In the previous article I talked about how important it is to be together, to share our lives and seek the lord not as individuals but as a body. Throughout the New Testament we see believers sharing the Lord and each other on a daily basis. The whole description of the New Testament church is the story not of ministries and institutions but of people seeking the Lord with their brothers and sisters. They met in each other’s homes and spent their lives together.
Many people have some experience of doing this, usually with a very small group. Small groups seeking a closer and more intimate experience of the Lord spring up all the time but very few survive more than a few months. In my experience there are two main reasons for this. Many groups lack vision or to use a less spiritual term, imagination. They try something new. it is exciting for a few weeks. Then the excitement of a new activity begins to wear off. People become bored and stop coming. The tiny, infant church dies away and disappears.
The second problem is that we are messed up, fallen human beings. We hurt each other. We are offended by the actions of others. Sometimes this grows completely out of hand and develops into a bloodbath. Perhaps two brothers both want to lead and fight for the loyalty of the flock. Perhaps someone feels their spouse is not getting the respect they deserve and inflicts harm on everyone else. It shouldn’t happen but it does, again and again. People are hurt and damaged and the infant church collapses in bitterness and even hatred. I have met believers still carrying scars from the collapse of a small intimate group more than 20 years later.
But it matters to be together, to seek the Lord together despite our fallen natures. So how do we cope with the fact that we hurt others and we are hurt by others.
There is one commandment in the New Testament. There are many suggestions, a good deal of guidance and constant troubleshooting but there is only one commandment. In John 13 the Lord says
A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my Disciples, if you have love for one another.
and just in case this wasn’t clear the lord repeated himself just a couple of pages later.
This is my commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you. greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
When I read about laying down my life I tend to think the cross, about dying for the lord. there is one advantage to dying for the lord. It is quick. It is a much harder calling to live for the Lord, to accept the mundane, the routine disappointments, the grind of daily life and yet to keep loving each other in spite of all that happens.
Love is not a brief romantic episode. It is deeper, higher, more painful, more beautiful and it endures. In fact the Lord wanted us to know exactly what love is. So he wrote it down.
Love is patient, Love is kind and is not jealous; Love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,
Love never fails
One thing is immediately obvious. We cannot live up to this. We fail. We cannot endure all things. We cannot always avoid provocation.
It is much easier to prophesy, to seek knowledge, to perform might works. This is why most churches concentrate on ministries, upon preaching and upon good works. Like Naaman when asked to perform simple mundane tasks we prefer great works. Could the Lord really ask us to put up with a brother or sister who drives us up the wall? Is that really the high calling of a believer? Much easier to slay dragons. But the Lord also says that whatever else we have without love we are empty.
You cannot meet the standard the Lord set for love. Nor can I. but we are not alone. It is not my job to take care of everyone else. it is the job of the church to take care of one another. I may be unable to love and forgive my brother because I am so hurt but those around me can forgive him for me.
I remember a day when my wife and I fled our house because of threats and abuse from our neighbours. My wife was in tears terrified for the guinea pig we left behind, carrying every photo album and precious thing she could. I felt nothing but rage. I wanted to see the heads of the people who abused and mistreated my Anna so badly on spikes outside the tower of London. But the lord, in that unhelpful way of his, spoke quietly and told me to forgive. it was more than I could do but when I stood in the midst of my brothers and sisters I asked them to forgive for me. My brothers and sisters could do what I could not. They forgave.
Paul says that we will complete what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings. I do not know what this means but I do know that we complete what is lacking in each other. I cannot always remain patient with another brother but my lack is made up in the patience of those around me and when their patience is gone mine is restored and I can bear with the brother who is driving others up the wall.
We need each other. The Christian life is not meant to be lived or loved alone. But we need love. we need to love each other because without it Paul says our spiritual revelation is worthless.
we also need miracles. Yes sometimes we need healing and miraculous intervention in our everyday lives but we also desperately need the lord to work on our relationships. I recently read a book by Alfred Edersheim called The Exodus and The Wanderings in the Wilderness. In it he gives the story of Moses and the striking of the Rock.
After almost 40 years in the wilderness the children of Israel were finally approaching the Promised land. The long days of frustration were about to end and then Moses led the children of Israel into a barren waterless wilderness…again. The children of Israel could not believe it. After 40 years wandering Moses still couldn’t remember the importance of a water supply. Would Moses never learn? Now they were all going to die. Moses on the other hand could not believe that after all they had seen of the Lord the children of Israel still had so little faith. In a moment of mutual despair Moses and the Israelites put their heads in their hands and uttered those awful words – ‘not again.’
‘Not again!’ The Israelites were weary of Moses. How could such an incompetent leader take them into the promised land? Moses on the other hand was wandering how such a faithless and unbelieving people could possibly take the land. In frustration he gave up and struck the rock. The Lord gave water but Moses would never enter the Promised land. The Israelites lost faith in Moses forgetting that the Lord would lead them into Canaan. Moses lost faith in Israel forgetting that the Lord would conquer the land, not the Israelites.
In the church when those around us fail and let us down we wander how can this be done with such people. The church is not built by us and it is not taken by us. The church of Jesus Christ is built by him and he is true love. I Corinthians 13 is fulfilled in and by Jesus Christ. He is our one true hope.