During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples. Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building. Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet. Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.
I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John. I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context. And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family. In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6). The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light. Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).
Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.
How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another. This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22). The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
- Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children. There was a time when we did not belong to God. In fact, we were under God’s wrath. But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family. In his grace, God has lavished us with his love. So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community. As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity. When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
- Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy. The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble. They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion. Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5). Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17). Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate. Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
- Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16). This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world. And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)
Loving one another like this is not natural. We are accustomed to individualism. Love like this is also risky. It pushes us to invest deeply in each other. John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18). If I love you, I am not afraid of you. If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.
Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection. It is also a season of growth. As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?” Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday? Are you speaking well, even in disagreements? Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates? Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?
While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help. We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church. And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.