Where Did Our Love for One Another Go?
The current climate of our culture is alarming. The lost art of disagreeing without vilifying somebody seems to be something of the past. Social networking has given a voice to everyone, but few use that voice well.
Whether it has to do with politics, religion, or pop culture, the most common mode of communication seems to be hatred. The general modus operandi these days is for everyone to have an opinion about something, and anyone who disagrees is instantly an enemy. In one sense, this is absolutely disheartening. Yet, in another sense it should be expected from a world that is hostile towards God (Rom. 8:7-8).
The body of Christ should give grace.
As this cultural climate began to rise a few years ago, I remember thinking what an exciting time this was in which to live. The people of God—Christ’s blood-bought bride found in local churches across our country—should be the light on the hill with the fruit of the Spirit, standing out among such ugliness.
Where vicious words were being used by the world to tear down others, the church should be set apart as those who use words to give grace and build up in a way that fits the occasion (Eph. 4:29). Where allegations of racism were being thrown around liberally, the church should be setting the example for what it looks like to live in harmony and love (Eph. 2:11-18). Where a silent divide was being heightened between political parties, the church ought to be those unreservedly devoted to the King who bought them and is the ruler of the universe.
Yet, as many reading this know, if someone who is not a follower of Jesus logged in to Twitter and began reading threads between the prominent voices in Christianity, it would seem that the present climate of the church is not much different from the world. In fact, in a time that I was personally excited to live because I believed the gospel was going to be a soothing remedy to so much hate in the world, where I thought the church would stand out as a light in the midst of darkness, it doesn’t take long to see that this isn’t reality.
Don’t hear me wrong; there are many faithful local churches exalting the name of Christ, shepherding their people well through these issues, and living as a light to the nations. But in regard to the popular Christian landscape, it appears that wild shoots are growing in abundance and little fruit is bursting forth.
We have lost the art of conversation.
When I was in seminary years ago, the one thing a professor of mine labored to teach and make clear as a non-negotiable was the art of conversation. I was taught to hear people’s views on something, seek to ask clarifying questions, repeat their position in a way with which they themselves would agree, and then lovingly share my disagreements and why. At the end of the conversation, we could still be friends and talk again about these things.
The opposite seems to be the norm in the church right now. Allegations are raised on social media, the thread of character assault ensues, and the onlooking world moves on to something else. Have we forgotten the simple yet profound words of Jesus when he told his disciples,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Jesus’ words here don’t seem to contain a prerequisite for agreeing on specific cultural issues; rather, Jesus is giving a command that makes very clear to the onlooking world to whom our allegiance belongs by the way we love one another.
Believers can be unified by the blood of Christ and still not agree on everything.
Can we as the church discuss racism in a way that doesn’t elevate race above unity in Christ but still listens and loves those with whom we may disagree? Can we as the church not get so bothered over people kneeling for the flag, causing us to generalize them? Can we hold different political positions loosely because, at the end of the day, our allegiance is to Christ alone? Can we as the church be unified by the crucified and resurrected Son of God to the extent that we can love rather than scorn our brothers and sisters who hold different but orthodox theological positions? This was Paul’s hope for the Galatian church.
In this same letter where he rebuked Peter for living in a way that did not represent the gospel (Gal. 2:11-14), he also says,
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Gal. 5:13-15)
Many pastors and Christians with platforms are so focused on seeking a name for themselves that they will bite and devour everything in the way of their agenda. And at what cost? If Jesus were to return today, would he be pleased with the climate of his church? Would he find that some have abandoned their first love (Rev. 2:4)? Would he find some that have a reputation of being alive but are actually dead (Rev. 3:1)? Or would he find us dying to ourselves, crucifying our personal agendas, and loving one another in a way that makes much more of him and others than ourselves?
We must remember the posture of our Lord when he was crucified.
Obviously, these are issues that are murky and difficult to navigate. There are things in the church and in the culture that are not as simple to address as this little article describes. Yet, the call to love one another is a non-negotiable. In fact, many of us would do well to remember the posture of our Lord when he was in the midst of being crucified. When wrongly accused of crimes, when mocked by his own creation, the Lord who created every person that was mocking him and accusing him did something as an example for his church. 1 Peter 2:19-24 says the following:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
The Lord of Glory kept silent in the face of injustice. He had every right to call down a myriad of angels to save him and destroy all of his rebellious creation. And yet, he died for these sins of foolishness of which we are all guilty. For every time we have vilified someone because they disagreed with our opinion, he bore that sin in his body.
Christ’s love is enough for us to love each other.
This passage is not just a theological truth about Christ doing something as our substitute. Notice in verse 21 when Peter writes,
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
People who have been loved by Christ are called to receive his love, and actually suffer injustices as well. Imagine that! The question is, will we continue down this path of biting and devouring one another? Christ’s love is enough for us to love one another, even in such a hostile world.
Wes Van Fleet is editor-at-large for Beautiful Christian Life.
Revelation: Worthy is the Lamb! (Teleios Academy) by Wes Van Fleet
Charles Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1900), 389.
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