Bible study

 

In the previous post I suggested that we approach the “one-anothers” of the New Testament like a walk along a fence row that separates the sheep from relationally odd sheep. Now underway, we will find that Jesus’ words in John 13:35 create a higher, tauter fence than we first imagined. This fence actually separates disciples from disobedient believers and non-believers, or sheep from fence-straddlers and goats.

This passage contains truths that are worthy of fine attention. And once pondered they jolt our senses. Rather than carve up these verses and pass around a portion for all, I will instead provide a sample along with some thoughts. This will allow you to take the passage, and dig in for yourself, which is best.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus states in John 13:34 that he is giving the apostles a new commandment. This is an intriguing statement because in the Old Testament God’s people had been commanded to love in the Law of Moses. They had been told to love God wholly (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love one’s neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). To love was not foreign to them. So, this command was not new in the sense that it had never been prescribed, it was new in what it expected of them.

To be specific, it is the not the “love one another” part of Jesus’ imperative that was new. It was the scope and empowerment necessary to obey it that were new.

The scope and depth of that command are staggering. We are to love other believers “just as,” or in the same manner that Jesus loves us. This doesn’t allow for a micrometer of wiggle room, or for any excuses, or for negligence. We are to love one another “just as” Jesus did, and displayed. It is a love that is evident and sacrificial.

To offer that type of love to other believers seems impossible. It is impossible; we cannot do it on our own. To fulfill this command requires that we depend upon the operative work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Only the Spirit of God can bring the love of Christ to reality in our lives, and then extend it outward to others (Romans 5:5). What begins to come into focus is that growth in the “one-anothers” is a deliberate and precise way of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another.

While the analogy of our walk along the pasture fence began as one that was homespun, now with Jesus’ words from John 13:35 woven in it grows more serious, and surgical. Namely, the thought stands up, clears it throat, and asks, “Can one’s approach to and practice of the “one-anothers” authenticate one’s claim as a Christian or negate it?” The affirmative answer hushes the room.

John 13:35 provides an excellent mirror for self-inspection of our attitudes as well as a magnifying glass for dissection of our behaviors and service to other Christ-followers. There is more than weight to these words of Jesus, there is a density to them as well. Instantly these words, and their implications, kindle our consideration, examination, contrition.

We ponder on those words and use them as motivation to lead us on our uphill walk through the “one-anothers,” which will define and describe how life is to be among Christians. We do this arriving at the realization that love is the barbed wire that connects and supports the “one-another” posts in the fence row.

Along the way we will see artifacts marking the barbed wire: sack cloth and blood, rust, and bits of hair. Each are from those who have walked this fence before us. The sack cloth and blood from those who have climbed over from the non-love side remind us of their courage, which became repentance and obedience. The rust advises us of the rains and seasons of our walk, and that many hands have held onto the fence and catalyzed corrison from one side or the other, while deciding whether or not to cross.  The bits of hair alert us to be on guard as we walk in love; there are enemies of love, wolves among sheep. The strands of hair — the bristled back hair of wolves — doesn’t signal to us from the top strand of the wire. They rest snagged in the bottom strand.  Wolves have their own way of crossing, low and slow.

The fence is only part of the terrain. Before we survey the rest of the scenery in the first leg of our trip, let’s make note that the barbed strands serve as a means of separation and protection. Both are essential.

Barely into our stride we can see that one side of the fence boasts of a calm pasture, flowers, and a kind path smoothed by millions of steps. That leisurely side is not the side of Christ-like love.

The other side has brambles, rocks, and tall grass, with a faint trail, hardly visible. This one is the way of love; it is the way of Christ-fueled desire and discipline that follows him and loves his sheep.

Closing out these stout verses is a crushing thought: Our love for one another will be the mark of our true faith in and following of Christ. In other words, our love for fellow believers becomes an authentication of our discipleship … a disciple’s watermark.

You were warned that this trek would be a tough one — lots of sweating, straining, and aching. The sun is behind us. Grab your things. Set your mind; we have a long walk ahead.

The barbed wire that binds…

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Bible study

The “one-anothers”

Under the hat of modern evangelicalism dwell many heads: some gold, some wooden, some stubble. This is evident by the variances in professions and practices of faith. While this post could meander down a passel of trails lined with these variances, it will not. Instead, we will begin a brisk walk along a fence row that separates sheep from … relationally odd sheep.

Shakespeare stated that brevity is the soul of wit. Likewise, it is the soul of sturdy writ. So, let’s take long strides with few words on our walk in order to move us through this meditation which will serve as an introduction to several that will follow.

The topic focuses on relationships among believers. This is not about relationships of the God’s-will-for-finding-your-soulmate-completer-dot-com variety. Rather, we will consider the teaching of the New Testament on how we are to relate to one another within the body of Christ.

The spectrum of relations among Christians in congregations ranges from the priggish parishioner who can only look down his/her spectacles in judgment to the needy hug-o-phile who loves and accepts everyone into her/his affirmation-fest. You know both, and the free-ranging herd in between. A quick pondering of this nutty gamut is puzzling at least, off-putting at best, and repulsive at worst.

If evangelicals are going to promote, or feebly peddle, a “relationship with God” to the lost folks around us, then shouldn’t we place our relationships with other believers under the microscope beforehand? Yes. Yes, we should. Unless, we prefer instead to add a fresh coat of white wash to our already shiny exoskeletons.

The key phrase, and central idea, to this series of posts is “one another.” I will not make this cute by converting those two words into the hyphenated term of “one-anothering.” We’ll be glad later. Also, I will not use the popular term “perspective” in regard to biblical teaching and relationships. “Perspectives” are akin to rabbit holes dotting my favorite woodlands: all too common and often empty. There. Besides, God’s perspective is the only one that matters.

Depending upon how you cut and stack them, the New Testament contains over two dozen “one another” commands. They are not tips or suggestions; they are commands. There is some overlap and cross-pollination among them. So, I will attempt to simplify this by sorting them into one of two boxes: attitudes to build in ourselves and service to offer to others. Clarity will emerge from doing it this way once the light of more posts peeks through the clouds.

Let’s get started with the most common, and foundational, “one another” in the New Testament: Love one another. To “love one another,” is a single command among the King-sized list of the “one another” principles, but it is repeated over a dozen times in different ways, and with different descriptives. The one instance that is familiar to most, and sets the tone for them all, is found in John 13:34-35. There are weighty words and sobering truths compressed into those two short verses.

Pull up to the gate, put on the parking brake, look up the verses, and sit there before we begin our fence row trek.

Roll down the window and take a deep breath. Those verses will cause your brow to moisten.

The hike that we will begin will be uphill, and will bring on a full soul-sweat. You will need to pack some water, and snacks, and extra socks. From where we will start to where we will arrive will result in some calluses, and a better heart.

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Simple life in Christ

Time and place

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” Acts 17:26

The long-held, oft-rekindled day dream was assassinated suddenly and viciously, sniper-style. One simple half-verse from Acts 17:26 did the deed. This portion of a verse that was mentioned in a Sunday sermon, in passing nonetheless, exposed the daydream, and then dispatched it.

Let’s rewind a few decades to set the context. All boys want to be heroes, often in some other era or locale. I was no exception. Eventually, all boys become men — at least in the chronological sense. So, even into my forties a smidgen of this type of daydreaming had remained. The idea of living in and thriving through yonder times of greater simplicity and civility were enticing, yet unreal.

At times, the Bible had curbed this occasional daydreaming. But the lack of a specific verse, or at least the impact of one, had made it possible to return to my intermittent daydreaming of things being different: a different time, different place, different role in life, etc. As best that I can tell, these occasional spells of a discontented mind and spirit are a universal symptom of a fully-baked-in sinful nature. It runs in my family; it runs in yours too.

This went on for years, waxing and waning parallel to my wanting and whining. Then, for no reason — at least not one of mine! — this auxiliary verse in a sermon blind-sided me. As I began to read and re-read the verse, the pastor’s voice garbled, and then faded as the spiritual spotlight narrowed onto the verse. Then, the hands of honest examination and conviction had my long term malady firmly in grasp, and asphyxiated within seconds.

Note the phrase in Acts 17:26, “having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” Dang. This spoke with clarity and precision. No nuance or clemency present there.

The truth here is clear. God has designed each life for a place in time, and for time in a place. His purpose is for me to be here, now. And in the now, I am to be here. The dream of living in a time (more simple) or place (more natural and less civilized), or both, can be a camouflaged shirking of my current Kingdom purpose and responsibility. The real danger for us — not just a road sign warning — is that in longing for a different station in life we will focus on “what if” instead of “what is.” “If” versus “is” can be a distracting duel at best, paralyzing at worst.

After struggling against this spiritual current in Acts 17:26 for a minute or so, I gave up, repented, and the merciful floatation device of grace was cast my way. I took on a lot of water in that short struggle. The water-logging was good for me, and still is.

Do not suppose that I am suggesting that imagination — or fanciful thinking — is wrong, or sinful. Or, that daydreaming is sinful. Joy and imagination are important to my life, and should be so long as they do not scale the fences of Scripture and scurry into momentary longing for something other than God’s design.

As I thought on these things that afternoon, another verse came to mind: “Aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and work with your own hands, as we commanded you…”   1 Thessalonians 4:11.

Well, that does it. A solid one-two gut punch from Acts 17 and 1 Thessalonians 4:11. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians add some specificity to those in Acts 17:26. We are to aspire to lead a quiet/simple life (wait, that fits with my daydreams), mind our own business/affairs (that destroys the daydreams), and work with our own hands where we are (that buries the daydreams and firmly packs down the soil). Thanks, Paul, apostle of truth and terseness; you are correct, again.

The next time that my boy-headed thoughts trot off into another era to pretend to be bigger, better, or more with less, I will remember that I was divinely inserted into this time and place for the King. He has decided for me about this place in time, and time in this place.

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