There is a group of people that throughout history Christians have had great difficulty loving. We Christians have shunned them, demonised them, jailed them, and have even put them to death. In our day common notions of decency do not keep us from being on the attack, in books and over the internet, through social media, in blogs, podcasts, and in chat forums.
What is that one group? It is the group Jesus speaks about in John 13:34,35:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 (NLT)
The group we Christians have the hardest time loving? Other Christians.
We have a long history of not treating Christians who think differently from us well. We have hated, feared, mistreated, maligned, and tried to destroy one another.
Loving one another is super-important!
Jesus gave the disciples a kind of “pep talk” at the Last Supper. Jesus had spent three years with his disciples and was now preparing them to be a Jesus following community without him, at least without him in the way they had become accustomed to. First thing out of the gate? Love each other!
Why is loving one another so important?
If we can’t love one another, then how can we expect people to take seriously our good news message of love? Jesus said love for each other would prove that the disciples really were his followers. It is interesting that though Jesus taught and modelled love for all people, including those on the fringes of society, and even including one’s enemies, it is love for one another that is evidence of being a Jesus follower.
A watching world will not be impressed by our lack of love for each other. We Christians can do all kinds of loving things in the world and for the world, but when we don’t love one another, our message that God’s love changes everything, is lost.
What does loving one another look like in our day?
There is the idea that if you love someone you will rescue them from their wrong thinking. Loving one another therefore means fixing other Christians, pointing out their errors.
There are two problems with this.
First, Christians are not cars that can simply be fixed. They are people, with history, experiences, and reasons why they think the way they do.
Second, the Bible is not like the Haynes repair manual I have for my motorcycle, with step-by-step instructions and photographs to make everything as clear as possible. The Bible is brilliant, but convoluted. The Bible is sometimes hard to understand, and it is sometimes easy to misunderstand.
There is a better path forward than trying to fix one another.
Loving one another means having conversations with one another.
Conversation means talking with and to one another rafter than talking about one another. In our day there is so much talking about one another in books, on social media, podcasts, blogs, and perhaps worst of all, online comments.
Conversation means listening as well as speaking. Listening is an important part of love. We each have our blind spots that others may be able to speak to. We each believe things and hold to things that may cause harm if we are not aware. Blind spots are nasty that way.
Conversation means seeking truth together. Author Soong-Chan Rah has written an article about the difference between truth possessed and truth pursued. Truth possessed can be summed up as “I know the truth and everyone should listen to me.” Truth pursued can be summed up as “there is such a thing as truth and let’s work together on finding it.”
Loving one another means learning the skill of disagreeing with one another without dismissing or demonising one another.
It means learning to disagree with others while honouring them for doing their best to honour God. Those who think differently than we do may never have been exposed to reasons to think otherwise. They might be doing the best they can. Maybe the blind spot is ours and we are the ones who need to rethink things. Humble people are listeners.
Loving one another means taking a posture of gentleness toward one another.
Gentleness might be the most neglected fruit of the Spirit in our day.
If everyone around the world learned gentleness, wars would cease, and wars would cease to begin. Imagine too, if people would be gentle with themselves. Therapists may find they have more free time.
We can not, of course, make that happen, but we can model gentleness in our own lives, in the life of our our own church family, and in our own family of churches.
You may think differently about many issues and theological ideas than I do. I will be gentle with you. Will you be gentle with me?
But isn’t diversity of thinking among Christians a problem? Don’t we need to get everyone on the same page?
I have heard it said that we have a diversity problem in our day in the convention of churches within which I serve. It has been said that our tent is too big as a Baptist Convention.
I don’t think we have a diversity problem. We have a diversity opportunity.
We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a polarised world, how to live in a polarised world. It is through loving one another. It is through conversation, speaking and listening, talking with and to rather than about, disagreeing without dismissing or demonising, and through being gentle.
When we allow our differences to become reasons for erecting walls and starting wars we are reflecting the world’s ways, not the way of Jesus.
We Christians have had a hard time loving one another. Jesus said we must do it. So let’s do it.