Our first consideration should not be, “Now I am here, how can I be comfortable?” but “I am here, how can I please others for their good? How can I relieve the distressed, help the weary, or cheer the sad?” It is a grand thing to do good in little ways. It is a glory to be the sweetener of life at home, the self-forgetting friend of all around. The world before long confesses that Christ is in such a man. The true Christian is Jesus Personified. Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1472: “The Glory, Unity, and Triumph of the Church”
This sermon was honestly one of my favorite ones to read so far, and especially so because it’s rooted in such an important passage in my favorite book of the Bible, the gospel of John. Likewise, it has also been a tremendously convicting one in many positive ways, and I would echo my good brother’s words in that I “confess that I have not yet attained all that I have said to you.” Indeed, I feel that I am a lot farther from that than Charles Spurgeon would have been at this time in his life. But it is in pursuit of that, that we all continue to run towards the cross as we do.
And it is of that unified goal and unified struggle that I want to continue speaking on in this podcast. I want to look at two passages that sit heavily on my own heart. As Charles Spurgeon said in this sermon, I as much as anyone else am very sensitive to the ways in which I have fallen short, and must trust to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit for my desire to grow more in step with these words of Scripture. The first passage, like our sermon text, is from John, the words of Jesus:
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 CSB
The second is from Romans 12, where Paul talks about the outworkings of this, what it really looks like for the disciples of Jesus to love one another:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 CSB
Unity in Grace
This is why unity has to begin with the Gospel and therefore work out into our lives; our works must bear the fruit of our faith. So how is it that we can live in such a way that we may reflect that need, in such a way that we can carry out the words of Paul, while engaging with each other over issues that bring deep divides, in calling for repentance from sin?
We must realize that it is entirely God’s grace that we have what we are able to enjoy in this life. And, we must look to showing that grace out in how we use what we have in light of the human divisions that we still have. I think that it’s important to lay a foundation of love and service. And I have to press myself most of all on this: where am I seeking to directly serve and share with those whom I disagree with, to display our brotherhood that runs deeper than an opinion? Where am I hiding from either my own sin or from speaking to a brother to encourage him to repent of his own? Where am I failing to love a brother or sister? Where am I being lazy in seeking to root out the hypocrisy of my life? Where am I not hating what is evil and not loving what is good?
Unified in Abundance and in Suffering
The struggle is real to remember the unifying factor of the cross between believers. What’s the difference between engaging error or heresy, and being a divider of the brethren? It seems to be a fine line, and all the harder to discern when the primary mode of engagement is 280 characters a pop rather than seeking to truly know someone. It won’t be my place to try to establish that in full here (though there will be future episodes of King’s Highway Radio to discuss some of the issues that bring that division). But let’s look at a few of the things from those passages just to get an idea of what I think it should look like:
Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. These words of Jesus lay the standard from the beginning: Himself, and His love. What greater example of the self-sacrificial love is there than Jesus giving Himself up to the horrors of death by crucifixion? And after that, His loving forgiveness and restoration of Peter for his betrayal, displaying the depths of His mercy not as simply an impersonal setting aside of wrong, but of a personal act that transforms the hearts of His people in ways that we can scarcely consider.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. This is truly a challenge in our modern world, where the idea of something being evil or good is convoluted beyond belief. Indeed, the words of Isaiah in “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” echo throughout the world today. But let’s take a moment to think about, how do we apply these words to a situation where sin has entered into the life of a member of our church?
What is evil? This sin is evil, and its destructive power is clearly seen in the impact it’s having on the life of this person and those around them. I don’t think I need to be more specific than that to have anyone listening to me be able to instantly bring to mind an example they’ve personally experienced. We are to detest it, to abhor that sin, to hate it and desire its destruction. Yet we are also to cling to the good, to hold fast to it and not let it go. What is good? It’s what we remind that struggling saint of in calling them to repentance. It’s the foundation that we as believers have to call out sin in the world as a whole: we are made by God, in his image, and it is that image that shines through and demands to be seen in the light of his glory. Sin dims that glory, it takes what is beautiful and turns it into an evil mockery of God’s goodness. We are to hate that evil, but to love the good and call for repentance on that foundation: let your lives be made not on twisted sinful distortions of God, but truly in His image, seen perfectly in the person and work of Jesus.
Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Finally, let’s truly rely upon God in all circumstances. The pain of persecution was fully upon the early church often, yet they endured it in the hope that was rooted in Christ and poured out in them through the Holy Spirit. Their rejoicing was in the finished work of Jesus, but also in knowing that they had a hope that was stronger than any meager temporary reprieve from discomfort the world might offer them. And this is the conviction that rests on my heart, that I’m going to share with you all now: am I truly being patient when affliction comes, or am I griping and groaning under it until it passes? Am I persistently seeking the Lord in prayer, or am I being lazy in exercising this amazing right I have as a child of the Living God to enter His throne room and seek His face?
Brothers and sisters, I think we all need to wrestle with these questions, yet in hope, not in despair. Do we fall short? Then trust Jesus. Cry out with the words of the father of the possessed boy, “I believe, help my unbelief!” God is happy to hear our cries and always gives good gifts to His children.
So here’s my challenge to my brothers and sisters in Christ: let’s apply these words to our walk, to our conversation, to our thoughts. I hope we will all put ourselves into positions to be accountable to our brothers and sisters of our local church in seeking holiness and obedience in showing this love. We cannot separate God’s love from holiness, or vice versa. Let’s encourage one another in showing gracious love through enduring the suffering of this present life, knowing that we have a hope that shines far beyond anything we could ever have in this world.