All around us the world is coming unraveled. Many elements of our society believe right is wrong and wrong is right. Morality of any form is out the door as a basis for all our institutions. Our economies have been pushed into the worst recession in a generation, with our government convinced that they can spend their way out of debt.
Food supply disruptions causing shortages could result in millions of deaths this year alone in the poorest of countries. It is easy for anyone to feel overwhelmed. It’s like the world is turning in on itself. As followers of Christ, we’re often reminded that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age (Ephesians 6:12).
Christ was a living example of how to win our battles against the darkness of this age. He lived a perfect life then gave Himself as a perfect unblemished sacrifice for our sins. This first step allows us to access God, to have a relationship with Him and His love as we strive to remove sin from our lives. Those that God calls now are to spend their time on earth analyzing their lives. They need to search out the crevices of their mind for the sin that negatively affects their relationship with God and humanity as defined by God’s law of love. By putting on the whole armor of God followers of Christ can gain victory over the darkness in the world and no longer are subject to being overwhelmed by it (Ephesians 6:13-17).
However, increased trials, stress, and worry, can easily turn our focus inward. While trying to live a godly life in an ever-eroding world as we face down our sinful nature and trials, it is easy to slip into a self-focused, self-centered mindset.
The ideal Christ set for us in the Gospel of John states: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15.13). This is to be our outward focus; actively loving God, loving one another and becoming a unified body.
This requires that any splintered relationships between church members are to be reconciled as a top priority focus. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The love that we desire to show God is worthless if we are neglecting our spiritual relationships with one another.
Paul taught a realigned focus of peaceful unity: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4: 1-6). This is not something that comes naturally for most of us. However, without reconciliation, our focus can become/remain inward.
Inter-personal communication allows for a change in perspective by the one communicating. Verbalizing what you are dealing with, how you are mentally processing the situation, allows you, the person sharing, to analyze what you have been thinking. To hear yourself allows you to process differently than only thinking through a difficult situation. Sometimes that changed perspective is exactly what is needed to achieve reconciliation. On the other hand, to be effective at bearing with one another in love requires humble listening. It gives the other person some relief. As the speaker and the listener change roles to listener and speaker, clarity of misunderstandings often occurs and reconciliation is accomplished if love and humility prevail.
For me, the parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind. It begins with a question asked of Jesus by a lawyer. He was trying to test Him a little and justify himself. The lawyer asked, “How do I inherit eternal life?” or “How does one inherit eternal life?” Jesus simply answers with a question. He says, “What does scripture say?” The lawyer replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” He was quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Jesus responds: “You’re exactly right, so go do that.” At this point, the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” How do I know who that neighbor is so that I know whom to show love? (Luke 10:25-29).
Then Christ begins the parable with a traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, who fell among thieves that robbed and nearly beat him to death. Jesus states that a priest and then a Levite passed by this half-dead traveler lying on the road. They didn’t view him as their neighbor and just passed by. At that point, Jesus juxtaposes these other travelers with the Samaritan who had compassion for this half-dead and suffering traveler. Christ didn’t ask if this suffering man was the Samaritan’s neighbor, but who was a neighbor to the suffering man (Luke 10: 30-37). In short, who was focused on himself and who had compassion? Who had an outward focus? We know the answer to that question. This is the love that we ought to have towards one another.
We become a united body of believers by being outwardly focused on others, looking out for their interest as well as our own. “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).