A friend of mine recently told the story about how when he was growing up, his parents faithfully took he and his siblings to church on Sunday mornings. As their family drove to church, he remembers driving by people on their bikes, out for a ride on the country roads. One time, with the windows of the car rolled down, he and his siblings yelled out, “You should be in church!”
Why would they do that? You can imagine a child repeating the words they heard from their parents, probably many times: “Look at those people, they should be in church,” a parent might say. I don’t know if my friend’s parents said that. But I have heard adults say that. It takes child-like freedom, however, to actually yell it out to people.
Were either the kids or the parents right? Is showing up for a church worship service all that Jesus actually wants? No. While Jesus clearly wants Christians to gather and support one another, there is more he desires. How we talk about God reveals what we believe about what Jesus desires. So how do we talk about God in a way that is consistent with Jesus’ desires?
Too often we are like the kids who yell out, “You should be in church!” Think about how you talk about God to people. Do you communicate that following Jesus amounts to doing certain things and not doing others? If so, why do some of us feel comfortable with talking about God that way? Is it possible that we are talking about God and what it means to believe in and follow him in the wrong way?
In this series of five posts on Acts 24-26, we’re going to look at how the Apostle Paul talked about God. No longer is he with the Jews, as we studied in the previous series. In Acts 22-23, Paul spoke with Jews, his own people, with whom he had much common ground. In their sacred scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, which we Christians call The Old Testament, Jewish prophecies foretold of a Messiah, a savior who would come to rescue Israel. Paul declared to the Jews that Jesus was that promised Messiah. As we learned last week when we studied Acts chapters 22-23, the crowd of Jews in Jerusalem wasn’t buying it. In fact they wanted to kill him. So the Roman military escorted Paul under cover of night to the Roman city of Caesarea. Now, as Jesus told Paul in a dream in Acts 23:11, Paul has begun a journey that will take him to the capital of the Empire, Rome. How will he talk about God to the Romans? In the rest of this week’s blog series, we’ll find out, and we just might learn from Paul how to talk about God in our day and age.
Talking about Jesus with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers is one of the most awkward experiences. It find it much easier to talk about faith with people I don’t know. I marvel at how bold I could be on mission trips. I felt so empowered. Was it the Holy Spirit? Maybe, sure. But also, there is very little risk in talking to strangers. They don’t know me, I don’t know them, and I will never see them again. So on past trips, I felt emboldened and was willing to talk with them. Or maybe that’s just me.
But at home? With people I see every day? Totally different, way riskier, and often awkward. That gets me thinking about Paul. There he is in the city he grew up in, surrounded by his own people, knowing they are very upset at him. Talk about awkward. Yet Paul dives right in!
Are you and I willing to enter into the unknown and potential awkwardness to tell the story to the people around us because we love God, we love people, and want them to have the life of Jesus that we have? I don’t think we will actually do this until we are living it. Until we know God and are interacting with him and his Spirit on a deeply personal way. Paul knew God that personal way. We are often bold on topics that we believe passionately about. I have heard a lot of bold, excited passion about sports and about TV shows. I have heard a lot of bold, excited passion about politics, about the coronavirus. And that’s all okay.
Remembering, of course, that when we are bold we do not have the freedom to be unkind. We should always be loving and gracious in our boldness.
But are we passionate telling the story of Jesus? Are our lives, our hearts, our actions, our attitudes so passionate about him that we can’t help it? We are often passionate about the things he is passionate about, but are we as passionate about Him?
This isn’t about church growth, or getting higher attendance at worship services. Not at all. This is about people. It is about actual human lives. So let us enter the potential awkwardness, out of love, and allow the story of Jesus flow from us.
But that assumes we are excited and passionate about Jesus. I get excited about a TV show because I actually spend time sitting down and watching it. Michelle and I have started rewatching The West Wing. Believe it or not, it came out in 1999. I remember watching it then on-air, and since then we’ve rewatched it through once or twice, and now we’re watching it again. We’re amazed anew by how witty, how relevant, and how good it is. Great writing, great acting, and all very inspiring. Guess what? Of course we’re going to be excited about it and feel passionate about talking about it, because we’re spending time with it almost every day. A TV show.
How are your interactions with Jesus? Not just what are you reading, but how are you interacting with Him? It is a real relationship. What is the story you have to tell? Who is Jesus to you? How has he been, and still is, at work in your life?
Tell that story, the story about how he wants to bring new life to everyone!
Have you ever thought about the Christian rationale for why Christians are trying to invite other people to become followers of Jesus as well? Some Christians seem to be rather lax about it, almost to the point where you wonder if they don’t care about whether or not other people become followers of Jesus. Other Christians say they have a desire for others to become followers of Jesus, but rarely muster up the courage to actually say anything. Then you have Christians who aren’t shy about Jesus, and regularly include him in their conversations, graciously, lovingly. Finally there are some who are quite bold and even pushy about it, the hard-core evangelists who don’t seem to care if they offend anyone with their methods.
Of course, I’ve generalized quite a bit, as there are people who don’t fit nicely into any of these four categories above. The categories give an overview, though, of how many Christians feel about talking about their faith. Do any of these four describe you, at least somewhat? How should we talk about our faith? As we continue to study Paul’s example in Acts 22-23, I think we’ll have much food for thought.
We last left Paul in Jerusalem, under protective custody of the Romans, the commander of which is trying to figure out what to do with a group of very angry Jews who want to kill Paul. The commander decides to take Paul to the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. Again, it doesn’t go well. Read verses 23:1-10.
How about that exchange in verses 1-4? Whew! Paul and the high priest have a testy interaction, though Paul in verse 5 says he didn’t know this man was the high priest, or he, Paul, wouldn’t have been so in-your-face. As the drama continues, once again Paul is focused on the story of Jesus. He speaks about resurrection, which leads to a theological debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees, who disagree about the validity of resurrection. The Pharisees support Paul, as he was a Pharisee, and they believe in resurrection, but the debate gets so intense, the Roman commander orders Paul to be taken back to the barracks for his safety.
That night the Lord gives Paul a vision saying, “Take courage, you will testify in Rome.” That’s like hearing that you just got an invitation to go to meet with a world leader. Paul is headed to talk with the most powerful person in the known world, the Roman Emperor, the Caesar. Jesus does not say how he will get there, however, or how long the journey will take. In fact, we will finish the book of Acts before Paul gets to Rome. He eventually ends up there as we read in some of his other letters like Philippians, which seems to have been written by Paul from house arrest in Rome as he awaited trial. But back in Jerusalem, things are still very prickly.
The remainder of chapter 23 makes for a great story of intrigue at the very beginning of Paul’s journey to Rome. Read 23:12-35, and once again drama follows Paul around. The Jews plot to kill Paul, but the plot is foiled, and Paul is safely transported to Caesarea to Governor Felix. There he awaits trial again, and we’ll find out how that goes in next week’s posts.
What have we seen in chapters 22-23? No matter the situation, Paul is on the ready to tell the story of Jesus. And that challenges me. We, too, can be on the ready to tell the story of Jesus.
We Christians want more people to know the unconditional love of Jesus, but not because we earn a commission off anyone who becomes a Christian. This is not a multi-level marketing program. We’re not getting a better home in heaven if we help more people become Christians, kind of like the bonus club that pays you money and perks for getting more people to sign up. You get ten people to become Christians, and you get a heavenly mansion upgrade. No!
Instead, we want more people to know God (really KNOW him, not just know about him) because believing in and living the way of Jesus in the world is the best possible life. We want people who are stuck in selfishness, people who practice destructive ways of thinking and living, people who have little hope, to live and dwell in Jesus’ vision of the new life, the abundant life.
That was Paul to a T in this story. He shares how Jesus met him and transformed him and gave him a new outlook, the true outlook, a new hope, and Paul was thinking, “I’ve hit the jackpot of life, and guess what guys, in Jesus everyone else can hit that jackpot too!” Thus Paul was passionate about sharing Jesus. There was nothing better, and he wanted everyone to know it.
Because of that amazing gift that we have in Jesus, we, too, want to tell the story all the time.
Except that we don’t always want to tell the story all the time. We don’t always feel passionate about it. What’s missing? Why are we different from Paul?
I wonder if it is the encounter with Jesus. I wonder if we had an encounter with Jesus, and even ongoing, repeated encounters with Jesus, if we, too, would be more apt to tell that story?
But there is something about those dramatic stories, like Paul’s story, that might not resonate with you. While we love to hear stories of people that make a 180 degree life change, do you feel a disconnect? For most of us, it is not our story, is it? Most Western Christians have a different story of Jesus. Ours is a story of ease, comfort, maybe culture wars, but not a radical change for Jesus. What do we do with that? Are we sub-tier, lower-level Christians? No! We have a story to tell as well, and quite frankly, our story will likely resonate with most other people who have lived a fairly easy comfortable life. My point is this: we don’t need a dramatic life-altering experience to be a true follower of Jesus.
Therefore all of us have an important story to tell, and we should be ready to tell it! What, then, does it look like for us American Christians to be on the ready to tell our story at a moment’s notice? We’ll talk about that more in the next post.
I wonder if the Apostle Paul made a big mistake. I say that hesitantly, cautiously, only speculating, but as I read what he says to his fellow Jews one day in Jerusalem, I can’t help but think, “Paul, that is a really bad move.” What did he say?
As I mentioned in the previous post, Paul is in Jerusalem standing before a hostile crowd. The Roman military had stepped in to save Paul from the crowd as they were beating him, but before the Romans usher Paul into their barracks, Paul surprisingly asks to talk with the crowd. So far we heard him tell the amazing story about how Jesus appeared to him and changed his life. He has the rapt attention o the crowd, and then he decides to accuse the Jews listening to him. Believe it or not, Paul keeps going down this negative road, and what he says next is the clincher for the crowd. Pause here and read Acts 22, verses 19-21, and see if you can discover what might be so disastrous for Paul.
What’s the big deal? All Paul mentions is that Jesus told Paul that he was going to send Paul to the Gentiles. So what? Well, read verses 22-24 to see how it works out.
The idea that God would give a vision in the temple in which he was sending Paul to Gentiles? That’s just too much for the Jews. In their minds, that is heresy and blasphemy. Why?
Because Paul basically chucks a cultural/theological grenade right into the crowd. How so? Wouldn’t the Jews want to reach out to the Gentiles too, just like Jesus said in the vision? They should have, as God’s mission all along, from the early chapters of the book of Genesis was that his people would be a blessing to the whole world. But the Jews didn’t look at the mission that way. Sadly, they saw themselves as God’s chosen people, and everyone else as unclean pagans that they had to stay away from. At Paul’s description of the vision that counteracts their worldview, they explode.
I have to think that Paul knew this would happen. Everything Paul said was true, but did it need to be said? It reminds me of when people point out a negative aspect of another person, and of course it makes the other person quite mad, but the original commenter says, “What?” as if they are innocent. “I’m not wrong. What I said was true.” Or at least they believe their comment to be true in their viewpoint. Certainly the other person disagrees. “I was NOT chewing too loud.”
In our house, we call it poking the bear. It happens quite frequently between the siblings.
The Jewish crowd that day is like a whole group of bears that has been poked and are ready to tear Paul to shreds.
The Roman commander is in a tough spot. The outraged Jews ask the Romans to kill Paul. He wants to settle down the crowd, but he doesn’t know what Paul has done that is wrong. The Roman commander, perhaps to appease the crowd, orders Paul to be flogged and questioned.
It’s not looking good for Paul, but Paul has an ace up his sleeve. Read what happens in verses 25-29.
Paul’s surprise? His citizenship. Just as he is about to be whipped, he intervenes by saying that he is a Roman citizen, and thus a flogging would not be legal prior to finding Paul guilty. The commander immediately stops the flogging from happening. In our day and age, we would say in a disbelieving way, “Yeah, right, Paul, you’re a Roman citizen?” It is amazing that commander just believes him. We do hear a hint of disbelief in the commander’s voice when he says, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” Paul replies, “But I was born a citizen.” How could he prove that, though? Did Paul whip out a passport or something? Nope. Paul could only stake his claim on the honor system. That makes me think, isn’t it really convenient of Paul to claim citizenship at that precise moment? You’d think every single person would say that just as they are about to be whipped. But the truth about Paul’s citizenship could still be found out, even if it took longer to discover.
Thus, Paul is given a stay, and the Roman commander takes up his case. First step, figure out why the Jews are so outraged at Paul. Read verse 30, where we learn what the Roman commander decides to do next.
While the Romans are in control of the land, they did allow the Jews some measure of self-rule, and the Jewish council that handled that limited amount of self-governance was called the Sanhedrin. As we read, there are priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees who are part of this ruling council. The Roman commander brings Paul there hoping to get more understanding about why the people are so upset with him. Again, it doesn’t go well, which we’ll see in the next post.
For now, when you are telling the story of Jesus, I encourage you not to poke the bear. Instead focus on the grace and love of Jesus. Focus on the story of how Jesus has changed you. Focus on the hope Jesus brings for abundant life and eternal life.
I recently read former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s memoir covering the years 2000-2020. Since leaving office, Albright has continued to lead a fascinating life, seeking to make an impact around the world. Her memoir got me thinking about my own story, and wondering what kind of life counts as worthy of a memoir. Do we all need to be world travelers, rubbing shoulders with international leaders and celebrities like Albright does, in order to have a life that qualifies as memoir-worthy? Unless you are a book publisher with the goal of making a profit from book sales, the answer to that question above is a resounding, “NO!” In other words, all of us have a memoir-worthy life. What I mean by that is this: all of us have an important story to tell. Sure, some people have a story that is very dramatic, what many people would say is, “interesting.” The Apostle Paul is a case in point.
As we will see in Acts 22-23, Paul tells his story, and it is a page turner. But all of us, even those who believe our lives have been and maybe still are boring or run-of-the-mill, have an important story to tell. The question is not about whether our story is good enough, the question is whether we are ready to tell the story, because anytime Jesus impacts a life, it is a wonderful story to tell. To that all-important attitude of being ready to tell our story, Paul is a great example for us.
Go ahead and read the first 16 verses of Acts 22. In these verses under protective custody of the Roman military, Paul talks with a hostile crowd in Jerusalem. First of all, I’m thinking, “Really? He wants to talk with the crowd?” If that were me, would I want to do that? Or would I think, “Roman commander, get me in the barracks, and as soon as possible, get me as far away as possible from these people who are trying to kill me.” There were plenty of places Paul ministered where he wouldn’t have to deal with this madness. But Paul doesn’t think like that, does he? Instead, he sees this as an opportunity to tell the story. For Paul, nearly every situation was an opportunity to tell the story.
And that’s exactly what he does. He retells the events of Acts chapter 9, about how he was a zealous Jew, persecuting the Christians, but Jesus changed his life. Everything he says through verse 16 is a story that would likely pique the crowd’s attention. Whether or not they would have believed him when he talked about Jesus speaking to him, we don’t know. That Jesus spoke to him from heaven is a story that would likely have been very hard for them to swallow. Maybe they thought Paul was lying. Maybe they thought he was deluded. What they cannot deny is that whatever happened to Paul, it radically changed his life.
Why would anyone do a lifestyle 180, like Paul did, if it was for a lie? Why would anyone give their life, almost dying multiple times, for a lie? Yet here is Paul before a hostile crowd that wants to kill him, and he isn’t backing down from the story. Paul is not stupid. He has known for months that his return to Jerusalem could easily lead to his death. He knows how the Jews will most likely respond to him. They’ve been at him nearly every city he ministered in. Still he is focused on telling the story of Jesus right here in their headquarters, the city of Jerusalem. Paul is still believing that the Spirit is at work. Paul is still believing that God could use him at this moment to share the story of Jesus. Even in the face of a crowd that wants to kill him! Paul trusts in the power of God, continuing to hope in a God who is in the business of changing lives. For Paul, every moment is a moment where the power of the story of Good News in Jesus can be unleashed to change lives. How are we thinking about all the moments of our lives?
As Paul tells the story of Jesus changing his live, the once-raging crowd has quieted and is listening. A good story will do that. Especially a true story of life change. That’s why your story is important. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Paul’s was. Your real story, even if you think it is boring or bland, is the story of God at work in you, and God uses those stories to impact people. Are you ready to tell the story?
Unfortunately for Paul, things take a turn. Read verses 17-18. I wonder if Paul thought this story in verses 17-18 would help him reach the Jews. Did he make a mistake in choosing what he wanted to share? Did he purposefully incite them?
What he says is inflammatory. He tells them about how after Jesus changed his life, Paul traveled to Jerusalem where he reveals that while praying in the temple, Jesus spoke to him, saying that the Jews would not accept his testimony. Maybe it’s just me, but if I was a Jew in the crowd that day listening to Paul’s story, that detail would make me angry. I’d be thinking, “What do you mean we wouldn’t accept your testimony?” Even if they actually wouldn’t accept the testimony, and it was pretty obvious to all that they wouldn’t, the words of the vision from Jesus could be perceived as very confrontational to the Jews. Who likes to be told what they will or will not think about something? In no uncertain terms Paul is essentially telling the Jews that they are stubborn, proud, arrogant or unteachable. No doubt, when it came to the story of Jesus, many Jews truly were all those negative things. But if you want to reach their hearts and minds, why would you tell them a part of the story that is so off-putting? I don’t know why Paul chooses to tell this part of his story. We can learn from it, though. It is not advisable to make people mad when you’re trying to tell the story of Jesus. Instead, be ready to tell the story of God’s love and grace for us all.
Believe it or not, Paul keeps going telling his story with more negativity, and what he says next is the clincher in the minds of the people in the crowd that day. Clincher? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? More on that tomorrow!
Last week our family got a new sofa for our living room. So Michelle and I carried the old sofa out to our front lawn and put a “Free” sign on it. We were hoping someone could use it, and also save us the trouble and expense of discarding it.
We watched what appeared to be storm clouds on the horizon. I checked the radar, concerned that the sofa was going to be soaked. Thankfully, the rain held off. Friday night passed, and the sofa remained on the front lawn.
We pretty much mow our lawn every Saturday, so I was hoping that there would be a taker before we mowed to the point of needing to move the sofa for mowing. We started mowing Saturday afternoon, and still the sofa remained. My daughter mowed half of the yard, and since my son is away on a mission trip, I started mowing his part, row by row, each row closer and closer to the front lawn. As I got within three rows of the sofa, I was ready to move it out of the way, when a pickup truck pulled into the neighbor’s driveway right next to where the sofa sat. The driver was a young man, and he hopped out saying that he was interested in the sofa!
I helped him load it into his truck, and afterward he looked at me and asked me my name. I responded, then asked him his name, and where he lived. He said he had recently moved nearby. I thanked him for taking the sofa. Then we said goodbye. That was it.
It was a typical friendly interaction between strangers. I went back to the mower and finished up the lawn, but my conversation with the young man didn’t sit well with me. On the one hand, Michelle and I were super thankful that the young man picked up the sofa. On the other hand, I felt an unsettledness about the conversation. Do you know why?
I felt unsettled because everything I told you about the conversation was all there was to it. I wondered if I missed an opportunity. I felt that I should have been viewing that conversation differently, as a chance to tell a story, or to learn his. But I didn’t do that. I could have done more. I’m not suggesting that I should have started preaching right there on my front lawn. But I could have done more. I could have asked more about where he was from, why he moved here, and offered to help make community connections if needed. There’s a number of ways I could have expressed the love of Christ beyond helping the guy load the sofa and saying “Thanks” for taking it.
What about you? How ready are you to tell the story of how Jesus has worked in your life? Does it make you nervous thinking about telling the story? How often do you tell the story? And what is the story anyway?
As we continue our study today through Acts, I believe we’re going to see a principle that can help us grow as story-tellers for Jesus.
Two weeks ago, we concluded chapter 21 with a bit of a cliffhanger (first of five posts on Acts 21 here). After his third missionary journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem, very much against the wishes of his friends. Everything was pointing to impending doom if he would set foot in Jerusalem. Which is exactly what happened. The Jews there accused him of the crimes of false teaching and defiling the temple, neither of which he committed. Paul certainly was teaching that Jesus was the messiah, the savior of the world, which the Jews disagreed with, so in their minds he was a false teacher, which to them was a crime. Paul believed, however, that he was teaching the truth.
So right there on the temple grounds, the Jews grab Paul and start beating him, causing an uproar in the city. The Romans hear about it and arrive just in time to intervene before the Jews kill Paul. Paul asks the Romans for permission to speak to the crowd, and that’s where chapter 22 picks up the story just outside the Roman soldiers’ barracks. All around him, the crowd of Jews is hostile and loud, and the Roman commander has rescued Paul and is about to bring Paul into the soldiers’ barracks just to keep him safe. After receiving permission to speak to the crowd, Paul stands on the steps, which would have likely given him a good view of the crowd. He motions for them to listen, which actually works to quiet them, and he begins speaking in Aramaic, which is the common language of the Jewish people. In the next post, we’ll learn what Paul says to the crowd.
Earlier this week the local school board met to discuss how to handle the upcoming start of the school year. Should kids be back in the building? If so, should they wear masks. By the way, I’m writing this during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, before a vaccine has been developed, and to date 150,000 people in the USA have died from the virus. Numerous people shared strong opinions about the situation, and ultimately the school board voted to send the kids back to school, along with online options for families who preferred that. We’re wrestling with similar issues in the church. Maybe your church family has felt the struggle of what to do. It seems that no matter what a organization decides, they will upset someone. So what do we do?
When it comes to potential disagreements in a church family about current events, as we have seen through the “One Anothers” in our blog series (starting here), we first and foremost love one another.
Ask yourself, as people in your church family have differing viewpoints on current events, are you loving one another? When it comes to current events, we can become enticed by the powerful forces at work in our culture, so that the abundantly clear biblical teaching of loving one another can fade in hearts and minds.
Think about the events of our society in 2020 and how impassioned we can be about them. The big three in 2020 are coronavirus, racial justice and the election. What do you use to evaluate how you will respond to these major issues?
The news media? Or “love one another”?
A political perspective? Or “love one another”?
Christians, we are members of church families comprised of individuals who must be known as people who “love each other” in all those “one another ways” we just read.
Therefore, it is okay if we have differences of opinion on many other matters. But when we differ, do so in a way that the other person has no doubt that you love them. It is possible to love one another and disagree with one another.
People of different skin colors, of different sexual orientations, of different genders, of different nationalities, of different political persuasions, and of different theological views, all can love one another, together, in the same church family. That loving unity in diversity is the heart of the “One Anothers” that we, church, should demonstrate in our relationships in our church families.
Sadly, we see many examples in our nation of people who believe that the ultimate test of their humanity is to have strong individual beliefs and an unwillingness to invite any discussion or examination of those beliefs. It is either their way or no other way. And that is directly opposed to a “love one another” expression of discipleship to Jesus.
And thus it seems appropriate to close with this last “One Another”: 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”
Our study of the “One Another” passages in the New Testament continues. If you haven’t read the previous posts, I encourage to start at the first one here. There are more than 50 “One Another” passages, and put together they form a powerful teaching about the identity and practice of the church. This week I am mostly listing them for you, because they speak for themselves. In the second post in the series, we started with the “love one another” verses, because they are the foundation. From there, in the third post, we began looking at how the other “One Another” passages help us apply the “One Anothers” in our lives, and we finished with “one anothers” about selfless acceptance of and fellowship with one another.
This kind of selfless acceptance and fellowship, then, will require Humility and Patience
Ephesians 4:2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
1 Peter 5:5 “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
And when things are difficult or when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, it means that we practice Kindness & Forgiveness… and prayer for each other
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:15 “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”
James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
We should love one another by having a desire to Encourage and Build up each other.
Ephesians 5:19 “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”
Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
1 Thessalonians 4:18 “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
That means we will love one another in our Speaking and Truthfulness
Colossians 3:9 “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices”
James 4:11 “Brothers, do not slander one another.”
What we see then is that loving one another, in all its various manifestations, is what we Christians do.
I remember as teenager and young adult feeling very awkward or embarrassed about the phrase, “I love you.” In my mind, “I love you,” was three of the deepest, most significant words a person could say to another, and thus ought to be reserved only for a significant other or family member. Maybe a really close friend. But as we saw in the previous post, “love one another,” is how the church should relate to one another. And it is much, much more than just saying, “I love you.” How should Christians express their love for one another?
Thankfully, the remaining “One Anothers” are basically all reflections on how to express that one another kind of love.
I’m going to suggest some categories of the “One Anothers,” as you’ll see below, but many of the “One Anothers” overlap or could fit in multiple categories. These verses are powerful enough on their own that I’m mostly just going to list them, asking you to prayerfully consider how you might need to apply them to your life. Again, not all of these have the precise words “one another.” Sometimes they talk about “each other” or “among yourselves” but the concept is the same.
First of all, we Christians love one another by practicing Peace & Unity
Mark 9:50 “Be at peace with each other.”
Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another.”
Romans 14:13 “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”
Romans 14:19 “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” The New American Standard Bible properly translates that final phrase as, “build up one another.”
Romans 15:5 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
And then there is a really unique practice of loving one another in the early church, and it gets mentioned four times in the NT! “Greet one another with a holy kiss” as said by Paul in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12. Peter gets in on the action in 1 Peter 5:14, “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” While this might sound strange to some, this ancient Christian kissing is similar to many cultures which practice a greeting kiss on the cheek.
Next, Christians practice loving one another through Selflessness and Service
Jesus himself led the way with this in John 13:14 “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
Then we have five verses from Paul.
Romans 12:10b “Honor one another above yourselves.”
1 Corinthians 11:33 is part of the passage that I read almost every month during worship before our church observes communion. The Christians in Corinth were being quite selfish about the meal, and Paul wrote, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.”
Galatians 5:13 “Serve one another in love.”
Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens”
Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
When we put ourselves and each other in proper perspective, loving one another means Acceptance & Fellowship.
Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Check back in to the next post, as we look at a few more categories of how we can love one another. For today, did any of these verses hit home for you? Did you sense God’s Spirit encouraging you to dwell on any of the verses? Maybe go back and read through them another time or two, slowly, prayerfully, asking God’s Spirit to direct you how to better love one another in your church family.
How do you describe your church? At Faith Church, we often use the term, “family.” Some call the church a flock, a congregation, a parish, or one of many of other terms. None of those are wrong. In fact, there are loads of ways the biblical authors describe the church. There’s one, though, that comes up numerous times in connection with the “One Anothers.”
The teachings of Jesus and the early church are filled with what are called the “One Anothers.” As I mentioned in the previous post, this five-part blog series is another quarterly examination of current events, but instead of picking out one particular headline, we are looking at how the “One Another” statements in the New Testament (NT) help us Christians respond to all current events. What are the “One Anothers”? They are one of the most-used phrases of the NT writers. As you read the NT, you’ll come across that phrase, or variations of it, over fifty times.
The 50+ “One Another” statements, taken together, form for us an understanding of the church. We are to see ourselves not as distinct individuals, but as a group that relates to one another.
Christians, we are a relational co-operation. We are corporate. We are people working together. One of the metaphors for the church, and there are many metaphors, but this is perhaps the most well-known, is that the church is the body of Christ.
In the first “One Another” passage that we will be looking at, the Apostle Paul mentions the body metaphor: Romans 12:3-5 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Some English versions of the Bible correctly translate that last verse this way, “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
Think about that. If there is any society or culture out there that says humans should focus on their individuality, Jesus comes along and says, “Christians should focus on our togetherness.”
Christians are inherently relational. While it is true that we are individuals, and Paul would also teach that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6), we would do well to see our relationality as equally important as our individuality. Not only have humans of all colors been made in the image of God, equally valuable, equally capable, but also all Christians are born into a new family of God, and thus Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 12:25, “There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
That equal concern is called love. And love is the foundational quality and action of our one another expression. 11 times Jesus and earliest Christians are quoted in the New Testament as saying “love one another.” Let’s start with Jesus:
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says very clearly to his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That’s trifecta of “love one anothers”!
In the same teaching, which occurred the night he was arrested, just a few verses later he repeats himself. John 15:12, 17 “Love each other, as I have loved you.” And “This is my command: love each other.”
In these “love one anothers,” Jesus uses the primary word for love in the New Testament, agape. Agape is godly love, sacrificial love, righteous love. It is the love that is described in 1 Corinthians 13, often called the love chapter of the Bible. What Paul writes here about love is so good that is it definitely worth our time to read it.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Though 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is a great wedding passage, Paul is not talking about spousal love here. What he says surely applies to husbands and wives. But originally, Paul was writing about the love that the members of the body of Christ should have for one another. We would do well to dwell on that list describing love. Loving one another the 1st Corinthians 13 way is a tall order, isn’t it?
But the NT writers have even more ways to talk about loving one another. In Romans 12:10a Paul says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” This is an instance of the word philadelphia. And just like the City of Brotherly Love, when the writers of the NT use the word philadelphia, they are specifically talking about the love we have for one another in the church.
This phrase shows up again in Hebrews 13:1, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”
And 1 Thess 4:9 “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”
Then there is the another verse that mentions both agape and philadelphia love: 1 Peter 1:22 “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
I know we’ve had a lot of “love one anothers” so far. But don’t tune it out. Instead think about the person(s) in your church that you have a hard time loving. Seriously. Picture them in your mind. And ask God to help you replace the negative feelings with “love one another.” Do that prayerfully now as you read the rest of the “love one another” verses.
Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”
1 Thess. 3:12 “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
2 Thess. 1:3 “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”
Then in John’s epistles we hear the command over and over.
1 John 3:11 “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”:
1 John 3:23 “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”
1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4:11-12 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
2 John 5 “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.”
Is it coming through clearly enough? We, church, are a people who love one another. But how do we love one another? In the next three posts in this five-part series on the “One Anothers,” we’ll look at the many ways the writers of the New Testament use the “One Anothers” to help us apply “love one another” in practical ways in our relationships in the church.