I have a confession. My biggest people issue is generally with my fellow Christians, other people who also follow Jesus, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not proud of this. In fact, I recognise that it’s a problem I need to deal with.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian church encourages them to “do good to all people especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)
It’s not that I struggle to do good to the family believers, I don’t, I love the family of believers. And I’m a pastor so it’s also my vocation. It’s just that I look around me, I talk with people, I read the news and I look at myself in the mirror and I wonder what we’re known for. Because sometimes it’s not especially flattering.
Unfortunately, there’s always a vocal, aggressive and misguided minority that either aren’t getting signals from the head (read Jesus) and have missed the memo or are intent on self-harming. You know the ones. The self-appointed prophets preaching doom and gloom through the power of hindsight, the ones who’ve received grace but forgot to extend it to anyone else, the ones that fail to understand that the gospel means “good news” not bad. And it bothers me that we may be known for the actions of the minority not the majority.
So what should we be known for?
Jesus, in John 13, makes it very clear. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)
In other words, you will be known by who and how you love.
Who are we to love?
Each other? Our like-minded believers?
Well that’s difficult enough in and of itself. Because that means we have also have to love the vestigial ones and the ones who self-harm the body of Christ. Yes, love them, but not only each other.
Well, that would seem to go without saying, but sometimes I think we get so caught up in being ‘Christians’ and ‘ministering to people’ that we forget who we are following and who we are in relationship with. Yes we are to love God first and foremost and above all, but not only Him.
Yes, we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourself. To love the people in our community that we interact with in the course of our life. But not only our neighbours.
Well, yes. “Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you,” Jesus says.
Well that’s easy for Jesus to say, who were His enemies?
Only all of humankind.
Love your enemies, but not only your enemies.
The poor, the destitute, the ‘least’ and refuse of society? Do we love them too?
Yes, yes, yes and yes.
So, in short, we are commanded to love pretty much everyone?
And what of this ‘new command’? None of this is especially new is it? Since the beginning of creation and God’s desire for a family, loving each other has been part of the human mandate and story. Hasn’t it?
The ‘new’ part, however, is in how we are told to love one another.
More than loving people with the same level of love and respect as we have for ourselves, as we would want to be treated, we are told to love as Jesus has loved us.
Uh oh. That’s a whole new level. Jesus loved us more than He loved His own life. He loves us passionately and with grace. Grace, amazing grace. Grace says I love you even while you are separated from me by your brokenness and sin. Grace says I love you even though we are not only separated, but enemies. Grace invites us to live completely transformed lives and loves us along the way.
Jesus loves people in a way that completely transforms their lives. That’s how we are called to love.
And when I consider all this, I fall short.
And all I can do is throw myself on the mercy of an expansive, amazing God and ask Him to remind and help me to love, as He first loved me.
We will be known for who and how we love.
The more I read, the more I experience, the more (or less) I know – the more I realise how distinct and uncommon this way of living and loving is.
Because the ‘left’ (so-called bleeding hearts) hate the ‘right’ (conservatives) and vice versa. The ‘middle’ (moderates) try and keep the peace, hate either extreme and just try and keep a low profile and maintain the status quo.
Which leaves whom?
In principle, the Christians, the Christ-followers who are called to follow and live “the most excellent way”.
The only way we can be known by the acts of the majority rather than the minority is to live and love in such a way that so obviously and distinctly contrasts with the minority and the rest of the world.
To live such that our love would be a piercing light that shines hope to all those who see it. That people couldn’t help but see it.
May who and how we love mean that we are known as Jesus’ disciples. Because anything else brings into question not only our faith but fails to reflect the wonder, majesty and honour that is due Jesus – the Saviour whom we purport to follow.