Increasing Love (Part 2)
“By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
If I am expected to “lay down my life” for a brother (1 John 3:16), go after him when he falls (Galatians 6:1-2), and help him with physical needs (James 2:15-16), then I clearly need to invest the time in getting to know him. An incentive that we sometimes forget about is that everybody you currently know (and like) was also once a complete stranger. Imagine who might be your friend a year from now if you only put the energy into it. “But what if I already have enough friends?” one might ask. To that I respond by wondering why a person would ever reject one of the greatest blessings found in becoming a Christian: the multiplication of unique, special, meaningful relationships (Matthew 19:29).
There are times when it is tempting to associate only with the same group of people. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since that group of friends might be a good influence on us, share similar spiritual priorities, have a flexible schedule, or are fun to be around. We also have a tendency to become close to those who share our stage in life (teenagers, college students, young parents, etc.). But our social “tunnel vision” sometimes becomes so narrow that we ignore the development of meaningful relationships with people who are different. Remember:
Being around the same group of people can make us stagnant spiritually. We learn to get used to the faults or vices of others, rather than root them out. New friends can help us become aware of how bad our habits are.
It is foolish to think that a group of friends will stay static. If I am resistant to change or uncomfortable around new people, I may find myself very lonely in a couple years. The problem with a narrow group of friends is that every stage of life has its own forms of transience. Teenagers move away to college, young families move around because of work opportunities, etc. Churches are in constant flux, so be prepared to keep your group of friends open-ended.
Forming and staying in a clique is often just a security blanket. You are comfortable around certain people, so it is just easier to stay there rather than confront your insecurities and build new relationships.
Relationships Are A By-product Of Obedience
One element of this discussion that people often forget is that relationships in a church family are not just optional or purely social. God does not expect us to have relationships just so we have a built-in group of friends with whom we can watch movies, have parties, or fill up a wedding venue. Actually, the friendships between Christians are a natural byproduct of the activities we are commanded to do by God.
us to have relationships just so we have a built-in group of friends with whom we can watch movies, have parties, or fill up a wedding venue. Actually, the friendships between Christians are a natural by-product of the activities we are commanded to do by God.
When it comes to meeting our congregational goal of visiting, socializing, etc., remember that some aspects of this goal are not optional for the Christian. It is not a suggestion, for example, to visit our elderly members. It is a command (1 Timothy 5:3ff, James 1:27). It is also not optional to encourage weak church members through visits, Bible studies, or other forms of contact like cards, phone calls, etc. (1 Thessalonians 5:14). If a church member is failing spiritually, it is my duty to restore him or her (Galatians 6:1). By completing the particulars of this congregational goal, we are actually obeying several direct commands from God. In obeying, we are building relationships. Do you see how these things work together? I might visit one of our members who is in the hospital, for example – somebody I might never have had much contact with otherwise. By visiting, I am obeying the command to “put on a heart of compassion and kindness” (Colossians 3:12) and I am fulfilling the Law of Christ by “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). But I am also making a friend. I am learning something about somebody. I am deepening the bond of fellowship by letting that Christian know that I want to share in that day’s distress and suffering. I am telling him or her that having a relationship is important to me.
Weeping And Laughing With Each Other
When we come together for worship and see new faces, our first reaction may be to seek out people we know. We desire the comfort that comes with knowing a person’s name, interests, background, etc. But how can a church have unity if we do not even know each other? How can we effectively minister to the community when we are not even sure who we can depend on? Fortunately, the Bible has some solutions to offer in Romans 12:3-16. If we want to foster more meaningful relationships with each other, we must:
• Never think more highly of ourselves than we should (v. 3). The moment I think I am too good for that church member who is different than me, I have lost sight of what it means to live for Christ;
• Realize that each of us has a unique function (v. 4). Do not judge another church member because his skill set is different;
• Realize that we are not just members of Christ, but of each other (v. 5). I cannot just come to church, commune with God, and believe that my contribution to the local work is complete;
Exercise our gifts freely (v. 6). I think part of why some churches lack meaningful fellowship is because there are members too afraid to contribute anything (whether by outright discouragement or lack of self-esteem);
Recognize what others are doing (vv. 6-8). Get excited about the service that another Christian does. Ask questions about different areas of ministry. Find out who is contributing where;
“Let love be without hypocrisy” (v. 9);
Express a preferential treatment for Christians (v. 10), but always in an honorable way. When a church member has a need, drop everything and help (some of the best ways to get to know people is by helping them move, build a fence, tune up a car, etc.);
Recognize that our bond is more special than anything humanity offers (v. 11-12). We are not like a Boy Scout troop, a Weight Watchers meeting, or an athletic club;
Show hospitality (v. 13). A church member whose home is always closed will likely never understand why making friends at church is so difficult;
Be willing to adapt our mood to fit the ups and downs of our brethren (v. 15). During the celebratory times, we rejoice with them. When the occasion is somber, we share a few tears;
Be willing to associate with those may otherwise be deemed “lowly” (v. 16). A congregation is going to be made up of very different people (poor and rich, healthy and sick, educated and uneducated). If I am too haughty to associate with those who are different, my presence will always be a divisive one.