Over the years I have heard the following sentiment being expressed. “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church” or “Church folks are just too messy or too hard to deal with.” …or something else along those lines. “I can go it alone”, is the meaning behind their words.
But Paul suggests that it’s a lie to think that anyone could go it alone – “Just me and Jesus” and have the kind of firm, living faith in Christ that is able to resist the enemy. We must gather together in our pursuit of Jesus and his vision for us if we can expect any success. Alone, we are all too vulnerable to discouragement and prone to the believable, but deceptive arguments thrown our way and easy pickings for that lion called the devil.
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, inwhom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” – Colossians 2:1-5
Being knit together in love speaks to three things… A united community, an authentic community and a loving community.
A United Community
All through the New Testament there is this plea for Christian unity, but its more than a plea; it’s really a declaration that no man or woman can live the Christian life unless in his or her personal relationships he or she is at unity with his or her fellows; and that the Church cannot be truly Christ-like if there are divisions within it.
So, when we hear in verse 2 Paul’s urging to being knit together in love, we know he is echoing Jesus’ words along with other scripture. Paul is saying in essence, “join hands together.”
The chain is only as strong as its weakest link and to make the rest of what I’m about to tell you work, we need unity first. James McDonald uses a phrase that is appropriate in this context: In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Love.
When we look at God we see that he values loyalty and harmony in our relationships. He hates those who sow discord among brothers. “God hates… one who sows discord among brethren.” – Proverbs 6:19
If that be the case, I think it behooves us as his image bearers to strive for unity with the brethren. However, unity won’t last if it’s not authentic.
An Authentic Community
What is authentic community?
Authentic Community has three components: :
- Communal past
- Communal proximity
- Communal potential
A communal past helps to establish a sense of identity and belonging. Communal proximity allows a particular group to be with one another over time to creating meaningful connections. Communal potential allows for a sense that we’re all going in the same direction.
That is what we see in the early church. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” – Acts 4:23
In Acts 1:14 we read that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” In chapter 2:46 it says, “day by day attending the temple together”.
Chapter 5:12 “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together.”
The effect of the persecution that was happening in Acts was to bind the members of the community together and in this case binding them together so that there was a common desire to pray. And this because they shared communal past, proximity and potential.
Finally, it is love that is the crucial component to unity. Paul includes it as a part of the instruction given. “being knit together in love…”
A Loving Community
With all the focus the world has on love we really do a poor job at living it out. I will love as long as I’m loved back. I’ll love as long as it’s on my terms. And when you don’t love back well I won’t either, I’ll love only if you love but I’ll sure hate if you hate.
But then Jesus comes along and says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – John 13:34-35
John believes it’s so important, this love each other thing, that he speaks with unmistakable definiteness and with almost frightening directness. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” – 1 John 3:14-15
And “If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar” – 1John 4:20
The simple fact is that love of God and love of man go hand in hand; the one can’t exist without the other. The simplest test of the reality of the Christianity of a man or a Church is whether or not it makes them love their fellow-men.
True love, as the bible teaches us, always involves sacrifice and it involves giving away of self, in spite of and even though you may not be able to love back and even if you hate, the power of God’s love loves through.
I think it’s good to recognize that we could be like Peter and offer words that affirm our love for God and our love for people, but if the people don’t have names, do we really love them? If we don’t love ‘authentically’ how can we show our love of God?
Granted, sometimes connecting in a community of believers feels like it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth. But Jesus whispers in the background, “If you love me, you’ll love them.”
Question we need to ask is, “Do I love Jesus?”