Loving our Brothers
The Bible, God’s own Word, can be deeply disturbing to read. It has a ‘knack’ (being inspired by the Holy Spirit this should never surprise us) of unsettling us, and deeply humbling us. This has been the case with me these past few weeks in particular. Let me explain.
I am trying (and trying is the word) to write a commentary on the Letters of John.1 This past week I reached 1 John 5 and was confronted with the words, ‘everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him’ (v.1). It was the word ‘whomever’ that troubled and unsettled me – it always does. The problem is that ‘whomever’ is such a big word, or at least a word that contains a big meaning. John is not summoning or commanding us to love ‘whomever has been born of (God)’, though he does that in other places. He says, ‘everyone who loves the Father loves (as a matter of fact) whomever has been born of him.’ He is making a statement, not issuing a command. According to John, one of the principal marks of a genuine Christian is that he or she loves every other Christian, ‘whomever’ they are. Maybe this does not unsettle you, but it certainly unsettles me.
We are prone, instinctively, to think in terms of denominational loyalty. I am a Presbyterian and deeply thankful for my wonderful heritage, notwithstanding its many blemishes. My problem, and maybe it’s not yours, is that I can only too easily cultivate a superior attitude to other Christians outside the Reformed tradition and inwardly, if not outwardly, think of them as ‘children of a lesser God.’
Please do not misunderstand me. I love the Reformed faith and believe it is the purest expression of God’s revealed truth. It would be a delight to see fellow Christians from other traditions ‘see the light’ and embrace the Reformed faith and glory in the God who is the epicentre of it. But I need to be reminded constantly that the Reformed faith is not ‘the faith.’ It is, I certainly believe, the most God-honouring expression of ‘the faith,’ but there are many Christians who trust Christ, love the gospel, but who are outside (and gladly so in their eyes) the Reformed faith. According to God’s own Word, it is a test of our Christian faith that we love ‘whomever has been born of him.’
In no sense does this mean that you and I are meekly to accept what other Christians believe if we are not persuaded that their beliefs are truly biblical. The first commandment compels us, to say no more, to challenge, correct and rebuke misguided and errant believers. God’s Word is God-breathed and ‘useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ Our gracious Father unfailingly rebukes and corrects his children. But here is the issue: it is ‘his children’ that he corrects and rebukes. The moment we forget that it is fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, that we are seeking to correct (if they indeed trust Christ alone for justification) and treat them as if they were pagans, we are on dangerous ground. Christian love is not blind; but nor is it narrow-hearted or sectarian. The Reformed Christian believer has infinitely and eternally more in common with believers who are outside their tradition than with any pagan. We are brothers. We have the same Father. We are united, through faith alone, to the same Saviour. We are indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. We have the same ‘high and holy calling.’ And we are heading for the same eternal city, the New Jerusalem, where we will be, together, forever with the Lord.
Christians will never escape differences this side of glory (cf. 1 Cor. 11:19!) Somehow, we must ‘bear with one another in love,’ so that ‘By this all men will know that (we) are (Christ’s disciples)’ John 13:35.
Perhaps you have been waiting for a ‘How to love one another’ agenda. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that – at least in my experience. The only ‘help’ the Bible gives us is Jesus’ own words: ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34). The little word ‘As’ contains a world of meaning. Ponder it. Be humbled by it. See other believers differently through its searing prismatic lens.
The Bible, God’s own Word, can be deeply disturbing to read. It has a ‘knack’ (being inspired by the Holy Spirit this should never surprise us) of unsettling us, and deeply humbling us. This has been the case with me these past few weeks in particular. Let me explain. I am trying (and trying is […]
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church.
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