“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
– 1 Peter 3:8-9
Harmonious. Sympathetic. Brotherly. Kindhearted. Humble. These are the kind of words that can easily by applied to Jesus. He sympathized with the dregs of society: speaking with the Samaritan women in John 4 and eating with sinners and tax collectors in Matthew 9:10. He showed love to all those he met. And even when he was mocked, beaten, and crucified, he called out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Christ is the very definition of humility and a kind heart.
And you know what? He told his disciples that the world would know them by their great love for one another (see John 13:35). When Christ sent His Spirit to inhabit his Church, the goal was for the people in that church to become like him. Christians should be the most harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, humble people that the world has ever seen. And yet, the reality is that many of our churches are filled with people who are just as self-centered as those in the world. We see division after division and church splits galore. Sometimes, it seems like Christians just can’t get along. But why?
One of the first things that Jesus called his disciples to was a denial of ‘self.’ Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their fishing businesses and their families. Matthew left his tax booth. Paul gave up all of the good favor and relationships that he had accumulated over his time as a pharisee. The history of Christian discipleship is one of sacrificing self. And those who weren’t willing to give up their self? They weren’t counted worthy. To the man that couldn’t leave immediately because he needed to hang around and bury his father, Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” And he didn’t stop there, he went on to proclaim, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” That’s the problem with many who claim to follow Christ today: they’re trying to follow Christ and their father or Christ and their wife or Christ and their children or, and this is the most common one, Christ and Self. The unfortunate fact is, though, that it’s not possible. We must choose this day whom we’re going to serve: Christ or Ourselves.
In the same way that those first followers had to leave everything behind and follow Christ alone if they were to be His true disciples, Christ still calls us to follow Him and Him alone. When we hold on to our selves, we keep Christ from truly transforming us. We’re like the rich young ruler who had his hands wrapped too tightly around his money. Since he couldn’t die to self, he walked away very sad. Jesus couldn’t do anything for him because he wouldn’t let go of his self. Nothing has changed since then. The only difference is that, today, people think they’re following Christ because they go to church, read the bible, pray, or are involved in some other “spiritual” activity. They don’t realize that they’re out wandering in the desert of self following a jesus of their own creation.
When we really grab hold of Jesus and release self, everything will change. Our old hatred and anger will melt away into love and kindheartedness. Our prejudice and gossip will dissolve into acceptance and blessings. All of the works of the flesh will be uprooted and replaced with the virtue of God. This is why Jesus said that the world would recognize his disciples by their great love for one another. Those Christians that give up their selves completely will be filled with the love, compassion, mercy, and humility of Christ. At that time, the true believer will find opportunities to show off the love of God in the darkest moments of life. When faced with cursing, he will bless. When faced with persecution, he will pray. When faced with back-biting and gossip, he will speak the truth in love.
One of the hardest things about being a Christian is seeing others who claim the name soil it. Unfortunately, as long as we’re in this world there will be people who wear the title ‘Christian’ while they act in complete contradiction to everything Christ taught. It should pain us as it no doubt does Christ. But, and this is important, it should draw us into deeper fellowship with God. It should remind us of God’s mercy and grace in our life. It should compel us to pray for the lost, especially the nominal Christian. But, even more than that, it should cause us to look inward and to ask God to search us and try us. It’s an opportunity to make sure that we aren’t holding onto anything other than Christ. May he be “all and in all” in our lives (Colossians 3:11).
Grace and Peace,