4–10 November 2018.
Many years ago I was invited to participate in a church meeting. The thing I remember most from that day was one church elder who stood up and shouted at others, angrily waving his arms around, pointing his finger at others, and aggressively attacking and criticizing them. I was really shocked, and saddened too. How can someone in the church behave this way? That behaviour and attitude are common outside the church, but inside the church we are held to a higher standard – and using aggression, meanness, and violence to attack other people is not compatible with the way Christ wants us to live. Sadly, since then I have seen that behaviour many more times in churches. And I’ve seen too many people who really do believe that it’s ok for Christians to live a life of violence and hate. Some even think that being a good Christian necessarily means hating others. But that’s incredibly wrong.
This is a problem we also see in the First Letter of John. John describes people in his own church community who also claimed to be Christians but lived lives completely disconnected from Christ’s teachings and especially his command to love. That just doesn’t work. In 2:4 John puts it very bluntly, saying that anyone who claims to belong to God but doesn’t follow this command of love “is a liar and is not living in the truth.” From vv. 7–14 (and really throughout this entire letter) John stresses over and over the absolute importance of love, and Christ’s non-negotiable demand that we who claim to follow him also display this love in our lives. In vv. 9–11, John puts it bluntly again: anyone who hates others but thinks they are still living in the light of Christ is simply wrong. As Christians, to live a life of love is not voluntary, it’s not an optional extra; it’s the defining mark of our identity as Christ’s disciples (John 13:34–35). That’s why, John says, those of us who say we are Christians must live our lives as Christ Jesus – the God of love – also did (v.6).
But, sadly, loving is hard. We sinful people often find it much easier to hate. So our sinful hearts look for ways to get out of listening to Jesus’s command to love. In John’s community, one way people did this was simply to deny that Jesus was really Christ (vv. 21–22). They wanted to still count as believers; they just didn’t want to listen to Jesus, accept that Jesus was truly God, or follow Jesus’s command to love.
This behaviour sounds unbelievable to us. How could anyone in the church think giving up on Jesus was acceptable? But sadly we still see this problem in our churches today. We may not directly say we reject Jesus, but when we prefer to take the pathway of hate, when we ignore Jesus’s command to love, when we think we can be good believers by not listening to Jesus, not following him, and not living as he wants us to live, then we too are proving in our lives that Jesus is not really our God at all. And as John makes clear: if we aren’t following Jesus, we aren’t following God.
Love is not an optional extra. If we want to be believers, if we want to be Christians, then we must live lives of love. I know that’s not easy. But with God’s help, love can grow in our lives. And when we are determined to support and encourage one another rather than constantly criticize and pull each other down, then it also becomes much easier for us to keep our eyes on Jesus, and keep living lives of kindness, gentleness and love.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis