There are times when I see criticism from one set of “organized believers” aimed at another set. It wearies me deep within my soul.
When this comes up (and unfortunately it comes up way too often), I usually first address the situation with two sets of verses:
John 13:34-35 ESV
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.
Galatians 5:19-23 ESV
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
My initial points of discussion are:
1) Believers aren’t recognized by how good they are at judging, condemning, and accusing others, but by how much they love each other.
2) Jesus isn’t a “get out of Hell card” that we save until death so we can live like Hell on earth. True believers experience change and repentance, which results in obedience not out of obligation to meet the law, but out of gratitude for what price Christ has paid.
3) Following the law is not enough. In fact, it falls so horribly short, because that focuses only on the outwardly visible and not on the state of our heart. Our lives should be bearing the fruit of love towards others, not spitting the venom of death towards others. We are to build up and encourage, not tear down and destroy.
Those three points are helpful – but sometimes we need the full armor when facing battle:
Ephesians 6:11-18 ESV
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
These additional points are:
1) People are not our enemies, we are to love even those who we might worry are blind, veiled to the truth, lost, filled with hypocrisy (the leaven of the Pharisees), etc. We are to be the salt and light in this world, sowing seeds of love – not letting them drag us into the mud of their lawlessness or their legalism. Hating or judging or scaring someone into submission results in converts that are “twice the child of hell” as their teacher (Matthew 23:15), producing all kinds of poisonous venom, but not producing fruits of the Holy Spirit.
2) We are to be truthful. We should test all spirits, all revelations, all beliefs against the truth of the Word of God. We aren’t to rely on our own understanding because we will get it twisted, and there is a way that seems right to man that leads to death. Honesty and integrity is a state of heart, not just the avoidance of speaking untruths.
3) We are to be filled with the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. If I make a habit of sinning and I am not seeking repentance – it’s probably time that I receive a wake up call. I can only serve one master, and my words and my actions will eventually betray the state of my heart if I’m not truly surrendered to Christ as the Lord of my life.
4) We are to be growing and equipping ourselves in the Good News of the gospel so that we are prepared – so that we know the Truth, and so that we are c able and ready to share it. We need to be ready and available to be used by God in the opportunities that are presented to us each day.
5) We must have faith that God is both healer and redeemer and loving Father – and strict disciplinarian of His children. We must understand and accept that all things, even trials and tribulations and sufferings are meant for our growth as He remolds us into a new creation that better reflects His glory and righteousness. We aren’t guaranteed an easy life free from struggle, but we are guaranteed that we can get through it hand in hand with Him.
6) Our salvation, once it is actually firmly in hand is complete. It is a gift, it is a calling, it is to be chosen by God as His children – and it isn’t something that we lose. But the question remains, how many are really His versus how many are converts, religious practicers, wolves in sheep’s clothing – who will be turned away because He never knew them. Final judgement is about our heart (Matthew 25:31-46), not our denomination, not our theology, and not our own works – but whether or not Christ was inside us and working through us, or if we were trying to earn it for ourselves. It’s about the WHY behind what we are doing – are we living to earn rewards and glory for ourselves, or are we living to honor and glorify the Lord? Surrendered = Saved
7) We are equipped with our Sword, the living Word of God – that has been written upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit and that is ignited and confirmed by the written word of the Holy Bible. We are to guard our hearts and thoughts and words and actions through the Truth of the Word of God. We are to use the Word of God as a surgical instrument to cut the disease from our lives – not as a weapon to attack and beat defenseless bystanders.
8) We are to stay in open communication with the Lord through prayer, not repetitive, meaningless recitations and not grand and elaborate gestures – but genuine, humble, and contrite prayer brought before the Lord as praise, thanksgiving, repent confession, self-examination, seeking His will and purpose for our life, and supplication for both ourselves and the family of true believers, praying that His will be done and that His judgement be poured out upon those unseen enemies.
If there is disagreement upon the smaller things like – what is eaten versus avoided, what is worn versus hidden, what is lifted as praise, the level of activity or reverence in shared worship, or which days are held holy – let us remember that these things are not specifically bound in scripture even if an under shepherd decides to bind them for his flock of responsibility –
but enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions are specifically mentioned in Galatians 5 as “not inheriting the Kingdom of God”.
So I believe we should guard our hearts a lot more firmly from these things – rather than defending our points of division based upon the doctrines of men, so readily pointing fingers between differing denominations and churches.
So to “bring it all home”, I rely on –
Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Yes, all the Law and words of the prophets depend on loving God and loving others.
Yes, the first five of the ten commandments teach us about living God and the last five teach us about living others.
Yes, God is love, and Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh to demonstrate to us what real love looks like.
So where’s the love?
Where’s the unity?
Do you have love?
Is He in you?