There are a couple sure-fire ways to get almost any Christian to feel guilty. One way is to ask a believer about his prayer life. A recurring response is that, “It could be better.” Well of course it could. You don’t really need to sleep, right? Jesus spent whole nights in prayer…what is your excuse?
That’s an easy one, but the one exhortation to rule them all is not about Bible reading or prayer, it’s not about church attendance, it’s not about how many dates you’ve taken your wife on in the last year, it’s not if you’ve ever spoken to your kids in impatience or anger.
There is one law that none of us obey, not even one. If we had a week of only telling the truth, of only sacrificing for the good of others, of only faithful working and stewarding as image-bearers, of only being in a good mood and always giving thanks in every circumstance, we still can be tagged with not loving God with all our hearts.
It’s good to have goals that are measurable. The Great Commandment is absolutely measurable, and the measurement is repeated three times by Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5) and all three times when Jesus quoted Moses. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
What should we do about our perpetual shortfall to this command? How can we accept it without being buried in paralyzing shame? What we most certainly cannot do is ignore or even lower the law. What we can and most certainly must do is come to the Father who commands us to love, not because He needs it, but because He knows that we need it. Love Him, and love that He faithfully loves us in Christ even when our love is halfhearted.
The apostle John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). A few chapters later John recorded Jesus, who was talking with some grumbling Jews, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
The enfleshing of God in Jesus led to the death of God in Jesus, which we know led to the resurrection of God in Jesus, and then led to eternal life with God to anyone and everyone who believes. We eat Jesus’ flesh by faith, we drink His blood by faith; the eating and drinking are abiding in Him, and we do that in constant dependence on Him.
This is our life, and this is love. In his first epistle John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).
You can’t take on flesh, you were born with flesh. But you can give it, and that is the way of glory and truth. Love Jesus, love the soul satisfaction only found in Him, eat His body and drink His blood. He is our greatest good and will be forever. So “beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
Ignorance of God makes idolators or weak worshippers. Knowledge of God, like knowledge of one’s spouse, increases and intensifies love and praise for God.
But it is easy to seek knowledge as an end, or maybe more accurately to seek knowledge for the praise of our knowledge. This is a subject that I’ve spoken about repeatedly, a subject that I believe is relevant for our flock, and a subject that regularly requires repentance.
I’ve referred to seeking Bible knowledge as an end as trying to fill one’s “truth-tube” and those who do so as “truth-tubers.” This is not a criticism of truth, but rather an image intended to provoke our thoughts about what truth is for.
Imagine organized rows of clear and clean glass test tubes, all filled to various heights with fantastic colored liquid. What good are those tubes doing for each other, including the ones that are filled to capacity? They are close, but they are not connected.
The illustration of truth-tube came as I attempted to come up with the opposite of a great illustration used by John Bunyan in his book, Christian Behavior.
“Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other.”
The “dew of heaven” is grace and truth. We are “nourished” in order to “become nourishers of each other.” This is why we speak truth in love for sake of being joined as a body and growing as a body built up in love.
Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another. He told them that such love would identify them in the world and that He His life was the standard of love. Love for your brother is a distinctive of believers but was actually meant for every image bearer from the beginning.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)
When is this “beginning”? Maybe John meant the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But the biblical reports of Jesus’ early message were about calls to repent not calls to love. More likely John’s use of “beginning” refers to the beginning of beginnings, the beginning when the Word was with God and was God and then made all things. The message of brotherly love began in Genesis.
Further evidence for the historic nature of this message follows from John’s illustration in the next verse.
We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. (1 John 3:12a)
We’ll can consider why Cain killed Abel later. For now, let’s meditate on the fact that the call to love is as old as dirt made into man. From the beginning men were created in the image of the God of love and we are to love the people we can see (family, brothers, one another). We are to do it in deed and in truth, not just in word or talk.
According to John “we know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers” and “whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). How we treat one another, not merely how many Hebrew or Greek or English words we can list for love, is the behavior expected from the beginning.
What is the single most important thing you can do to grow into God’s image? Do you remember when the apostle Paul wrote about believers being “filled with all the fullness of God”? Is that even allowable? It’s an inspired description, so it must be. But how does that happen? What is the process? We’re naturally too weak to do it on our own, therefore Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they:
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18–19, ESV)
The single most important and humanly impossible need is for us to know the love of Christ. It’s not that we need to love Him more, though we will. It’s not that we need to obey for 70 years or by strength 80, though He may enable us to do that. We will be deified–filled up with all God’s fullness–as we come to have His love wrapped around our heads.
John Bunyan wrote an entire book on these two verses, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, recently published under the title, All Loves Excelling. Near the end he asked,
Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better? (Knowledge, 37)
In other words, could you have imagined, let alone asked for, a better love than Christ’s? Satan hates for you to know this goodness. He hates for us to come to the Lord’s Table set with the symbols of Christ’s love spent for us, the body and the blood of Jesus. Christian, remember His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection three days later. Abide in His love. Come, eat and drink it represented in this communion meal. It fills you with all God’s fullness.
The greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Not one of us loves God with all of our faculties let alone doing it every moment, so we fail on the foremost demand. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, another thorough requirement that we don’t ever entirely obey. The count is 0-2 when Jesus pitches His mandate that we love one another just as He loved us.
God commands love. We rebel when we offer worship to Him apart from love, when we serve others without love, and when we do love but only half-heartedly. God accepts no substitutes for love or lukewarm loves. Throw in the “just as Jesus” clause and we have struck out looking on three straight sins of omission.
Let us consider the “just as Jesus” clause further. He loves us when? He loves us all the time, including when we don’t obey His commands to love. He loves us in immaturity, in weakness, in sinfulness. He loves when we don’t qualify for love. That is Jesus love.
It is one thing for us to love God fully; He deserves love. It is one thing to love our neighbors, or enemies; we might get away with loving them only one afternoon. But to keep on loving one another, the anothers we’re stuck with, the little need machine anothers, the anothers who question or misrepresent or needle us, this makes Jesus’ love unbelievable, and glorious.
We confess our sin and we also trust that He forgives us because He loves us. We believe this because He tells us it is true. He also tells us to love one another just as He loved us. The greater we see our sin the greater we must love other sinners. Christlike love abounds, sacrifices, and targets the undeserving. If our love doesn’t, then our love hasn’t put the ball in play.
One great success of Christians in our culture can be seen by considering one great criticism from the culture against Christians. One of the most frequent and vigorous judgments is that we don’t love each other.
This judgment is grounded in truth. Jesus said that Christians should love one another sacrificially just as He did and obviously so that the world can see.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, ESV)
It is good that the world knows what we’re supposed to be doing. But how did they even grasp how to grade our assigned work? We gave them the answer key. Nature teaches them that God is powerful but nature doesn’t teach them about love. God’s Word teaches that God is love and that He commands us to love. Christians have translated and printed and preached the Word so that our society breathes that assumption.
When your kid asks from the back seat why you’re going so fast, remember that you’re the one who explained to them what speed limit signs are for. Unbelievers may point out our responsibilities even though they may not like the standard or plan to apply the standard to themselves. Fine, but at least least they know the law. That’s good.
It’s bad that it is so obvious that we aren’t obeying. They know we’re His disciples because we love to talk about all the Greek words for love. We’ve become like a team of 500 pound nutritionist bloggers and the irony is heavy.
The answer here isn’t for Christians to be secretive about Jesus’ commands. The answer isn’t to hide the truth from our kids about the requirements of speed limit signs. The cultural accountability is good; we want them to know the Bible and we want them to watch our lives. We’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, but we haven’t lived up to our press. Let’s continue to paint the target for our culture to criticize us but let’s also give them no ammo to shoot at us.
Many who love to profess their love of God’s sovereignty struggle to profess their love of God’s love. Perhaps that’s because it is easier to be proud about knowing that He’s sovereign, which is quite an ugly cacophony if you think about it. Nevertheless, if He acts for His own name (and He does), if He seeks His own glory (and He does), then how could He be for us? How can we know He loves us?
Yes, God controls everything. Yes, God punishes those who will not praise His infinite excellencies. But the same God who told us that He is omnipotent also told us that He is love. The creation story reveals God’s love for His image-bearers as He couldn’t wait to show them all He’d made for them. The Incarnation puts love into flesh and bones. The Word came who into the world because He loved the Father and those the Father was giving Him.
How do we know it was done by love? Look at the Lord’s Table. The Son gave His flesh, gave His life so that we who believe might share His life and know His love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The bread and the cup represent life laid down and that represents love.
God is autonomous; He has no need for others. His glory is untouchable; we cannot steal it away from Him. And yet the Father sent His only Son as a sacrifice to save and secure all those given to Him. Here is love vast as the ocean. Here is life in Jesus. Come to Him and commune with Him and He will raise you up on the last day.
ESV – And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
NAS – And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
This verse comes in the middle of what is probably my favorite paragraph (verses 12-17) in Colossians. The point of the paragraph is the idea of “putting on” Christian virtues after “putting off” sin in verses 5-11, and this exhortation in verse 14 reveals the crown of Christian virtues: love, along with its result: unity.
This was it. Here was the key to unity–love.
But we’ll all heard about love before. Sometimes we’re so saturated with talk of love that we become “love sick.” So what I thought I’d do is just give you a grocery list of ways to destroy unity. In fact, were going to look at eleven ways to destroy, ruin, and undermine, unity. These are sure fire ways to guarantee a miserable, gloomy, blithering year in Junior High (and for that matter, the rest of your life). These are some practical suggestions for having no unity when you’re walking with others between classes or hanging out during lunch or at soccer practice or spending time together on the weekends.
As a preemptive footnote, I realize this is long. No one is making you read it. But if you are patient you might find benefit in it.
1. Be Impatient
A person who is impatient has a tendency to be quickly irritated or provoked. Generally this happens when you are inconvenienced or taken advantage of by another person. Impatient people are easily upset and annoyed by others. It doesn’t take much to get them bent out of shape. They are regularly put in a bad mood by someone else.
By no means should you be pleasant or good humored or cheerful when something doesn’t go your way or doesn’t happen when you want it to. When someone promises to do something, hold them to a standard you wouldn’t expect to live up to yourself. Be impatient.
Of course impatience destroys unity because we won’t tolerate someone who can’t keep up with our expectations or who is weaker or slower or imperfect. If they mess up–they’re out. If they can’t keep up–don’t wait for them to catch up.
2. Be Unkind
A person who is unkind is inconsiderate and harsh. Proper unkindness can range from being callous to purposefully cruel, from being inconsiderate to downright mean-spirited and hurtful.
Of course, girls seem to know how to do this naturally. We call it being catty, that is, deliberately hurtful in their attitude or speech. I’m regularly amazed at the female’s ability to be just downright cruel and mean. That’s the way to go for the destruction of unity.
Guys, on the other hand, are generally more direct and hostile, they are unfriendly or just pick on someone for the sake of picking on someone. We just punch people we don’t like in the head. Hitting others in the head is generally a good way to communicate that we don’t care about being kind to them.
Please do not go out of your way to be nice to someone else, especially someone else who doesn’t deserve it. Don’t serve others, don’t be gracious to others, don’t be generous. Be unkind.
Unkindness destroys unity by not letting people in the circle we don’t like.
3. Be Jealous
A person who is jealous envies or covets or desires what someone else has. This can lead to resentfulness and long term grudge holding. Being jealous means having intense negative feelings toward another’s achievements or success. If someone has something or gets praise that we should have got, we better let everyone know about. If another person is more popular than you, do whatever it takes to knock them off their pedestal.
This is the time when it is appropriate to mock others behind their back. Be jealous.
Jealousy destroys unity by keeping others out of our circle to punish them for having what we should have or wish we had.
4. Be Boastful
A person who is boastful is always heaping praise on himself. This is the braggart, the cocky, full of himself, walking-with-swagger bighead. Boasting is showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one’s achievements, possessions, or abilities. It’s actually trying to make others jealous. Jealousy pulls others down, bragging builds us up.
Throw a parade in your honor. Have a party just to talk about your greatness. Be boastful.
Being boastful destroys unity by setting ourselves up as most important. It keeps us at the top of a very short list where there just isn’t room for anyone else. We don’t need them anyway–we’re cool enough.
5. Be Conceited
A person who is conceited is proud, but maybe just in their heart. They are full of themselves too, puffed up with an exaggerated view of themselves, self-centered and snobby. They are too big for their own britches.
Don’t ever consider for a moment that you are not perfect or that you haven’t arrived. Don’t show any kind of humility. Make sure you believe that you are the best. This is especially important for those of you who are more quiet and who might not be comfortable boasting in public about how great you are. If nothing else you can be kind of smug on the inside. Be conceited.
Just like bragging, being conceited destroys unity by putting ourselves up on the pedestal, and even if we don’t talk about our greatness we still expect others to recognize us as great. And if they don’t? They’re not included.
6. Be Rude
A person who is rude behaves disgracefully or discourteously; they are offensively impolite and inappropriate. This is the person who is always trying to bring shame or disgrace on someone else. Instead of building others up they are tearing others down. They can’t be trusted. They are insulting and abusive.
Don’t spend time thinking about someone else’s needs or their feelings or their sensitivities. Don’t think about how to care for others or even how to act politely. Be rude.
Rudeness destroys unity by never worrying about whether someone is left out of the circle in the first place.
7. Be Selfish
In a lot of ways this characteristic motivates most of the others. A person who is selfish lacks consideration of others; they are primarily concerned with their own profit or pleasure. They are self-absorbed, self-obsessed, wrapped up in themselves, thoughtless, looking out for number one.
Don’t ever let anyone think that you could be happy unless they do what you want. Be selfish.
Selfishness destroys unity because it makes it seem like we’re the only ones who are important anyway. Who cares about anybody else? Don’t seek to serve anyone but yourself. That will keep your circle pretty small.
8. Be Irritable
This is somewhat related to the first point–being impatient and easily annoyed–but it goes a bit further. A person who is irritable is easily provoked to anger. They have a tendency to be grouchy, moody, crabby, cranky, and with a short fuse.
When someone does even the slightest thing to you, get mad, immediately, and let them know it. Don’t hold back. Don’t wait for it to get better. Defend yourself, no one else will do it. Retaliate. Be irritable.
And being irritable or angry helps to push others away. There won’t be any unity if everybody is mad at everybody else.
9. Be Bitter
A person who is bitter is resentful because someone treated them bad of they feel like they didn’t get what they deserved. Bitter people are usually sour and spiteful. They are always taking to account the wrongs people have done to them.
Keep a list of everything that everyone has ever done wrong to you, no matter how insignificant or small it was. Keep track of other people’s sins and never let them forget it. Punish them by acting cold or gossiping about them or anything that will let them know just how awful they were. Be bitter.
Oh, before I forget, let me encourage you to be just as petty and small about this as possible. I’ve found that really tends to erode any chance for unity.
Like anger, bitterness will keep you away from everyone else. There won’t be any unity because no one will deserve to be united to you.
10. Be Immoral
A person who is immoral doesn’t conform to or accept standards of morality–right and wrong. Perhaps a little stronger is the word “perverse.” We normally apply that in terms of sexual immorality, but the basic definition is “showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.”
When I suggest being immoral, I mean go for it. This will be sure to break whatever unity might be there. Scoff at your parents and encourage others to do the same. When you hear some juicy tidbit about somebody else, it doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or not, make sure you pass it on to everyone who’ll listen. Do wrong yourself and encourage others to do the same. Be immoral.
Immorality or perverseness destroys unity by eroding any genuine foundation for unity. If there isn’t anything solid, any truth, if it is just all lies and half-truths then there is nothing to stand on.
11. Be Cynical
A cynical person is always doubtful and distrusting. They typically are concerned only with themselves and making themselves look good. They are suspicious, not open, pessimistic and negative. So never trust anyone and never let anyone trust you.
Just curl up by yourself in the corner far away from everybody. Even if things could be good, don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t last. No one else is going to stick with it, you might as well not either. Be cynical.
So being cynical and pessimistic will destroy unity by negativity.
To sum up, If you want to make sure that there is no unity, no harmony, no getting along with each other, just commit to being impatient, unkind, jealous, boastful, proud, selfish, irritable, bitter, immoral, and cynical.
Well why do I mention these eleven things as unity destroyers? Some of these overlap one another and certainly there are other ways to bring disunity. The reason is because all eleven of these sarcastic encouragements are the opposite of LOVE! And love is the perfect bond of unity. Note the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
You probably recognize the contradictions for the first nine obviously, and then “be immoral” goes with all of verse six and “be cynical” opposes all of verse seven. So if you can just not love, you won’t have any bond or harmony. Without love there will be no perfect unity. In order to destroy unity all you have to do is not love.
But there is one (large) problem with not loving. If you don’t love, you don’t know God. 1 John 4:7-8 makes it clear that love is the normal Christian behavior. Disunity is anti-love and therefore anti-Christian. How dare we claim to know God and not be unified. When we destroy unity we destroy our testimony, our assurance, and potentially destroy our brothers.