For far too long, we whose hearts honor Christ have had no credibility with those whose do not. We are commanded to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have within you” (1 Peter 3). Well, they stopped asking a long time ago. Maybe we’ve kept our hope too much within us. And in most cases we have stopped arresting their attention altogether.
Our Christian life together all too often looks like those of neighbors whose hearts are far from Christ. We gather with one another as Christian believers and the focus turns insular and isolated. Perhaps even inhospitable. We honor Christ in our hearts but forgot the outworking of such a faith and hope. Our holiness is not whole when it terminates on us and our church. The preaching of the gospel for all the world to see begins with one another and continues with one another. As Robert Coleman wrote, “One living sermon is worth a hundred explanations.”
Practicing ministry one to another, first to the believer and then to the outsider, is the biblical model of how the nations will have their attention arrested to the one, true, and living God. This is the case with Moses’ preaching to a generation settling a land surrounded by “not God’s people”, all the way to the New Testament and its collection of 59* “one another” commands and statements (the majority of which written by the missionary Paul himself). Across biblical history the people of God are charged to image God to the nations around them by doing the commands of God with one another such that “when the nations hear all this they say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-7).
One-another ministry that serves the believers and publicly states the case that God’s people are different is the way to make the world look again -- this time at true Christianity on full display. A group of believers unified is a crucial time-tested, biblical evangelistic/discipleship strategy, one based in Christ’s command: “Love one another as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:33-35).
Spurred on and given courage by such love brothers and sisters will go, teach, baptize, tell, invite, live, preach, serve. All the action verbs we love in church mission statements come alive in community and arrest the attention of the nations next door. The mission of a gospel-centered community begins and ends with love in the context of the fellowship He’s already created. Pastor-theologian, Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote that such Christian fellowship “is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
And since “love one another” is a command, it can either be done or disobeyed. And in our disobedience to love one another as Jesus has loved us, we’ve failed to arrest the world’s attention. It is a loss of holiness. And thus a loss of distinctiveness. Pastor-evangelist Francis Schaeffer calls Christ’s commandment in John 13 “the mark of the Christian.” He writes, “The point is that it is possible to be a Christian without showing the mark, but if we expect non-Christians to know that we are Christians, we must show the mark… This passage reveals the mark that Jesus gives to label a Christian not just in one era or in one locality but at all times and all places until Jesus returns.”
Tell the nations what we believe and why we believe. And once we tell them what we believe, what will we invite them into? How will they see us live our belief? White-boarded strategy around this may seem faster than Scripture. But it will not be lasting. The wells of human sadness, grief, abuse, sorrow, relational and unlamented pain require a plan of love given us long ago.
There are two humanities, yes, and the basis of the community under God’s Holy Spirit is truth in love; the basis of the community under humanity is desire. But what do these neighbors desire? They desire to see love truly lived out. Recently we had a Home Group at The Village Church invite in the unbelieving mother of one of its members. She was not a Christian believer but kept coming to the group. When asked why she kept coming back, her response was, “no one has ever loved me like this.” This is only the latest such story. And it won’t be the last.
Love of one another is the final apologetic to a dying culture. Jesus gives non-believers the right to know whether you or I or this church are believers based on their observance of our love for one another. Love. Without love or true reconciliation on display we’ve no credibility. Because they see no oneness in us, we are left as a clanging cymbal of a church that shouldn’t expect the nations to believe that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
Jesus did give the mark that will arrest the attention of the world… Because every man is made in the image of God and has therefore aspirations for love, there is something that can be in every geographical climate – in every point in time – which cannot fail to arrest attention: The love that true Christians show for each other… the observable love and oneness among true Christians exhibited before the world must certainly cross all the lines which divide mankind.
We will practice the time-tested, Scripture-commanded plan of one-another ministry where, just like the Lord Jesus, everything done with the few has its sights on the salvation of the multitudes. Robert Coleman writes in The Master Plan of Evangelism, “We must decide where we want our ministry to count -- in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives with a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for.” Nowhere does this become more of a reality of replication than in a small group of three. Or twelve. Such groups were the context of “love one another” for Jesus. He commanded His disciples and followers to do likewise. And the world was never the same.
The ministry of love outside of Sunday morning gatherings creates the credibility that not only arrests, but keeps the attention of those inside the church and outside it. It allows the hearing of the preaching of the Word and the bold telling of the gospel toward the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Neither the congregation nor those outside will hear the Word apart from experiencing the Word through one-another ministry in the mundane miracle that is everyday life under God. What else stands a chance to arrest the attention of a dying, angry world but such arresting love on full display for all to see? And believe.