Practicing Love in our Christian Fellowships

Inglês

In the paper Essentials, Non-essentials and Unity, we suggested that the principle for unity should be, “In Essentials Unity, in Non-essentials Freedom, in all things Love.”  We further suggested that the only essential doctrines we should absolutely insist upon are that the Bible is God’s Word, and that Jesus Christ, the son of God, is Lord, Savior and King.  In our discussion, we showed the importance of keeping Jesus Christ central in our fellowships, and the necessity of demonstrating principled Christian love to our brothers and sisters.  We concluded that this kind of love identifies true Christians.  It is love for God, Christ and our brothers that provides a powerful unifying force — more powerful than agreement on a particular doctrinal system.  How, in a practical way, can we demonstrate this kind of unifying, principled, Christian love?

The Body of Christ

First, we must understand that Christianity is about relationships—our relationship with Jesus Christ as head of the congregation, our relationship with God the Father through Christ, our relationship with our brothers and sisters—fellow members in the body of Christ.  It is these individuals and their relationships that constitute the body of Christ, and these relationships are based on principled, Christian love.

For just as the body is one but has many members, and all the members of that body, although being many, are one body, so also is the Christ. For truly by one spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink one spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, NWT)

In the paper The Body of Christ, Lewis Hrytzak described the ideal state of a fellowship as follows:

There is only one center of Christianity, and one alone, and that center is: spiritual fellowship with God through Christ.  That’s it!  When there is such fellowship, that is the ecclesia.  In the absence of it, there is no ecclesia.  There may be fine clerical people, elegant buildings, scholarly dogmas, doctrines and so on, but if there is no true fellowship with God through Christ, there is no ecclesia.  On the other hand, if such fellowship exists with God through Christ, Christians will love one other, and they will be one in Christ, despite some doctrinal differences.

So we see then, that without the participation of God Himself through His Spirit, there can be no real Christian fellowship.  If Jesus Christ is not present, leading us as head of the congregation, then our efforts are in vain.  We are performing mere works of men, not works of God.

How can we ensure that God’s Spirit is present through Jesus Christ in our Christian fellowships?  We should ask for it!

Therefore, if YOU, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to YOUR children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!” (Luke 11:13)

We should be persistent in our prayers to God for His direction.  As a fellowship, we should always look to the leadings of the Spirit and the leadership of Jesus Christ rather than our own ideas and works.

Authentic Relationships

In the book Authentic Relationships, by Wayne and Clay Jacobsen, the authors provide much counsel on the lost art of “one-anothering”, as they put it.  We will summarize this book in this paper.  We highly recommend it for further reading.

Healthy relationships are defined on page 17:

Healthy relationships, however, are not created by sitting together in the same building or participating in the same activities, but by capturing Jesus’ heart for life-changing relationships.  Throughout Jesus ministry he demonstrated that the simplest acts of love and friendship could reach the most hardened souls and transform them.

On p. 19, the authors write of the need for true friendship:

A friend of mine defines typical relationships as the “mutual accommodation of self-need.”  He doesn’t intend it to be flattering.  What he means is that our friendships last only as long as we can satisfy some deep need in each other for security, acceptance, or status.  That is why most friend-ships with other believers are task-oriented and survive only as long as we work on the same task together.  As long as you go along with the program, you will find acceptance.  However, if you ask the wrong question, miss a few meetings, or even (God forbid!) leave to attend another fellowship, the friendships suddenly stop or turn hostile.

Everywhere I travel I see that thirst throughout the body of Christ, and it often goes unquenched.  People have many acquaintances yet few real friendships.  We don’t know how to make them, cultivate them, or enjoy them and often end up doing the best we can on our own.  We can escape this trap only by living the way Jesus did, not trying to get love for ourselves, but learning how to share it with others.

On p. 21, the authors define a Life Focussed on Others:

If you have ever shared friendships with others-focused people, you know what a treasure those friends are.  They take an interest in you just because they care.  Their concern is not tied to their own needs and desires in the relationship.  Their care for you demands nothing in return and rejoices just to see you blessed.  They open their life like a book and let you read it freely.  You don’t ever have to guess what they are thinking, because they will come right out and tell you, and they make you feel safe enough so that you don’t have to pretend with them.  They offer their counsel freely but never demand that you follow it.  They give you the freedom to disagree and the flexibility to do things differently from how they would do it without ever compromising their love for you.

Almost without thinking they would give you the shirt off their back if they knew you needed it, but they won’t always give you everything you want.  They look past your faults and celebrate your promise and offer their help to get you there.  You may not see them for months or years at a time, but the next time your paths cross, you will feel as though you have never been apart.  When they say they will pray for you, you know they will.  When you go through your darkest moments, they will stay by your side.  They will let their presence comfort you even when the right words escape them.

Such friends find their origin in God’s heart.  No one can love so freely whom God has not first loved deeply.  Discover the power of this love, and you will never be lonely again.

People like this are rare, but we have all met them.  We are naturally attracted to them.  We need people like this in our fellowships.  Or rather, we need these qualities in the people in our fellowships.  How can we develop these qualities if we don’t already possess them?

The “One-Anothering” Scriptures

The authors of Authentic Relationships identify 22 so-called “one-anothering” scriptures.  By studying these and applying their lessons, along with petitions to God for help, we can develop into “others-focussed” people.

A new command I give you: Love on another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34)

Living in God’s love is the first step.  We must experience God’s love and then we can reflect it in our relationships with others.  One-anothering is not some onerous chore, but the joy of sharing God’s life, not only with his people, but also with a world captive to darkness (p.30).

… forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you. (Romans 15:7)

…bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2)

Being hurt by others can make us so judgmental and so protective of ourselves that it is difficult to invest in new relationships.  Often the way someone looks or acts triggers memories of an unpleasant person or experience, and if we haven’t let go of the past, we will react by distancing ourselves from that person.  How are we ever going to connect at heart level when we are carrying that kind of baggage?  Learning to deal with our past is critical to maintaining our friendships and opening up new ones.  Forgiveness and acceptance are the detergents of body life that allow us to live free of the past.  Let us accept people just as they are, trusting that God will change them in time. (pp. 37, 42)

Be devoted to one another, Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)

Oscar Wilde: Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

This struggle to satisfy self is our greatest tyranny.  Instead of relaxing in the moment, we constantly have to manipulate it.  We find ourselves using people instead of loving them.  If we are going to participate in the joy of one-anothering, we need to let Jesus rewire our thinking so that we are even more aware of others than we are of ourselves. (p.46, 47)

Greet one another (2 Corinthians 13:12)

Offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)

Dale Carnegie: You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

Take a look around you and see where you can be hospitable.  Then clear your schedule and invite a friend or somebody you may not know well over for lunch or dinner.  It sounds easy—because it is!  It’s often the first step to a priceless friendship (p. 67)

Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)

Share with others. (Hebrews 13:16)

In a culture where most people are looking out for number one, random acts of kindness stand out as brightly as a lighthouse on a moonless night (p. 71).  In a conflict situation, an act of kindness can go a long way towards defusing the animosity, allowing us to practice loving one another (p. 75).

Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)

Carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)

Build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

An act of service may start a new relationship — one that just might open a life to God’s love.  What’s important is that we let love motivate us as the Spirit makes us aware of opportunities to serve.  Serving out of obedience alone is slavery; serving with love is a joy (p. 83)

You often will find that as you share freely from your life, others will do the same.  Hearing how others are learning to follow God and mining the wisdom they are uncovering from God’s Word not only will enrich your own journey but will enhance the depth of fellowship you experience with others.  This kind of sharing is the bread and butter of body life (p. 86).

Encourage one another daily (Hebrews 3:13)

Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18

Stimulate one another to love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)

We encourage one another by saying or doing things that make God more visible to them.  What encouragement we get from corporate gathering alone is not enough; we need further encouragement through personal relationships, and we would be well served if we would weave encouragement into the fabric of our lives and our interaction with others (p.91).  Though it can happen in a variety of ways, stimulating others to love and good deeds draws the best out of others by helping them see God’s purpose in their lives (p. 93).

Instruct one another (Romans 15:14

Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)

King Solomon said: “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31). We must be willing to offer counsel in a spirit of love to our brothers, and we must be willing to receive such counsel in a spirit of humility.  However, we must understand that growing in relationship with God does not come through conformity to rules but through internal, spiritual transformation (p.104).  At all times our aim should be to help our brothers and sisters in their own walk with Christ, not in the walk we think they should have.

Pray for one another. (James 5:16)

Real prayer is the process of getting involved with someone’s need, praying as best we understand God’s work, and then staying in the situation until we see his work resolved.  Learning to do that well can lead to effective prayers and wonderful growth in our relationships (p. 119).

Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)

Be of the same mind toward one another (Romans 12:16)

These scriptures are for mature Christian relationships only!  Revealing our inner selves to people isn’t easy, because most of us have been abused or manipulated by others precisely at our weakest points.  We do not need to be open with others just because they call themselves believers, but we can allow relationships to grow so that people can appropriately handle the depth of our sharing in an environment of love and trust (p.126). 

Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)

Richard Foster: “Submission is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get your own way.”

As brothers and sisters we don’t tell one another what to do but maintain an honest dialogue that respects God’s working in our lives.  We are to follow Jesus, not intermediaries who tell us what God wants.

Paul understood submission not as something he demanded of others, but as that which freed him to serve others.  Always be careful when following God’s leading comes at someone else’s expense.  When God puts something in our hearts, he asks us to take the risk and not impose it on others.  When we reject the notion that submission is a tool to control one another, we can feast on its fruits by sharing our wisdom and insight without feeling threatened (p.140-141).  Through this sharing the body of Christ grows.

Conclusion

The body of Christ is a living spiritual organism composed of individual true Christians in union with Jesus Christ, the head of the body.  In order to survive, the body must not be divided.  Unity is obtained by submitting ourselves to Christ’s headship, humbly asking for guidance, and reflecting the love of God in all our relationships and practices.  The “one-anothering” scriptures we have considered show in a specific, practical way, how we can express this love to one another.  Let us meditate on these scriptures and employ them in our walk with our Lord.

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Gordon Coulson. A Summary of the Book Authentic Relationships, by Wayne and Clay Jacobsen.