life in Christ is a life together

There is no doubt that our life in God through Christ by the Spirit is basic and fundamental. The vertical is always central in our lives in Christ. But the horizontal is never to be lost in that. Central to our lives in Christ, as well, is our relationships with each other in him. We belong to Christ, but we also belong to each other. We are members of Christ, members of his body. And so we are joined together by the Spirit so that our oneness is not only with Christ himself, or with God through Christ by the Spirit, but with all of God’s people, those who are in Christ and members of his body.

We neglect this simple, yet profound truth to our own peril and to the peril of others, we could say, the others. We don’t have any other choice in Christ, but to get along, to get past our differences, so that at least we can live well with each other in him. If we allow other factors to undermine our life together, then we need to consider just what is hindering that, confess it to God, and get rid of it. Working through problems is part of that, rather than simply pushing them aside.

Something will be missing if our lives are only plugged into God through Christ, into Christ himself. We also need to be plugged into each other. We actually are already joined to each other in and through Christ. We are to live that out. Our devotion to God through Christ is never only about ourselves and him. It is always also about ourselves with each other in him. There is no getting around it. Our fellowship in the Father and in the Son by the Spirit is a fellowship with each other. It is both at the same time. This is simply the way it is, organic and as real as the dynamic and interplay between brain and other parts of our physical bodies, from which comes the metaphor of the body of Christ.

Love is key here, the love of God in Christ and by the Spirit which is to permeate our relationship with God and with each other. It is no less than a communion of love. We interact with each other in that love, no less: God’s love in Christ. In this life in Christ, together.

knowing God personally and in community through Jesus

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

John is writing about an incarnational faith, one that is both material and spiritual. Somehow the very life of God was not just spirit, but matter, indeed flesh and blood in Jesus. And the disciples knew Jesus in the way we all know other human beings. In relationship, as a friend. So this knowledge was something very much down to earth, right where they lived. Yet at the same time, heavenly. Bringing both a fellowship to the community of believers with the Father and the Son, and to each individual within that community, eternal life. That fellowship ongoing, not only for believers and followers of Jesus during that time, but for us as well in Jesus.

I like what I read from Michael Bird in his recent book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, on the importance of not only knowing doctrine, but knowing God in and through Jesus. What I especially liked from Bird was the thought that this knowing of God impacts our understanding of doctrine. One can of course perhaps understand what scripture says intellectually without knowing God. But one cannot grasp its intended meaning apart from that knowledge of God. In other words the knowledge is indeed incarnational, meant to touch and somehow transform all of life.

This knowing is both individual and communal. In other words we experience it as individuals and in and through community —in Jesus. It is strictly speaking not at all what we know about someone, though that is not cut off as if unimportant. One can know everything about someone without knowing that person at all. To know someone is far more than the sum total of everything we might know about them. But of course it doesn’t mean that what we know about them is unimportant. In the case of Jesus there is no doubt that we need to accept God’s revelation about him. Life is what it is in many details, about us. But at the heart of that is a relationship, indeed a fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit, which we believers and followers of Jesus enjoy together.

the fellowship of the broken

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, points out how as soon as we want to find the perfect fellowship, we are automatically disqualified from finding it (my paraphrase of the point he makes in many more and interesting words). Don’t even dream of being part of a church fellowship in which no one offends the other and there’s no need for forgiveness, and this ongoing. If you find such a fellowship, it will not be real but nothing more than a facade, or you will have failed to really get into any depths at all.

Those who are married know this especially well. You will have to deal with your brokenness on both ends normally sooner than later. You can do well in this if you accept this as fact, and part and parcel of life. And make amends through confession to each other and dependence on God through Christ for forgiveness as well as light to continue on.

What is especially tragic, but so very much like us broken humans is when we hold grudges, and fail to let go of the past and go on. It surely can take time for hurts to heal, but if one is in any true fellowship or communion with others, one can be sure that they will be wounded here and there along the way. We are wounded and we wound, by the way of course.

And so we need to settle down and avoid the thought that we want to flee from such. If we do that, then we are leaving community to which we are called in Christ. In a true sense we are leaving Christ since we are leaving his body. We need to remember that we are just as broken ourselves and that we need ongoing forgiveness as well. As we realize all of this, God can make us more and more like Jesus, a process which is with others in him.

the heartbeat of the faith

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The heart beat of the Christian faith is a fellowship in love. It is no less than the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is true Christian fellowship, nothing more and nothing less.

It is certainly real, down to earth, and very human, since it is incarnational at its core. The ordinary is never despised, Jesus lived quite an ordinary existence, one might even say in some ways extraordinarily so. Such fellowship might not be much back and forth in the way of theological discussion, or great wisdom. But the love of the Father through the Son by the Spirit, the love that is ours in Christ should always be present and be the element in which we share life together.

If it is not, then we need to ask why not. That requires prayer, since we cannot uncover our sin by ourselves. That something is wrong may be obvious to us, since we are people of the Spirit in whom the Spirit dwells. Not that we can’t be deceived, even self-deceived, because we most certainly can. Love trumps all, and so we have to ask God to help us in difficult places with difficult people to find the way of love with them, in and through Jesus.

Of course this love is a special kind of love. We might call it a holy love. One that is in accord with the will of God in Jesus. It is unique, even though it certainly overlaps with the love we find in creation. Of course the love in creation is impacted by sin. This is the love we find in the new creation in Christ. It is a love with a fire in its eyes at times, gentleness most of the time, but nevertheless, it is love.

We know of this love through the revelation of God in Christ. Which was shown with a little baby born in a manger so many years ago.  We do well to dwell on the wonder of our faith in Jesus, in his birth, in the story told us in scripture. That is where we find life: the true love which gives us the true life by God’s grace in and through Jesus. For us and for the world.

 

the perfect love which casts out fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

What is the perfect love which casts out fear? From the text and context it is clear: God’s love found in the God who is love. It is relational to its core. One could well argue theologically that God being love hints to the triunity of God: the Father, the Son and the Spirit living in communal love. And that humans in and through Jesus are taken up into that same love, experiencing it with God and with each other.

The problem stated in the text is the fear that comes with a sense of punishment. It is a dread of condemnation. In the letter we read that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and we read how we are to deal with sins in our lives. As well as the teaching that our lives are not to be characterized by sin, but rather by righteousness. Sometimes we might feel trapped by sin in our own lives, or at least just as likely, that we are cornered for some reason in a no-win situation. We may well be off the mark in our thinking, but on the other hand, we may know full well that we are undeserving, that we do fall short. We really can’t be the judges of ourselves, only God can judge and convict us by his Spirit through his Word. I struggle with this concept because though I believe it is true, and that God is the one who searches and knows us through and through, I also don’t think we need to wait for some big conviction from God when we know we’ve done wrong. We need to confess it to God, and to the offended person, and go on, knowing we’re forgiven in and through Christ.

The perfect love which drives out fear is to be experienced in our lives fully, because Jesus took the condemnation for our sins upon himself in his death for us. And because God works this love into our hearts and lives by the Spirit. We indeed are to experience it.

Does this experience have to be overwhelming? No, although it is fine if we experience mountain peaks as it were, when God’s love is particularly felt. But most of life is lived in the valleys. It is in those places, even in the lower places where we need to learn to live with a settled sense of God’s perfect love for us in and through Jesus. A love which is not dependent on us, our circumstances, even our faithfulness. At the same time a love in which we are to live in the sense of response which brings change into our lives. As the text says, “made perfect in love.” And notice too that this is communal:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

The NIV takes the singular masculine pronoun literally translated, “he,” and interprets that to mean Jesus. In context, it could mean Jesus, or God. I might lean toward the interpretation made by the NIV (see also NLT). The point is our identity in this world. God in and through Jesus has identified himself with us, and we are to live as those identified with God in and through Christ. Through Christ judgment is taken care of.

And so we we live as those who are forgiven in Christ in and through his blood, his death, as we walk in the light as he is in the light, and thus experience cleansing from sin and fellowship with each other. This is the perfect love in which fear will not only be diminished, but cast out. A love in which we are to live together in Jesus and for the world.

learning to live well in grace

An ongoing venture with me in which I hopefully am growing is the rejection of a spirituality based on something less than the grace of God in Jesus. The spirituality I am rejecting over time, and with more than a little help from my friends is one in which I think this or that ought to be done to maintain the highest ethical standards. The problem with that “this and that” can be that people are trampled on in the process, or hurt in a way which does not facilitate the mission we in Jesus are on- of living out and sharing the good news in Jesus.

I am not referring to compromise in sin with others. Of course what is sinful to one may not be sinful at all to another; check the passages in Paul’s writings on the weak and the strong in faith. I am referring to getting used to a different orientation altogether. I think a significant part of the problem is that we can be concerned and even bent out of shape over something which is already taken care of. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” period. Those in Christ Jesus, the passage goes on to say, follow the way of the Spirit and are enabled by the Spirit in and through Jesus and his death to fulfill the requirement of the law which is essentially love, love for God and for our neighbor. But we humans tend to want to operate in ways in which we are in charge and can understand.

Yes, discernment is important and the church together, and particularly the elders ought to be involved in that. But enter now an error, I think in many Anabaptist circles, of having an orientation which has the idea that somehow what we think as to right and wrong reaches the status of God’s will. I’m thinking of an emphasis on externalities with the worthy goal of pursuing and living out holiness. And with the idea that life should revolve around that.

Enter Jesus. He broke the rules set by men over and over again. His was a different orientation altogether, set on loving God and neighbor, on proclaiming and teaching the good news of the kingdom of God having come in him. As well as doing the works of that kingdom in the world. We need to get beyond a focus which is taken up primarily with our own eternal welfare, since that is taken care of in and through Jesus. Or beyond even the false idea that somehow our communion with God is maintained by rules we keep, as if those who do not keep them could not be in the same fellowship or communion with us in Jesus. Instead we need to become intent on an orientation of learning to follow Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love.

This doesn’t mean we can always flaunt human rules and conventionalities, that we should never have any regard for such. There may be times and places where we need to keep such in order to live in love for God and our neighbor. What this does mean is that we ourselves are not tied down to such in our own lives. We are on mission in Jesus seeking to live fully in him and in obedience to his commands. Living out the new in Jesus in the old of this world. Together in Jesus for the world.

prayerfully obeying (when loving confrontation may be needed)

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

There are times when we must immediately obey. For example, Jesus’ imperative to turn the other cheek to be struck again, I take it because of the witness (in life or word) of him. Or when cursed, we should bless. But there are other times, depending on the association and circumstances, when one might do well to wait and pray, before attempting to lovingly confront. Albeit there may be a word in wisdom the Lord might give one during such circumstances.

Our Lord’s word quoted above is with regard to a brother or sister in Jesus, another disciple or follower of Jesus. It is not with reference to others. It is a family matter, so to speak, bringing hurt and rupture in fellowship.

I would like to wait and pray. One can’t go on as if nothing has happened. Oh yes, on some things we can. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” But on other matters we don’t do them any favors to let it go. And besides, we may need something of restoration in the matter ourselves, even if we were not at fault. On the other hand, there may be something, perhaps even an attitude such as a judgmental spirit, which we may have contributed to the matter. For a number of reasons, it may be good not to jump in and try to correct the problem right away. Perhaps we need the time to pray and reflect, just as much as the party who injured us does. We need to be praying for both they and ourselves, that God will bring his light into the matter.

And then there is the time to lovingly confront. Hopefully by then they have come to you and repented. And you’ve had a good exchange. But if not, then one might confront them by asking them questions, and trying to explain why one did what they did. At any rate what needs to prevail is love, the love of the Lord.

And when fellowship is restored, there can be at least a new knowledge and sensitivity toward each other. And hopefully a deeper love. Yes, wounds can hurt, but that doesn’t mean fellowship can’t be restored, and deepened. Deepened even out of the hurt.

What if there is no restoration of fellowship? We can lovingly confront, but then we simply must pray. If a church matter, then we should obey our Lord’s words. A break due to sin in refusing to have fellowship with one of God’s children is a serious matter indeed, and puts one in danger of losing out altogether, if we take our Lord’s words seriously. We won’t always be close to others after restoration has taken place. But we do need to forgive and go on, and work at loving each other, out of the love of God in Jesus by the Spirit that has been poured out on us. Together in Jesus for the world.

regrouping

During the difficult, trying time when David was fleeing from Saul, waiting on God for the fulfillment of him having been anointed and the Spirit having come on him in power to be king, and doing so by refusing to turn his hand against the Lord’s anointed Saul, even after two opportunities to do so- David experienced a most difficult trial.

All of David’s family, and the family of all the other men were taken by enemies who had raided their camp while they were gone. The men were bitter in spirit, and actually talking of stoning their leader David. David was greatly distressed. But then he found strength in the Lord his God. And he began to take action, through the priest inquiring of God, and ultimately seeing all the family members of each of the men brought back safe and sound.

David regrouped so to speak or recovered from being in dire straits. I like the word regrouped, because ultimately what David needed was communal in nature, with God. And that communion in the form of petition led to a regrouping together with the men to bring back their family members, which they did in response to David’s intercession and the word that came out of that from God.

While I believe our communion definitely begins with God through Jesus, we can also find that communion through community with God’s people. We need both. And yet there are times when we can feel completely forsaken, just as David did, Paul as well, and Jesus himself. And yet God was with them, and helped them through their lonely trial.

Regrouping is done in answer to prayer, and moving according to God’s revealed will in and through Jesus. While I believe in prophetic words from God through those in Jesus, for today (1 Corinthians 14), we don’t always receive such, partly because we are not open to this as God’s people, though often I believe he gives words to us anyhow. But God may choose not to, and want us to proceed according to what he has revealed to us through scripture and his people along with circumstances, and what he has impressed on us along the line. Through the struggle we may have the sense of knowing what to do. Of course it will always be oriented toward God and his will in and through Jesus.

It is sad when God’s people are not as bound together as we need to be. At the same time it’s always a challenge, because the enemy will seek to divide us, and sometimes we will have to seek reconciliation through prayer, confession and forgiveness. We need always to be regrouping among ourselves, seeking restoration and ongoing fellowship with God. Together in and through Jesus for the world.