By Grant Hawley
In John 13 through 17, Jesus speaks to His disciples on the night before He goes to the cross. It's His last chance to talk to them about what is most important to Him. He doesn't spend that time talking about what foods they should eat, what clothes they should wear, what music they should listen to, or anything like that. He does spend a good amount of time talking about how they can have victory in their emotional lives, but the beginning, middle and end of the sermon is about love.
In the beginning of His sermon, He commanded the disciples, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). In the middle, He said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (15:12). In the end, He prayed for God to provide the unity and love we need to obey His commandment,
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me... And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.
Jesus' priority is clearly our love for one another, and His priority should be ours as well. But we haven't often kept that priority. One problem is that legalism, of which we have way too much, destroys love and unity, especially when expressed in community.
Paul tells us about an example of this in Gal 2:11-16. It says:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified."
What was happening here is that Peter had been enjoying regular fellowship with Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. He would eat with them, celebrating the Lord's Supper. I am sure that this was a huge encouragement to these Christians, to be accepted on equal footing with an apostle, enjoying each other's company. I would sure love to sit with Peter and hear His stories about Jesus that we don't get to read about in the Gospels. But when some people came in and said something like, 'Peter, what are you doing at this catfish fry? Don't you know it's forbidden in the Law?" Peter succumbed to the pressure and withdrew from these Gentile brothers and sisters.
This is just one example of why Paul calls the law "the enmity" and the 'middle wall of separation" between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14-15). (Thank you, Jesus, for breaking that wall down and abolishing that enmity.) But legalism doesn't just separate Jews and Gentiles, it divides on lines of race generally, age, economic class, gender, and position in the local church.
It tends to start with the mistaken idea that God wants unity in the Church to be based upon uniformity, rather than diversity. But this isn't God's way. God's way is illustrated in the body metaphor that is often used to describe the Church. Just like the body has many different members with different functions, so is the Body of Christ. This has to do primarily with spiritual gifts, but there are many things that make us each uniquely suited to fulfill a certain role in the Body. You and I don't do the same things, and that's exactly God's design. I can't do everything that needs to be done or reach everyone who needs to be reached, and neither can you. But together, we are much more capable.
We're supposed to be different so that we need each other.
Someone who drives a Harley and has a long beard and tattoo sleeves can reach people with the gospel of Christ who may not give me the time of day. And that person I can't reach needs the love of Christ just as much as everyone else. So, instead of judging the brother who looks different than me, I thank God for him. And I thank God for the differences between us.
And this is the way it is supposed to be. Every Christian is going to stand before Christ at the Bema, the Judgment Seat:
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL CONFESS TO GOD." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom 14:10-12).
At this judgment, Christ will assess our lives and determine our reward. Everyone who appears at that judgment already has eternal security because they believed in Jesus, and everyone there will be in Paradise with Christ forever. But not everyone will receive the same reward. Some will rule with Christ in His Kingdom, some won't. Some will receive the crown of righteousness, some won't. Some will hear 'Well done, good and faithful servant" and some won't.
So, judgment of each brother and sister in Christ is Christ's job, not ours. It is our job to thank the Lord for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to love them and help them as much as possible to be as effective a sojourner in this world as they can be. In doing this, we multiply our own ministries so we can go to the Bema with confidence and excitement.