Members of the Church, the body of people who have been saved by Jesus Christ, are called to love one another, and to grow in holiness with one another by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, as Covid-19, an election cycle, and a modern civil rights movement are creating tension across the United States, I am consistently witnessing fear and anger lead to disunion and hatred between members of the Church. I am of course also seeing fear and anger lead me into sinning against my fellow believers as well.
This does not honor God because the Church is called to be a place that gives people a “shoulder to cry on”. When members of the church instead give their fellow believers cold shoulders, they dishonor God. Because of this, I chose to write this blog post to remind my readers about the importance of loving one another while seeking unity and peace within the Church. Remember this is not a full dissertation on all that is going on in America. This is one piece of a larger puzzle that makes up my collective works. I am no expert on most of these topics, so I will stick to rooting this blog post in the word of God, by using Colossians 3:5-17 as the basis for wisdom on how to love our hurting neighbors.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:5-17 (NIV)
What does Paul show us here in these Scriptures? First, in verses 5-6, he tells us that Christians and non-Christians alike can be sinful people prone to greed and idolatry. As people who are broken by our sins, we are often greedy for attention and comfort. We also idolize being seen as wise. We often desire these things more than holiness. Verse 6 tells us that the wrath of God is dead set against these ways.
Paul then tells us in verse 7 that these ways were our daily nature before we got saved, but that we are now free to pursue holiness because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to honor Christ. He tells us to remove “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” from our lips. Imagine if we filtered all of our political conversations with those filters. Imagine if we responded to those who used those emotions against us without using those emotions in return. Imagine if when we were arguing we followed the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1-4.
1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.Proverbs 15:1-4 (NIV)
Not only are we told not to speak harmfully, but Paul continues in verses 9 and 10 to tell us not to lie to one another. Lying can be when we judge one another to be something as if we know it to be true when it is in fact not true. When we call people “baby murders”, “white supremacist”, “Pharisees”, or “Marxist” when we disagree with them, we are often making an unfair judgment of them out of a place of anger and ignorance. We must instead be patient and loving to avoid division.
Then in verse 11, Paul shows us that God intended to show his glory by bringing unity to a church (and world) filled with diversity. God is the author of diversity, and he created people differently to show his glory. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesian church that a unified and diverse church displays the “manifold wisdom of God”. (Ephesians 3:7-11). In Christ, we are all unified as one, equal before the throne of God. We see this also in Galatians 3:26-28
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV)
Then in verse 12, Paul tells us that we are all God’s “holy and dearly loved” people. As Christians, we will fail to love and see holiness in one another, but God’s love is the thing that binds us and makes us holy and lovable. It is the unmovable anchor for our hope and salvation. Because of this, Paul continues to verse 12 by telling us, “ clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” When we tie the ideas together we see that we can clothe ourselves with those traits because of the Holy Spirit in us. It is God’s way of marking us as holy and dearly loved people unified by Christ.
Paul then tells us in the first half of verse 13 that with this new identity and nature that we have, we are to “bear with each other and forgive one another”. As imperfect sinners, we are going to screw up. I am going to probably hurt my friends who are trying to love their neighbors by voting one way or another. I am most likely going to say something insensitive to one of my friends who are a person of color. I am most likely going to forget to cover my nose with my mask. I am a sinner. I am saved, but not perfect.
We can forgive one another always because Jesus forgave us and died for us when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). If Christ can forgive you, you can forgive anyone. It may not be easy, and it may take time, but you can trust that God will hold all people accountable for what they have done in the final judgment.
Then we see Paul focus on the importance of love in verse 14. We must love each other to bear with, forgive, and live with one another. We must always anchor our actions, reactions, emotions, and thoughts in love. This leads us to verse 15 where Paul tells us that peace must be the mark of people in the Christian community.
Marked by peace, love, forgiveness, and a lack of malice we are then able to admonish and correct one another. That is what Paul teaches in verse 16 where he tells us to, “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom”. This is so important to understand because we live in a time where we are giving truth to people with cold shoulders as they are crying out for help.
A painfully apparent example of this can be in the church today when members of the black community seek solidarity as they weep and lament over the injustices of systemic sin. Instead of showing love and compassion, I see members of the church jumping to lecture them on Critical Race Theory and Marxism. I have seen so many posts from people accusing people of following a false gospel of “Woke Christianity” and very few posts from people showing compassion to those who are in pain over the state of the world.
This is not to say we should not be discerning. We should not be afraid to distinguish the difference between a riot and a protest, nor “voting as a civil duty” and “voting from a place of idolatry”. We should not sacrifice truth, in the name of love but instead pursue truth in the name of love. I have plenty of concerns regarding how some Christians seem to be ignoring the bible in their calls for justice and I am certainly ready and willing to discuss and debate these issues when needed. However, I know that it would be tone deaf of me to lead with theological correction as my first response to all people who are seeking justice in a way I find problematic. Hurt people act like hurt people. Some people simply need a hug, a cup of tea, and a listening ear. When we provide this, we will most likely have plenty of opportunities to discuss theological frameworks.
Let me give you an example of how we should love people who we think are in error. When I crashed my car for the first time there were a lot of questions that could have been asked. Was I on my phone? Was I drinking? Was I paying attention? Was my music too loud? Though I was not guilty of any of these things, they all would all be fair questions for my parents to have asked me when they arrived at the scene of the accident. However, when they arrived and saw that I was scared, shaking, injured, and covered in tears they knew they needed to hug me and comfort me before they needed to try to correct me. That is the case with many Christians today who lash out at one another. We often need a hug and a listening ear, and instead, we get a link to a podcast.
Verse 17 brings all of this to a close. Paul tells us that in all that we do, we are to do in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father. We are to love, forgive, and bear with one another knowing that Jesus has committed to doing that for us. We are to be thankful to God the Father for what Jesus did for us and live in a way that shows the radical forgiveness, love, and grace of God. We must follow God’s words and his ways, and that means we can not follow the world’s way of educating nor creating change because their ways will ultimately fail to honor God. We must follow God’s word and love one another.
I leave you with John 13:34
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”John 13:34 (NIV)
Grace and Peace
Appendix: Does this apply to non-Christians?
I would like to note that the case that I laid out is explicitly for relationships between church members. I do think we should try to apply a lot of the principles listed above to our relationships with all of our non-Christian neighbors, but we must remember that they do not have the Holy Spirit sanctifying them which is a key element that allows members of the Church to live in harmony. When a person does not see themselves as greatly in need of forgiveness it will be unlikely that they are willing to forgive and love their enemies like Christ modeled for those who call upon his name as Lord and Savior.