Friendly Fire

Our oneness [in the Church] will either validate or negate the claims of the gospel.

(Karen Hodge)

Okay, class, it’s time for a pop quiz. Select the correct answer from the following choices. (And yes, there’s only one.)

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you ______________________________.”

  1. go to church
  2. vote Republican
  3. vote Democrat
  4. don’t drink, smoke, or cuss
  5. sacrifice for your beliefs
  6. homeschool your kids
  7. serve in ministry
  8. work hard
  9. cast out demons
  10. have love for one another

Answer: Go look up John 13:35.

When is the last time Jesus baffled you? Made you giggle? Left you wide-eyed at His goodness? As I was recently pondering the starting lineup He chose as disciples, all three reactions coalesced beautifully. Among the twelve were Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector. Mind blown.

In case you’re unaware of exactly why Simon and Matthew playing on the same team was such a peculiar situation, picture this: the most intensely liberal person you know being best friends with the most intensely conservative person you know. In first-century Israel, ‘zealots’ were anti-Roman fanatics, while tax collectors worked for/with the Romans. Jesus, entirely aware of each of these men’s backgrounds, beckoned them both. They ate together, traveled together, joked together, served together, and grew together. And together they turned the world upside down. Only something as monumental as the gospel has that kind of power.

Our current political climate is a hotbed of anything but Christian sentiments. People who claim to follow Jesus call one another horrible names and accuse one another of monstrous evil. Worldliness has hijacked every pew in the church. We look much more like petulant preschoolers than joyful disciples, and the enemy sits back and laughs. Some team!

The believer’s assignment—today just as much as ever—is to engage. Connect. Keep each other safe. Move toward biblical oneness. And no, it’s not enough to do these things only for those in agreement with us. Believe it or not, someone can take a different political stance than I do and still be a Christian.

I’m not claiming this whole unity thing is easy. In his book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson writes,

The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because … the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort [that bind most other groups of people together]. Christians come together not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In this light we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. That is the only reason why John 13:34–35 makes sense when Jesus says: “A new command I give you–Love one another as I have loved you.” … Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus because it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.

See? Not easy at all. In fact, it’s such a hard “ask” that only the power of God could possibly carry it out. This is why the world will know us by how we treat one another—love in the face of major differences is countercultural. Anyone else would walk out; after all, who wants to work that hard for a relationship?

I’ll tell you who: those with a sharp awareness of the fact that Christ moved heaven and earth to reconcile us to the Father and then gave us the ministry of reconciliation in His name. Nothing short of genuine, wholehearted unity is fitting for those who worship that kind of King.

There is simply too much work to be done to waste time, energy, and ammo on friendly fire. It’s not our job to agree with the team Jesus put together. (And if we have even the slightest inkling of what big fat sinners we are, the confusion would come more from looking in the mirror than across the aisle.) Simon and Matthew may have been the first “social incompatibles” to love one another for Jesus’ sake, but they shouldn’t be the last.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

(Ephesians 4:1-6)

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