I have a confession to make. I am afraid that the church—both my church (College Park) and the universal church—will miss out on an incredible opportunity in this current cultural moment.
What is the opportunity? We have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that (1) Jesus is who he said he was and that (2) the fundamental solution to what plagues the human race is found in him. How can we do that? By the quality of our relationships with one another in a time of contention and deep division.
The Implicit Gospel
A friend of mine uses the term “the implicit gospel” to get at something we must understand as the church. While preaching, teaching, and evangelism seek to explicitly communicate what is true about Jesus, the way we do relationships together implicitly communicates what we really believe about him.
Here is what is scary about that: the implicit often overrides the explicit. In other words, we can preach, teach, and evangelize all we want in a way that is faithful to Scripture, but if our relationships are characterized by unresolved conflict and division, then we preach, teach, and evangelize in vain. At best, we will be seen as irrelevant and simply ignored. At worst, the genuineness of our faith will be questioned and the reputation of Jesus in our community will be tarnished.
The Genuineness of Our Faith: Are We Really Following Jesus?
What gives evidence that a group of people is following Jesus together? Is it that we have a doctrinal statement that we have all signed? Is it that we have a building and we call ourselves a church? Is it that we hold worship services every Sunday? While these are good things, Jesus gives more important criteria:
“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).
It is the way we love one another that demonstrates to our community that we belong to Jesus, follow him, and bear his name.
While the world around us is torn apart by conflict, tension, and hatred, we have the opportunity to exhibit relationships characterized by unity, peace, and sacrificial love across racial, political, gender, generational, and socioeconomic lines. That is what the church is meant to be! Following Jesus together means that we will grow in this so that we increasingly reflect a very compelling alternative to the way the world does relationships, both personally and corporately. The Kingdom of God turns the world’s values upside-down, or perhaps better, right-side-up.
Jesus Staked His Reputation on the Quality of Our Relationships
Not only does the quality of our relationships say something about us, it also speaks loudly about Jesus. If I were Jesus, I’m not sure I would have done it this way. It’s quite staggering when you really think about it. On the same night he called his disciples to demonstrate their allegiance to him through their love for one another, he also prayed this to his Father: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
On the night before he was arrested and crucified, he prayed that his followers would be characterized by the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son. It is this unity that would shout to the world that Jesus was sent by God the Father. In doing this, Jesus staked his reputation in the world on the quality of the relationships among his followers.
The people around us will not take Jesus seriously if we are known for our arguing, factions, and our critical spirits. Conversely, our city will take Jesus seriously if we are known for our unity, peace, and sacrificial love across racial, political, gender, generational, and socioeconomic lines.
Humble, Sacrificial Love & Unity
Do you share my fear that we might miss out on this great opportunity? We have many challenging issues in front of us that have the potential to divide us. It is easy to give in to the contentious spirit all around us, and the pull of self-centeredness within. But let’s heed Paul’s warning: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).
Instead, by the power of God’s Spirit let’s pursue what Jesus said is the hallmark of his followers—humble, sacrificial love, and unity that reflects our triune God. Here are a few practical things to consider:
- When discussing controversial issues, do you seek to listen first and understand the other person’s perspective? Or do you approach conflict in order to win, prove your point, or get your way?
- Are you thoughtful about your words, your tone, and your body posture when talking about difficult subjects?
- When using social media, do you post in a way that considers the fact that Jesus staked his reputation on the way we relate to others?
- How are you pursuing loving relationships in the body of Christ with those who look or think differently than you?
Let’s be what the church is meant to be—a group of very different people who all have one thing in common. We follow a crucified Messiah, who laid down his life for his enemies that we might be reconciled to him and to one another. Let’s not allow our implicit message—the way we do relationships—communicate a false message and undermine the gospel that we proclaim week in and week out.