There are many things in the Christian life that can be hard to understand and faith in God can throw up as many questions as it does answers. Equally there are many things in the Bible that are easy to understand. Of course easy to understand is not the same as easy to do.
Jesus expected that His followers would continue to live out His teachings (Mt 28:20). Jesus expected that the life of his followers would be seen by others and Jesus expected that the watching world would notice the quality of the kind of life they lived; the kind of life that God had always hoped his people would live. So in John 13:35 Jesus says; “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love was to be the calling card of the followers of Jesus. How can you tell if someone follows Jesus? By the love they show to other followers of Jesus.
But love can be quite vague, it can sound great but not mean a lot and of course we are all likely to think that we are more loving than we are actually are. However, it isn’t hard to see in the New Testament clear examples of what this love would look like, should look like. There are lots of ways to discover what the apostles taught about how Christians are to love – and they made it simple by using a very common phrase – ‘one another’ – there were certain things you were not to do to on another and there were certain things you should do for one another. They used this phrase so many times that it gives us a very clear picture of what it looks like to ‘love for one another’.
The Bible seems clear to me that those who follow Jesus have been changed. Our status has been changed – we were sinners deserving of God’s judgement but when by faith Jesus Christ becomes our sacrifice, the perfect one who paid for all our sins – and in exchange we receive his gift of righteousness – then we are adopted into the family of God. We have a new status. But the Bible is clear if your heart and life hasn’t changed then you lack the evidence that your faith is real. James says faith without works is dead. As a result things we may have done once are no longer appropriate for followers of Jesus. Some examples of these in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he sums up the whole law of God in Gal 5:14 “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
However in the very next verse it says: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Do you bite and devour one another? Now here is a good example of learning not to be too literal with the Bible, I don’t think anyone thinks Paul is talking about cannibalism. Paul’s command isn’t ‘don’t eat people’ is it? His command is don’t try and hurt people, don’t put people down, don’t be critical, always complaining, criticising and being negative. Don’t bite and devour.
In Titus 3:3 Paul writes, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Now hate is a strong word, and you probably think I don’t hate anyone. But hate works like love. It is made up of lots of little actions. So if you are envious of someone, jealous of someone, gossiping about someone, provoking them, criticising them unfairly, judging them and lying to them – well the Bible would say you ‘hate them.’ Hatred can be cold and loveless as well as furious anger.
But now Christ has come, His love has been poured into our hearts so we don’t live like that any longer. Here are some other things we are not to do: Lie to each other (Lev 19:11; Col 3:9), wrong one another (Lev 25:17), pass judgement on one another (Rom 14:13) because you don’t think they’re following Jesus properly or have a different view on an issue to you, do not take each to court (1 Cor 6:7), do not speak evil against one another (James 4:11) or even grumble against one another (James 5:9). I’m sure those things aren’t a problem for you but there are plenty of churches that would be a better place if they simply STOPPED doing those things.
But as anyone who has tried to deal with a persistent sin in their life or tried to give up a bad habit, simply stopping doing something is much harder if it isn’t at the same time replaced by a positive action. We need to grow in the virtues of the Christian life. In the next post, we’ll take a look at some of those ways.