The one thing about Jesus life and ministry that amazes me even more than the miracle stories is the kind of people he brought together. When I read through the Gospels, I am shocked at the kind of people Jesus hung out with, ate with, and called friends.
Just think for a moment of all the people Jesus interacted with and befriended.
- Tax Collectors (Matthew, Zacchaeus)
- Zealots (guerilla assassins who attempted to overthrow Rome and kill soldiers and tax collectors)
- Roman Centurions
- Leaders of the Synagogue
- Poor beggars
- Rich benefactors
- The woman caught in adultery
- The woman who had been divorced and remarried five times and was now shacking up with another guy
- The Canaanite woman whose daughter was afflicted by an evil spirit
- A desperate father wanting healing for his son
- Desperate friends wanting healing for their paralyzed friend
- Devout Jews
- Rebellious Samaritans
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-22 | NIV)
That “dividing wall of hostility” was a real thing. Paul is referring to the literal wall in the Jerusalem Temple separating the Court of the Gentiles from the inner courts where only the Jews could go. There would have been signs warning against any Gentiles passing through the gates in the wall. Any uncircumcised Gentile could be put to death for getting too close to the Temple itself. Gentiles were forced to worship from afar. But through Jesus there is no dividing wall. There is only full, complete access to the Father through the Spirit.
More than that, there is not longer a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. A common justification for racism or xenophobia is to claim that people of other races or ethnicities aren’t quite the same kind of human as you. But long before we knew anything about DNA and species, Jesus destroyed those arguments by making the two groups into one new humanity. There is only one race – the human race. No single group has any inherent advantage over any other group in the eyes of our Creator. We are all equal citizens in the Kingdom of God, full-fledged members of God’s household. Together we are the Temple.
And all God’s people said “Amen.” Then they went home and lived together in perfect harmony, happily ever after.
WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
If the Gospels emphasize the radical inclusion of the Kingdom of God inaugurated in and through Jesus, then the books that come after (Acts and the Epistles) are all trying to answer the question, “So what do we do now?”
Nearly all of Paul’s letters have something to do with bringing Jewish and Gentile believers together under the Lordship of Jesus. A significant portion of Acts addresses the conflicting views between those who said Gentiles had to become more like Jews if they wanted to follow Jesus and those who said Gentiles didn’t have to follow the Law of Moses at all. Even Revelation gets in on the discussion when it paints this picture of heaven:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
And yet, the history of the church has been tainted with attitudes of hostility, racism, nationalism, even genocide and ethnic cleansing. It’s like we’ve been trying to build back up the “dividing wall of hostility” ever since Jesus tore it down. Because walls help us feel safe. They keep the bad people out. They keep us neatly divided as we think we should be.
Even within the church we try to emphasize our differences and divisions rather than what unites us. Often we end up placing more value on our national citizenship than on our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. We paint people of other nations or ethnicities as the enemy, while ignoring the fact that we have brothers and sisters in Christ living and working and spreading the kingdom in those very nations.
What went wrong?
YOU HAD ONE JOB
I enjoy laughing at those memes where something goes horribly wrong and the tagline is “You had one job.”
It’s funny until it’s your job that was done wrong.
If I were to ask you what the number one job of the church is, what would you say?
–Holding worship services?
-Feeding the poor?
-Caring for the homeless?
-Converting your atheist neighbor?
-Holding car wash fundraisers for mission trips?
While those are all good things, I believe they all miss the point. The one job of the church is to one-another one another. We can baptize thousands, but we won’t actually be making disciples unless we get to know one another more personally. We can feed millions, but we won’t actually be changing lives unless we are sharing meals with people and showing hospitality to one another.
One of the last things Jesus told his disciples before his crucifixion was this:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Our one job is to love one another. It’s hard to do that when the only time we’re around one another is for an hour on Sunday mornings sitting in pews and staring at the back of one another’s heads.
I think part of the reason we have this problem is our use of the word “church.” The original word in Greek is ekklesia. This was the word for a gathering of people, an assembly, a group. But by the time the Bible was being translated into English, the word commonly used in place of ekklesia was more like the word for “chapel.” It had come to refer to a place instead of a people, an institution rather than a gathering. We still use this language today when we talk about “going to church.” It’s a real shame that the translators used the word “church” instead of a word like “assembly.”
Christ didn’t die for an institution. Christ died for his people.
LET’S “ONE-ANOTHER” ONE ANOTHER
Like I said earlier, the Gospels introduce us to the radical inclusion of the Kingdom of God through Jesus. The rest of the New Testament is wrestling with the problems that arise when we promote and try to put into practice this kind of radical inclusion within a world full of “dividing walls of hostility.”
The solution is to one-another one another.
There are 59 passages in the New Testament that give instructions for how Christs followers are to treat “one another.” (Sometimes the phrase is translated as “each other,” but that’s not a big deal.) Check out this list:
1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
31. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
32. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
33. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
34. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
37. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
38. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
39. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
40. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
41. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
42. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
43. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
44. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
45. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
46. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
47. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
48. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
52. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
59. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)
Just think about what the church would look like if we all loved and encouraged one another. How awesome would it be if we knew that in the church we would be free from envy or slander or gossip or lies or grudges? How different would our churches and families and communities look if we all did this?
We could go on a big in depth study on each one of these “one another” commands. But what good would that do? Why not just do it instead?
Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.
Find someone this week and let them know you accept them, that they belong, that they are valued.
Encourage one another and build each other up.
Take time to encourage someone. Tell them how much you appreciate them or how awesome you think they are. Share with them what impresses you about them or how you see God at work in them.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Let the special people in your life know that you will always be there for them no matter what. You have their back. They can call or text you any time they need and you will be there.
Carry each other’s burdens.
Find someone you can open up to about what’s causing you stress and anxiety. Share with each other, pray for each other, and then offer to help each other through whatever it is.
Confess you sins to each other. Pray for each other. Forgive each other.
Find someone you trust and open up to them about what sins you are struggling with. Pray for each other and let each other know that you are forgiven. Promise to keep each other accountable.
Love one another deeply from the heart. Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Okay, so maybe not a kiss, but a hug will do the same. Give out hugs freely and let people know you love them. You’ll be amazed at how much that can change your whole day!