It is an eternal principle that our relationships to one another invariably reflect our relationship to God; They are a mirror, of the reality of God’s Kingdom in our lives, and of the nature of the way in which we know him. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:1-5)
Where is your brother?
Paul’s words could be summarized in the question God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” Or to put it another way, “What do you have to say about your brother. What is your relationship to him?” The question prompting this is really, “What is your relationship to me? Who do you say I am?” For what erupted from Cain and caused him to murder his brother Abel was fundamentally his rage against God.
It is an eternal principle that our relationships to one another always reflect our relationship to God. Our relationships are a mirror of the reality of God’s kingdom in our lives and of the way in which we know him. The picture of him, which we carry in our hearts, will always influence the way we relate to our neighbour. Or, in reverse, the way we relate to our neighbour reveals our relationship to God.
This cannot be otherwise. For God’s essence is love. He created man in his own image, i.e. as a being capable of love. But love is expressed in our relationship to and our care for our neighbour. Therefore the epitome of everything, which makes man’s heart pleasing to God, is encapsulated in the twin command of love. Jesus said: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
The genuineness of our love for Jesus
If we love God, if we belong to him through Jesus and thus share his being, God’s character will be visible to our neighbour through us. It is written of God that he loved the world so much that he gave what was most precious to him, namely his son for the people of the world (see John 3:16).
In Romans we read that he loved us while we were still his enemies. His love and care are beyond sympathy and antipathy. Through Jesus’ cross God calls to those who since the Fall – contaminated in body, soul and spirit through disobedience and pride – are wandering in the dark, mortally ill and homeless, “I have plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer.29:11) “Seek me and live.” (Amos 5:4) God wants to save, heal, cleanse and lead us from darkness into his light so that we will have a home with him. Therefore we read, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” (1 John 5:7)
Fellowship always means sharing our lives with one another. We share our time, our joy, our suffering. We share our resources such as money, possessions, gifts and abilities with our brothers and sisters in faith. God’s kingdom is real and must be expressed in a real way; that is to say in the flesh, in order to confess and honour the Christ who came in the flesh. If we cannot share our lives and our resources with our brothers and sisters, we will not put them at God’s disposal, either. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.'” (1 John 4:20)
Let us not deceive ourselves: The genuineness of our love for Jesus is demonstrated primarily in our love for our brethren, and of course for other people as well. According to John’s gospel, this is the deepest concern of Jesus’ heart, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love… My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10,12)
If we love Jesus, we will long to see his face. But until now he has apparently decided to reveal it primarily in the countenance of our brother. If we cannot see Jesus’ face in the life of our brother, it will not become familiar to us. We can consider others better than ourselves only if we seek Jesus in the other, find Jesus’ countenance in him and honour Jesus in him.
We must be cleansed daily from mistrust, bitterness, negative thoughts and words; plus the resultant accusations. Only then will our inner eyes grow in the ability to see Jesus’ countenance in the lives of our brothers and our sisters. If we keep on forgiving and cleansing ourselves from all accusations toward each other, our relationships will not only allow Jesus’ beauty and glory to shine out. It will also protect us and become a Bulwark, which the enemy cannot so easily penetrate. Every accusation weakens us. It is an innate aspect of the devil’s character, for he is “the accuser of the brethren.” (Rev. 12:10) Accusations make us weak, ill and repulsive! But we are destined to bring God’s thoughts and love to our brother, our sister and above all to our marriage partners. We are ordained to bring his love to our children and our parents.
As we know, love is not primarily a matter of the emotions. It is a decision to continue forgiving our neighbour daily for his offensive behaviour toward us and toward God. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) It may appear impossible to meet this challenge of Paul’s: that of having the same attitude as Jesus, of whom it is written that “he loved his own to the end.” (John 13:1) In the face of the greatest need and darkness (the most momentous challenge of his life in the knowledge that his disciples would all leave and deny him) he knelt down once again to wash their feet and gathers each one to his heart. He assured his disciples that his love for them would outlast everything. This attitude, says Paul, should also fi ll our hearts for one another. How is this possible?
First, according to Romans 8:29, our calling as God’s sons and daughters is to be transformed increasingly into the likeness of his beloved son. God wants to knock at our neighbour’s heart by opening a path to him through our hearts. The cross was God’s path through Jesus’ heart, the route by which he came to bring men life and light. He wants to open a highway through our hearts, as well, in order to lead people to life and light.
Know who we are
We read in John 13:3 that Jesus humbled himself before his disciples by washing their dirty and dusty feet. He was like a servant, “knowing that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”
That is the secret! Jesus knew that he was the Son of God, affiliating all dignity and majesty with all authority and honour. His identity and place were unambiguous. His calling to reveal the name of the father was unequivocal. In this awareness of who he was, he could serve his disciples unconditionally, without expecting gratitude or any kind of authentication. He could give without having to receive. He could humble himself and serve without losing his dignity because he was absolutely free from the need for reward and recognition. This kind of royal service sets men free. It cleanses, heals and transforms people into God’s likeness. Such service is truly a royal discipline in God’s kingdom.
A service which anticipates approval, appreciation and reward is degrading. It exposes the true motive of the servant and enslaves the one who is served because it binds him with demands and expectations. According to Romans 8:28, everything has been put in our hands; just as everything has been put in Jesus’ hands. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?”
We have been given everything: dignity, an inheritance, our place in God’s presence, honour and a calling. That is the prerequisite for growth in the same attitude as Jesus. For God has called us to be like him in fidelity to our father, in dedication to our brothers and sisters, in allegiance to our neighbour.
One heart and one mind
It is written of the first church, “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32) This recalls Philippians 2:2, where Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “Be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” This profound concern of Paul, plus the description of the first church under the fresh work of the Holy Spirit, may appear somewhat utopian, if not other-worldly. We all know that where people live together, there is usually some form of a battle for existence in which each one attempts to promote himself, to meet his own needs and to ferret out confirmation. And yet Paul insists that those who belong to Jesus’ family have no cause, absolutely no further reason to oppose one another, to separate themselves or to live on their guard. On the contrary, we may and should care for one another. We should do everything possible on our part in order that others can experience kindness, care, counsel and admonition born of love and the fear of God.
Admonishing our brother does not mean drawing him to our convictions, our life style or our culture. It entails pointing him to God’s culture, to Jesus’ life style. That life style is expressed in forgiveness, kindness, mercy, patience, truth and love. Admonishing does not mean judging, condemning, accusing or mistrusting. It means pointing to Jesus, without pressure, so that only Jesus’ yoke will be laid on our neighbour. And “his yoke is easy.”
Streams of living water
It can be very challenging to dedicate ourselves completely to others so that they can taste God’s love, for we disciples of Jesus are all in a process of inner restoration and we still need much inner healing. Jesus’ likeness is often slow to take form in us. Therefore, when we set out to care for others we often come up against ingratitude, mistrust, disbelief, insincerity; even pride and arrogance. Then there is a great temptation to give up and turn away because we lose hope and faith for the other person. But the love to which we are called does not originate in the limits of our own human power. It is rooted in the unshakeable, strong and ultimately victorious love of a God who wants to access others through our hearts.
But this love can make a pathway only if our neighbour’s reactions are unable to threaten or wound us. We develop sufficient stability only if we fill our heart daily with the awareness
that Jesus not only knows us, but fully understands us. We read in Psalm 139:2, “You perceive my thoughts from afar.” God knows our need for protection and security; he knows what we require for life. Our body, our soul and our spirit will lack nothing; because Jesus assures us in John 10:10 that he came “to give us life in all it’s fullness.” A life-giving stream will flow from the heart of the one who is thus secure in God’s love and care because he knows God’s word.
Just imagine that all of Jesus’ disciples always express this attitude toward one another. Envisage streams of living water constantly flowing from all their hearts. What a fruitful garden the church of God would be! The desert would bloom and God’s glory and beauty would percolate everywhere.