I read, once, the story of a feeble, elderly gentleman who lived with his son, daughter-in-law, and young grandson.1 The gentleman’s failing vision and tremulous hands gave evidence of his advanced age, made even the simplest tasks difficult, and made neatness nearly impossible.
As the family dined each evening, accidents were common, with spilled drinks, broken dishes, and food that frequently fell from the grandfather’s utensils, down the front of his shirt, and often to the floor. These daily mishaps contributed to a growing resentment and impatience within the gentleman’s son and daughter-in-law.
In their frustration, the couple often spoke unkindly to the elderly man, harshly scolding him for his untidiness and his propensity for accidents. They complained regularly and bitterly behind his back.
Having reached her breaking point, the man’s daughter-in-law set up a card table in the corner of the room where the elderly man was resigned to sit alone and eat his meals from unbreakable, wooden bowls.
Sometime later, as the couple was preparing dinner, the husband noticed his young son on the floor in the adjoining rooom, diligently attempting to manipulate some scraps of wood. “What are you making, son?” the father asked. Happily, the boy answered, “I’m making bowls for you and mommy to eat from when I grow up.”
With a lump in his throat, and tears welling in his eyes, the ashamed man gently took his father by the hand, and led him back to the family dinner table.
Loving Those Who Differ
One of the more challenging aspects of being a follower after Christ is learning to love people who are not like me: people who do not look the way I look, think the way I think, smell the way I smell, or dress the way I dress – dare I say, even those I find inherently repulsive. It is tempting to try to fulfill the commands to love one another by surrounding myself with beautiful people I find easy to love.
So essential is our love for one another that Jesus identifies love as the singular identifying distinction of his followers. Jesus did not point to scripture memorization, piety, church membership, or the wearing of religious jewelry.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35b, NASB
This love is not the warm emotional adoration we feel for our spouse, child, or boyfriend/girlfriend. This love denotes decisive action.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not jealous or envious.
Love does not boast.
Love is not proud or arrogant.
Love is not rude and does not act unbecomingly.
Love is not selfish, seeking its own.
Love is not easily provoked to anger.
Love keeps no record of wrongs suffered.
Love does not delight in evil, but rather rejoices in truth.
Love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.
Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
It is easy to love people who are just like me, but it is less so to love the man or woman whose presence is, to me, like fingernails on a chalkboard. The tendency to gravitate toward like-minded people is what results in the all-too-common homogeneous gatherings in our church buildings. I do not believe this is what Jesus intends.
The ubiquitous fracturing of the body of Christ into countless splinter groups flies in the face of the very thing Christ prayed for as he stared down his mock trial and brutal crucifixion. It is bad enough to be divided over petty doctrinal issues, but to see the venomous hatred spewing from supposedly-sanctified lips and fingers over something as asinine as hypodermic injections and the wearing of masks is terribly disconcerting.
In saying this, I am not advocating on behalf of or in opposition to either. What I am saying is that disagreeing is fine and expected, but the shameful hatred of brother against brother and sister against sister has to stop. The love attributes listed above should be the first thing the world notices about those wearing the name of Christ, but the reality is our love is not only difficult to see, but in many cases it is blatantly missing.
The apostle Paul said, “Let love be your greatest aim.”2 Greatest! That one thing we pursue above every other thing!
Having prayed specifically for his disciples, Jesus turned his focus to you and to me.
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. – John 17:20-21, NASB
1. Gregory, (May 09, 2009). Story: The Grandfather’s Table and the Wooden Bowl. Retrieved 05/19/2016 from http://www.turnbacktogod.com/story-the-grandfathers-table-and-wooden-bowl/
2. 1 Corinthians 14:1