The Gospel’s House Key: Taking Up the Cross of Love

"The gospel comes with a house key," said Rosaria Butterfield, on a recent Revive Our Hearts program. "And if it doesn't, it's only half a gospel."

Those words have been swimming circles in my head since I heard them. Try as I might, I simply can't set them aside. What could this possibly mean? I ask that question rhetorically, of course. I've spent several weeks now immersed in the pool of these thoughts, and I have settled here: The gospel's house key goes beyond simple hospitality. The gospel's house key opens hearts as well as homes and extends an invitation to love until it hurts.

How did I come to this conclusion? Providentially, the six-day series aired just as a group of friends and I were finishing up a book study that ended in a discussion of 1 Corinthians 13, otherwise known as "the love chapter." In the course of the discussion, one friend told of a recent conversation with her brother, a devoted Bible teacher. As they discussed bearing the weight of the cross as believers, my friend expressed concern that, "Most of the time, I just don't feel the weight of my cross all that much. My life is pretty great; my cross doesn't feel all that heavy."

Her pastor-brother's response (though I'm paraphrasing here) provided much food for thought. "Well," he said, "if you're not feeling the weight of the cross, you're probably not loving very well. Because if we really love biblically, it's going to be painful, and we're going to feel it."

The gospel comes with a house key, I thought, and a heart key. And if it doesn't, it's only half a gospel.

Handing Out the Key

As we find Jesus and the disciples near the end of John 13, Jesus has just announced that one of them (who we now know to be Judas) would betray Him, setting in motion a sequence of events that would end in His crucifixion. It is then, in verse 34, that He presents them with instruction as to how they are to conduct themselves when He is gone: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

We need to walk in the door of 1 Corinthians 13 and keep inviting people in until it hurts. And then some.

Jesus has spent the past three years teaching them the second part of the commandment, the "just as I have loved you" part. And that is the part of the gospel that we love to operate on and to share with others. Frankly, that is the easy part, because we mere mortals don't have to do anything to gain and tell about His love. In fact, we can't do anything! But the new part, the "love one another"? That's all us! We have to do it. And here we find the other half of the gospel, the door key about which Rosaria Butterfield spoke. But how?

Simply put, we need to walk in the door of 1 Corinthians 13 and keep inviting people in until it hurts. And then some.

The active love expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:3–8 is precisely the "as I have loved you" about which Jesus spoke:

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

Didn't Jesus give away all He had and deliver His body to be burned? See Philippians 2:5–9.

Was He arrogant, rude, insistent on His own way, irritable, or resentful? See Hebrews 2:10–12.

Didn't He rejoice not in wrongdoing but instead rejoice with the truth? See John 17:15–19.

Didn't He bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things? See Hebrews 12:2–4.

This is how He loved us. This is how we are to love one another—until it hurts, and then some.

Imagine the transformation that would occur in our churches, in our homes, and in our evangelism if we operate according to cross-bearing 1 Corinthians 13 love. What if we give of our time, our resources, and our love until it hurts, and then some? What if we open our hearts and homes with no strings attached—without arrogance, insistence on our own way, or resentfulness?

What if instead of thinking ourselves better when we learn of the sins of others, we encourage them unto restoration and rejoice when they return to the fold? What if we bear with one another, believe the best of one another, and endure all of the messiness that living in community brings—until it hurts, and then some? Can you imagine what a testimony that would be to the outside world? Remember what Jesus said immediately following His commandment that we love one another? "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

The Nuts, the Bolts, and the Key

So back to the connection between the gospel's house key (Christian love and hospitality, practically speaking) and the weight of the cross. It seems the point is this: We are to practice hospitality, to have open homes, yes. But as we relate to one another in the church family and with those who do not know Christ, we must practice cross-bearing, until-it-hurts love. For what good is an open home without an open heart?

In her conversation with Nancy, Rosaria discussed how as a new believer she was encouraged by invitations into the homes of her new church family but longed for something she had experienced in her former community—an intimate involvement in the ebb and flow of one another's lives. Truly open homes and open hearts. In some ways, perhaps she was receiving the nuts and bolts of fellowship and hospitality but longing for the key.

Honest Evaluation

My husband and I have discussed this a lot recently; we long to be key-givers, but we're not quite there. And it's not just busyness, although there is that factor that must constantly be evaluated. When I insert my name into the verses of 1 Corinthians 13, I find some progress but also some things that are downright untrue. Try it for yourself:

If I give all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. I am patient and kind; I do not envy or boast; I am not arrogant or rude. I do not insist on my own way; I am not irritable or resentful; I do not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth. I bear all things, I believe all things, I hope all things, I endure all things.

Ouch, right? But there is hope! We can encourage one another unto this cross-bearing love. We can repent when we fail. And can we trust in Him whose "love never ends" to help us to love better, one decision at a time. "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).

Do you practice loving until it hurts, and then some, with your family, friends, church family, and those who need to know Christ? Have you opened the door of your home and the door of your heart to others? Are you willing to not only be encouraged but to be held accountable by your sisters in Christ? Will you trust the Lord and open your heart again, even if you've been hurt in doing this before? What steps of obedience can you take in this journey this week?

About the Author

Laura Elliott

Laura Elliott

Born and raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Laura Elliott and her husband, Michael, now call Minnesota home. Laura is the mother of five sons and one daughter and serves as the marketing content manager for Revive Our Hearts. In … read more …

Join the Discussion