That You Love One Another
I read online and hear in person a lot of people who are concerned with the lack of growth in our local congregations. The reasons for this vary from congregation to congregation. While we would all like a quick fix and we would all like it to be like the “good ‘ol days” when our classrooms were full of children and our pews were full of growing families, there is no quick fix. Yes, it is true that the economy plays a huge factor. We raise our children, they move to where the jobs are and we are left with an aging congregation. It is also true that we raise our children and some choose to turn their backs on God, His church and the Truth. As one generation begins to meet their maker, there doesn’t seem to be as many left behind to fill their spot.
How can we remedy this situation? How can we fill the classrooms with children and the pews with families? Most of us have done what we can to teach our family members who are not Christians. Some of us have talked so much to them that they don’t like to see us coming. Some of us have given up and just accepted the fact that they do not want God in their lives. So, we’ve done what we could. We’ve exhausted our possibilities. We sit back and wish for the “good ‘ol days”.
Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of looking at our empty classrooms and empty pews we should be looking at our neighborhoods, our customers, our clients, our employers, our employees, our fellow workers. Maybe we shouldn’t be interested in filling our facilities but instead be interested in saving those who are right next to us, day after day, needing salvation. People who may have been lied to about who God is and what He expects. People who think they are doing right…but aren’t. People who need to be taught. People who, if they do not change their ways, will spend eternity in hell.
Does that make you a little uncomfortable? It does me. It’s hard to approach someone to talk to them about their faith in God. They might say no. They might get mad. They might take their business elsewhere. They might not promote me when the next opportunity comes up. They might talk about me behind my back. They might reject me. But, you know what? They might thank me. They might gain a new respect for me. They might say yes to the invitation of Jesus.
So how do we go from recognizing the need to teach others to actually begin teaching others? We must prepare ourselves. We must study so we can give an answer to everyone who asks about the hope that is in us. We must pray for the strength, the courage, the wisdom to say the right things. We must pray for doors to open up to us. We must always be looking for those open doors and be ready to walk right through. We must be ready to welcome people who are broken, who have lived difficult lives, who are flawed. We must be willing to sit next to them in the pew, to welcome them in our homes, to help them grow and learn.
It is our job to encourage them to become Christians — followers of Christ. The word Christian has been abused so much by people who claim it as their own but who have no intention of ever following Christ, or who have intentions of following Christ as long as He fits into their idea of what a Christian is. We need to convince people that they need to become Christians…not Baptist Christians…not Catholic Christians… not even Church of Christ Christians. If someone claims to be a “_____” Christian then they are not following Christ but are following a doctrine, a belief system.
First, we must be sure we are truly a Christian. Are we following Christ or the teachings of man? Are we following Christ or the teaching of our parents? Are we following Christ or the teachings of a preacher? How can we ask someone to do something that we aren’t doing? Why would someone want to become a follower of just another man and his ideas? We need to make sure we are convinced ourselves and then they will be more willing to listen to what we have to say.
How will they know that we are Christians? We could tell them…but we all know that lots of people say they are Christians who aren’t. We must do something more.
Jesus tells us the answer in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” NKJV
That’s it! We must love one another. That’s how people will know we are Christians. That doesn’t sound too hard. We’re all nice folks…easy to love…most of the time. So why aren’t our classrooms and our pews full of people wanting to be Christians like us.
Let’s talk about loving one another a little more. Sure, we all say pleasantries when we see each other at the church building…most of the time. We even speak kindly to one another when we see each other in public places…usually. But, how is that different from the way most people treat each other? How is that different from my co-worker? My employee? My neighbor? There must be something more. Jesus said that they would KNOW we are His disciples if we love one another. What is this love He is talking about? How do we show it?
Paul tells the Romans the same thing, to love one another, but elaborates a little more. He describes love by the actions it will produce.
Romans 12:10-13 “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Kindly affectionate, like one of the family. I am to treat the person across the building with the same kindness and affection I would treat my own mother or sister or brother. That requires a little more than a brief nod or handshake. I need to be interested in what he’s interested in. I need to know him well enough to read his emotions. I need to be aware of his situation so that I will know when he needs help. Just like my physical brother. This will probably require me to see him in his “habitat”, welcome him into my life, my home, my family.
In honor giving preference to one another. With humility think of others first, think of the brethren first. Giving preference? Preference over what? My wishes and desires. My family. My friends. When making plans, I need to first think about what my brethren are doing. Will there be a Bible class I could attend? How about a social gathering? Do all my brethren have family that they can spend holidays with? Are the same people always being depended upon to do the activities that make worship pleasant for everyone? Maybe I could offer to take over a chore that needs doing at the building. Maybe I could fix a meal or invite a family to my home that I don’t know very well. I need to think, if not come right out and say, “How can I honor you today?”
Serve the Lord with diligence (focused energy) and fervence (boiling with zeal). Be the dependable one. Be the one that is eager to serve. Be the one that others know they can approach with a problem. This can be exhausting so be the one who prays for strength and courage to be the servant others can depend on. All of us do the things we’ve talked about some of the time but Paul says to do it fervently…with boiling zeal. To the point that you can’t help yourself…you must serve.
Rejoice in hope. Rejoice together in the common hope we share. All of the above are good things to do and things we are required to do, but now Paul says that we are to do these things with a good attitude, with joy. The more we get to know each other, the more we enjoy being around each other. The more we enjoy being around each other the more we appreciate the wonderful blessings that we share in Christ. This common joy, this common hope, this common love will bring strong feelings of emotion that will cause us to want to do more for each other. What a beautiful picture of unity and love. Seeking what’s best for others, enjoying each other’s company, feeling nothing but love and gratitude and joy when we are around each other. Who wouldn’t want to be part of something that causes people to love each other so much?
Patient in tribulation. After all this talk of joy and love and hope, why all of a sudden are we told how to handle tribulation or problems? Just when things were looking so positive, we’re warned that it may not always be a bed of roses. Life is difficult. Those we are trying to teach are sinners. We are going to find ourselves dealing with people who have come from broken homes, people who have broken the law, people who have done harm to themselves and possibly to others. We will find that as hard as we try, we are not the Christians we would like to be, neither are our brethren. We want to do what’s right but Satan is real, sin is real, we are weak. During these times we must be patient. Patient with those who are new born babes, patient with those who are mature Christians but find themselves struggling, patient with ourselves when we fall short of our goal.
Steadfast in prayer. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Maybe just exhausted thinking about all this? We’ve been given quite a task. Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart. We will come across people who are needy. We will come across people who are hurting, who are lonely. Being there for others can drain us physically as well as mentally. We need to be sure we are filling our needs while we are helping others. We are to pray. We are to spend time talking with our Heavenly Father. We are to find strength in the only one who can strengthen us. We don’t need “me time”. We need time with God. Praying for those we care for. Praying for ourselves. Praying because we know that we can’t do this on our own.
Give to the needy saints. Be aware of those Christians in our midst who might be hurting. Give to them the things they need. It may be food, or clothing or help with a chore. It may be extra attention, extra pampering. Regardless, it will take our time, our effort, our money. Whatever resources we have, we should be willing to share it with our brethren. The beauty of all this is that it goes two ways. While I am looking for opportunities to help my brethren, my brethren are looking for opportunities to help me. It might be that by helping one of the needy saints, I am relieving someone who has already been helping that person. It might be while I am concentrating on fulfilling in need over here, my sister is fulfilling a need over there, and another sister sees my strength waver, comes to my aid and strengthens me where I am. Simple, beautiful, practical…no committees, no board of directors, no fanfare. Christians helping Christians.
Show hospitality. Welcoming each other in our homes. What a wonderful expression of love to welcome others into our personal space. The space we feel safe and comfortable. It seems that this is a dying art. With the wonderful hotels and restaurants we have available to us, it’s just easier to welcome each other in a neutral location. Sometimes it is the best solution but sometimes, we need to step out of our comfort zone and open up our home. One problem is that our society has set the bar high. We see on TV, Pinterest, magazines, etc fabulous homes with perfectly set tables piled with food that only a chef can realistically prepare. We feel like we just can’t have people into our homes until everything is perfect. Now, I will admit that it is hard work but it gets easier the more we do it. We have to plan for hospitality. It doesn’t just happen. When we design and decorate our homes we should consider hospitality. Instead, we get our home, fill it with our stuff and then say to ourselves, “We can’t have people over. There’s no way I can get this house clean.” Hospitality should not be an after thought. It should be a goal.
1 John 3:16-18 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
John describes love by comparing the love we should have for one another with the love Christ has for us. Christ died for us…we should be willing to die for each other. Think about that a minute. That sister that may never speak to me, I need to love her enough to die for her. I need to be willing to give her, not out of my abundance, but if necessary, out of my want to fulfill her needs. That goes for worldly goods but it can also mean emotional support. Love should never be just words we say. If it is not demonstrated in our actions, our words are useless.
1 Peter 4:8 “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
So, what’s in it for me? Love breeds love. The more I step out of my comfort zone and demonstrate love for someone else, the more love will be shown towards me. I may think I don’t have time for someone else. I may think that I don’t have anymore capacity to give of myself emotionally but when I do, I always benefit more than the recipient of my love. Maybe that’s what it means when it says that love covers a multitude of sins. The more I think about others, the more I make an effort to fill someone else’s needs instead of my own, the less greed, hatefulness, arrogance, etc. I will feel.
One more, a favorite passage of mine:
1 John 4:7-8 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
What a beautiful passage. God is love. If we do not love, we do not know God. Wow! My reaction to someone else demonstrates my love for God. I can’t just sit in my house, sit in my pew, sit among my family and friends. I must visibly show love for others. Even if it makes me uncomfortable. A beautiful relationship with others that demonstrates my relationship with God.
Let’s be more loving toward one another so that they will know we are Christians and want to become one too.