I love apologetics. I love being on panels when people come forward and ask difficult questions about the Christian faith. Around here we call those a “Grill-A-Christian” event. If you’re a book geek, like me, it gives you chance to release all of those pent up thoughts and really wrestle publically with ideas in the public forum. Questions about suffering, hell, sexuality… I’m eager to give it a try!
And yet, it wasn’t being able to answer difficult questions alone that bore witness to the people of God and their connection to the resurrected Christ. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13)
Love one another? “Loving one another” is not unique to Christians. Certainly there are people of other religions and beliefs who care for one another. There can be brotherly love and friendship among thieves or even sex traffickers.
What is this love that is so powerful that it witnesses to the living Jesus?
It is a love that overcomes seemingly impossible divisions.
In the Roman Empire, one of the divisions was between the rich and the poor. Certainly, it was assumed, one should only engage in same-class friendships. “If a poor man and a rich man engage in friendship it is bound for disaster!” Or so it was thought. It was presumed that the poor man would inevitably start seeking money or favours from the friend who was more rich or powerful.
But Jesus was poor. So were his apostles - largely. They called everyone to humble themselves and share in the same bread and the same cup. All were equal sinners at the foot of the cross. Obviously, this was a challenge to put into practice for the early Christians. They were having to cut against a deeply entrenched cultural ideal. At times, they would wander from it. When they would, corrective words needed to be given such as the one James gives:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
The early Christians overcame this barrier and they formed real, Christian friendship across the divides of wealth and power. Their reputation for this became so well known, that a frustrated, pagan Emperor wrote to one of his governors that these Christians, “…not only take care of their own poor, they’re taking care of our poor!” It was a love which overcame the divide and it brought faith to a disillusioned world.
In a much more recent time, we saw the activity of Rev. Martin Luther King. Using Scripture as his primary tool, he called for divisions to come down and for people across the racial divide to “hold hands and sing”. His call for equality and friendship across this divide healed much of the south-east of the United States and was a testimony to the power of the gospel worldwide.
Today we have another divide. A huge divide between the genders has opened up and a dark and hellish river flows through it. The average child now sees internet pornography at age nine. Most teenage boys and a disturbingly high percentage of teen girls regularly view the stuff. Adults are not immune to it either. Hook-ups, FWB, Ashley Madison and the Swingers movement among married adults has put a presumed immoral motivation into much male-female social interaction. The character “Harry” in “When Harry Met Sally” speaks for many when he says that, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
Much of the Christian Church is now “scandal scared”. Because some leaders have sinned with people of the other gender, we are reacting by minimising meaningful contact with each other. Not that we hate the other gender… we just don’t want our relationships with them to become intense. We like male-female relations to be neither hot nor cold… just lukewarm. Then we can swallow them.
These tepid relationships - that are limited by nothing but the fear of potential immoral activity - do little to glorify God and witness to the power of the gospel. When Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He didn’t put a same-gender sub-clause on it. Can cross-gender friendships be abused? Absolutely. So can all human relationships. I’m sure there was poor-rich abuse and pain in some of those early Church friendships. But they preserved through those and learned when mistakes were made.
Joyful, chaste, Christ centred friendships across the gender divide could bear as much witness to the gospel as rich-poor and black-white friendships did in other generations. Are there potential pitfalls? Yes (we deal with many in the book) but they are worth it and they are what a sex-saturated society needs to see.
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