Monday, 14 October 2013
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. In their book “Multi-Voiced Church” Sian and Stuart Murray Williams point out that we are not to be lone pilgrims. Rather we are to be companions on the journey. And they explore this idea by talking about “the many ‘one another’ or ‘each other’ texts in the New Testament.
It has been well said that the church is perhaps the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those outside it. In saying that we remind ourselves that the essential task of the church is the task of mission. That is true, but it is also true that we are in it together. It is not insignificant that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two – Luke 10, verse 1. We are told to love one another, to greet one another, to encourage one another, to forgive one another. We are to bear one another’s burdens, to live in peace with each other, to agree with one another, to accept one another. We are to serve one another, to honour one another. And so on. The New Testament has much to say about our partnership, and the clear inference is that, if we can’t sort that out, then we will be falling short on our call.
Of course, there is the recognition that perfection is still some way off. Yes, we are to get on with being the church together – but the fact that there was a need to also tell the early Christians not to grumble against one another, not to lie to one another, not to provoke one another is a recognition of their being far from perfect and in need of a bit of a challenge. The Williams talk about churches needing “leaders who can broker and encourage ‘one-anothering’.”
I wonder what would have been Jesus’ mission statement, had He established one thing He said as the key summary message of His life. Of course, there are plenty of things that Jesus said that we could suggest as leading candidates for a Jesus mission statement short list. But perhaps we can do no better than suggest it might come from this Gospel passage.
John 15, verses 12 This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. There’s the mission statement. And we might support and explain it by drawing on verse 16 - You did not choose me, but I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. We are empowered. We are commanded. We are sent. And we are sent to bear fruit.
According to verse 14, we are to be friends of Jesus – You are my friends if you do what I command you. But this is not a friendship of domination and servitude. Sometimes children, frustrated by a friend’s refusal to do just what they want, will declare: you’re not my friend. That’s not how it is with God. We are friends of God because we have communion, communication. A couple of verses earlier, verse 9, we are told: abide in my love. If we do that, then all the possibilities of God’s love spill out into the community around us.
What this is really about is partnership. We would tend to think it politically incorrect to suggest that anyone was a servant and, worse still, that that was a good thing. What about our rights? What about our position? It was, of course, far more part of life in New Testament times. In fact, for many it was worse still. They were slaves. We don’t really need to worry about being servants though really. After all, Jesus Himself is the Servant King. But look at what is going on here. The servant is lifted up to the status of friend. The warmth of friendship implies a sharing which creates equality and breaks down the barriers. The greatest example of ‘one-anothering’ comes from Jesus himself.
And it is in such commitment to others that we will bear fruit. It is in such commitment to others that we will engage in Christian solidarity. It is in such commitment to others that we will get things done. Love one another, and so you will bear fruit. We have moved from free gifts to freely giving – and, on the way, have we not summed up the Gospel?