Physically, hiking is a healthy group recreation. When Christians walk with the Lord they need to remember that they belong to a company of walkers. The church is not a loose association of individuals.
Christians are compared to stones built into a house, parts of one body and branches of one Vine. We are members of one family, brothers and sisters in Christ, all one in him.
In the local church, we are to walk in harmony. Unity does not mean uniformity. In the church there is unity and diversity. In every congregation there is a striking variety of temperament and personality.
How different in temperament were the disciples! Peter — impetuous; John — quiet and meditative; Thomas — critical and questioning; and so we could continue. The church still has its Peters and Johns, and its Marthas and Marys! Without them it would be dull and monolithic.
Describing the church as the body of Christ, Paul stresses both unity and diversity: ‘But now indeed there are many members, yet one body’ (1 Corinthians 12:20). The body needs the eye, the ear, the foot, etc. Without them it is incomplete, handicapped, and non-functional.
To walk together harmoniously we must recognise this diversity and inclusiveness. We have our quiet members, our outgoing members, our timid members, our courageous members, leaders, helpers, critics (!) — all are needed if the spiritual body is to function.
Remember that the Holy Spirit can transform our weaknesses into virtues, as he transformed Peter’s impetuosity to make him a leader and spokesman for the church.
We must walk together in love. This is crucial. John’s first epistle shows that the church is essentially a fellowship of love. If the love of God ‘has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit’, it should be clearly manifest in the life of the church (Romans 5:5).
John speaks to us of sacrificial love. Christ laid down his life for us — and we should lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).
In the cross we have the supreme revelation of love — the utmost limit to which love can go. The Saviour laid down his life as an act of redeeming love. And we are called by that love to serve one another sacrificially.
Not that our self-sacrifice compares in any way with Christ’s. But John tells us to love one another without counting the cost.
Such love is practical. It expresses itself in action. John pictures a wealthy man who sees his brother in need yet ‘shuts up his heart from him’. ‘How’, asks John, ‘does the love of God abide in him?’ (1 John 3:17).
In the pioneering days in America, a community of Christian farmers met regularly for fellowship. One of their number found himself in financial straits. His neighbours gathered to pray for him.
Then came a knock on the door. Outside stood a lad. ‘My father is sorry that he could not come to the meeting, but he has sent his prayers’. There in the yard stood horses and a wagon loaded with food and other supplies. The prayer meeting ended abruptly!
Christian love is obedient. John concludes by saying that we are to love one another ‘as [Christ] gave us commandment’ (1 John 3:23).
Doubtless John recalled our Lord’s words in the Upper Room: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you…’ (John 13:34). When a congregation fails to obey this commandment the Spirit is grieved and quenched, and the witness of the church tarnished.
Paul issues a stern warning: ‘If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!’ (Galatians 5:15). We want to see our churches grow numerically. Well, which church is most likely to grow — one that is rent by needless division and strife, or one that is characterised by mutual love in the Lord?
Furthermore, where there is such love there is peace. But love of the truth comes first. God commands us to ‘love truth and peace’ (Zechariah 8:19). That is the right order.
The people of God walk with a new allegiance. Once we ‘walked according to the course of this world’, but now we ‘walk in newness of life’ (Ephesians 2:2; Romans 6:4). Once we ‘walked in darkness’; now we ‘walk in the light’ (John 8:12).
We have a new Master and our allegiance is for ever pledged to him. There is a radical contrast and perpetual conflict between the church and the world — a sharp antithesis.
The true church rejects the world’s methods and values. Once the church makes itself acceptable to the world — moving with the times! — it is no longer the church.
This antithesis between the people of God and the world spans the centuries. God himself put enmity between the seed of the woman and that of the tempter following the Fall, when he made the ‘mother-promise’ of Genesis 3:15. That antithesis has remained ever since and is guaranteed by the sovereign will of God.
The difference between the true church and the world is immense and unmistakable. Paul told the believers at Ephesus: ‘You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light’ (5: 8).
Paul was simply stating a fact. The indicative was followed by the imperative — a common technique with Paul. They had been darkness and now were light; therefore they must walk accordingly.
It is clear from Scripture and history that the world is actively opposed to the church. And God’s Word makes it clear that the church is to be actively opposed to the world. We must hate what God hates and oppose what he opposes.
Paul resisted false teachers with passionate, unshakeable conviction. As we walk together, with God’s Word as the lamp of our feet, we are not alone. Our Lord has promised to be with us always, ‘even to the end of the age’. It is in his presence and by his strength that we walk.