We Live Together as a Family
Rev. David J. Valleskey, Former President of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, WI
We Live Together as a Family… To the Glory of God
As a family, the first thing we do is love one another. We were not a family. We have become a family — by the grace of God. Now we live together as a family — to the glory of God. One aspect of our lives as children of God is the love we display to one another.
The New Testament frequently uses “one another” or “each other” with reference to those who have been reborn into the family of God — especially in connection with the word love (Greek agape, a-gah’-pay). “A new command I give you: Love one another,” says Jesus. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
The apostle John repeated these same words 60 years later: “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” Again: “This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (I John 3:11; 3:23)
The apostle Paul also emphasizes love among those reborn into God’s family. He writes: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
The general epistles also encourage us to love one another. Hebrews says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). Peter encourages his readers: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (I Peter 1:22).
Love one another. We couldn’t do that before we were reborn into the family of God. A distinctive mark of those who live without Christ is hatred — of God and one another. A distinguishing mark of those who have been reborn into the family of God is that they are able and willing to love — God and one another. Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The word love is bandied about so much, however, that it has lost its luster. It has become a soft, wishy-washy word that excuses all behavioral or doctrinal aberration. Still, we have no reason to ignore it, in view of the emphasis our Savior and his apostles put on it. Rather, we need to seek to understand correctly the scriptural meaning of love and then apply it to our lives.
The scriptures reveal a pattern for love and also provide power for love. The pattern for our love is clear: “Love each other as [literally, “in the same way as”] I have loved you” (John 15:12). So says our Lord.
Well, how did our Lord love us?
- “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).
- “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
- “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Five adjectives describe the love of God.
- Unilateral. “Not that we loved God” — so that God had something to respond to, “but that he loved us.” It did not depend on who we were or what we had done.
- Active. “He sent his Son.” It was more than a feeling.
- Giving: “God so loved the world that he gave . . . “
- Unselfish: “For a good man someone might possibly dare to die” — as might a parent who dies while trying to rescue his child from a burning building. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Sacrificial: “He laid down his life for his friends.” One can give no more than that. That’s the pattern. That’s the agape of God in action-unilateral, active, giving, unselfish, sacrificial.
If you are like me, then you are thankful that God not only gives us the pattern for practicing agape but also forgives our frequent failure to do so. “If we confess our sins,” his Word promises, “[God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
With pardon also comes power, the power to walk in closer conformity to the biblical pattern of love. Through the Holy Spirit, God pours his love into our hearts. He continues to do that every time the absolution is spoken. So, let us be of good cheer. Our sins are forgiven. Believe and rejoice. And then, in our joy and by his power, let us love one another even more intensely.
We have said much about reciprocal love in living together as a family for two reasons: One, to ponder the mercy of our God. He has brought us formerly loveless, hateful creatures into his family where we — loved by our God in Christ — are now able to love our brothers and sisters, all to the glory of our God. That’s worth marveling over.
Two, to remind all of us that we dare not selectively use God’s Word. We need to protect one another within the family of God — to practice church discipline and to warn against false teachings and teachers. We must at times be blunt and forthright. We must take stands that won’t win popularity contests. But that does not mean we can forget about love, about being patient, kind, considerate, and humble in our dealings with one another.
Speak the truth, yes, but we want to be, as Scripture says, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Failure to do either — either to speak the truth or to do so in love — places us in danger of having Jesus’ reprimand of the Pharisees come down on us also: “You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23).
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