We’ve spent a few weeks in the first fifteen chapters of Acts, discovering how the Holy Spirit formed diverse people—Jew and Gentile—into the Body of Christ. “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15-16).
This week we’ll consider some sage advice from the New Testament to help us live in this new reality.
Monday, July 22
Read: Romans 12:9-13
Consider: There is a view of Christianity that is prevalent today that is peculiarly modern, distinctively western and totally contrary to the Christian life described in the New Testament. It’s the view that you can be a Christian in isolation. Many people today believe that their Christianity is a private matter and that they do not need a church or any other kind of faith community. They can pray on their own. They can worship God on their own. They can fulfill the call of Christ on their own.
There are many problems with this approach that are too numerous to mention here. But the main problem is that “lone ranger” Christianity is not the faith of the New Testament. God always worked through a community. In the Old Testament, he formed a people—Israel—who would carry God’s covenant with creation. In the New Testament, Jesus formed a community. The Book of Acts describes that community, and the New Testament letters teach us how to live in that community. Never does the Bible even address how to live for God in isolation, because that is never God’s design for us.
So, this week we’re going to look at how we live in this new community by considering some of the “one anothers” of the Bible. They are all through the New Testament, as in today’s reading…
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.” (Romans 12:9-10)
“One another” describes a reciprocal relationship. It doesn’t work if I’m devoted to you, but you’re not devoted to me. It doesn’t work if you’re devoted to me, but I’m not devoted to you. That’s why this thing must be done in community. The devotion that we have for God is to be lived out in devotion to one another.
In our culture, we know what it means to be a devoted wife or a devoted husband. We know what it means to be devoted to our children. But what does it mean in the community of faith? That’s more difficult for us to discern. But that’s part of our task as Christians, to learn what it means to be devoted to the Body of Christ—his church.
Pray: Thank the Lord that he poured his Spirit into his people. Thank him that you get to encounter him in the lives of those people. Ask him to help you learn what it means to be devoted to the Body of Christ.
Tuesday, July 23
Read: Romans 12:9-21
Consider: Let’s look at a second “one another” that comes on the heels of the one we considered yesterday.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)
When I think of the word “honor,” I also think of the word “dignity.” Jesus was emphatic at this point. He taught us to show dignity to all people. When you read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), you see numerous references to this. Jesus’ teachings on adultery, divorce, our words, the way we treat our enemies, giving to those in need, and judging others, all point to the demand to bestow dignity on our fellow human beings.
In Romans 12, Paul is specifically speaking about honoring one another in the Body of Christ. Imagine the atmosphere of a church where everyone honored—bestowed dignity—on everyone else. Imagine children, the elderly, the strong, the weak, the rich, the poor, the vulnerable, racial minorities, sexual minorities, the spiritually mature and the spiritually confused all being honored and shown dignity! That’s what Paul is calling us to do and to be.
There is something else interesting about this passage. In verses 17-21 Paul takes this notion of honor and dignity and applies it to our enemies. I believe that is possible when we are honoring one another. If we intentionally bestow honor and dignity on our loved ones, it will help us learn to do that to others as well. We then take the unity we have been building in the Body of Christ and use it to “overcome evil with good” (12:21).
What a way to live!
Pray: “Lord, please give me the opportunity today to bestow honor and dignity on another human being. Help me not to be so wrapped up in my concerns that I miss the opportunities that you give. I approach this day with joy because I can do for someone else what you have done for me.”
Wednesday, July 24
Read: Hebrews 10:19-25
Consider: People with the gift of encouragement use that gift in a variety of ways. They encourage through their words, through their actions and by their presence.
Presence. Have you ever been encouraged simply because someone showed up? Many times, as I’ve stood in a funeral home, I’ve seen the eyes of those who mourn light up as people entered the room. I’ve seen new courage in the face of profound grief. I’m always amazed at what can happen through the ministry of presence.
The writer to the Hebrew Christians instructed them (and us) to encourage one another and to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). And one of the tools he instructed us to use was our presence.
“Let us not give up meeting together…” (10:25)
In our age of consumer Christianity, many people decide whether to attend church on a given day based on their own needs. They ask themselves if they need to or want to go to church. A friend of mine used to say, “Maybe you don’t think you need to be there, but maybe someone else needs you to be there.” The ministry of presence.
Christians have a 2000-year history of gathering together. And, of course, when we look to the Jewish roots of our faith, we can add several more centuries to that tradition. People of faith have always gathered as a community. We gather so that we can worship, learn and grow. But we also gather to encourage one another and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24).
This week as you gather for a Sunday worship service, a study group, the Eucharist, or simply with friends at a restaurant, determine to give as well as to receive. Determine to be present with your joy, your sorrow, your burdens and your hope. Ask God to be present to others through your presence with them.
Pray: “Lord, forgive me for the times that I’ve acted as if the church existed for me alone. May my life be enveloped in your life and in your calling to be the Body of Christ.”
Thursday, July 25
Read: Romans 12:10-18
Consider: Back to Romans 12. There is one more “one another” there.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:15-16)
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Live in harmony with one another. Okay. We’re all believers. Christ has forgiven us and we’re walking in fellowship with him. How could we not live in harmony with one another?
But it isn’t that simple, is it? We all know that to accomplish this, we must fully submit ourselves to Christ and then submit ourselves to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
Paul followed his words on harmony with three simple instructions:
“Do not be proud…”
“…be willing to associate with people of low position.”
“Do not be conceited.”
In other words, harmony is not about me and my desires. It’s about us.
The great conductor, Leonard Bernstein, was once asked which instrument is the most difficult to play. He said, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who plays second violin with enthusiasm is difficult. Yet, if no one plays second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
When we are willing to be anything God wants us to be and willing to do anything God wants us to do, there can be harmony in the church and in our lives. But harmony doesn’t come easily. It requires change, forgiveness, repentance, more change and more forgiveness. It requires humility and it requires courage.
Pray: “Lord, you are the composer and the conductor. Help me to be an instrument that adds to the beautiful harmony that you have created and that you continue to bring into being through us. As you lead, I’ll follow.”
Friday, July 26
Read: Ephesians 4:1-6, 29-32
Consider: As Paul calls us to unity in the Body of Christ, he reminds us that doing life together—living in harmony—requires the embodiment of certain values. He gives us three “one anothers” in this chapter.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (4:2)
“Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (4:32)
“…forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (4:32)
If I am going to live in relationship with other human beings—I mean real relationship—I am going to have to repeatedly forgive and to repeatedly be forgiven. Perhaps “repeatedly” isn’t the right word. Maybe the best way to express it is to say that we must continually forgive and continually be forgiven.
Paul gave us a reminder to help us with this when he told us to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). If we always remember that God is patient with us, that he is kind to us, that he has compassion for us, and he continually forgives us, it will be possible for us to see others the way that he wants us to see them. It will be easier to see them as he sees us.
Pray: Thank God for his patience, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Ask him to make you an agent of that grace this very day. Thank him for that honor.
Saturday, July 27
Read: John 13:33-35
Consider: The command to love was not new. Yet Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another” (13:34). What made it new was what Jesus said next…
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (13:34)
When we look at that statement in the context it was given, it overwhelms us. Jesus gave us this mandate at the Passover meal with his disciples, hours before his arrest and crucifixion.* He was about to lay down his life for us. How can we possibly love like that?
Of all the “one anothers” we’ve looked at this week, none is more demanding. But there is no need to be intimidated by it, because Jesus showed us how to approach this journey of self-sacrificing love. He showed where to begin.
Before Jesus called us to love like he loves, he did something very tangible. Like the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine, Jesus did something we could see and something we can do. He washed his disciples’ feet. Then he said…
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you…now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (13:15, 17)
If we live our lives—individually and communally—with a commitment to serve, we will learn how to love as Christ loves. We’ll learn how to do the things we’ve considered this week. We’ll honor one another. We’ll forgive each other. We’ll be kind and patient. We’ll treat each other with compassion and bestow dignity on one another. We’ll spur one another on toward love and good works.
If we take on the heart of our servant leader, his Spirit fills us, guides us and teaches us. We will learn how to love as he loves.
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for the call to communal life—life together with you, with my sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ, and with all who are created in your image. Teach us—teach me—how to love.”
*This mandate is why we call that day Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” is a form of the Latin word, mandatum, which means “mandate” or “command.” Every year, on the Thursday of Holy Week, we remember the mandate to love as Christ loves.