Walk down a busy street in almost any of our country’s biggest cities and you’ll likely notice this: our country is becoming more and more diverse. Ethnicity, religion, education, age, politics, income, philosophy, ideals, lifestyle, experience, history—differences surround us. Even so, we may not experience the richness of this diversity…because generally, people tend to spend their time with others like them. This is a learned trait. In school, jocks hang out with jocks, the drama kids hang with the drama kids, skaters hang with skaters, gamers hang with gamers, etc. The bigger and more diverse the school, the more pronounced this becomes.
There are some groups we naturally become a part of, and others we are naturally excluded from. No matter how much I enjoy football—I will never be in the NFL (have you seen my body type?) I may think it would be neat to be in Mensa but I do not have the IQ to join. No matter how many posters of Justin Bieber I put on my wall, no matter how many times I watch the Twilight movies, or throw slumber parties…I, as an adult male, will never be a middle school girl. This (thankfully) is a group I will always be excluded from!
What are the characteristics that unite Christians as a group?
Unfortunately, some people may feel that they could never be a Christian—to them the thought is as ludicrous as an adult male living like a middle school girl. They don’t look right, dress right, talk right, or act right. Like an average guy with dreams of NFL, they may think that they don’t have the “skills” to be a Christian. They might feel that both God and other Christians couldn't possibly accept them.
But the truth about Christianity is that it’s not defined that way. Christianity is for anyone! Income doesn't matter, talents don’t matter, gender doesn't matter, education doesn't matter, ethnicity and background don’t matter. There is no earthly characteristic that sets apart Christians.
Jesus revealed the defining characteristic of the church in John 17. This prayer to the father takes place right before he was arrested and executed. If you knew your violent death approached, what would be on your mind? This was what was on Jesus’ mind. John 17:20-21,
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
On the last night before Jesus was murdered—he prayed for the future believers—for you and I. He prayed that we would have something so other-worldly that it would distinguish us from all the rest of the world. That was our unity—and that unity is built on our love for one another.
Living in a college dorm taught me this well. I remember walking into the sub lounge one day and seeing a grown adult man making the Millennium Falcon out of Lego. In the same dorm, there was a guy who continually led our school to the national championship in soccer. We had artists, and sports geeks, video gamers, and sci fi nerds. We had guys from all around the world.
The only thing we had in common was that we loved Jesus—and we grew to love one another.
This Love is so important because it is this love and unity that convinces the world of the truth of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps some of you have seen the movie End of the Spear. This movie recounts the story of Five missionary men who reach out to a tribal people in Ecuador called the Waodani People. All five men were speared to death by this people group…and even still, their wives and a sister went and continued their ministry—leading many to Christ. Warring tribes became united. A culture of polygamy and violence was ended….all because of a love that pointed to Christ.
When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, this is how he responded.
Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.—Matthew 22:37-40
Why does Jesus say that the second is like it? How is loving some broken, imperfect person anything like loving God?
1 John 4:20-21 says,
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.
And in Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that the primary way we express our love to Christ is by loving others.
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’—Matthew 25:40
Our love for one another is what actually shows that we belong to Christ. 1 John 2:9-11 says,
If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness.
If we as Christian’s aren't characterized by our love…there is nothing that sets us apart from any other social group! We are void of identity, and our testimony is empty and useless. May our love for one another unify our hearts and point a hurting world to the love of Christ. Amen.