Football is back. Our college football favorite is the Michigan State Spartans, the college our son attended. We were watching State’s first pre-season game last weekend against Western Michigan. A torrential rain pattern rolled into the area featuring a few bursts of lightning that prompted officials to suspend the game for an hour.
There’s something about football played in inclement weather. Football is a physical, brutal game that is fought on a grass field. When the weather turns the field into a sea of shifting sod or, in the case of snow, are arctic ice field, the game is all the more interesting. Still, in those situations, I’d rather watch from my warm living room than to be out there in the midst of the battle.
In many cold weather regions today, football is played in climate controlled arenas. Our Detroit Lions team play downtown at Ford Field. When it’s rainy or snowy outside, a nice, temperate, clear climate prevails on the field. The synthetic turf never gets muddy or snow-covered.
A climate controlled battlefield is great for football but how about for a church? A church?
When what’s going on at church isn’t to our liking due to disagreements with fellow members or leaders or with worship or programs that don’t work for us, our church experience can seem more like a climate controlled battlefield than a place of engaging worship and nurturing fellowship. Right? We Christians vow faithfulness to each other and our leaders but then seem surprised when the going gets tough.
We have no one to blame but ourselves. The Bible is thorough if not over the top with admonitions, warnings and teaching about the relationships believers are to have with each other, in both Testaments, no less. Even so, when we decide we can no longer put up with whatever it is that bugs us, we act with our feet instead of our heart – picking up from one church and bolting to another. And I’m not just pointing fingers here. I stand among the guilty.
Its tempting to think that other priorities are more important to the Lord than us loving each other. After all, are we not all about winning people to Christ, respecting human life, serving the poor, stewarding creation and standing against injustice? Yes but here’s the last word Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them.
Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:33-35, NLT)
Jesus was arrested just a few hours later then executed the next day. He knew his time was short so you can be sure he chose these final words carefully. Of all the messages he could have offered, this one would not have made even my top 10.
As last words go, Jesus knew this would be a difficult but extremely important assignment for his followers. He is saying no less than how his people would be known as belonging to him – by their love for each other.
If you are a Christian, you know how difficult loving fellow Christians is. If you are not a Christian, the fellowship of Christians may attract but an unloving and intolerant manner by Christians may also pose a great reason to give Christians a wide berth.
Conflict in church was perhaps the most written-about topic of the New Testament writers. In one such letter, the Apostle Paul addressed disagreement about food – views that were held about what foods were O.K. or not O.K. to consume. These kinds of debates continue today.
Paul’s counsel focused not so much on the food discussion per se but on how Christians should respect and honor each other regardless of their food position. Better to refrain from eating food we think is O.K. than dishonor a fellow Christian who feels strongly about not eating certain food.
Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. (1 Corinthians 8:1, NLT)
Elsewhere in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul expressed the concept in one of his most popular writings – the “Love” chapter, 1st Corinthians 13.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13: 2-3, NIV)
Clearly Paul is taking his cue from Jesus on this one. This seems like tolerance in its truest form – not accepting the unacceptable but agreeing to disagree while also honoring unity. Says Jesus, if we do this his way and model it as a church, our allegiance to him will be proven.
From battlefield to symphony. Nice.
37 Ways to Love One Another: http://counselingoneanother.com/2011/08/17/36-ways-to-love-one-another/