(image courtesy of Zazzle.com)
Worldwide pandemic and the growing unrest in America have shattered the cozy bubble many Christians have been living in. It’s one thing to think of the poor and downtrodden and maybe even give a little money toward some helpful cause; but it is quite another when the very real threat of serious illness could await your next trip to the grocery store. The same goes for reading about oppressed people from long ago: Seeing it played out in real time before our eyes on our newsfeeds and in front of our eyes in our streets brings the reality of abuse to the forefront of the heart and mind.
With our bubble having been burst, what are we Christians to do? One thing we most assuredly cannot do is run from the issues, looking for some place we can bury our heads (and hearts) so as to not have the uncertainty of these times disrupt our quiet, peaceful and non-caring lives. Living like that helps no one, ourselves included.
What, then, is the body of Christ to do in the face of a world spinning more and more out of control? With so many people and causes that need our attention, how do we even begin an attempt to be a positive influence for Christ in the chaos surrounding us?
In my opinion, if the Church (that is all who profess faith in Christ) is going to have a lasting impact for God in today’s world, it is of the utmost importance that we begin with a clear and discerning look at ourselves. I found this helpful guideline regarding our attitudes and actions in the study notes of the NIV Application Study Bible from Romans Chapter 14:1-4: Our principle should be: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in everything, love.
This honest appraisal hopefully will lead us to a clear decision: that we must move forward in Unity as a body to be best used by the Lord in today’s world. Unity can be a confusing word, especially if one were naïve enough to believe that all Christians around the globe (or even across town) are going to suddenly and completely agree on everything.
Yet, with regard to the above-mentioned essentials, I believe it is necessary that we do move ahead in complete unity. What are the essentials? I enjoy noted bible teacher, author and pastor Alstair Begg’s definition of what is essential for all believers. Begg says that from the Scriptures we find the essentials as being the main stuff is the plain stuff and the plain stuff is the main stuff. What wisdom in that definition! Here are just a few of the verses that fall clearly under this category:
John 14:6: Jesus speaking: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Paul writes in Romans 10:9: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Peter speaking in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
I could gladly go on, but you see the point. On this essential we must be unified. Salvation by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). For the individual Christian as well as the church in its many expressions, the body of Christ needs to have this baseline as our rallying cry. Jesus is Savior for all. He is the ultimate equal opportunity giver. His life, death and resurrection are the proof of His undying, equal love for all. All. All are invited to partake in what He has to give. All. When the believer, individually or corporately has this unshakable truth in them, they are prepared to be used by God for the furthering of His plans and goodness in the here and now. As He spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah so may years ago, “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is essential that we go forward trusting in God’s plan as we seek His guidance to follow and act our part in it.
Almost as important is the Liberty we express to our fellow believers who may have traditions, music, or styles that are different from what we know and participate in. As long as the essentials are held in the absolute highest regard, liberty can be given with greater ease and assurance in the non-essentials. For example, your worship experience may be much more exuberant than mine. Liberty to you. As long as the Lord Jesus is being praised, it matters not if it is through dance or a strictly adhered to liturgy. Far too often we Christians get to bickering with each other over non-essential things. Shame on us! This is a wasting of time to prove my way is better than yours. Meanwhile, the world watches and wonders what is so special about church. When we are seen as combative with other Christians, we lose any credibility with the world as far as being a place to put some hope in.
When we can extend liberty instead of harmful or destructive debate over non-essentials, we certainly can gain ground for the kingdom of God. But, this can be a difficult step. It requires humility. It requires a proper perspective on the ‘main stuff.’ When I feel myself hedging away from the center, I try to remember to ask myself, “Who is be edified by this argument or confrontation?” My honest reply is usually either me or the cause I am supporting. Neither of these are proper. Acting or thinking in these ways is not in accordance with the last point: Love
All of the above goes for naught if we fail in the ‘new’ command gave us: Love one another.” (John 13:34). Jesus did not leave this instruction as a mere suggestion, like something we ought to try to see if we like. No. To love others as He loved us is a command.
“A command sounds pretty rigid” you might be thinking. And if you attempt to follow it without whole-heartedly embracing it, that is how it will appear. I believe the call to love one another, especially for the follower of Christ, is the manifestation of living out the unity and liberty I have been speaking of. And, I also believe it is imperative that we do so because quite simply, how are we going to show real love to our hurting and lost world if we cannot love one another?
One last reservation that creeps up on many: ‘I just cannot love everyone,’ for whatever your reasons are. I respond, ‘That’s ok.’ I am in no way suggesting we walk about our world like saints with hands folder in prayer, mouthing empty words of no meaning or value. Rather, I am saying that as devoted followers of the Son of God, our lives ought to be overflowing with His love for us. Living and walking this fact out will allow for the love of God to flow through us, helping us when we feel we cannot love another.
Unity, Liberty, Love. May we make these the battle cry as we march into our personal mission fields.
Blessings and peace to you all,