Welcome and receive [to your hearts] one another, then, even as Christ has welcomed and received you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7 AMP
There is often a powerful reality missing in our estimation of the significance of being together with other Christians. Too often we just see ourselves and the 'other' without realizing that every time we are together, there is another present -- Jesus. It is never just the two of us! Jesus is always and continually together with us. And we are together because of him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Life Together..."One is a brother to another only through Jesus Christ. I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him. This fact that we are brethren only through Jesus Christ is of immeasurable significance...Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us... The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity." (Emphasis is mine)
Recognizing this powerful reality, it makes me reflect for a moment on how I value or appreciate my relationships with other believers.
- Do I esteem them as fellow Jesus followers?
- How much weight do I put on 'first impressions' as the foundation for our relationship?
- Do I receive them openly or with a critical or judgemental spirit?
- Do I take the initiative to establish a relationship of vulnerability and trust or do I wait for them to prove themselves?
- Am I put off by their weaknesses, peculiarities and failures?
- Are they 'on the clock' with regard to winning my approval?
- If I knew the worst about them, would I love them more or look for a way of distancing myself from them?
- Is their doctrine more important to me than our relationship?
- Am I content living in the tension of our disagreements and differences while acknowledging the magnitude of our commonalities in Christ?
As I consider these questions, I have to reflect back on how Christ received, and continues to receive, me to himself. I can clearly hear him say to me:
Come unto me...
"Come unto me..."is one of the most oft quoted phrases in the bible. We use it when we preach the gospel to epitomize the welcoming heart of Jesus. We tell people that Jesus is calling to them and will welcome them because his call to fellowship, even friendship, is not predicated upon their spiritual state. He calls the weary and the heavy laden. He calls the discouraged and disillusioned. He calls the faltering and failing. He even calls the skeptical and confused. And he calls the sinner and the sinning.
He calls them all to his heart!
His call is to a place of safety, security, acceptance, affirmation and profoundly deep affection. Incredible as it may sound, he actually, truly loves us! He is not confused about who we are, where we come from, what we struggle with, or how we may stumble or fall. And knowing all this he insists on calling us companions, disciples, friends, and brethren.
And so the question becomes, how am I receiving those whom he has called and received in this way? Can I see Jesus with them? Do I embrace the reality that he has done for them what he has done for me? Do I rejoice in the fact that they have the exact same place in his heart that I do? Do I fully appreciate that we are companions together on this journey with Jesus?
Neither do I condemn you...
Think of all those who Jesus came in contact with in his life and ministry. Then think of all those that deserved or merited his judgement and condemnation. Of course there were the pharisees, sadducees and the Jews that hated him. But there was also the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Judas, Peter, the demoniacs, the people of his own village, his brothers who did not acknowledge him until after the resurrection, the ever doubting Thomas, and the list goes on. And yet to each he would say, "Neither do I condemn you...
It is an amazing fact that, for those in Christ Jesus, there is now no condemnation as far as God is concerned! And yet when it comes to our brethren, how quickly we accuse, judge and condemn them for the slightest fault, failure or offense. This is not to say that God turns a blind eye to offenses, failure or blatant sin. In fact, God does take note of that -- for our good -- and has chosen to use brethren to bring those blind spots, failures and sin to our attention. But too often we are approached by those seeking to pronounce judgement and expecting to see some evidenced humiliation and remorse.
Couldn't we be more like Jesus when he addressed Peter after Peter's terrible betrayal? Couldn't we approach our brother or sister without a spirit of superiority, judgement or condemnation? Couldn't we ask questions that lead them to reflect on their love for Jesus, rather than make accusatory statements intended to shame or blame? Couldn't we reinforce our commitment to them and our love for them, especially when we have had to have a painful conversation, rather than threaten them with rejection? Couldn't we remind them of who they are in Christ, rather than exacerbate their feelings of unworthiness and failure?
If Jesus is with us at all times, it should change how we approach one another when we have to have the hard conversation. We need to see them as he sees them. To accept them as he accepts them. And to win them as he would win them. And above all, we need to always bear in mind, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
I will never leave you...
Can there be any more comforting thought than that Jesus has promised never to abandon us...even on our worst day! He is not put off by our failure, confusion, skepticism, discouragement or disillusionment. His commitment to us is based solely on his love for us, a love that never fails!
I think it should be one of the fundamental characteristics of Christian fellowship that we never leave or reject those whom Jesus is committed to standing next to.
Having said this, I can already hear the chorus of "what abouts" with regard to those believers who are living lives in blatant opposition to scripture. I appreciate how my statement seems to fly in the face of Paul's instruction to the Corinthians, with those living in open sin, of "not to eat with such a one."And yet, if Christ has said, "“I will never leave you nor forsake you," how can I reject them or forsake them?
I want to suggest that even in the midst of the most severe discipline, my heart needs to be constantly and continually open to my brother or sister. After all, this discipline, harsh and painful as it may be, is not how God is 'culling the herd' or getting rid of the 'dead wood'! It is intended for one purpose and one purpose only - the restoration of that person to God's full blessing and intention in their lives. I need to continually stand with them and for them throughout their trial, praying with expectation for God's deliverance from the snare of the devil -- if for no other reason than that is what Jesus is doing.
That extreme situation notwithstanding, what concerns me most is how frequently we walk away from one another for what can only be described as a spiritual 'misdemeanor'! How often are relationships fractured because someone said something we found offensive, or gossipped about us, or did something that made us feel neglected or excluded. And let's not even get started with the divisions made on the basis of doctrine, church model, ministry methodology, worship music, liturgical inclination, tithing and just about any other topic that we could possibly disagree about.
Unfortunately, it seems that for Christians almost any difference or disagreement can become an 'irreconcilable difference' and justification for divorce from the other person. As a result the world sees division, and the church accepts division and we rationalize the legitimacy of rejecting those whom Christ is standing next to. And all the while, we ignore the fact that in the midst of our relationships, Jesus makes three!