Over the last number of weeks, there has been a reoccurring theme in my everyday life…unity.
Everywhere we look, there is something or someone trying to divide us. Whether it is CNN versus Fox News, who is for versus who is against the President, Republican versus Democrat, or one of my favorites, those who are tolerant versus those who are intolerant. No matter where you look, there is a “spirit” of division that is increasing in strength and power and for evangelical Christians, this is becoming an increasing problem.
What problem you may ask? Well, if you’re in any church regularly, you will find those who stand on one of the sides of the political/social fence. The problem comes in when those same people decide to take a stand for one of those sides. Once someone does that, another person comes around to argue how wrong the other party is. Then over a very short period of time, this argument increases in intensity and frequency causing a division among those who are supposed to worship together.
When outsiders come in, they don’t see this behavior right away, but as they come week after week, some of them make the assumption that our churches are divided just like the rest of the world. They question whether they should they keep coming or just stay home? They hear about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them, but in reality, they see people who are supposed to be joyful and changed, but those same people argue over divided topics of the day. The actions of individuals taint the Good News for plain old regular news.
So how can we change this perception? What can we do to ensure the Good News stays good? We need to be better together.
In John 13, we see Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet. Then during the Passover meal, he lets his disciples know that Judas was going to betray him. Judas immediately leaves and the rest of the disciples stay with Jesus. Right after Judas leaves, Jesus communicates the following:
“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35 NIV
Did you notice something? This is a command, not a suggestion. Jesus knew that his disciples weren’t going to agree on everything. In fact, Jesus, being God, knew that over time, there would be various denominations based on how people interpret theology. Unfortunately, He also knew that over time, the “love of most will grow cold.” It is because of this love growing cold that division reigns and grows stronger.
So how do we love one another? How can we show the world we aren’t like the rest of the world? We can do what Jesus did.
Remember, right before Jesus tells them to love each other, He goes out of his way to wash their feet. This action of washing their feet was a representation how to love, forgive and serve others. Jesus wanted to display the kind of love we need to have with others. First, as his new command was to love each other, he also wanted us to forgive each other as well.
Peter tried not to have his feet washed by Jesus, but Jesus told Peter that if he didn’t allow him to wash his feet, Peter could not have any part with Jesus. Then Peter said, “Then wash my whole body.” Jesus then reminded him that only those who are dirty over their entire body need to be cleansed. Peter only needed his feet to be cleansed.
What Jesus was telling Peter was, “Son, I have already made you clean. You don’t need that. What you need is forgiveness in your daily walk. That is why your feet are dirty.” Isn’t that a wonderful application? Our walk in this life is not a clean one. Many times, we do things or say things we regret. We shout when we should be silent. We act when we should wait. We look towards when we should look away. No matter how you dice it, our daily lives need daily forgiveness.
This is where the command of loving each other comes in. Just as Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, signifying daily cleansing, Jesus also did the washing. When we forgive others for their sins towards us, we wash their dirty feet. When someone forgives us for something we said or did, they wash our dirty feet. We display our love for each other by forgiving each other.
We also display our love by forgiving the sins of others outside of the church. If you look at any social media outlets, you will find millions of postings pointing the finger of negative news from one person or group of people to another. We hear things like, “It’s Obama’s fault” or “It’s Trump’s fault”. We read posts which invoke hatred rather than love. We see images of condemnation rather than forgiveness.
Prior to Jesus’ death, he was asked, “How many times should we forgive others? Seven times?” In biblical times, it was thought that forgiving the same person for the same sin seven times was enough grace and mercy. However, Jesus had a different idea towards this. His reply was, “Seventy times seven. This is how often you need to forgive.” It wasn’t the number that was important but the idea of forgiveness.
We can’t keep track of how many times we forgive others, especially, if it is continual. Jesus knew this. So he gave the disciples a number they couldn’t comprehend, according to their tradition. The disciples immediately knew that forgiveness should be unconditional and ever present.
What would our society look like if we stopped all the division and presented a pattern of forgiveness? Forgiveness to those who sin against us over and over again. Forgiveness to those who display hatred towards Christ and His church. Forgiveness that is unconditional and ever present. How would our neighbors react if our display of love went beyond those who look or act like us? Forgiveness is not just for those who attend church, but it is also for those who are lost.
We also display our love towards others by serving them. Jesus served his disciples. He didn’t want them to wash his feet. He wanted to wash theirs. This meant that as a leader, He was willing to do the dirty work, while others reap the benefits.
Imagine if churches today, served their communities. What if the church went out of its way to serve the community they worship in? In biblical times, the temple was the epicenter of society. Everything revolved around the temple. Markets were all around the temple for travelers who couldn’t bring their sacrifice. People met, worshipped, talked and lived around the temple.
In Acts 2, we find the early church serving their community while meeting in the temple for worship. What would our communities look like if we centered everything we did around the church? It used to be. What would happen if we tried this again? How would the people in our community react?
Down the block from my church is a Sheik Temple. No matter what time of the day or evening, there is always hustle and bustle around their temple, why? Because they believe in community living. They live, work and shop in places owned by them. They know that if they support each other, they also support their local temple.
This was the early churches mindset. The early church went out of their way to help others. They took care of those who were left for dead. They adopted unwanted children. They gave to those who were in need. They supplied the needs and cares of those they lived among. Why don’t we do the same today? It is because we have forgotten the new command Jesus gave to love each other.
When we love each other, we will have a tendency to forgive and serve each other. Once we do that, we then move into our communities and forgive and serve them as well. In this way, we display the kind of love Jesus commanded and when outsiders see this, they will know we are His children.
However, when we share hateful, hurtful or condemning words, we prove to the world, that our form of Christianity is no different than the rest of the world. Our calling was not to stand up for one political agenda or another. Our calling goes beyond the boundaries of the United States. Our calling goes into all the world. Our calling is to love one another and love the lost.
We are called to live lives that are different than the rest of society. One way we can display that difference is in loving each other, loving outsiders and serving our communities. Once we get a handle on that, then we can discuss the differences. Only when we display our love towards all and serve all, can we understand that the things that divide us are not meant for our good, but are meant to destroy.
Live different lives. Live better lives. Live unified. Know that we are all better together when we love others just as Jesus Christ loves us. God bless and encourage someone today.