The Mark

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35

The best definition of a disciple I know, I owe to Dr. Oscar Thompson. Now in Heaven, Dr. Thompson bravely battled cancer while serving as Professor of Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He was a good friend and mentor. He said...

A disciple is someone who...
1. Has a personal relationship with the teacher.
2. Allows the teacher to exercise authority and jurisdiction over his life.
3. Is willing to face persecution for what they believe.

See what I mean? More than a learner of lessons, accumulator of facts, or a sporadic attender, a disciple is made of sterner stuff. Beginning with a relationship, disciples follow the leader, courageously trusting in Jesus, come what may.

The Greeks were poetic people with a powerful grasp of man's potential for greatness and tragedy. They coined words that remain with us today. Two of them still describe the nature of man and the greatness of God.

"Hubris" was used to describe over-weening pride in an average man who dared to rise to greatness. The Greeks recognized that as men rose above their humble roots, they had a way of thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. When a man's estimation of himself rose to such an offensive level that the stench reached the nostrils of the gods, the gods knocked a prideful man down to size. Sounds like the voice of experience.

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." - C. S. Lewis

"Agape" was one of at least four words the Greek philosophers used to describe love. They didn't have any examples of it, but they knew the world needed it. Long before Hallmark cards and jewelry store commercials, they promoted something that people longed for, but had never seen, selfless love. It has been defined as "unconquerable benevolence, and undefeatable goodwill. It praised the capacity to willingly express an "in spite of" love, rather than a "because of" kind of love. Rare indeed. Sound familiar?

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16

Love is not something God believes. Love is who God is. It is His nature to love. His love is offered to man, through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Those who are drawn to the benefits of God's love, often try to race past Jesus, and ignore the cross. All that blood and gore seem so messy and unnecessary to the pride of man.

Prideful people are willing to admit, "I misspoke." They may even confess, "Mistakes were made." Groveling for a second chance from one's peers is not the same thing as crying out to God for forgiveness.

The mission statement of the contemporary church should be, "After all, we all make mistakes." Pride keeps people from admitting that they are a sinner, and in need of forgiveness. Getting a do over and being forgiven are two different things. The first ignores the sin. The second restores the sinner.

Prideful people won't let a person get up when they have been knocked down. It would cost them a false sense of superiority. They won't let a person forget they made a mistake in the past, because their lives are driven by The Accuser, in the present tense. Just ask Paula Deen. Ever say the N-word? Ever think about it? Yeah, I thought so.

The family of God is birthed by The Forgiver. It is the last safe haven for forgiveness, and it also the where God's greatest expression of love can be found. It is not a place of do-overs or make-overs, coverup artists or makeup tips. God's family is made up of people who have had a life-changing encounter with His Son, Jesus. God's love cost Jesus His life. It ought to cost His disciples at least a bit of inconvenience.

"God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way." Leighton Ford

Reciprocal relationships are best described by "the one another" passages of The Bible. They are not a form of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." Those self-serving, suffocating expressions lead to cronyism in the church and Congress in D.C. Don't trust either one.

"Love one another" isn't erotic emotionalism, nor is it triggered by some robotic mechanism. It is the capacity of one forgiven person to accept another forgiven person in the climate of God's love. Neither person makes excuses for the sin they see in themselves or they see in another.

People in need of forgiveness run to God's love and meet "one another" at the foot of the cross. At the cross there is little room for an air of superiority. A person who has just recently been confronted by their own sin, and had it placed under the blood of Jesus, is not in a position to lord it over a person in the same condition.

Humiliation comes from facing our own sin, not by pointing out another's sin. Confessed sin should lead to humility. Rationalization leads to pride. The forgiven feed one and starve the other.

"Love means never having to say you're sorry."
Actor, Ryan O'Neill's quote from the 1970's Hollywood film "Love Story"

What hogwash! Poor theology leads to pathetic parenting and prideful progeny. The church culture of permissiveness is not too much different from the world's culture of "live and let live." People who are in the wrong are often the first to say, "Can't we all just get along?" The answer is, "No!" Prideful people are so full of themselves, there is no room for concern about anyone else.

"Love one another." The mark of a Christian is love. It is not expressed by permissiveness, but forgiveness. Love confronts sin, not with an air of superiority, but with a sense of destiny. This love is alarmed over seeing a person stumbling blindly over a cliff, and lovingly throws themselves into their path to block them from disaster. This can be done in many different ways, but there is no better way to impede a person's fall than to intercede for them that they never trip. If prevention is a pound of cure, then intercession does a ton of good. Try it.

"Discernment if given for intercession, never fault-finding." Oswald Chambers

In the heart of man, there is a God-shaped vacuum that can only be filled with Jesus. (Homage to mathematician and philosopher Blaise Paschal) Love has the capacity to focus on what God has in mind for a person, not what they have done. It doesn't ignore the sin, but love intercedes for the sinner. Love does not mean diluting God's judgement of sin, but it does discard a judgmental attitude toward the sinner. Praying for people who are in need of forgiveness, leaves little time for criticizing them.