That we may be one

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 CSB

We’ve spent a lot of time on various podcasts talking about the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. Jarod and I have discussed it from perspectives of big-picture government responses, doctors and researchers exploring the spread of the virus and how it may be stopped or treated, and of course, the ways churches have tried to respond to this in a way that balances respect for local government authority and safety of their congregants with the need to gather and worship the Lord. It has produced for so many of us an intense time of longing for a return of the community we’ve been denied for several weeks now.

As all this has progressed, I’ve also watched individual responses and interactions, both close friends as well as far, laymen as well as leaders. I have wrestled a lot with how to speak to what I’ve seen. I’ve started writing many times on different platforms and deleted it, left it alone, rather than speak in anger and frustration or without trying to be fair in considering different viewpoints. Where I’ve landed is honestly not about where one falls on the spectrum of “open it all now” to “not until there’s a vaccine and even then I’m gonna wait a couple weeks.” Rather, my heart has been heavy with frustration more about the way I’ve seen us, believers in Christ, interacting over this.

I’ll be real honest with you people. I am very disappointed with how we as Christians have dealt with this. This experience should be a time for us to shine. Christians everywhere who have any kind of means should be out searching for any neighbors who are just hurting right now whether from lost work or illness or something else and pouring themselves out. They ought to be devoting themselves to service, to prayer, to crying out to the Lord to protect the sick around us and to provide for the poor.

But what I have seen has not looked like that, at least not from so many who have a high degree of visibility. I have seen leaders, godly men who I have looked to for wisdom and truth on so many issues and circumstances, arrogantly reacting unlovingly to everything from gentle correction to news stories. I’ve seen good brothers and sisters who previously had been gentle and sweet to each other now turning against one another in bitterness and division. And it has me deeply saddened and hurt to see so many not walking even remotely in a way that demonstrates the truth of Jesus’ words above: His desire that we would be recognized as His disciples by our love for one another.

Love one another

I’m not going to screenshot stuff. I’m not going to “get receipts” or whatever it is that the gossip-mongers and drama channels say when they dig up the latest dirt on someone with even the smallest amount of clout. Instead, I want to speak directly to each person who takes the time to read this: it is time for us as people who profess to love Jesus Christ to put up or shut up. It is time for us to stop regarding the Scriptures as a series of technicalities that allow us to disobey one thing in order to obey another. It is time, in short, for us to feel the weight of the Lord’s discipline on our hearts and to look to His example in giving up ourselves for the sake of love.

If you are new to this blog and podcast, you may not know that I spent the better part of last year working through the concept of unity in the Christ for the church. If God is willing, I am not done doing that either; Jarod and I are making plans for other projects that will involve this central and critical topic. If there is one thing that I hope is clear from all that, it is this: unity involves both a definition of what we are unified around, as well as a clear view of what walking in that unity looks like.

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t look like: it doesn’t look like “owning the libs.” It doesn’t look like your favorite TV or radio host Snarky McSmartAleck who cracks wise in precisely the right way that lets us look at those who disagree with us and go “Yeah, ya big idiots!” It doesn’t look like screaming like a lunatic about the president, no matter who it is. It doesn’t look like circular logic that begins with the conclusion you desired in the first place. And it doesn’t look like assuming the worst about your brothers and sisters.

“Aren’t you kind of doing that now?” you might ask. But I don’t want to assume anything. I just said: many of the people (on both sides of this fight) are men and women I respect and love. They aren’t people who are normally across the ideological or evangelical divide from me, but those who I have always regarded joyfully as fellow servants of Christ and brethren in the faith. And it is my desire that all of us in Christ, no matter where we fall within that aforementioned spectrum, would recall to mind that the one with whom they are speaking is like themselves: human firstly, saved by grace secondly, an heir of a greater gift by the blood and the Spirit.

No excuses

Firstly: are you serving? Are you giving, and asking, and looking for those around you who are hurting? Or, are you so busy thinking about the fear of government takeover that it prevents you from seeing the hurting before you? Are you so driven to argue that it prevents you from listening and considering?

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks of the truth that even thought he had the right to the same kind of life that others in the church had, he desired to surrender those rights for the sake of those who he so diligently sought after for the sake of Christ. And he was willing to follow the path of Jesus in giving up all of himself for the sake of Christ’s people. He knew what he needed in order to live. He knew that God was aware of that fact as well, and he trusted fully to the Lord for those things. Yet he was willing to sacrifice it all if it meant Christ would be glorified and hearts would be transformed.

So at the end of this frustrated and frustrating exercise in responding to a whole myriad of arguments, the question I want to put before you the reader and myself is: how are you dying to yourself for the sake of Christ in the midst of this? Is the way you speak to and of others during this time showing a heart that trusts that God is a better provider, or do you cling to His gifts even as He tugs them away? Are you more fearful about losing your freedoms than you are about dishonoring the name of Christ before unbelievers?

I’m not saying I’m flawless in this. But this is certainly weighing deeply on me, and I hope more people will stop bickering and complaining and start thoughtfully considering the best way we can live in these deeply uncertain times with the only certainty that matters. We have an eternal weight of glory before us that ought to press in heavily on the way we consider these things.

Don’t mishear me: I am not saying it’s bad to disagree. I think that disagreements had properly, with love and gentleness, and with our hope fixed squarely on the eternal, are a reality of this world. Even if we agree in faith, we are going to disagree over earthly matters that the Bible doesn’t speak to. You can’t flip to a page and see “Oh, well, it says right here how to handle this outbreak” except perhaps in the sense that Levitical law speaks to quarantining in certain situations.

But you can see how to disagree, and my desire is that those who actually take the time to read this post will perhaps slow down and think about the questions I’ve raised. Brothers and sisters, it is my hope that we can disagree in love and unity, and serve our neighbors faithfully. Let us turn our efforts to love, service, prayer, and repentance, as we ought to, and seek to give glory to Jesus as the one who stands in the way of life, even when death and fear lurk.

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