When a pump tries to put out more water than it takes in, it experiences a condition called cavitation. The end result is that the internal turbulence caused by the cavitation tears up the pump and eventually renders the pump useless. The pump only works well when it takes in as much as it tries to put out.
I find a cavitating pump a fitting metaphor for what I’ve observed in churches over the years. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:19 that we love because God loved us first. John also tells us in John 13:35 that love is to be the distinguishing mark of the church. Jesus himself told us that the two great commands are to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).
We are commanded to love, but the source of that love must be God himself. I have firsthand experience of what happens when the church tries to convey love without relying on God as the source of that love.
Without reliance upon God as the source of love, the church (and the individuals that make up the church) tends to replace love with duty or honor. Duty is a sense of responsibility to others. Honor is an attempt at maintaining a reputation. One is focused outward the other is focused inward.
Both duty and honor are good things in themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a proper sense of responsibility to our fellow man. I see the connection between duty and fulfillment of the second command to love your neighbor. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to have a good reputation. One of the qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives us for a church leader is that he is to be a man of good reputation (1 Timothy 3:2).
The problem is that even these good things are no substitute for experiencing and conveying the love that God has for us. Duty without love becomes a hard, unyielding taskmaster. How many times have I seen people “serving” in church with little joy and even less fruit? Duty without love produces zombie Christians who lurch around but are not fully alive.
Honor without love becomes narcissistic or forces one into very superficial relationships. I cannot let you too near to me if I want to maintain the illusion that I have everything under control. Therein lies the pressure to be superficial. The narcissistic tendency manifests itself in the “look at me” aspect that rears it’s head in churches. People want to be seen “doing ministry” and get hooked on the affirmation that it provides. The smiling face may hide an ugly heart.
Perhaps we all have an inclination toward these false foundations. But I find that when I am properly connected with the love of God, I want to serve those around me because I want them to experience the same sense of God that I have. When I am properly connected with the love of God, I don’t have to worry about my reputation. If I am following God, my reputation will take care of itself. Also, if I am experiencing the love of God, I don’t have to worry that you will see my failures and weaknesses. God knows all about my failures and loves me anyway.
As with the cavitating pump, failure to allow the love of God to be the driving force and the content of our message will cause a life to eventually fall apart. If you have any doubts about this, I point you toward the most chilling words that Jesus ever uttered in Matthew 7:21-23. In this passage Jesus tells us that many who worked for duty and honor will not find entry into Heaven. It is only those who have been in relationship with him and have experienced his love and forgiveness will gain entry.
The stakes are very, very high.