“Now the works of the flesh are evident: …enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”
I don’t think I ever noticed before how many of the listed “works of the flesh” in this passage have to do with our relationships with each other. And how thoroughly the fruit of the Spirit contrasts those elements.
Fights and dissension within the church are not new issues. The first groups of believers dealt with these same indications of sinful pride and selfishness.
I suppose at this point, one could begin looking through church history at how each denominational and church split occurred and the reasoning behind it on both sides, whether for defense or judgment of their purposes. But that shifts focus away from ourselves…and I believe God has something here for each of us.
We – every believer, regardless of denomination (or non-denomination), culture, national or international location, or even placement in history’s timeline – we are all one. One body of believers. Paul emphasized this in another letter: “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). He later wrote in verse 25, “for we are members one of another.”
That last statement brings a sense of responsibility, does it not? We are members one of another. We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to Christ, and we are therefore connected forever to His body: the church. Fellow believers. Of every nation and every point in history. One body, one faith, one baptism, with one Spirit within all of us to perfect and seal us for redemption, one Savior who reconciled us to our one Father by giving Himself as a sacrifice in our place on the cross.
“For [Christ Jesus] himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16). We are made new in Christ. Newly created, and not just to ourselves, but bonded together with all those who believe in Him. Including those who see things differently than we do. Including those who maybe get on our nerves or seem caught in their own selfishness. We are one with them.
And yes, maybe they have it wrong. Maybe they exhibit characteristics that resemble more those works of the flesh. But that does not rid us of our calling to love. To forgive even if they don’t ask. To seek healing and restoration for them. Because perhaps they have hurts and sorrows of which we know nothing. Perhaps the reason Christ calls us to love even these is so that they will see, through us, His great and powerful and relentless love for them.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). Gentleness should characterize our actions and words as we seek to restore those who have strayed off of the path. Harshness will not bring them back to fellowship with Christ or lighten the burden weighing on them…and it seems to indicate more of a desire to show we are in the right, rather than a desire for our beloved brother or sister to return to a place of knowing the peace, love, and wholeness found in our Lord. Restoration is to be sought for their good, from a heart that truly and purely loves them. Not a heart that is angry, frustrated, or self-righteous.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4). This is not done on our own. Because on our own, as we battle our selfish sin nature while on earth, we would undoubtedly fail. We accomplish this love, this peace, this mutual upbuilding and unity, by the encouragement we find in Christ our Savior. Through the participation in the Spirit that is at work within us with power and truth.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Eager to maintain unity. As the body of Christ, standing together, firm against the efforts of the forces of darkness that endeavor to separate and destroy us.
Let us not be deceived – we have a great and powerful enemy. And he seeks every opportunity to tear us apart. As someone put it last night, “to destroy what God loves most.” To destroy us, His people.
So let us face the battle together. Unified and looking to our God who is greater and more powerful than all.
John 17 records a personal prayer of Jesus, spoken just before His arrest. Toward the end of this prayer, which has focused on His disciples, He speaks these words for us: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
This is a powerful statement. Unity, that the world may believe He came from the Father. And He doesn’t stop there: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
No wonder the enemy wants to divide us! Because when we are joined together as one body of Christ, demonstrating love and sharing the message of the cross, the world will know, the world will believe, and the world will see the great, unfathomable love of God for us.
May this stir love and an intense desire for unity in our hearts. May it become our fervent prayer and the foundation of our actions. And through this, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant [us] to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6). For the glory of God and the salvation of the world, as His love for us is displayed through our love for one another.