The Great Laboratory of Love
“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:1-3
A pastor friend of mine is known to have told his congregation, “If there isn’t somebody here who rubs you the wrong way you need to come around more often.”
In my long ministry I tried to love everybody in the church, but I never entirely succeeded. I knew God loved them even if I couldn’t. But one thing I learned over time was that if I kept trying sometimes, just sometimes, I did learn to love the seemingly unlovable. If, just as Paul admonished, I had patience and could bear with another member for a while, then something in our relationship changed.
I am convinced that this change in the relationship was by grace. Perhaps that is what Paul meant when he wrote about “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That somehow if we hang in there with another member of the body of Christ, even someone we seem to have no natural affinity for, God’s Spirit brings a change of heart in both parties.
And this dynamic is something that I firmly believe is an important part of what the church is, a kind of laboratory of love. Too often we betray this aspect when we look for our congregations to be homogeneous enclaves of the like-minded.
Try a little experiment. Next time you are in coffee hour don’t migrate to a person you love and delight in. Pick out someone who rubs you the wrong way and start a conversation. It might be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
We pray, O God, for your unifying Spirit, that we may all flourish in your great laboratory of love, the church.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.