Love one another as I have loved you (John 13: 34)
To live in community within the Body requires a commitment to the law of love. Love, in all its forms, comes from God and is, at its heart, the desire for the well-being of the Beloved.
1. Love gives itself/pours itself out for the sake of the Beloved.
E.g., Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend. (John 15: 13)
The problem is this: Laying down your life isn't just about dying for someone else. Dying is easy (relatively speaking) and rarely required. Living for one another is much harder. While we focus on Jesus' crucifixion, we tend not to notice that His death only had power because of the way He lived His life up until that point. Only a sinless life, a life poured out in love for humankind, could qualify Jesus to redeem us.
We must expect love to be costly and full of sacrifice. It's like becoming a parent - your life is not about you anymore and many of the things you want take a back seat to the things your kids want.
Laying down your life for people requires sacrificing time, energy, hobbies, etc. It means watching each others backs and reputations. It involves applying all the principles of love - both the supportive and the confrontive.
Laying down your life means helping when you don't feel like it; giving up something you want so someone else can have what they want or need; doing it their way rather than your way; giving or doing something that isn't deserved; doing what's right for someone even when it costs you; risking making someone mad by speaking truth in love; caring about what the other person cares about even if it wouldn't normally interest you; making an effort to remember important details; offering without waiting to be asked.
Laying down your life is expressed in the specific traits associated with love in I Cor. 13
3. 1 John 4: 10-11 love acts first (makes the first move) - seeks out the beloved and it makes the last move John 13: 1(NAS) "to the end"
4. love blesses (Deut. 7: 13) bless (barach)= to bestow good (literally, or prophetically speaking heaven's intention to bestow). The opposite of blessing is envy/jealousy: wanting the good thing that someone else possesses; viewing someone else as a threat to the good thing you possess.
5. love redeems (Is. 63: 9)
Dealing with Conflict
"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those who will believe in me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one: I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected 1in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." (John 17:20-23)
Why has this not been answered? Largely because of our inability to handle conflict, because we have the wrong priorities, the small perspective. (e.g. leaving churches over trivialities, or wanting to be right more than wanting to honor the desires of God regarding community)
Understanding the value of conflict
"As much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom. 12: 18). Notice that peacemaking and peacekeeping are different. Peacemaking is an active process that may require conflict along the way. Peacekeeping often involves an avoidance of conflict so that it is really more about placating. Peacemakers are called sons of God (Matt. 5: 9)
In the Body, we have often embraced the myth that all conflict is wrong, - that to be in community means not to fight. But there is no iron sharpening iron without some level of conflict. This means no personal/spiritual growth, no deepening of relationships, no strengthening of the church body.
Love requires appropriate conflict. "My son do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent His rebuke. Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father [disciplines] the son he delights in." (Prov 3:11-12) A fight is the not worst thing that can happen. Sometimes lack of conflict is even worse. For example, when Adam chose passivity and conflict avoidance as Eve was being tempted by Satan in the Garden, he sentenced Eve (and ultimately himself and the rest of the human race) to death. We are obligated to teach and correct one another in love.
So the problem is not so much that we have conflict with one another, but that we don't resolve the conflict. Unresolved conflict is deadly. It creates walls between two parts that should be functioning smoothly together.
Not all conflict is appropriate or useful, so how do you know what is worth conflict? The basic rule of thumb is whether the conflict will ultimately advance the kingdom.
How to engage in healthy conflict
There are a million ways to get it wrong, but only a few ways to get it right. Over and above all else, conflict must be governed by the laws of love.
1. We have to be committed to each other, to put community before ourselves, our own wants. Do not be quick to break the unity of the Body. This is a last resort, only to be used when there are issues of sin for which people are habitually unrepentant.
2. Communication 101
4. It is better to be wronged/suffer injustice, than to break community (I Cor 6: 1-8). So if you have a problem with a brother, approach him first in humility and love. If not resolved ask a wise brother to help mediate. If unwilling to abide by that, take it to several elders. If it is still not resolved take it to pastor. But do not take one another to court.
5. Guard your tongue. Before speaking always assess whether your words will advance the kingdom, whether they reflect the truth as God sees it. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Do you want to speak for him? Speaking evil (lies, slander, gossip) of a brother desecrates the temple worse than showing up drunk and naked.
6. Don't say anything bad about another person without speaking to that person first. If you must get advice first about how to approach the person, then do that wisely and quietly.
7. At the end of the day we have this: "as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you [forgive]. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. " (Col 3:12-14)
Dealing with Offense
offense: (scandalizo) - to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall
Offense is different than simply not liking something. It makes the thing personal, and it passes judgment & draws conclusion. You can put a stumbling block in someone else's way by giving offense or put one in your own way by taking offense.
Sources of offense
1. Religious spirits
Rom. 9: 33 refers to Is. 8: 12-15 Jesus was, and continues to be, a rock of offense, a snare, and a stumbling block to religious spirits who follow the traditions of men rather than the heart of God.
There were two issues for the Pharisees: Jesus walked in a liberty that frustrated their control, (e.g., healing people on Sabbath; consorting with tax collectors, allowing a formerly sinful woman to wash his feet with her hair) and He walked in a righteousness that made them look dirty by comparison.
Truth is often offensive
- to the status quo whose power base is threatened by it;
- to Satan who operates in lies and misdirection;
- to flesh and pride which doesn't see it's own failings
Religious spirits can operate within Christianity by setting up false standards. E.g., the belief that going to church on Wednesday nite makes you more holy than those who don't. Or religious spirits can be from outside Christianity, e .g., those who are offended that Christianity claims to be the only way to God/heaven.
Religious spirits partner with pride because they include a sense of being better than others who do not measure up to the religious standard. (Col. 2:18)Pride becomes a matter of offense because it is a divisive snare that alienates the person from others.
2. spirit of offense
There is a demonic spirit whose function is to perceive and create offense. It seeks to misinterpret behavior and words so that they have the worst possible connotation. The spirit of offense causes the person to operate insensitively towards others so that they are either unaware of how their words and actions impact others or they simply don't care.
3. Differences in belief/practice
There are differences of belief and practice throughout the Body of Christ. E.g., what language is acceptable, what style of worship is acceptable, what manner of dress, whether to drink alcohol or coffee. The issue is what to do with those differences.
a. Rom. 14: 1-13 we have different beliefs based on maturity of faith. These cannot be basis for judgment or condemnation on the part of either party.
b. choosing to restrain liberty to keep a weaker brother from falling (Rom. 14: 13 - 15: 2) vs. refusing to live by "religious" standards which appear to be wise but actually have no value (Col. 2: 13 - 23). Both options can be seen as acts of love. Which one you do depends on the particular person and particular situation.
c. This is why we have to believe the best of each other - including trusting each person to get with God over issues and to wrestle out their faith (salvation). This will lead us to interpret their behavior as being born of what they have faith for - see their behavior as an act of trying to live in accordance with their understanding (even if their understanding is immature or wrong)
How to stay in fellowship when there are disagreements
1. priorities and perspective:
The day is here and increasingly coming when Christians will be persecuted, put to death, hated by all the nations, ostracized and called evil (John 15: 20; Matt. 24: 9; Luke 6: 22; John 16: 33). When real persecution arises, trivial things fall away. All of the sudden, it doesn't matter whether we baptize by immersion or sprinkling, whether you drink, dance, play cards, wear pants or makeup, listen to secular music, wear head coverings, or shave your head and get tattoos . The time will be over for disagreements over whether clergy should wear robes and what style of worship to use. The only thing that will matter is your willingness to stand with Jesus - to confess His name above all names. We have to keep that perspective.
If an issue will not matter in the end, maybe it shouldn't matter so much now. It isn't that God doesn't care about behavior - the standards of holiness were established by Him after all - but God's priority is always on the heart. Ours should be as well (see for example, the story of Hezekiah in II Chron. 29-30)
2. look for common ground - keep your focus on what's important (e.g., that Jesus is the only way to God) rather than the trivial.
3. adopt the view that there is only one bride of Christ, one wife. This is not a Rachel and Leah moment. You have to love the Body in its entirety rather than loving parts of it and hating other parts. In Matt. 25: 31-46, giving food and drink and clothing and ministry had nothing to do with whether they agreed on everything. It was based on their need and the fact that they were brothers.
4. maintain relationship (fellowship) even if you're not part of that particular local Body. Befriend a Baptist, a charismatic, a Presbyterian. Build relationships across the Body, get to know their hearts, find the common ground and emphasize it. Churches need to work cooperatively and not territorially.
5. let disagreements be amicable - without hostility, judgment, accusation, or fracture. I may choose not to be in a particular local church because my understanding of issues is different than theirs, but I still need to bless them, build them up and not down, pray for the fullness of God for them, want their prosperity and health, not be threatened by or envious of their success.
There are two platforms from which we can operate: Justice and grace. Justice is based on the righteousness of God, a very good thing. It protects society by using "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" strategy to curb bad behavior. But this approach is ultimately flawed, because we all end up missing eyes and teeth. And even that doesn't reverse or undo the wrong that was done. It simply exacts a price. There is no redemption in this platform.
Grace acknowledges that a wrong has been done and that a price has to be paid. But it chooses to allow someone else to pay the price. In doing that, the offender's debt is cancelled. So I'm standing on the platform of righteousness and justice, and I'm condemned. Then God comes and says, "I'll pay the price for you." On this platform, I walk away with my eyes and teeth intact and no stain against my character or conscience.
The punchline: you can stand on one platform or the other but not both. If you want justice for others then you deserve justice for yourself. As you judge others so will you be judged. The common mistake we make is to judge others by comparing ourselves to them. The problem is that on the justice platform we're not judged against other people or graded on a curve. We're judged against the perfection of God's righteouness, and there we all fail, resulting in death and damnation.
If I want grace for myself, I must offer grace to others. "Stop judging others and you will not be judged, stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37) "Forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. … For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." (Matt 6:12, 14-15)
Forgiveness: definition and process
Forgiveness is not forgetting (only God can do that). It is not downplaying what has been done (e.g., saying 'it's alright'). It is not an emotional act. The pain of betrayal will remain for at time. Forgiveness doesn't mean that you don't feel the pain but rather that you release the debt despite the pain. It is not the same thing as trusting that person again (forgiveness is an unearned gift but trust is earned. The restoration of trust can only happen when others have repented.)
Forgiveness is an act of will - consciously releasing the person from the debt they owe you.
There are several steps involved in forgiveness.
1. admit to being hurt, acknowledge the depth of the pain/betrayal
2. admit since they wronged you, they owe you a debt.
3. As an act of will, release them from what they owe you (money, an apology etc). E.g., "Father today I choose your grace, I choose to forgive _____, for _____. I cancel their debt and declare that they owe me nothing."
4. as an act of will, let go of your expectation that they should repay you (e.g., you can't say, "I forgive him but he still owes me")
5. When Satan brings up thoughts about past hurts, don't entertain them (2 Cor 10:5 take thoughts captive). When you think of the person who hurt you, choose to set aside (i.e., don't focus on) what they did. You may have to do this repeatedly before Satan stops bringing their offense to your mind.
Consequences of unforgiveness
Unforgiveness is basically staying in the place of justice (by not extending grace), therefore it gives satan a legal right to visit the fruits of your actions against you.
1. When you don't dwell in grace, when you remain in anger and judgment. No healing or growing can occur, and bitterness sets in. "Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be used against you." (Matt 7:1-2 ) "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Heb 12:15)
You will reap what you sow. Sow bitterness, get bitterness, sow love and forgiveness, get love and forgiveness.
2. "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20:23) If you don't release someone, there's a spiritual anchor on him/her.