Devoted to one another – Guest Column
‘Love is the sweetest thing’ – so sang Ray Noble in the 1930s. Huge numbers of popular songs speak of romantic love but it is not only in the world of ‘popular entrainment’ that this quality is emphasised; the Bible also has a great deal to say about a different aspect of love.
Love may ‘make the world go round’ but we do not have to travel far to discover that there is a huge amount of hatred about too. As I write, hundreds of people are being killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
Yet conflict need not involve guns and bombs. All around us we find a marked absence of love. At weekends many of Britain’s towns and cities are plagued with drunken late-night revellers who cause noise and damage and care nothing for other people. Domestic violence is on the increase and disputes between neighbours are commonplace.
Sadly, churches are not always immune from this lack of love. Although we ought not to encourage the devil by giving him publicity, we easily get caught up in passing on bad news about disagreements in churches.
In the third century, Tertullian wrote that pagans said of the Christians, ‘See how they love one another’. I fear that the world might look at some churches today and say of the members, ‘See how they hate one another’.
Church disputes have led to congregations leaving their denominations and starting new ones, while arguments in specific congregations frequently result in acrimonious church splits. The fact that this kind of thing has been happening ever since New Testament times should not make us complacent. We should be filled with sorrow when we learn of them.
So, when we hear of such things – or worse still, if we are caught up in them – what should we do? Some believers try to justify the actions of one side or other. Others will seek the removal of those whom they think are to blame, while yet others opt to say nothing – or find some quiet way out, like moving house to another part of the country.
These are all human reactions, but what guidance does the Bible give us in situations like this? James asks the question, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you?’ (James 4:1-2). He suggests that disagreements often come about through selfishness. ‘Don’t [these fights and quarrels] come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight’.
Not our own way
Those words could have been written about some present-day church meetings. Instead of accepting the decision of the church officers, a handful may enter into a campaign to persuade the majority to vote for the scheme they have put forward. Usually this takes up many hours of deacons’, elders’ and church members’ meetings – wasting much precious time (the Lord’s time).
However, the Bible tells us that we should not seek our own way; instead we should ‘humble ourselves’ (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6) and ‘esteem others[s] better than [ourselves]’ (Philippians 2:3).
Paul uses the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was grieved that in Rome where he was imprisoned, ‘everyone looks out for his own interest, not those of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 2:21).
He takes well-understood concepts and uses them to challenge his readers: ‘If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose’.
And then he pleads with them: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:1-4).
In view of that, how does he counsel them to react? ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:5-8).
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are encouraged to be united in the Lord and also with one another. In his High Priestly prayer Jesus prayed that his disciples ‘may be one’ and also that future Christians ‘may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you’ (John 17:11, 21).
Paul employed this theme on many occasions. He wanted to know that the believers were ‘completely humble and gentle’ and entreated them to ‘be patient, bearing with one another in love’ (Ephesians 4:2). Also he longed that they should ‘stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel’ (Philippians 1:27).
So, if anyone reading these words is troubled because he or she cannot get their own way in their church, let me exhort them to ‘be patient’ and bear with their fellow believers ‘in love’.
The author is a retired pastor living in Bracknell, Berkshire.