December 21, 2014

Sunday’s Gospel: The Final Apologetic

By Chaplain Mike

Each Sunday, we present devotional thoughts based upon the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Today is the fifth Sunday in Easter.
Today’s Gospel is John 13:31-35 (NLT).

Gospel Text

As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Thoughts

On this fifth Sunday in Easter, the lectionary takes us back into the upper room, to remind us of one of our primary duties as Christ-followers in the new creation he has inaugurated in his own person and work, and which he is demonstrating to the world through the life of his new community, the church.

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

That’s it. It’s as simple as that. It’s as hard as that.

One of my heroes in the faith, and one of the most influential Christian teachers in the second half of the 20th century was Francis Schaeffer. Known best for founding the L’Abri community in Switzerland and sounding the call for American Christians to become more involved in standing for Christ in the public arena, Schaeffer underwent several significant transformations over the course of his life and ministry.

He began as a Presbyterian ministerial student, caught up in a time of great tumult amid the fundamentalist/modernist controversies that caused many ruptures and splits in U.S. Presbyterianism. Schaeffer was the first pastor ordained in one of the most extreme fundamentalist groups to emerge—the Bible Presbyterian Church. It would not be wrong to call Schaeffer a sectarian at that point in his life—angry, separatistic, speaking out bluntly for what he called, “the visible purity of the church.”

Over the course of his ministry, as Francis Schaeffer worked as a missionary in Europe, he would return periodically to the U.S. for furloughs and speaking engagements. Those trips began to open his eyes to the lack of love that was being displayed by brothers and sisters in the faith who were separating from one another, “standing for the truth,” and passing judgment on those who did not agree with their exact theological positions.

Schaeffer began to think, speak, and write about the importance of simultaneously practicing purity and love. In one letter he wrote,

I am sure “separation” is correct, but it is only one principle. There are others to be kept as well. The command to love should mean something….[I am not suggesting that] I have learned to live in the light of Christ’s command of love—first toward them the brethren, and then the lost. I know I have not. But I want to learn, and I know I must if I am to have that closeness to the Lord I wish to have, with accompanying joy and spiritual power.

Francis Schaeffer’s life and ministry was revolutionized by the text that is our Gospel for this Sunday. Through these simple words of Jesus, he came to a firm conviction that the practice of genuine love and oneness (without downplaying the importance of holiness—but reinterpreting it away from the legalistic and separatistic practices by which the fundamentalist movement had come to define it) is the final apologetic to a watching world of the reality of God and the truth that is found Jesus and the Gospel.

Many years later, his thoughts on this subject were captured memorably in a small booklet called The Mark of a Christian. Here are the straightforward words of a man who had witnessed the battle and seen the bloodshed:

I have observed one thing among true Christians in their differences in many countries: What divides and severs true Christian groups and Christians what leaves a bitterness that can last for 20, 30 or 40 years (or for 50 or 60 years in a son’s memory) is not the issue of doctrine or belief which caused the differences in the first place. Invariably it is lack of love and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences. These stick in the mind like glue. And after time passes and the differences between the Christians or the groups appear less than they did, there are still those bitter, bitter things we said in the midst of what we thought was a good and sufficient objective discussion. It is these things these unloving attitudes and words that cause the stench that the world can smell in the church of Jesus Christ among those who are really true Christians.

If, when we feel we must disagree as true Christians, we could simply guard our tongues and speak in love, in five or ten years the bitterness could be gone. Instead of that, we leave scars a curse for generations. Not just a curse in the church, but a curse in the world. Newspaper headlines bear it in our Christian press, and it boils over into the secular press at times Christians saying such bitter things about other Christians.

The world looks, shrugs its shoulders and turns away. It has not seen even the beginning of a living church in the midst of a dying culture. It has not seen the beginning of what Jesus indicates is the final apologetic observable oneness among true Christians who are truly brothers in Christ. Our sharp tongues, the lack of love between us not the necessary statements of differences that may exist between true Christians these are what properly trouble the world.

How different this is from the straightforward and direct command of Jesus Christ to show an observable oneness which may be seen by a watching world!

In one of my favorite passages, he describes how we might deal with our differences in a more Christlike manner:

There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near the proper way, and that is the man who by nature is unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way. The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.

Need it be said that we should hear his counsel more than ever in our own days?

We end this meditation as Francis Schaeffer ended his book, with a poem by Evangeline Paterson:

Lament
by Evangeline Paterson

Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
With a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.

Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come to save them)
But weep, weep for the quenchers

For when the Day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines

Then their eyes shall be opened
On a waste place,
Smouldering,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced
By broken reed-stems . . .
Wood, hay, and stubble,
And no grass springing.
And all the birds flown.

Weep, weep for those
Who have made a desert
In the name of the Lord.

From Deep Is the Rock
(Elms Court: Arthur H. Stockwell Limited, 1966).
© 1966 by Christianity Today.
Reprinted by permission.

Comments

  1. Thanks that was beautiful

  2. I was introduced to Schaeffer’s writings while in Bible college (1968-72). I was not able to keep up with all of his later works over the years until my kids gave me his “Complete Works” set a few years ago. I had said for years that I read C.S. Lewis for his understanding and expression of Christianity, and Schaeffer for his understanding and expression of our culture. But having the rest of his books has filled in a lot of that difference, and given me even more respect for Schaeffer and for the insights God gave him on both the church and the culture.