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Beginning 2021 With Courage

November 29, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – 1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

Focus

As Jesus’ followers, how can we be a signpost of life and hope in our generation? It takes courage to “lay down our lives for one another.” Perhaps no more so than at a time like this when there are such deep wounds and divisions within the Church over so many important matters.

Devotion

Happy New Year! No, that wasn’t a mistake. And yes, I do know that 2021 is still a month or so away. However, according to the Church’s liturgical calendar, a new year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. And that is today.

The Crucifixion by Grunewald

The Crucifixion by Grunewald

I admit that appreciating the liturgical calendar is a relatively recent discovery for me. But I have come to see the practical wisdom and formative effect of having an annual reminder of the biblical story as embodied in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Ordinary Time. (If you are unfamiliar with this practice, I would commend the Pilgrim Year Book Series of devotional reflections and songs by my friend, Steve Bell.)

As I reflected on yesterday, given the monumental difficulties of this last year, we need to be reminded of God’s goodness and love for the world and all its inhabitants. Still, given that reminder, how might we live hopefully and with courage in this coming year?

I find 1 John 3:16 a helpful corollary to John 3:16. The focus of John 3:16 is God’s goodness and love for the world, as demonstrated in Jesus. The focus of 1 John 3:16 is how we are implicated by that reality. Our text for today tells us that God’s work invariably has implications for our lives. If we trust in God’s goodness and love, then we will invariably be called to exhibit that same kind of goodness and love to those around us.

So, what does that goodness and love call us to do?

First, we are to “lay down.” God’s gift of sending Jesus extends to us as his followers. We are given by grace through faith the status of being God’s beloved children and younger siblings of Jesus Christ. As children of God and siblings of Christ, it seems to me that we have two fundamental and paradoxical things to learn. For one, we are immeasurably loved and valued. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “all things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21b). For another, our call, like that of our elder brother, is to be willing to lay down (i.e., sacrifice) “all things” that are ours, including things like our privilege, position, and power, for the sake of others. As the Apostle Paul reminds his Corinthian siblings, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Second, we are to lay down “our lives.” It’s easier for me to lay down things in my life than it is to lay down my life. It’s easier to pick and choose what I will offer to God, including how I spend my time and financial resources, rather than offering my whole life to God. But a faithful response, as modeled by Jesus himself, requires all of me. As the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, we are called to “a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything” (Four Quartets).

Finally, we are to lay down our lives “for one another.” Laying down our lives as an ideal is one thing but doing so for actual people we know is quite another! Real people are deeply flawed, me included. As the Apostle Paul candidly wrote to the Church in Rome, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die” (Romans 5:7). We shouldn’t pretend this is natural or easy, because it’s not. What’s even more surprising is that today’s text addresses not the context of our life in the world, but of our life in the Church. 1 John 3:16 is written as instruction to Christians for their relationship with other Christians. You might think that laying down your life for your siblings in Christ would be easier than for someone outside the Church. In my experience, however, that’s not the case. Our expectations of fellow Christians are higher, which makes our sacrifice harder when fellow believers are “behaving badly.” We struggle with the fact that our fellow believers should know better.

It takes courage to “lay down our lives for one another.” Perhaps no more so than at a time like this when there are such deep wounds and divisions within the Church over so many important matters. But it’s worth remembering that Jesus’ final and most important command is still this, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34b-35). Jesus makes our love for one another the missional witness of our discipleship.

But as I’ve already said, let’s not kid ourselves about the difficulty of the command. Anyone who thinks the Church is a community of the lovable and the agreeable hasn’t been paying attention. Precisely because that is the case, those of us who want to be faithful followers of Jesus are called to demonstrate a new way of being human: to love the unlovable, the disagreeable, and even our siblings who have become our enemies. In a world that increasingly chooses to only love those who love them, who agree with them, and who are part of their tribe, this is a radical witness to the good news of Jesus’ Lordship and of the new human community that he is forming. As Jesus suggests, it is the principal way that we as communities of Jesus’ followers will be signposts of hope and life in our generation.

Jesus loved us to the uttermost, even when it cost him his life. In the coming year, will we have the courage to do the same for our siblings in Christ?

Reflect

What might it look like to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Act

Take one concrete step today because of your reflection above.

Pray

Lord Jesus Christ,

You are our Savior and our Lord. Forgive us for our hard-heartedness towards our siblings in Christ. It is easier to ignore and gossip about one another than to find ways to speak the truth in love with one another. Help us to have the courage to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience towards one another (Colossians 3:12b).

We ask in your name. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 1 John: Walking in the Light


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