I have this horrible habit – I try diligently to mind my own business and seem to attract those who wish to discuss things loudly within my hearing. It’s not that I try to eavesdrop – I just seem to be surrounded by those having what should be a private conversation at a very public volume.
One such conversation occurred recently – a woman was griping to her male companion (husband? friend? co-worker? Not sure) about a woman who she has significant difficulty getting along with. In the speaker’s opinion, the woman in question has absolutely no redeeming qualities. At least that’s what it sounded like. She listed several flaws this woman has. In the end, it sounded like the woman speaking and the woman she was bad-mouthing just have different ways of approaching tasks to be completed.
Then my heart broke when the woman finished with, “I just cringe every time I see that woman walking toward me in church.” Wait. You were verbally shredding a fellow believer?! Pretty sure that’s not an okay thing to do.
John 13:34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”
It’s simple – disciples of Jesus are recognized by the love they have for one another. Not how ornate their church buildings are, not what style of music they use in worship, not what translation of the scripture their pastor uses . . . their love for the family of faith. There is no escape clause in that command – we are to love one another in the same way God loved us. Period.
My heart often breaks when I see the rage and animosity that has become a part of the internet culture. We all want others to accept/support the causes that are nearest and dearest to our own hearts but we can often be heartless and unloving when interacting with others of different views. But my encounter today tells me that maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. If followers of Jesus cannot love one another, how on earth can I expect those who don’t agree on “big” issues to treat each other lovingly?! I’m not going to lie – what I overheard was also very convicting. I’ve been guilty of the behavior I observed more often than I want to think about. I screw up this command far too many times.
Let’s face it – followers of Jesus are humans. We fail, fall down, sin, hurt others, get hurt, deal with disappointment or cause it . . . we all screw up. But none of that is an excuse to treat each other harshly. The command above is pretty clear. It is our love for our brothers and sisters that will distinguish us as follower of Jesus. It doesn’t mean we pretend not to have differences or that we act like we never disagree. In fact, I personally think it would have MORE impact if those outside of the faith could see us deal with differences of opinion/disagreements with gentleness, empathy, compassion, and love.
As I said earlier, it was a convicting experience. The challenge to myself sounds simple but is going to be a challenge – all those who claim to be followers of Christ are my family and I will seek to treat them with love first and foremost. I have no delusions – it won’t be easy! But it’s a behavior that needs to become so deeply ingrained in me that doing anything else would be impossible.
Two passages of scripture have been running through my head for the last month or so. Really, they’ve kind of been chasing each other around in my head! First one will come to mind, followed almost immediately by the other. I’ve hesitated to say anything here about it because I’m not sure what to do with the truths contained in the passages. Not fully sure, anyway.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
This last verse is one that I mull over quite often. Believers are so quick to say that we need to pray for the corrupt path our nation is on and they often quote this verse. But read it again. Carefully. The church is definitely being called to pray. But not in the way some want to believe
“If my people, who are called by my name” – this is God talking so he’s talking about those who claim to follow him. In the original, “Old Testament” writing of this, that meant the nation of Israel. Since God has expanded his family to include non-Jews, it means all those who claim to follow God.
“Will humble themselves and pray (emphasis mine) and turn from their wicked ways” – this about the members of the body confessing their own sins, not standing in as confessors for a nation. Believers are called to humble themselves, not humiliate those with a different political ideology.
“Then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin (again, emphasis mine) and will heal their land.” – the sin being forgiven here is not the sin of a nation. It’s the sin of believers who have confessed.
Like I said, still chewing through these two verses and working on what exactly it is I am supposed to take away. One thing is obvious – personal confession is something that believers are called to do. I don’t mean beating yourself up or constantly belittling yourself. I’m talking honesty – “I was wrong. I violated your principles and I’m sorry. Please forgive and restore me.” After all, we have absolutely nothing to lose with confession. I John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
I guess it’s time to see if I’m brave enough to live what I’m learning. Am I ready to confess and get things right? Am I ready to own my responsibility and confess regardless of the attitudes and actions of others? Oh boy. This might be tougher than I thought!