Saturday, January 03, 2009

Do We Love Each Other as we do Ourselves?

by Chris Carter

In today’s church there is increasing evidence that spiritual love is in serious decline among the brethren. Our attitude toward one another should one be of deep concern and love, for our brethren are a spiritual family and worthy of this honor (Rom 12:10). By frequently and sincerely demonstrating love we not only edify ourselves individually and each other collectively (Rom 15:2) but also perform an important work expected of the Lords church. As members of His church we set an example to each other and to ourselves that builds us up in the kind of love that God showed towards all men, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for our sins. We know that God showed His love for man by sending His Son to die for all, and Jesus showed His love by suffering and dying for all. What then can possibly be expected of God’s children other than to treat each other and those outside of salvation with the same love God showed to us, who also once were without hope? If we set the proper example through sincere love (Rom 12:9) not only will we be built up and edified (Rom 15:2) but the world will “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16).

We should have the willingness to drop our schedules to aid, teach and edify each other, the courage to confess our sins one to another or pluck one from the fire if they are lost, and to esteem others greater than ourselves, as we are commanded to do. We must want to know our brothers and sisters, and be willing to pray without ceasing for them, and serve them without thought of recognition. In doing these things we will give and receive all the benefits that come from Godly behavior, and glorify His name.

A loveless church faces many difficulties. Often, when brethren cease to regard one another as members of a holy family, and instead take an adversarial stance, a foundation is laid that Satan can easily build on. He simply takes our various weaknesses and uses them to promote mistrust, hurt feelings and anger, until the obvious outcome is realized. No creature feeding upon itself can long survive as the whole creature it once was. It is said that if a rabbit is caught in a spring trap it may gnaw it’s own leg off in order to escape, yet how long it can survive is debatable. At the very least it won’t hop the way it once did. The same analogy can be made of a congregation feeding upon itself by biting at one another like wild beasts. Someone may be devoured (spiritually lost, Gal 5:15) because love is not shown, or serious wounds may occur that would render a church or individual of less than full service to God. And consumed unto death no service to God will be rendered. The ultimate conclusion that must then be drawn is this: If love is not demonstrated then God is not served and the evil one, Satan, becomes the one being served. I can imagine him standing outside the window of a church in conflict, in evil delight savoring the harm he is achieving through loveless brethren. So, the love we are to have and the proper esteeming and honoring of one another cannot be overemphasized.

Which one of us hasn’t imagined that we would, on penalty of death, openly defend and die for the name of Christ? How is it then that we would dishonor His name, and make a mockery of God’s grace by manifesting contrary behavior? Can our fellow partakers, the church or we be edified by such behavior? Even in the presence of young children behavior will be demonstrated that is not Christ like, and by not being Christ like behavior it can only be described as sinful behavior. “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hellfire.” (Mt 5:22) Children invariably do what they see.

The problem then is one of not allowing ourselves to be lead by the Spirit (Rom 8:1) so that righteousness may be seen in us. If righteousness is not manifest, then what is manifest is unrighteousness, and this harms not only us but the cause of Christ as well. Ephesians 4:31-32 says thusly “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Suppose someone within or without the law of Christ wrongs us. Are we justified in using some form of retaliation? Look to God’s word for the answer. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” No matter what they did to us, it is not for us to take revenge on the wrongdoer (Romans 12:17) or treat them without love. If instead, being led by the Spirit we manifest love in our response then we will not transgress as well. The person who wronged us either will heap coals of fire on their own head (Romans 12:20) by reviling us further, or will see our Godly behavior and consider the need for repentance. In the latter instance then the transgressor, the church, those of the world and we will be edified by Godly behavior, and God’s name will be glorified before everyone. All of this by simply turning the cheek of wrath and suffering the wrong (as did Christ) instead of avenging ourselves of every slight and indignity. Remember Stephen as he was about to be stoned. Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice. “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this he fell asleep (Acts 7:60).

We must not forget to contend for the truth while showing love. One problem many denominations have created for themselves is in placing love above obedience. In pie-eyed fashion they will proclaim “God loves everyone! Look at John 3:16.” They will go on about how “Jesus taught love and compassion,” as if this were the do all and be all of spirituality. Of course He taught these things, but He also spoke and did the will of the Father, who too requires us to speak and do His will, and in so doing we remain reconciled to Him. In the denominational world and unfortunately, in some of Christ’s churches the need to be obedient is being ignored, and all manner of apostasy is being tolerated in the name of love, the idea being that we have no right to judge another’s spiritual conduct. It is not a matter of right but of duty and love. Remember how Paul criticized the Corinthian church for tolerating the presence of the man who had his fathers’ wife? When we ignore open sin we do not perform our duty to God or show love to the errant one. If He, being mindful of man’s sin, had not given His Son out of love, what would our condition be today? And as to contending for the faith, many avoid this responsibility because they fear being labeled as trouble makers’ and contentious. Christ suffered far greater indignities. Whether we contend for Gods’ truth or not, we will face it in the judgment. What will be the outcome for those who stand idly by?

When cliques form in a church love is not well shown. It is entirely natural, for example, for the older folks, the young parents or the military members to be drawn to one another. They share much in common, but they should not exclude others from their “inner circle” because they don’t have the same background. I don’t have a formal education, and I work in a blue collar trade. Does that make me less than the educator or the white collar professional? Because I am middle aged, do I have nothing in common with a teenager, or a sister who is twenty years my senior? God forbid! Thanks be to Him because we have a relationship with each other as a holy family, for we share a great common bond in Christ Jesus, buried with Him in baptism and raised up in newness of life as heirs of adoption, and this fact alone should transcend all attempts to group us separately. Please, don’t fall prey to only associating with those with whom you feel the most comfortable. Every faithful member brings something of value to the spiritual table. Let us regard these gifts as great blessings’ from God, and not as differences to be avoided.

If we claim Christ, we claim His love and we claim to love. If we are unwilling to know and love the brethren then what mercy can we realistically expect in the judgment? Are our brethren and we merely strangers on an elevator? We all need to ask ourselves this question. Would we show love and compassion for another as the good Samaritan did to the man who had been robbed, or would we be like the priest and Levite? (Luke 10:25-37) What if we were the one lying in the road?

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