for joining a church rather than just attending. Joining a church causes us to make a commitment to a group of Christians and that commitment holds us together and forces us to learn to love each other even when it would be much easier to just go somewhere else. That is also why we make a commitment in marriage. Commitments force us exercise our love.