Archive for the ‘love’ Category
Some of you know, because I updated my Facebook status, that I have spent the last hour or so sitting on my patio with a nice cup of hot tea and a nice book of Wendell Berry. I had no idea what would happen.
I scribbled in my journal a few words, incoherent; illegible. I listened to rattling cicadas, barking dogs, chirping birds, clapping leaves, and tried to discern the flapping of the butterfly’s wings as the marvelous, glorious swallowtail flitted by scarcely able to control its trajectory because of the breeze waltzing through my backyard. I sipped my tea, breathed the summer air, and slowly, deliberately, lovingly caressed the pages of the book with my eyes.
I can’t read poetry straight through like a novel. Instead I skip around from page to page and read wherever the page stays open long enough for me to fix my gaze. I did so today and then I saw it, devoured it, made bare words my flesh and bone. Wendell Berry surprised me with words that quelled my anxiety, squashed my inner turmoil, and rushed new life into my failing heart.
“The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.”
–Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir
That’s enough. I just want you to know, or hear, again from love. Maybe you needed to hear from love as much as I do and did.
I confess I have a singular television pleasure (Pawn Stars doesn’t count): The Office. I cannot help myself. If you have watched The Office you know how incredibly absurd Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, is, but you are willing to look through him because even in absurdity there can be wisdom.
Blockbuster Video, the place I call my Office, has previous seasons of The Office on DVD and I can and do watch them while I am working. It’s not a matter of sitting around with popcorn and Coke on a couch. It is a matter of hearing the dialogue–which is often all you really need when watching the office. There is some physical humor, but it’s not really the most important thing. I prefer to say I am listening to The Office.
On the DVD’s one can access deleted scenes and every so often I do just that. I did just that after several episodes during season 2 and in particular I watched the deleted scenes after episode 8, “Performance Review.” Sometimes the best wisdom comes from the places we might easily overlook and I think it is easy to overlook the wisdom of Michael Scott. Here’s what Michael said in one deleted scene:
Michael: What is an office? Is it a group of people? Maybe. Is it an idea? Of course, yes. Is it a living organism? Exactly, yes. And any single cell organism has to have a spine, and that’s me. But the spine is always controlled by a brain, and that is Jan. But the brain needs a heart, and that is me again. So ironic. You know what? The heart is smarter than the brain. But the brain is so effing hot.
I know that won’t make much sense if you haven’t watched The Office, but all you need to read is the part couched in between the absurdity and the vulgarity. It’s kind of like the High Priest making a statement and having no idea what it means, how true it is, or what the ramifications would be for the entire population of the earth (John 11:49-50). But there it is. He said it. The ridiculous and absurd Michael Scott: “The heart is smarter than the brain.” It’s easy to overlook the utter brilliance of this sentence because it is surrounded by typical Michael and because it is only found in the deleted scenes files. I can’t believe this paragraph didn’t make the cut.
The thing about The Office is that, in my opinion, it’s not really about the office at all. I’m no sentimentalist, but I know that what attracts me to The Office is not Michael’s wisdom, Dwight’s antics, or Toby or Stanley or Angela or Kevin or anyone else in The Office. I watch The Office because of Jim and Pam. There it is, I confess: I watch The Office because the love story between Jim and Pam is majestic, grand, beautiful…in my opinion, it’s the only reason to watch The Office.
So I’m a sap. I’m captivated by this love story. The cat and mouse. The come and go. The give and take. The near and the far. The love story that is the central story to The Office is perfectly written. It is a story that perfectly illustrates what Michael said in the deleted scene: “The heart is smarter than the brain.” The heart finds a way. I wish I could tell you that while I sit here and write this I am not crying. I can’t. I’m thinking about the last year of my life and how I have played the mouse to Jesus’ cat, how he has been near and I have been far, how he has given and I haven’t taken. I can’t tell you how I am waiting for our break-up to be over and how I’m anxious to kiss once again for the first time. My heart cries out: Yes! My brain still dwells in the land of Meshek and Kedar. My brain is in the way, even if my heart knows the truth. I want to skip ahead to episode 4 of season 6. Again. But there are many episodes in between.
The story of Jim and Pam is a love story that captivates the heart and the mind. I have watched the relationship grow and grow…anyone who watches The Office knew from the very first time they watched the show that Jim and Pam were in love. We waited and watched and hoped and imagined the day when Pam and Roy would break-up and Jim would be the one and Pam would be the one. We never knew how they would come together. Jim got transferred. Pam was a little stand-offish. Roy got in the way. Jim had Karen. Pam went back to Roy. There was tension. There was chasing. There was flirting. There was danger. There was awkward situations and grand announcements. There was the Kiss. There was the fight. Still we hoped. We even hoped the friendship wouldn’t get in the way! We dared to think that in the end Jim and Pam would be one. We knew they loved each other, but how and when would they be together? At one time Pam told Jim she couldn’t imagine her life without his friendship, but Jim wanted more. We suspected Pam did too, but so much clutter was in the way.
So we watched. We waited. We wanted to see each episode unfold and what new twist or turn their love would take. We feared for Jim lest Roy find out and bash in his face. We wondered how long Pam would hold on to Roy. So we watched. And waited.
And then it happened…
There in the midst of the absurdity of the office, love blossomed and bloomed. There in the midst of every sort of dysfunction and sin, a pure love became. There in the midst of every sort of suffering and turmoil and trial and misery and uncertainty, love reached out its hands and took hold of two hearts and bound them together as one. There in the midst of friendship, surrounded by idiots, suffering, pain, and the every day tedium of mindless work: two people found each other and love won. There in the midst of the 6 billion inhabitants of this planet, two people looked across their desks, their eyes met, and they saw the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. There in the midst of the murkiness and drudgery that is life, love was revealed and exposed and confessed and announced and bound and consummated.
There, of all places, love. There, of all things, love. There, of all people, love.
Do not our hearts long for this? Even when our minds rebel and scream and shout and rage against all that is right and good and pure and holy do we not know love? Are we are not all desirous of love? In the end, Paul said, all that really matters is love because all that remains is love.
I know it’s only television. I know it isn’t real. I know that love doesn’t really work…but then again, it does, doesn’t it? Isn’t that why I watch the show? Isn’t it because love is that way, it is like Jim’s and Pam’s? Isn’t it because we know that is exactly how it is, even with Jesus? That is exactly how love becomes. Love grows in the soil of adversity. Love becomes in the midst of the near and the far. Love takes hold in the midst of absurdity and uncertainty. Love is two becoming one.
And ours is a love story. In the midst of all that life is–the wrath, the uncertainty, the unholiness, the unhappiness, the tedium, the dysfunction, the crudeness, the awkwardness, the turmoil, the trials, the suffering–in the midst of it all, there is a love story. Many will write this off as mere fiction–the product of someone’s imagination, entertainment via cable television; and nothing more. But some of us are in on the secret…some of us are privy to the mystery…some of us have been given the key…and we know it is true. Despite out misgivings and our fears that the break-up and tension will never be resolved, that Jim and Pam might never get together, that there are too many obstacles in the way, we are guided by our hearts and our hearts tell us the truth. And we know the episodes that follow. We know there is a marriage and we watch all the previous episodes knowing and waiting with anticipation for the episode when finally, for the first time, the marriage takes place.
We are people who will endure season after season of disappointment because we know in the end, there is a love that will find a way and a love that will not be broken. No chicane will stand. Love wins. And season after season of disappointment will not disuade us from believing.
Then an entirely new life begins.
“Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.”–Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter
I am, and have been, reading Mere Churchianity by the late Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk. I really do not think it is possible at this point to write how much I love this book. Michael had a way with words and it continued in this book.
The funny thing about the world is what the church is and what the church does. Churches are strange creatures and, likely, more often reflect the character of the preacher than that of the Head, Jesus. Frankly, I do not know which I dislike more: the church or preachers. Having been a preacher myself for the better part of fifteen years I am erring on the side of caution and disliking the church more.
Preachers are not far behind though.
There’s a relatively new congregation in my community. They are putting the finishing touches on a nice, shiny new building. They are also having a big fair to attract new people–I’m assuming children who will be brought by their screaming parents. Whatever.
I know of another church that proudly announced on its marquee: New Contemporary Service–as if that is the honey needed for the flies. Whatever.
I know another church that, now that there’s a healthy and substantial flow of cash, is fixing a hole in a roof–as if fixing a hole in a roof will suddenly convert the world to Jesus. Whatever.
I can be critical of the church now–as if I was soft on it before. I haven’t had a church home for nearly a year. I’m not altogether happy about that; nor I am altogether sad either. Like I said, church is a funny thing and laying low for a while has given me an opportunity to spy. I’m not so sure I like Big Church (as in Big Oil, Big Money). Church is way too much of a chore, far too much aggravation, and not nearly enough of what I am looking for. That’s not arrogance; that’s reality. What I’m looking for is a church that has a big sign out front that simply says: Friends of Jesus, Friends of People. Welcome.
Here’s what Michael Spencer wrote, “There is little need for large churches stuffed with satisfied audiences. There is a great need for a movement of disciples going into the overlooked places of the world to see and serve the Kingdom of God” (101). I could not possibly agree more. But this will not be the experience of the church so long as the church is comfortable inside itself.
For far too many people church is what we do on Sunday with little regard for actual discipleship created by Jesus. Comfort is the key. The role of the preacher, at least so far as I can see, is to preach the world of God with such power of the Spirit that the comfortable people become agitated and the agitated people are comforted. The Scripture is, after all, a double-edged sword.
I’m still looking for a church that is all about Jesus–by that I mean, of course, that there is a deliberate focus on what Jesus is doing, who Jesus is, and how these two things collaborate and inform, shape and conform, empower and reform the steps we take as disciples of Jesus. I’m looking for a church that is not satisfied.
I am not looking for a church that ‘meets my needs.’ Only Jesus can meet my needs. I’m not looking for a church where I can get helpful hints for living a better life or having a better marriage or anything of that sort. I’m looking for a church where Jesus is the first and last word each week and where Jesus is the substance we meet in the middle. I’m looking for a church where the preacher insists and expects that I open my Bible when the Scripture is read. I’m looking for a church where the preacher, the elders, the communion, the worship–everything–says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” When I go to church I do not need to see myself, I need to see Jesus.
Well maybe I’m going on too much about this. It’s easy to be critical of the church and terribly difficult to jump in and be so much a part of the church that these complaints are overwhelmed with love. The church cannot be what I want the church to be, the church can only be what the church is and is becoming by the grace of God. And in this I believe is the lesson Jesus has been teaching me for the past year: love the church regardless of what the church may appear to be in your myopic vision. Love the church like Jesus does.
Simply put, what the church doesn’t need is me and all my bitterness, whatevers, and criticism. What the church needs is Jesus.
“We are created by love, to live in love, for the sake of love…By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest left of efficiency in history, but how much have we grown in love?” (Gerald May, quoted in John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, 48)
I’m thinking about this love—and especially as this love relates to the church; to Christians. Commenting on 1 John 5:1, author Morris Womack writes:
“If love is one of the familial traits in God’s family, then each of his children will love God and love the brothers and the sisters in God’s family. You cannot love God without loving your brother. You cannot have one without the other. John reminds us that the way for us to become children of God is (1) by loving God; and (2) by carrying out his commands…[T]he conclusion we expect is: therefore if you love God you will love your fellow Christian.” (College Press NIV Commentary, Morris Womack, 1, 2, &; 3 John, 116-117)
And yet…and yet…Eldredge asks, “Why is it so easy to get angry at, or to resent, or simply to grow indifferent toward the very people we once loved?” (Waking the Dead, 113). John made it perfectly clear in his letter, “…everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…This is how we know that we love the children of God of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:1b-2).
Why is love so difficult for us? I mean, as I read blogs and the comment sections of blogs I am led to believe that the family of God is one great big, gigantic dysfunctional family. Why? Because we can’t and don’t and won’t love our brothers in Christ—no matter that we are commanded to. But it is one thing to lament the lack of love and quite another to offer solutions. It is one thing to see others as the stumbling block (“I can’t love them”) and quite another to see ourselves as the stumbling block (“I won’t love them.”) I wonder which is worse.
Ah, therein is my problem. I have no solutions. I don’t know how to convince people that they not only should love their brothers and sisters but that they can. That seems to be what grace does in our lives. That is, enables us to do something, love, that previously we could not do and would not do. I don’t know how to convince myself that I should love. Hey, sometimes it is hard to get over hurt. It is one thing to want love to win and quite another to go out of my way to make certain that is a reality.
Someone else wrote: “Brotherly love is proof of love of God; but the reverse is also true.” (Smalley, 268) Ouch. That hurts. Brotherly love, love God, love people. It makes my head hurt thinking about the various peoples that God calls me to love and the various peoples that God, by virtue of his command, calls to love even me. I can’t imagine the horror some people experience when they read in the Scripture that they are, by virtue of their new birth in Christ, obligated to love so-and-so; or me. I am probably more amazed at the people who have willingly, sacrificially, unconditionally, without an agenda loved me; warts and all that is. Yet I complain when I am commanded to love so-and-so.
Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:
“A primary task of the community of Jesus is to maintain this lifelong cultivation of love in all the messiness of its families, neighborhoods, congregations, and missions. Love is intricate, demanding, glorious, deeply human, and God-honoring, but—and here’s the thing—never a finished product, never an accomplishment, always flawed in some degree or other. So why define our identity in terms that can never be satisfied? There are so many easier ways to give meaning and significance to our human condition: giving assent to a creed or keeping a prescribed moral code are the most common in congregations.” (313)
Don’t you think that is too much pressure? Quite frankly it would be much easier if we did have a set of rules that would measure our success; indeed, many think we do. But the Scripture is rather clear that the measure of our success is determined by our love for one another and in no other way. There’s an easy way and the right way. The easy way is rules; the right way is love. And Peterson is right: love is never a finished project or product. There is always some obstacle we have to overcome along the way. Love always wins when we are brave enough to love.
I don’t think I’m searching for anything out of the ordinary, although, to be sure, love is out of the ordinary. It is not what we are accustomed to in this life. So when we get involved with the Jesus life we are shocked that this is what we are called to do. Love one another. Love one another. A new command I give you, Love one another. Jesus said it three times on the night he was betrayed. Three times! I suppose that shocked his disciples that night. Love one another. Pshaw! What sort of kingdom is going to grow, overcome the world, and remain when the cornerstone of that kingdom is love for another?
I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary, although love does not come naturally to us. To love the people of God causes us all sorts of revulsion and convulsions and indigestion. Yet that command is not rescinded: Love one another is what Jesus left us with. He could have said any of a billion different things is the ‘new command’ he was giving us. And yet…and yet…our story, his story, is defined by love. No matter how complicated it becomes the command never changes: Love one another. Jesus either had a sense of humor or he was serious. Could be both. But while not excluding the former, I am inclined toward the latter.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If anyone one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
Yeah, right. That’s going to work.
The Love of God in Christ
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)
Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.
That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.
How can we not be bowled over by such statements? How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.
At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)
Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children?
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)
Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, unraveled, and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’
I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.
I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.
The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.
Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’d like to share a thought or two on the subject of Christian Unity. I am a preacher by calling, and as such, lately, I have been preaching a series of sermons to my congregation on this ever so strange idea of Christian Unity or as I prefer to call it, essential oneness. I have been preaching this series of sermons because my congregation has been going through some difficult times lately and we needed to be reminded of what Scripture says about our oneness in Christ.
It’s no small thing for a church to be one in heart, mind, and ambition. If you think about what Christ did when he brought us together it is really quite remarkable. He pulls people together who are different races (although we all belong to the human race), people of different colors, people of different nationalities, people from different religious backgrounds, people from differing social backgrounds (‘rich’ and ‘poor’), men, woman, young, old–the list could go on–and he throws us all into one great big bag that he calls ‘church’ and says: “Find a way to make it work.” Find a way to make it work?!? Seriously? Seriously.
Jesus knew, knows, what he is doing; doesn’t he? I mean, no two people come into the church with the same history or motivation or even theological ideas. For that matter, no two people ever even retain those original theological ideas. As few as 10 years ago, I would never have considered an Anglican preacher to be among my best of friends–simply because of theological ideas. You know what, today I can; and I am glad for it. The problem we have, I think, is that we in the church are far too concerned about the baggage that people carry with them after they become Christians. We sort of seem to think they ought to drop it all right away and get on board the Jesus train. When it takes longer, we get frustrated, irritated, angry, and begin to lack patience; love might slip.
That is, we think that people need to be remade into our image. You know what I mean, right?
That’s when problems creep into the church–when we forget to love. So we believe things like this:
- Those people who are not maturing at the same rate as I am are bothersome.
- Those people who are not thinking like I am theologically are weaklings.
- Those people who do not see things the way I see them are troublemakers.
We think that anyone who is not ‘like me’ is, clearly, not a Christian at all. Or worse. You know what the problem with all this is? We are not being remade in the image of other human beings! That’s the glory of it all! I don’t have to stack up against other humans, because they are not the template; they are not the standard; they are not the goal. Jesus is. Paul wrote in Colossians 3 that we are being recreated in the image of our creator who is Jesus. And none of us is there yet. We are all still on the way. Only those who fail to recognize this ‘on-the-wayness’ lack the courage to be patient with others. Those who think all baggage must be left at the door are those who do not believe Jesus came to ‘save the sick’ and the ‘sinners.’ We might sing ‘just as I am’ but there are a lot people who don’t believe it for a minute. They think it is something more like ‘you better get the way I want you or even Jesus won’t help you.’
So, then, what does all this have to do with unity in the body of Christ? Well, consider these words from Paul’s pen to the Ephesian church:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Be patient with others. Be humble–they may be more advanced than you think. Work at unity in the body. It won’t be easy: work at it. And here’s the thing, if we have a proper view of ourselves (humility) and a proper view of others (patience and bearing with them) then working at unity in the body will be our goal. But if we are not working at maintaining peace, then are we working at war? Even a casual indifference (not working towards unity) is an example of not working at maintaining unity in the body. We must work at unity in the Body of Christ. Work. We cannot afford to not work for peace in the Body because if we don’t work at it war will break out among us.
Growing up is the goal: the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Along with self-sacrificing efforts at unity comes maturity in Christ as we are patient with one another and understand that God has apportioned his grace to us. Unity in the body and maturity in the individual somehow go hand in hand. Then there’s that grace word again! It’s so intrusive isn’t it? So how do we ‘make it work’?
It’s not complicated. He says three times: Bear with one another in Love. Speak the truth in Love. Build up the Body in Love. Do you think we can overstate the case for how much we must love in the Body of Christ? Do we have enough room to love? Can we humble ourselves and love? For the sake of the essential oneness of the Body of Christ can we love one another? Can we recognize that all of us are ‘on the way’ and none of us has arrived?
It’s that love thing. It’s that grace thing. It’s that patience thing. It’s that humility thing. Paul wants us to grow up, yes, but he is saying to the people that growing up takes time. It is the goal. It is the point. But it is not accomplished overnight. And it is not done in isolation. Maturity is an ‘all’ issue. We work together in unity so that we might worked together for maturity. We do it! We won’t become mature on our own. We need each other and this is why we are patient, speak the truth in love, bear with one another, think of ourselves in humility, understand that grace has been poured out in Christ, he gave us teachers and preachers and prophets, and this is why we should make every effort to maintain peace in the Spirit.
Do you really think for a minute that people can grow up and mature in Christ when there is fighting and arguing and carrying-on happening in the church? Do you think God will tolerate new babies living in a hostile place, in an environment of warfare? I don’t think so. How can people who persist in immaturity think for a minute that God is going to entrust them with babies who need to grow up in their faith? Not. Gonna. Happen.
So we must work at unity in the Body of Christ for the sake of our maturity. Christians need an environment where healthy interaction can take place and folks can grow up in their faith–into the Head who is Christ. Love will go a long, long way towards this goal. If we truly desire unity in the Body of Christ, love is the place we must start. Apart from patient, humble, bearing-with-one-another love–maturity is not likely to happen.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Grace is not merely something they heard about and signed up for. Rather, it was something they understood. They made an intellectual, cognizant decision to participate in the grace of God. It was something that was preached to them as truth, it was something they believed, it was something they comprehended, it was something they accepted and believed, and it was something they incorporated and practiced in their lives as believers in Christ. What defines us as Christians is not the mistaken idea that we have all the answers to life’s questions but rather that we are a people full of all sorts of questions. We have found the world’s answers lacking; we find grace filling. And this grace compels us, moves us, changes us. It causes us to love in ways we never imagined possible a people we could never get close enough to under our normal circumstances. Grace has that sort of power to enable us to love the unlovely, the unlovable, and the unloving. The irony is that God doesn’t even wait for us to go to ‘them’. Instead, he brings us all together in one place (‘in Colossae’) and plants us in one person (‘in Christ’). There, in Christ in Colossae, we learn how to love.
So love works itself outward towards others. In the context of the church: it IS worth talking about, love, that is. Jesus made it clear that when others see our love for one another demonstrated they would know beyond doubt that we belong to Him. And it is probably possible that the sort of love Paul is talking about is only possible within the context of congregation of grace, empowered by the Truth, and filled with the Spirit. If he mentions earlier that we are ‘in Christ,’ here he mentions that we are no less ‘in the Spirit.’ This prompts Dunn to write, “The love that mirrors the love of God in Christ can only be aroused and sustained by the Spirit of God. The phrase carries overtones of an inspiration that wells up from within, charismatically enabled, and that depends on continued openness to the Spirit if its quality of unselfish service of others is to be maintained.” (65)
This is what was being demonstrated at Colossae: A love for one another because of Christ and in the Spirit.
Sadly, Christians are known more for what they are against than for what they are for. We Christians make it impossible for ‘sinners’ to get near us not because we put up fences or walls or traps (even though we do!) but rather because we fail to love one another. Instead, we hold up placards denouncing one another, judging those for whom Christ has died, lambasting those who might otherwise have a heart or an ear towards the Gospel. In my estimation, the greatest single cause of unbelief in this world today, is the church because for all the church’s talk about love and compassion to the world at large, we fail to love one another sacrificially in the way Christ would have us to. Give away all the food you want, but who wants to be a part of a group that cannot love one another? No one will convince me that the proliferation of judgment ministries around the country via the Internet, radio, television is doing anything to attract people to the Gospel of God’s grace. Those ministries are not protecting the Gospel, they are cheapening it. Those ministries are not protecting the ‘saints,’ they are pushing away the ‘sinners.’
I am always amused by this story from Mark’s Gospel:
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39″Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 8:38-41, NIV)
Or the Message:
38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” 39-41Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.
In our world, doing something in the Name of Jesus is not enough any longer. Nowadays, if it is not done in a manner prescribed by someone else (see my post on ‘modern gnostics’) then it is just not enough, not good enough, not holy enough. Nowadays in the church, love in the Name of Jesus is the last thing we ask of or see when we are considering someone else’s faith in Christ or their work in the kingdom. But this is what Jesus said: “Do not stop him.” Jesus told us not to stop the person doing something in His Name. Our problem is that we tend to act like his Name is somehow our name and that we must protect our name from any stains and blemishes that those a little less sanctified might taint it with. Love gets thrown aside, grace is cast out, in favor of protecting something that even Jesus didn’t protect (that is, he did not retain the exclusive rights to usage; he was happy that love and grace were abounding when power was recognized.) I suspect that those who used his Name knew about love and grace and had a burning passion to demonstrate it in the only Name that they could: Jesus’ Name. Thus, “Don’t stop them.” Jesus did not seem too concerned, did he? (This isn’t to say that every use of the Name of Jesus is righteous or valid or blessed. This isn’t to say that we should ‘take the Lord’s Name in vain’ which means a lot more than just uttering a curse when we hit our thumb with a hammer.)
My point is this: If Epaphras told Paul about the love the Colossians had in the Spirit then it seems rather clear to me that this was something Epaphras saw with his eyes. I do not imagine a scenario where Epaphras conducted interviews: “Well tell me, member of the Colossian church, do you love in the Spirit?” No. I imagine a scenario where this love was visibly demonstrated before his eyes. He saw it and when he told the apostle about it, it was no mere, “Oh, and by the way, they love in the Spirit.” I imagine an enthusiastic, ebullient, child-like explosion of, “Oh you cannot imagine how much they love! I saw it all over the place! It was everywhere! They withheld their love from no one! They love Christ the Lord! They love one another! They love their neighbors! Husbands love wives! Wives love husbands! Children love parents and parents children! You cannot imagine the love these people have!”
It’s that, isn’t it? He doesn’t specify who or what they were loving in the Spirit. It just says, “your love in the Spirit.” Truth be told, does it matter? Our love is not something we have to brag about to others, but if we love like Scripture says we should then it will be visible to others. “By this will the world know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why? Because the world will see our love being demonstrated. Would that the Body of Christ could be marked by our love in the Spirit instead of marred by our hate and contempt.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–If you would like to more fully appreciate what I have written here about love and grace, I would recommend you click this link and read the post. Here’s a taste:
I sit back a little stunned. I want to argue but can’t find anything that counters the simplicity and elegance of Papa’s words. “Okay, I think I get what you’re telling me; that we aren’t very good at loving, but a lot better at defending our turf.”
“See, another great reason for mystery. The ambiguity of belief, of doctrine, reveals the motives and the dark places of the heart…the places that need to be healed. Religious self righteousness and intellectual snobbery are kissing cousins. Intelligence was never created as a justification for the absence of kindness and respect and love. Do you remember the community of faith at Ephesus. I wrote a letter to them in which I commended their ‘orthodoxy’, that they wouldn’t put up with the Nicolaitans…”“Yeah,” I interrupt, “I have been meaning to ask about them…”
“Not important right now, “ she cuts me off and continues. “The point is that they were all about theology and doctrine, but I removed their light, their influence, their very life; not because of doctrine but because they no longer knew how to express the love who is Truth that indwelt them. Ambiguity and mystery constantly raise real questions. In the face of uncertainty and differences of idea and belief, will we stop loving? Will I descend to the acquisition and defense of territory and turf? Will I even stop loving my enemy, let alone my brother or my sister?”“How come I haven’t understood this?” I shake my head.
“Like you stated yourself, it is because love doesn’t come naturally to you. The closest you have is how you love your own children but even that is only a reflection of what love truly is. Turf and territory have always been about independence, while love is only present in dependence.”
We are silent for a few minutes while I try to organize the jumble of thoughts crashing around inside my paradigm. Papa, aware of my struggle, speaks first.
“Not everything is ambiguous or a mystery. There is much that is clear and evident. I even wrote it down for you. Very clear, very unambiguous. It is all over the scriptures. Start with I Corinthians 13…clear as the nose on your face. The question is why have you turned the clarity of love into something ambiguous?” (William Young)
Truth is, I don’t know too much about Brian MacLaren. I have read about him, yes; I cracked on of his books one time in the bookstore to look at the table of contents, yes; but curl up on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey and warm up to his teaching, no. So forgive me, please, if I happen to come across the wrong way in this post. I am commenting ONLY on the below information and nothing else. These comments are reserved for ONLY the below post and nothing else.
Here’s what I just read at Christian Church Today (.com) in a short article by a fella named Dr Bobby Harrington who happens to be Lead Pastor (whatever that means) at the Harpeth Community Church in Franklin, TN:
I like many things Brian McLaren writes (some more than others). But I love what Brian McLaren writes in an essay called “Christian” in David Kinnaman’s new book UnChristian. His vision is GREAT! Here is what he says…
In thirty years, research could show us that when people think Christian, they think things like this:
- Christians are the ones who love people, whoever they are—gay or straight, Jew or Muslim, religious or atheist, capitalist or not, conservative or liberal.
- Christians are the ones who have done more than anyone in the world to stop the HIV/AIDS crisis.
- Christians are the people who gravitate toward the poor and who show compassion through generous action and seek justice so that the systemic causes of poverty are overcome. They call the rich to generosity, and they call on rich nations to work for the common good.
- Christians are people who believe that art and creativity are important, so they consistently produce the most striking, original, and enriching art.
- Christians are willing to give their lives for the cause of peace. They oppose violence in all of its forms. They will lay down their lives to protect the vulnerable from the violent.
- Christians care for the environment. They don’t just see it as raw materials for economic gain, but they see it as the precious handiwork of their Creator.
- Christians have personal integrity. They keep their marriage vows and are aware of how destructive misused sexuality can be. Yet they are compassionate toward people who make sexual mistakes, and they never consider themselves superior.
- Christians build harmony among races. You always know that you’ll be respected when you’re around a Christian.
Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.
You know, I have to be honest with you I hope this is not what Christians are known for in 30 years because if we are, then people will have greatly misunderstood us, and we will have seriously misrepresented the mission of the Church. You know, it is not the responsibility of the church to solve or stop the HIV/AIDS crisis. I’m sorry, but it is not. That is not the commission that Christ gave us. And the problem with assuming it is, is that we can get so caught up in solving/stopping HIV/AIDS that we never get around to doing the real work that Christ has called us to. This is not to say we shouldn’t be compassionate, helpful, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent like the good Boy Scout church we should be. But I will say this, helping people with any disease and not sharing the Gospel is meaningless. I just cannot see how giving someone a cup of cold water is going to help them when they still end up in hell because we didn’t tell them about the Jesus in whose name it is given. But let me take the point further: Why is it always about HIV/AIDS? Why should Christians be known as leaders in that particular area? What about cancer patients? What about cirrhosis of the liver patients? What about people in Methadone clinics? What about prostitutes, strippers, or pornographers? What about helping homosexuals before HIV/AIDS? What about pediatric AIDS or crack babies? What about emphysema patients? What about being leaders in the fight against RLS? Seriously! Why does it always come back to HIV/AIDS as if that is the only disease ravaging this planet? What about Malaria patients? TB? SARS? Bird-Flu? Anorexia? Bulimia? Paralysis? Common cold? People with HIV/AIDS are not the only people on the planet dying from disease.
Do you get what I’m saying?
I’m not sure where this stuff comes from. Who said Christians aren’t the ones who ‘love people’? I think the only problem right now is that there are a bunch of important people who are trying to convince the world that Christians don’t love all sorts of people. I serve in a church, I have for the past 12 years or so, and I have never met a single person in any of the churches I have served who has hated any of the above groups mentioned. In fact, I have found it to be quite the opposite: We tend to love the sinners more than we do one another. The problem that Christians have is not that we don’t love the sinners–oh, we are only too eager to do that!–our problem is that we don’t love one another. Calvinists battle with Arminians. Lutherans battle with Baptists. Pre-tribbers battle with A-tribbers. Instrumentalists battle with non-instrumentalists. Emergents battle with, well, everyone else. Catholics battle with Protestants. Free-willers battle with Sovereign Gracers. It is a rather sickening cycle and truth, but it is true: Christians don’t like one another. That, in a nutshell, is the largest part of our problem right now. And I submit to you that the world will become richer, more harmonious, more peaceful, when Christians learn to love one another per the command of Jesus.
I’m not going to comment on every one of those bullet-points. I think they are rather shallow to be honest with you. Neither do I happen to think that any of them are necessarily Christian virtues. Every single person on the planet could stand to be for peace, for the environment, for art! Why it is that only Christians should be known for these things is beyond me. Thus my point: The only objective in pointing those things out is to make the world think that Christians are not those things already. Maybe the authors of the books need to work on those things. Maybe the book is an exorcism of their own demons.
There is something more we should be known for. Jesus said we should be known for our love for another. He said, By your love for one another will people know you are my disciples. We could start right there. In my estimation that would be the best place to start. (John 13; 1 Peter)
Another place to start would be with Jesus. I think the church should be known as a place where Jesus is exalted and glorified and honored and obeyed. Yes, obeyed. You see the Bible says that Jesus is the head of the church. That means, in part, that he is in charge. He sets the standard. He makes the rules. He governs the church. He determines the church’s path and direction. (Colossians 1; 1 Corinthians 12)
Still a third thing we should be known for, not just in 30 years, but now, is that the church is a place where sin is not tolerated. That’s right. We are called as the people of God to be pure, holy, blameless. How about the church start eradicating sin from its members? How about we start to purify ourselves so that when Christ returns we are more than ready? (Romans 6)
A fourth thing is this: How about the church is known for its proclamation of the truth of God’s Word? I know, I know: I’m crazy right? But just what might happen, get ready…if the Church actually started believing in the Bible as the Word of God instead of continuing to think of it as a book of moral stories designed to enlighten us and teach us how to be wonderful, happy, art loving, tree hugging, people? The reason we are not a people of peace now is because we do not love the God of peace or His Word. The Bible is just another book that can be mined for practical, self-help BS. (Colossians 1)
I hope in thirty years, should the Lord tarry, the church is known for one thing: That we belong to Christ.
The fact is, some people may be ‘called’ in their Christian faith to minister to the poor in a special way. Others may be called to minister to HIV/AIDS people in a special way. Still others may be called to care for the environment in a special, God-directed way. And I say: GO FOR IT! But not everyone is called to those ministries. Not everyone on this planet is going to be a peace-maker in the above sense of ‘opposing violence in all forms.’ After all, if we did that, we would not be justified because then Christ would not have been killed: There’s a time for peace; and a time for war. Some will be soldiers who bring peace through breaking things and killing bad people who want to kill us. Still others might be called to build harmony among the races through diplomacy and government. But not all.
The point is this, to suggest that there is a list of things that we should be known for is to insist on a rather narrow definition of what a Christian is in the first place. I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I am not called in any way, shape, or form to minister in a special way to people with HIV/AIDS. Ten years from now that might change; ten minutes from now that might change. I am not called to minister to the environment in a special way–that is, I’m not called to tie myself to a tree or protest the wholesale slaughter of cattle or to become a vegan–although I can plant a garden in the spring and grow lots of flowers and enjoy the birds that live in the birdhouses I build. Still, I question whether this is of any significant value. Does God reward me because I built a birdhouse more than if I shared the Gospel? Everyone has to recognize their gift and calling from God. God gives some people great wealth that they might be a blessing to others. God gives some people poverty that they might be blessed by others. You see, for as much as Mr MacLaren wants to define what Christianity is, he is also defining what it is not. Christianity is not merely about the social services we render to the population in general. Christianity is always, first and foremost, about Christ. We do what we will for him because we can, we do what we ought to because we owe it to Him, we do what we ought to because we love him.
Here’s how the article ended:
Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.
I agree: The Church should dream of better possibilities. We should dream of the possibility that we have been entrusted with the truth of the mystery of God. We should dream of the possibility that Jesus is coming back soon. We should dream of the possibility that if we don’t share the Gospel with the lost they will suffer an eternity in hell. We should dream of the possibility that poverty is a reality in this world as is HIV/AIDS, as is cutting down trees, as is bad art, and that it is not the responsibility of the church to fix these things. We should dream of the possibility that war will always exist in this world because sin will always exist in this world because sinners will always exist in this world (if war is a reality, how can we make the innocent victims, and the guilty perpetuators of war, safer and warmer).
We should dream of a world where Christians of all stripes love one another deeply. This is the problem of the hour: There is no grace in the church. The way things are now, there is only room in the church for one person: Me. And if you don’t agree with me, or MacLaren, or Warren, or Carson, or Horton, or Piper–or whoever, then there is no room for you. The reason the church has failed, and will continue to fail, is because we do not love one another.
Even MacLaren’s list is nothing more than a legalist trap: Do this and be saved or respected or liked or warmly welcomed. No. Who ever said it is our job as the church to be well-liked in this world of hate? Who ever said our message would bring peace? Who ever said we would be liked if we did things that made people like us? We don’t serve the poor, the homosexual, the Muslim, the tree, or peace just so people will like us. That’s absurd. We do it because we love the God who gave His Son as the propitiation for our sins. We serve because we love, because we can, because we should.
Our problem is not war, not poverty, not HIV/AIDS, not bad art, not fur-trappers, not disharmony, not Muslims, Jews, or anything else: Our poblem is sin. The Bible says there is only one way to deal with the guilt and power of sin and that is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This should be what the church dreams of: eliminating the status quo of sin: We are far too accepting of sin, much too often in denial of its power.
So I say: If the Church wants to be known for something, for anything, let’s be known as the one place on this planet, the one people on this planet who take/took sin seriously, who offered a serious solution (Grace), and helped people to realize it in their lives. I would much rather be known for this than for any thing else.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I got to thinking that if I post all those ‘things that irritate em’ I might end up feeling badly about life (my list is up 68, which isn’t bad considering it is earth.) Then I went to work at the school (yes, I work in a public school where they spend tax dollars teaching children about Darwinism) and one of my co-workers suggested that perhaps I should balance out my list with some things that do not irritate. So, my list of things that do not irritate me began easily enough and is now up to 109 and it only took about 20 minutes or so to come up with that many. Now that I’m off for the day, I’ll have more time to think about things and make note of them. So, here you go: My List of Things that Do not Irritate me. I’ll go slow, maybe 20 or so at a time. Enjoy!
- My Really Hot Wife.
- My three Sons.
- God’s Grace
- The sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my sins.
- Life (I love the adventure of living and learning and growing)
- David Crowder*Band
- Health (my wife has been cancer free for 15 years!)
- Books (even those I don’t like)
- Green & Black olives
- Chocolate, Caramel, Peanut Butter all mixed up.
- NASCAR (Go 24!)
- Baseball (George Brett simply the best there ever will be!)
- Golf (even though I’m a hack)
- My congregation
- French Impressionism (love Monet and the Water Lillies)
- My parents
- My brothers
- My in Laws (especially my Mother in law)
- Praying Mantises
I’ll post a few more of these later on, after I have posted some more things that do not irritate me. There is ‘so much beauty around us, but just two eyes to see’ (Rich Mullins, RIP).
John 15:9-17 (Day 70, 90 Days with Jesus)
9″As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.
So it comes back full circle. To remain in the love of Jesus is to remain in the love of the Father. Once again we see that Jesus identifies his own work with the work of the Father, his own will with the will of the Father, and his own commands as the commands of the Father. There is no distinction between Jesus and the Father. Their wills are in perfect communion.
But notice that obedience to the commands of Jesus is not a burden but brings joy. It requires effort to remain in the commands of Jesus just as it requires a great deal of effort to remain in his love by loving one another. He told us these things so that our joy would be complete. So even our completed joy is tied tightly to our obedience to Christ and to our love for Christ and to our love for one another. How can we be in Christ apart from our willingness to obey?
I haven’t enjoyed very much of what I read in The Great Omission. That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It has it’s moments. But something he has said twice so far has intrigued me, “To drive the point home I often put this challenge: I do not know of a denomination or local church in existence that has as it’s goal to teach its people to do everything Jesus said. I’m not talking about a whim or a wish, but a plan. I ask you sincerely, is this on your agenda? To teach disciples surrounded in the triune reality to do everything Jesus said?” ( Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, 61, cf. page 73). I think that most preachers are afraid of teaching obedience because they are absolutely terrified that they might actually be teaching some sort of ‘works righteousness.’ But I think on this point I am in agreement with Willard, and he has said this several times already in the book that ‘grace is no opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning’ (61, and elsewhere).
I think preachers are terrified to stand up and tell their congregations: The Lord said, “There shall be no sexual immorality among you,” or, “The Lord said there shall be no slander or gossip among you.” Or, positively, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. You shall love your enemies and those who persecute you. And you shall love one another.” I think many preachers are terrified that if they dared to say something like this to their congregations they would be run out of a job and then run out of town. How can we teach people not just what Jesus said but also what he expects us to do? I don’t think that Jesus ever intended that folks to ‘get saved’ and then sit back on their or His laurels and wait around. I think He means for us to be about getting busy loving, and obeying, and ‘joying,’ and bearing fruit. But we think the hardest thing about being a Christian is having to be in the presence of one another. Instead of this being a delight and a joy and transcending mere obedience to a command, it should be our delight and substance of our joy.
Jesus said very clearly: “Greater love has no one than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.” Then he went out and did that very thing. So what does the Gospel say, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” How about maturity? Can we say we are perfect in Christ if we are unwilling to lay down our lives for any brother or sister in the Body of Christ or even for a friend?
I don’t think Jesus ever mitigated his commands: If you love me, you will obey me he said. You will ‘remain in my commands.’ That is, there is something to be said about the nature of the love we demonstrate, there is something about the substance of the love we profess, and there is something about orthodoxy that we cannot easily dismiss. Jesus said that our love for one another, for friends, is directly tied to ‘my commands.’ What is love, then, apart from Jesus? Is any old love valid? Is ‘love’ all that matters? Or is love in direct connection to the Person of Jesus and the cross the only valid and vital love? I think K C Moser makes a good point in this respect:
Why did not Paul and Peter simply demand obedience to Christ as one in authority? Because they knew that Christ saves by means of his death on man’s behalf, not simply by his authority. The authority of Christ can be recognized in obedience with no thought of his death as propitiation…Merely to believe in him as God’s Son with no thought of the cross is not enough. Likewise, to repent with no thought of Christ crucified, and to be baptized, except as a response to his death for our sins, are not enough….In all of his obedience the sinner should know that he is responding to the blood of Christ, not merely recognizing the right of Christ to demand obedience” (The Gist of Romans, 9)
The same is true of love. Jesus makes this explicit in verses 12-14 where he ties love to death to friendship to his disciples. Thus, even though Moser is making quite another point, the principle is nonetheless the same: To love one another merely because we are commanded is rather meaningless. Our love for one another must be tied directly to the cross of Christ. We are not automatons: There is logic behind the manner of love that we demonstrate for one another, to our enemies, and to our neighbors. It is the Cross. In other words, there is such a thing as an ‘orthodox’ love that we are to demonstrate.
Having said that, I will move on to the second point which is: He commanded us to Love One Another. The love has been carefully defined for us: It is sacrificial, it secured in the cross, it was demonstrated by Jesus, it was commanded by Jesus, it is a demonstration of our obedience to Jesus, and it is the proper, lasting fruit that He has commissioned and enabled us to produce. Love matters. Might we say it this way: The measure of our maturity in Christ, the measure of our obedience to Christ, the measure of our love of Christ is demonstrated in our love for one another. Is that unreasonable? Do you think that we can just have any old feelings or any old sort of love for another that we choose? Or do you think that Jesus has defined this love for us?
He has appointed us to bear fruit. What fruit? Fruit that lasts! The only real fruit that will last, when all else has given way, is our love for one another. But still I think preachers are terrified to preach this sort of sacrificial obedient love to congregations. You know what I mean: God wants ME to be happy and successful and fulfilled. That message sells, and big time in this current configuration of the world. But what about the demanding, sacrificial love that lays down its life for others? What about the sort of love that fails to consider whatever benefits we might otherwise enjoy? What about the sort of love that gives of the self and keeps on giving?
I asked a friend of mine yesterday: Do you have a word from the Lord for me? I think he thought I was joking and he said ‘I haven’t heard that voice.’ But at the end of his email he told me about a preacher he had listened to recently who had challenged him with these words, “Do you really love your congregation? Do you really love the people God has entrusted to your care?” After I read that I said, “Thanks for the word.” That was God’s word to me. I know exactly what he was saying. The challenge is to sacrificially love. I know what this means: It means give up yourself for someone else. It means live redemptively. It means lay down your lives for one another. It means to live entirely for someone else. It means: No greater love has any man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends. It means to set aside personal, short term ambition so that the greater, lasting fruit of perfect love will be demonstrated, so that God will be glorified in our lives.
And if you cannot love, ask the Father. He can. What greater joy could there be in loving one another perfectly? What greater joy could we have in Christ Jesus but to obey him by loving one another deeply as He has loved us? What could be less burdensome than loving one another?
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 14:22-31 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 68)
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” 23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25″All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28″You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.
Judas (not Iscariot) asks Jesus a question that Jesus evidently didn’t think was meaningful. Judas asks, Jesus ignores his question altogether and goes back to the subject he’s been hammering home since the 13th chapter: Love. I sense Jesus saying to all of us, “There are some things that, while important, are not nearly as critical as others.” Primarily here he is telling us that the love we have for him takes second seat to no one, no thing, no topic. He began this section of Scripture by showing us the ‘full extent of his love’ by washing the feet of the disciples. He told us to imitate him, to love one another, to love one another, and to love one another. He’ll say other things about this love later too.
Eugene Peterson has an interesting thought about this love. In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places he writes,
As we develop genetically, things come into play that do require teaching and training: reading and writing, social skills, artistic and athletic competence, emotional and relational understandings, how to repair a transmission, how to program a computer, how to get to the moon. At the top of these learned behaviors, these achieved identities, is love” (327-328).
What? We have to learn how to love?
“Everyone more or less knows this, but after we’ve reached the age of thirty or so, having failed at it so many times, it seems so out of reach that many of us settle for a human identity that is more accessible—like the one associated with playing the violin, or playing a ten-handicap gold game, or repairing a transmission, or getting to the moon. When we run into John’s barrage of sentences on love, it just doesn’t seem very practical. We shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, I’ve tried it, tried it a lot. I don’t seem to be very good at it, and the friends I’ve tried it on don’t seem to be very good at it either. How about something a little more down to earth?” (328)
True, we are quick to quit. We easily give up when we fail at love—or, when others fail at love to us. If loving our friends and enemies whom we can see is difficult, imagine how much more difficult it will be to love Jesus whom we cannot see. But here’s where Peterson cinches it:
“This is who you are, your identity, loved by God. But being loved is not all there is to it. Being loved creates a person who can love, who must love. Getting love is a launch into giving love….Every sentence [of John] comes out more or less the same: God loves you; Christ shows you how love works; now you love. Love, love, love, love. Just do it.” (328-329; Peterson is talking about our love for one another and his context is 1 John. Nevertheless, the point is the same.)
If Jesus washed our feet (or if he died on the cross ‘for God so loved the world’ or demonstrated his love while we were yet sinners by dying on the cross) he has not merely created people who are grateful; he has created people who can and will love. This love transcends all the prejudice and hatred and anger and arrogance of others and of ourselves. Furthermore, I believe this love starts with Jesus. If the words Jesus spoke are the Words of the Father, then God is telling us the necessary requirements of his affection: If we are loved, we must love. If we truly love, we will be loved. I don’t think it is possible to say, “I Love Jesus” and not submit to his authority and to his Lordship. If we say we love Jesus then we will have no problems joyfully responding to his call with obedience and submission. But those who refuse to submit to Him in joy and obedience really call their own love into question for the very reason that they are challenging Jesus’ authority to set the standards of reciprocal love.
I don’t think Jesus is talking here about saving grace. I think Jesus is talking about the love that someone professing to be saved, someone professing to be a disciple, will demonstrate. By our obedience to Him, by our submission to him, we demonstrate our love and affection. Is it too much for Jesus to ask that we demonstrate our love for him? Does he even ask us to do so of our own strength? Or does ‘the Counselor’ sent in Jesus’ Name by the Father, guide and direct into the path of obedient love? Furthermore, doesn’t Jesus set the example: “…the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Is this not the example we are to follow?
We are loved, then, in order that we might love in return. We follow the example of Jesus. There is nothing but obedience for those who claim to love Jesus. If we love him, we will obey him and demonstrate that we truly belong to Him.
What does it mean to obey him? How do we demonstrate our love for him? How can we follow his example and be obedient to his will as he was obedient to the Father’s will? That’s the trick, isn’t it? But then again, is it hard? I think not because it all starts back in chapter 13 and the demonstration of the full extent of our love for one another. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that our demonstration of love, through obedience, for Jesus starts with our obedience to his ‘new’ command that we love one another. Think about it: If we cannot obey this one simply command, to love one another, do you think it possible we can obey anything else that Jesus commanded us to do? Or, take it from this way, if we have never known or even experienced the Love of Jesus do you think for a minute we will be compelled to love Him or love one another?
In many ways, I think it is time for the world to see that Christians, those who follow Jesus, always do what Jesus commanded us. It is time for the world to understand that we follow no one but Jesus, that we serve no one but Jesus, that we love no god but Jesus. It is time for the world to see that Christians always do exactly what Jesus commanded us, and I think this starts with love. The first step to learning how to love is by being loved. Jesus loves us, and demonstrates that love, so that we can love, and will.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 14:15-21 (90 Days With Jesus, Day 67)
15″If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
I have done a lot of talking on this blog, and in this series of meditations on John’s Gospel, about the nature of discipleship, what it costs, what its demands are. Being a disciple of Jesus is not cheap, nor is the grace that creates disciples in the first place. Cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer, is the downfall of the Christian Church. And David Wells has written powerfully about how the church has become less powerful because we have adopted the methodologies of the prevailing culture rather than teaching the hard truth about God, the Cross, and the cost of discipleship. In a sense, we have lessened the demands of a Holy God by forcing God into our shapes and sizes and ideas instead of allowing His thoughts to shape us. So Wells,
“Holiness is what defines God’s character most fundamentally, and a vision of this holiness should inspire his people and evoke their worship, sustain their character, fuel their passion for truth, and encourage persistence in efforts to do his will and call on his name in petitionary prayer” (God in the Wasteland, 136)
Wells wrote many such things and we ignore his prophetic voice to our own peril. The author of Hebrews wrote it this way, “It is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Wells wrote, “In His holiness God is not to be trifled with; familiarity with God inherently borders on contempt and is subject to judgment” (Wasteland, 141). But the sad truth is that the American Church, in its ongoing charge to be taken seriously and be considered relevant and to have a voice that is heard, has trivialized God’s holiness and the demands of discipleship, the wonders of loving obedience, and blessings of Trinitarian fellowship. What is the solution?
Elton Trueblood wrote in his little book A Place to Stand that what is needed, desperately, ‘is the emergence of Christian intellectuals. If Basic Christianity is to survive, it must be served by a highly dedicated and highly trained group of persons who are unabashed and unapologetic in the face of opposition and ridicule’ (A Place to Stand, 20 1969). I wonder if this is true or not. Don’t get me wrong: We need highly trained specialists whose focus is in areas of apologetics and logic and theology. My question is where do they come from? I think those people come not from the high towers of academia, but from the rank and file of the church. Their training, thus, begins from the pulpit.
Now this all serves as a brief introduction to my thoughts about what Jesus said here in John 14. Jesus said: If you love me, you will obey me. He did not equivocate. He did not mince words. He did not pull punches. While we are certainly not saved because we obey commands, there is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus fully expected we would obey his commands—not to be saved—but because we are saved. As we thus grow in our love of Christ our obedience demonstrates the character of Christ and the Spirit whom Jesus gives shapes, molds, perfects and sanctifies the Christian. Eventually, there will be no doubt in the minds of those who see us that God lives in us by His Spirit.
The point, I think, is rather clear and far reaching. If we truly love Jesus then we are not merely going to be hear his word. Nor are we merely going to mouth words like ‘I love Jesus.’ If we truly love Jesus then we are committed to obey Jesus. He is the authority to whom we answer. He is the one to whose Lordship we submit. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do these things.” Now what he says is this, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” There is virtually no difference between these two statements. It is impossible to say that you love Jesus and not submit to his authority to dictate commands and his authority to demand of us holiness and perfection.
Am I advocating perfectionism? No. Am I saying we will never falter, fall, sin, do the wrong thing? No. Am I saying we should just be happy to rest in his grace and that we don’t really have to make any effort? No. What I am saying is that true love is true delight. In other words, if we really love Jesus it is a delight and an honor and pure joy to serve him by obeying him. We don’t think of this as an unreachable or unrealistic goal to achieve. We think of this as an everyday adventure to say, “Lord, how may I obey and serve you today?” It is, in the words of AW Tozer, the ‘Pursuit of God.’ It is the ongoing hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is the ongoing first seeking of His Kingdom and His righteousness. It is pure delight! Pure joy! It is pure blessedness! It is what we were created for and what we were not created for. That is, we were not created for slavish disobedience and slavery to the flesh. We were created for fellowship in Christ through obedience to His perfect will.
Is this not what he says? “If you obey…I will send the Counselor to be with you forever…he lives in you and will be in you…I will not leave you…I will come to you…Because I live you will live…I am in the Father…you are in me…I am in you…he who loves me will be loved by my Father…and I will love him too…and show myself to him…” Do you get it? We were created not to be pawns or playthings or disobedient devil worshipers. We were created to live in fellowship with God. Jesus is talking here about perfect fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! (See 1 John 1-2.) If there is anything that is a hindrance to fellowship it is most certainly disobedience because in disobedience we have ceased pursuing God and righteousness first.
I don’t know if I am adequately explaining this or not. I hope I am because what I see taking place in a lot of churches is exactly the opposite. I see striving and chasing and pursuit of many things that have nothing to do, necessarily, with the pursuit of holiness. There’s too much fluff; too much seeking of the ‘experience’ instead of the real Thing. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me” (KJV). What I wonder is if all the fluff that exists in churches is fluff because we love Jesus or because we want stuff? What is the pursuit really of?
Christianity is not merely a discipline to be mastered. Christianity is a joy. We don’t obey to get saved or to get happiness or to get necessarily anything. We obey because we love. We love because we are loved. There is fellowship and peace in loving obedience to Jesus Christ. We pursue, followeth hard after God, because we love Him. Is this not what God truly desires of his people most? Does God require anything of us be the impassioned pursuit of his holiness? Can we think about the fact that He gave us life and be full of love and joy and so seek the One who has shown us such favor? “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, NIV).
Just ask yourself what you are pursuing. Ask yourself why you are pursuing God. Why are you striving to be obedient? Is it because you truly love Jesus and desire perfect fellowship with Him? Or is it something else, something less, something here? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they will be filled.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 13:31-38 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 65)
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 36Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Does it seem strange to you that on the most important night in history, the night before the death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world, that Jesus chose to spend a great portion of time talking about how we should treat one another? From a purely human point of view, there are many things that Jesus could have spoken of that night; so many problems he could have solved; so many errors he could have eliminated. But the scary truth is: He didn’t. And on the night that he was betrayed, the night before his death for the sins of the world, Jesus the Messiah said: “Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.”
Jesus associated this ‘love one another’ with three different things. First, he said ‘a new command I give you: love one another.’ Then he said, “As I have loved you: Love one another.” Finally he said, “All men will know you are my disciples if you: Love one another.” Later in chapter 15 Jesus will say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
This love that he calls us to practice—now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them—is radical to say the least. I can’t live up to it. I cannot even fathom it. I cannot, on the one hand, say ‘I am wrong’ with the understanding that this is required in order for me to ‘love one another’. I know that makes no sense, but it is true. There are plenty of occasions when we are simply required, by the very nature of love itself, to admit that we are wrong—mortifying pride—if we are going to love one another in obedience to the command of Jesus. But on the other hand I cannot say ‘You are right’ with the idea in mind that I am actually wrong. It is an irresolvable conundrum. How can I be both simultaneously right and wrong and still actually ‘love one another’? How can I eradicate the pride that needs to be right?
What I mean is this: there are times when the conflict inside must be laid to rest. What I have found in preaching is that people—and I am one too!—are unbelievable territorial, especially when it comes to what they believe. Once a person reaches a certain age it is nearly impossible for them to change their mind about any subject. Every now and again a cataclysm occurs and their mind is changed. Not too often, however. And so, “A new command I give you.” But how do we persuade folks to change their minds? How can we expect people who have been born into a spirit of hatred and lived in that spirit all their lives to change their minds? How can we, church folk, change our minds? How can we in the church love those with doctrinal differences, practical differences, liturgical differences, and so on and so forth? How can this love be manifested so that people not only see something I know but know of something I do?
Jesus also says we should love as he has loved us. Well what on earth does that mean? ‘As he has loved us’? What, by washing feet? “Now that I your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He did this to ‘demonstrate the full extent of his love.’ Well, we’re certainly not going to do that because that merely cultural! Let me translate: We’re not going to do anything that makes us uncomfortable or makes us get involved in other people’s lives.
Yet Jesus said: Love one another. I have to be honest. There are times when I am profoundly unloving towards brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times when I am just sickeningly condescending and mean towards people who wear the Name of Christ. I have no excuse except my own pride. I love a good spirited debate and conversation, but I also know that I want to be right! You know as well as I do that it is very, very difficult to confess to being wrong.
Jesus could have solved so many problems that night. He could have settled for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over the ‘millennial kingdom’ for example. He could have solved for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over election. He could have solved debates that have raged on in the church over baptism, communion, musical instruments—he could have said, “Evolution is a lie.” But the sad, scary truth is: He didn’t. He deliberately left those subjects vague enough that there would be ongoing debates and conversations and dialogues and schisms and Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals the world over, from the day of Pentecost until today. Why do you suppose Jesus did that?
And in the midst of it all he says: Love one another.
By this, he said, all men will know you are my disciples: “If you love one another.” I wonder what the church has shown the world? I wonder who the world really thinks we belong to? If our love for one another shows us to belong to Jesus Christ, then who does our hatred of one another show us to be disciples of? I have thought that for some time now because hatred is entirely too easy. You know, that is exactly why I think Jesus did not answer all of the questions that we bring to the text, and why, I think, certain doctrines, while patently present, are purposely ambiguous or at least open to different interpretations. For example, I just finished reading a book titled Perspectives on Election: 5 Views. I cannot believe how arrogant, condescending, and unloving Robert L Reymond is towards those with whom he disagrees: As if his supralapsarian Calvinism is entirely without flaw! I wouldn’t be a supralapsarian if that were the only choice and Reymond were only one advocate of it precisely because of his unloving attitude towards others with whom he disagrees. (At one point Reymond refers to someone he disagrees with in these words, “I feel much like CH Spurgeon apparently did, who, when commenting for his students and for ‘ministers of average attainments,’…I almost despair in thinking that anything I say will persuade him and his Arminian friends of their error, but I will try to make Paul’s intention in Romans 9 plain to them!” (138))
I use this as a mere example to illustrate the sort of unloving attitudes that people have towards one another in the church. It is the same in my own tradition where those who worship without pianos have traditionally un-loved those of us with pianos (or any musical instrument) straight to hell. We in the church love to major in minors. Why do you think Jesus didn’t explain everything to us? I think it was precisely so that he could test us and see if we really love each other or if we love ourselves or if we love our interpretations and ideas concerning Scripture more than our brothers. I hate to be the one to criticize the church, because I love the church—and so does Jesus!—but don’t you think that the time has come for the church to organize itself around Jesus Christ and love as he loved, show the world to whom we belong because of our love, and follow the new command he gave that we love one another? Don’t you think it is time for the church to rise up and declare that the very Christ Jesus whom we serve is the very reason why we love people who view certain aspects of the faith differently than we? (This is not a declaration that we will tolerate sin in the church. And this is not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter.)
But you know as well as I do what happened right after Jesus said ‘love one another three times’ right? Well, I’ll remind you. Here’s what Peter said right after Jesus said three times we are to love one another. Are you ready? “Lord, where are you going?” It’s almost like Peter didn’t even hear what Jesus said. Peter was stuck on what Jesus said in verse 33 and zoned out when Jesus spoke verses 34-35 (not that Jesus spoke in verses). Well that had to be somewhat embarrassing. But aren’t we like that too? The preacher will say: “Love one another, follow Jesus, take up your cross.” And the people will say: “Don’t forget about the pot-luck dinner next week.” We all zone out when it comes to the majors.
But what matters most? Does it matter really if we have the information about when Jesus is coming back (which is big in today’s culture) or where He went? Jesus seems to be saying that these things are minors compared to the major of “Love One Another.”
Then the most embarrassing thing is the conversation between Peter and Jesus where Peter professes his undying love for Jesus, his willingness to die for Jesus, His certainty of conviction regarding Jesus. And Jesus says what: No, Peter, you will deny me not once, not twice, but three times. Judas’ sin was that he knew Jesus and acknowledged it; Peter’s was that he denied he knew Jesus and acknowledged it. Don’t you see what happened? We are just like Peter when it comes to Jesus. We are more than willing to do the big things: Oh, yes, Jesus I’ll give away a $1000, or Yes, Jesus I’ll be a martyr, or Yes, Jesus, I’ll sing that really difficult song on Sunday, or Teach a class, or do this or do that. But who among us willing to listen to what Jesus is saying and: Love one another?
You see, I think too often we are more than willing to do the stuff that will be remembered, the stuff that gets us acclaim, the stuff that gets us in the limelight. Very less often are we will to do the menial stuff that no one notices, you know, the ‘love one another stuff.’ Not many of us are ready to be foot washers. Write a book? Sure, Jesus. I’ll do that. Even though it is a great burden, I’ll make the sacrifice, put in the labor, the time. Visit that person in the nursing home? Well, uh, you know that’s not really my gift. There are others who can do that and I’ll pray for them while I write my book, uh, your book.
I suspect we are just like Peter. We want to skip right over the little things like “Love one another” and get on to the bigger things like, “Oh, Jesus told me where he is going and now I will share that with you.”
This is not easy for me to write. I struggle sometimes because I am hunkered down in a congregation that doesn’t seem very motivated to want to get moving on forward. Again, I come back to pride. It is very difficult to confess to the Lord and others something like: Lord, I thought higher of myself than I should have. But then again, there’s this way of looking at it. Perhaps the Lord chooses people for certain roles not just to teach them, but because he trusts them. That is, if only certain people are really qualified to write books and lead mega-churches, perhaps only certain people are really qualified to bury dead people, or comfort the afflicted, or afflict the comfortable, or pray over a really sick person, or show compassion to a young child at school.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense or not. It’s a difficult meditation to write because I find myself being rebuked by my own words, and especially by the Word of God. I confess: It is hard to love one another. It is difficult to love those with whom you disagree in the Church. And if it is that difficult to love those in the church with whom we disagree then what are we supposed to do with those words of Jesus that say, “Love even your enemies”?
I think there is a way forward and it gets back to what I started with in this meditation. We must learn to humble ourselves and not think more highly of ourselves than is true and even then knock it down a notch or two or three. I have to say this: I don’t think the church can survive apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church can effectively evangelize the world apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church even comes close to exalting Jesus apart from our love for one another. The church must learn how to love one another. We must humble ourselves, each and every one, and do the hard work, the very hard work, of demonstrating our love for one another. It is futile to think that we skate by simply saying, “I love you.” Don’t you find it strange that it was in washing feet that Jesus ‘demonstrated the full extent of his love’ and not the cross? No, our love must be demonstrated.
I’ll end with this:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11, NIV)
Love One another.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 13:1-11 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 62
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
Just as it is most important to consider where one begins a work such as a Gospel, it is also important to consider where one begins to end such a work. John began his Gospel by noting for his readers that the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ We are immediately caught up in what is ‘the Word?’ what is, ‘dwelt among us’? and what is ‘became flesh?’ These questions are, in their own time, answered throughout John’s Gospel as he teaches us about Jesus Christ.
But then we move on to where the author begins to end his Gospel. We know, from reading chapter 12 carefully, that now ‘the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ We know now that Jesus is about to face the cross of crucifixion, the humiliation of crucifixion, and the rejection of all people. We know that Jesus is about to be glorified by being ‘lifted up.’ And when he is lifted up, he said, he would ‘draw all men unto himself.’ The cross is just as unavoidable for us as it was for Jesus.
But then John takes us to chapters 13-17 admittedly some of the most profound, theologically charged, chapters of the entire Bible. What is one to make of these chapters? Why would John announce that the time had come only to take us into a quiet room to listen to a very long speech that really answers none of the questions that the disciples happen to ask him? And they do ask a lot of questions.
It seems these chapters are rather out of place. They change the entire focus and pace of the narrative from the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ on his way to Jerusalem to a slowed down, quiet dinner in an out of the way ‘room’ at an undisclosed location. I wonder to myself: Why the drastic change of pace? Why the huge slow down? Why the downshifting? Why did we go from a mad rush to Jerusalem to a slowed down dinner where Jesus answers a bunch of questions that are not on our minds? Why doesn’t he answer the questions we really want answered: How did you create the world? Who’s right: Calvin, Arminius, neither? Seriously: KJV or NIV? Is Catholicism really the true church? Who shot Kennedy? Yet what we discover is that Jesus had none of the sort of things in mind that we have in mind. And even the questions that the disciples did ask were, for the most part, left unanswered. Strange.
And what’s worse is this: Here we have this One who has told us he is from God, the Holy One of God, the King of Israel, the Lamb of God, the Great I Am, the Bread of Life, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and so on and so forth and what does he do but the most embarrassing thing possible: He strips off most of his clothes, kneels down, and washes the feet of his disciples: Including Judas Iscariot! And if that is not the worst of it John says Jesus did this to demonstrate the full extent of his love for us! And if that’s not the worst of it Jesus later says that we are to do the same exact thing for one another: Wash one another’s feet! I’m not sure, all of the sudden, how I really feel about all this.
Here’s what I have noticed about the church though. Jesus left behind some commands for the church. Some call them ‘sacraments.’ I don’t call them sacraments, but I don’t fuss about those who do. He said, “Go and baptize.” There are virtually no churches in existence that do not practice some form of baptism or another. There is also what most call ‘communion’ or ‘Eucharist’ or ‘the Lord’s Supper.’ Most Christians celebrate both of these ‘sacraments’ on a fairly regular and consistent basis. We are very good at doing these things. But here’s the thing I don’t get at all. John says that Jesus washed feet so that he could ‘demonstrate the full extent of his love’ for his disciples. Then Jesus tells his disciples to ‘do the same for one another that he has done for them’ (14, 17). Later Jesus will say, ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (34). And yet this command of Jesus is the one that Christians, nearly across the board, do not practice. We don’t wash feet! Why?
Why don’t we wash feet? We wash the whole body in baptism without batting an eye. We wash the soul, so to speak, in the Eucharist. Why don’t we wash feet the way Jesus did, the way he commanded, in order that we might demonstrate our love for one another, in order that ‘everyone will know we are his disciples’? Why is it that Christians have so much difficulty demonstrating our love for one another? We are even very good at loving the poor, the sick, the lost, the broken, the needy, the helpless, the stranger, the alien, the foreigner—even our enemies! But when it comes to loving one another, when it comes to demonstrating that love for one another—even in something like washing feet—we shrink back and simply, out and out, avoid the command.
I wonder why? Jesus even washed Judas Iscariot’s feet that night. Why don’t we wash anyone’s feet? (Please, before you bother writing in and telling how foot washing was a ‘cultural phenomenon’ don’t. I could equally argue that baptism and communion (which was originally a Passover meal) were cultural phenomena. I don’t buy that argument.)
My point is simple. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, washed feet. He told us to do the same. He did it to demonstrate the full extent of his love. He said by our love for one another would people know we belong to him. Am I missing something? Why don’t we love one another quite the way we should? I confess that it is hard sometimes because it is too easy to despise people who have different points of view than we do when it comes to theology or matters of church polity and practice. I suppose that it comes down to an inflated opinion of our own ideas. That’s why, I think, Jesus didn’t answer the tough questions that night about election and sovereignty, Calvin and Arminius, free will and puppetry, creation and evolution, emerging church or traditional church, and exactly why he answered questions that had to do primarily with his own agenda. And isn’t it true that these badges of honor that we wear are now nothing more than stumbling blocks?
I love the Reformed theologians and the manner in which they approach Scripture (High Scripture). I’m terrified and horrified by the conclusions they draw from that approach. I cherish the conclusions of the non-Reformed theology, but I am sickened by the rather casual approach that they have towards the Word of God. But are either of these positions grounds for un-love for a brother in Christ? No. But you would think that, after reading some Reformed authors, all who don’t accept Reformed theology are whack-jobs without education. And you would think that, after reading some Arminian authors, that all Calvinists are preaching the devil’s handbook. But I wonder if there is room for love in spite of our differences about such things? Indeed, there must be!
If we cannot love one another, in spite of our differences, in spite of our own arrogances, in full recognition of our utter sinfulness, then how can we ‘know these things’ and ‘be blessed if we do them’? (17) I think that the church has missed out on a great deal of the blessing precisely because we don’t practice such things. I think too often we are far too concerned with being right than we are with being in love and loving. I think too often we are concerned with our appearance and with our dignity and with our pride and that is why we explain away foot washing as a mere culturalism that we can discard. I think that is an excuse we make because we really don’t want to serve one another from the heart. Stubborn pride is what it amounts to.
But if Christianity is going to be thrive and amount to anything in this world then our goal and our ambition must be different. We must wash feet. We must humble ourselves before arrogant brothers, we must humble ourselves before betraying enemies, we must humble ourselves before the Church, the Body of Christ, and we must wash feet just like Jesus did. If washing feet was the manner in which Jesus demonstrated the ‘full extent of his love’, how much more will it be for us for whom foot washing is culturally obsolete? Is there any other way we can demonstrate the full extent of our love for one another?
Soli Deo Gloria!