By Rev. Dr. Michael H. Koplitz
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 “You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 “This I command you, that you love one another.
When I was thirty-five years old, I was baptized as a disciple of Jesus Christ. What followed was a two-year long search to find a religious view of the LORD that was positive and in which I could grow. I elected Christianity based on my reading of the four Gospels, “Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, and “The Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck. As a new Christian my old way of thinking about events and people had to change and give way to a new view. My old way of thinking about the LORD had to change.
Jesus Christ’s words found in the Gospels offer a very positive view of the ways of the LORD. Jesus offers a fabulous way to view the laws in the Torah in a positive way. The laws, in Hebrew the word is mitzvot meaning “good deeds”, are there to help us change our hearts to prepare us for Heaven. Jesus’ way of performing the mitzvot is the critical key to living a life that is good and honors the LORD. You can even be Jewish and learn from Jesus about how to live. Jesus was a rabbi who taught his disciples the secrets of the Torah and the Prophets. His interpretations and executions of the mitzvot are what we should follow.
As I was not familiar with the church’s paradigms, I began to observe that its members were not following the mitzvot of the Torah. There were so many people who did not follow Jesus’ words. That shocked me to no end. How could these people call themselves Christians who were followers of Jesus Christ, and not live as Jesus said? The church generated only some good behavior but nowhere near enough. What I am saying is that the church allows members to act in non-Christian way with no repercussions.
Let’s go back 2000 years and imagine what was going on with Jesus and his disciples. Jesus picked twelve men to be his Talmidim, his disciples. A teacher, like Jesus, would then teach the twelve just about everything he knew. He told them that a lot of what they were learning would not make sense until after his death.
Why was that? The disciples need the power and encouragement of the Holy Spirit who puts it all together for them. That is why Pentecost is so important. In today’s church. Pentecost should be a day to help all attendees rise to a higher level of understanding of the ways of Jesus. You probably say it does not happen in your church. Then let me ask you, what are doing about it? The pastor will continue the way he has always done things until you speak up! The most disappointing thing for me as a pastor was when people would complain about something in the church but they refused to talk to me. Then they would get angry at me because nothing had changed. Your pastor is not a mind reader. You must talk to him or her.
Back to our short narrative. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor many times throughout each of the Gospels. Why are we not doing what he said? The next time you attend a worship service in your church, look around. Is there anyone whom you dislike? Bells should ring in your ears. You are not following what Jesus said if there is anyone, especially in your church, whom you dislike, or worse, hate.
One thing I learned the hard way as a pastor was that there was a group of people in the congregation who disliked me. Most of the time it was because I was a Christian-Jew and there are plenty of anti-Semitic people in churches. That is so odd, since Jesus was Jewish. To be anti-Semitic means that you are not loving your neighbors. Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth were Jews. Oh my, what a shock to so many people in the church. Jesus was Jewish, his disciples were Jewish, his earliest followers were Jewish, and many Jews were following him as the Messiah.
Paul said in his letter to the Romans that the Gospel came first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. It really hurts when anti-Semitism raises its ugly head in the church. I retired three years early from the church I was serving because a small minority of people were anti-Semitic. Every church they appointed me to had a small group of anti-Semitic people. Over a short period, these people would force me to leave. I wonder what they would have done if Jesus became their pastor. Would they hate him for being a Jew?
Jesus said to love your neighbor. That means to love all humanity. This was one of the two great commandments. Since it is so, the question is why this commandment is so difficult to do? In 48 CE, when Peter and Paul came together at the first church council, there was no love there. Eventually Peter and Paul became a joint candy bar but that took almost 2000 years to happen. These two men disliked each other, and that is saying it politely.
The bottom line for us today is that if our church leaders cannot love one another and thus love all the church’s members, how can they expect us to do the same? Leadership means always demonstrating behaviors and attitudes that reflect Jesus’ lessons. Maybe there should be a biblical test for every person who wants to be a leader in the church. That might help the situation. If the leaders exhibit true love for all people, as Jesus said to do, then the members would hopefully follow suit. The leaders could also call out members when their behavior and attitudes violate the command of Jesus to love each other.
The bottom line for the church today is that if the members and attendees don’t start loving each other as Jesus commanded, then the church will disappear from the present and will only exist as a memory. Churches are fading from towns and cities and one day they will not exist. We must spread the word about Jesus Christ, or else the world will forget about him if the church continues to be filled with distrust ad hate. What an awful day that will be!
Please don’t let that happen. Only the members, that is you, can save the church from this awful future. Church leaders are failing us, and we must look into ourselves. The local church must survive. The future of the church is not in a denomination with an expensive hierarchy that tells us how to live. Rather, the future of the church is in each members’ heart. Love the LORD and love your neighbor. When acting this way, then a person is doing what Jesus said!
A note from Dr. Anne Davis: If we are to exhibit true love to all people as you have interpreted the Scripture, does that mean we must also love Muslims, people of color, homosexuals, sinners, immigrants, and transgender people? How do we exhibit our Christian love to them?
Please give us your thoughts on this article!
- Did you agree?
- Did you disagree?
- Do you have something to add?
- Do you have a personal experience you would like to share?
Pastor Michael H. Koplitz, D.Min., Ph.D. is an ordained minister, author, teacher, and webmaster at BibleInteract. He currently lives in York Pennsylvania with his wife, Sandy, where he has been a pastor at the United Methodist Church for over 18 years.