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“By this,” Jesus said, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Here Jesus gives us an apologetic we seem to have lost sight of. One of the blessings that come with God’s people loving one another is that those who are not God’s people are better able to recognize God’s people. It blesses those within the church and those without the church. Better still, it shows forth His glory. We, on the other hand, would rather argue worldviews, amass compelling evidence, make bold prophetic statements. What God would rather have us do is to love one another. God would rather we do the hard thing, for that is where the power is.
The common bumper sticker makes a salient point. The watching world affirms that what makes Christians so reprehensible is our hypocrisy. They see us sin, while believing we believe that we don’t sin. And they hate us for it. The sticker, then, answers the objection: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” We’re not perfect. We are forgiven. But the forgiveness we have from the Father works itself out, takes on feet, when we in turn forgive others. The fruit of forgiveness received is forgiveness given. How many times does Jesus remind us of this connection? We who have been forgiven much manifest that truth in forgiving others. Perhaps that ought to be our bumper sticker: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiving.” I’m afraid the world around us may find that too hard to swallow. They know us all too well.
We are accustomed to thinking of worldliness in the narrowest of contexts, if we think of it at all. We think it a synonym for pleasure, as if the devil has cornered that market. We don’t want to be caught consuming alcohol in moderation, for instance, because such hurts our “witness.” That is, it presumably makes us look worldly to the world. Our problem, however, isn’t that we drink like the world, but that we think like the world. The world is a place where every human interaction is a battle, a zero-sum game that you either win or lose. We suspect one another, rather than trust one another. We are always intent on protecting our interests, or at least what we perceive our interests to be. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and no one likes to be eaten. Too often the church is the same. In 1 Corinthians 6, just seven short chapters before Paul gets around to describing the qualities of love to us, he scolds this worldly church for their litigious habits, “But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (vv. 6–7). The problem isn’t merely going to the secular courts. The problem is not just dropping the matter. Why do we not rather accept wrong? Because we are worldly. Because we have our interests to protect.
When Paul does describe love for us, we see much the same. Love suffers long, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, and bears all things. “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2b–3). Love is the antithesis of the grasping paranoia that marks the world. Love, in short, is the very fruit of our own deaths. That is, as we die to self, we are no longer interested in keeping score. As we die to self we feel no need to protect our own interests. As we die to self, when our brothers do us wrong, we find it easy to forgive, for who can harm a dead man? As we die to self, we let our lives shine before men, and show them that we are His.
A very wise man once said, “Never ask God for justice. He might just give it to you.” What defines us is that we are a people who have been given grace. We were not only given the grace of forgiveness, but were given the grace of repentance. As we keep our sins ever before us, we will see His forgiveness ever before us. And we won’t have opportunity to see the speck in our brother’s eye.
A day will come by God’s grace when the church of Jesus Christ won’t be known for hypocrisy. We won’t be defined by the men we vote into office. Our reputation won’t be built around the things that we are against. A day will come when we are no longer recognized by the bumperstickers on the backs of our cars. A day will come when Jesus’ promise will be fulfilled, that the world will know that we are His by our love one for another. That love will show itself the same way God’s love for us is shown, in our zeal to forgive one another. A day will come when every man, as he passes by a church, will know that this is the place where you will find forgiveness not only from our Father, but from our brothers and sisters as well. We hasten that day as His will is done on earth as it is in heaven, as we love and forgive like only His children can do.