If it doesn't count for Christ, it doesn't count.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh, Lord, do I really HAVE to like (fill in the blank)?

Ephesians 4 (NIV)

 1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it

This little piece of scripture is a little piece of what our Sunday School lesson was supposed to be about this past Sunday morning.  As it turned out, this little piece of scripture is as far as we got.  When I first read this the previous Sunday or Monday night, I felt like I was going to spend a lot of time on this particular section, with all of its "one's", but I didn't know why. And, even then I thought it would be approached from a different perspective than it was presented in the Sunday School book.  But, that is what happens when you turn it over to God.  He might take it in a different direction from that of the author or from my own impressions, which I admit sometimes differ from that of the authors.

It is powerful, though, so I thought I would share with you, my 2 or 3 readers.

Paul, inspired by God, unerringly, I might add, is echoing one of our Lord's greatest desires for us, the church. On the eve of His crucifixion, a night for saying the most important of things, Jesus passionately emphasizes His desire that we believers love each other just like He loves us and that we become one.

John 13:34-35 (NIV)

 34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

John 15:17 (NIV)

17This is my command: Love each other.

John 17:20-23 (NIV)

 20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I'm not going to re-state what it takes to live worthy of our calling to Christ. (It's right up there in Ephesians 4.)  And we all know that human relationships can become very complicated.  Jesus knows that, too. That's why He reminds us through His command, that love is something we do more than a way we feel.  (Have you ever noticed, though, that when you do loving things you feel more loving?)  And the feeling always follows the doing, but the doing does not always follow the feeling.

But, issues arise, disagreements turn into arguments, arguments produce anger, divisions occur, relationships damage and shatter, and love seems to fly away. So, how then are we to love in the midst of all this? And what of all these fractured relationships? (And before you think I am saying that anger is a sin let me hasten to add: Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV) "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anger is not a sinful emotion, but improperly managed it can lead to sin and it can give Satan a foothold in our lives and our relationships. How often does that happen?)

Unity among believers, the body of Christ, is so very important.  Can you imagine what might happen if there was a breakdown in the unity of the Holy Trinity?  Jesus didn't want to go to the cross. He asked if that cup might pass without His having to partake of it.  He had the power and the free will to keep Himself off of the cross.  And yet, knowing the torture that was to come, He submitted His will to that of His Father, and He willingly laid down His life for you and I.  He kept unity with God at the highest of costs and reaped the highest of rewards.

We, who are believers, make up the body of Christ.  Just as aches and pains and breaks and severed connections keep a human body from functioning properly, damaged, broken, and severed relationships among believers keep the body of Christ from functioning properly. Thus Jesus' call to be One.

No one knows the day or the hour of Jesus' return for the church. Just a question: Does the functionality of the body have anything to do with the timing of His return?  Are our divisions delaying His return?  Is the fact that a divided body cannot do the work of a united body preventing some key elements from going into place which are intended to prepare us and the world for that great moment in time?

Does it make sense, then, in light of Jesus' great desire for unity among us, that our disagreements and differences and divisions go far beyond the focus we place on ourselves in such times?   When Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior to Whom all power and authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given, prays fervently that we love one another, and commands us to love one another, and counsels us through His servant Paul not to sin in our anger, and not to let the sun set upon our anger, does this not at least raise the question of eternal implications of our relatively petty arguments?

Yes, it gets complicated.  Among Christians friendships dissolve, marriages fail, families shatter, churches divide.  And Christian on-lookers, lay-counselors, co-conspirators, so-called friends. and concerned parties say "too bad", "so sad", "bound to happen", "couldn't be helped", even "you will be so much better off".  And all the while our Lord's command to love one another and His great desire that we become One fade through the background of  "I can't go on like this anymore."

How does this happen?  Why does this happen?  It happens because we are human.  And if, as Christians,  we continue to live out our relationships on a strictly human level, then those relationships, no matter what their origin or basis are going to fall victim to our flawed human way of maintaining things. Like all things of this world, worldly relationships, even under the pretext of Christian love, will not survive in tact.    

What, then, can we do?  How do we fix this? What is the cure for a sick and dying relationship?

Just as for all worldly ills, there is one cure  . . . one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all . . .

Move all of your relationships from the worldly level to the spiritual level.  Consider that nothing in your life should be separate from Christ including your relationships.  When cracks appear and irritations arise, when disagreements give way to to full blown arguments, resist the urge to turn to self preservation. If the relationship is Christ centered remember that the relationship must be preserved and that such is the ultimate in self preservation. If the relationship is not Christ centered and cannot be brought into the realm of your submission to Christ, then simply get rid of it. It is a sinful relationship and has no place in your life.

Complicated relationships?  They certainly can be.  But, the answers are found in the simple application of the Word of God as led by the Holy Spirit.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love . . ."

"that all of them may be one . . ."

"As I have loved you, so you must love one another . . ."

"This is my command: Love each other."
And, yes, it takes everyone involved whether two or three or a multitude.  Our responsibility before God, however, is to do all we can do.

Do all you can do to preserve unity for the sake of the Body of Christ. "Do all you can" is not to let you off the hook. "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."  This is to say do ALL you can through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  (That's the Holy Spirit who gives you power to do ". . . even greater things that these."  Just so you know, all you can do is more than you think you can do.)

Relationships . . . I could go on. But, . . . I won't. (for now)

And YOU CAN do whatever Jesus calls you to do in any relationship because  ". . . to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."  (He already gave you what you need!)