Give God’s people one special place to meet, start calling that place “the church”, and you will notice an alarming trend: the saints will spend less and less time together outside of that building and beyond any planned group activities. This is why I think a good judge of the spiritual health of any assembly is how much time the brothers and sisters spend together in their homes and out together, just for the sake of spending time together.
Jesus said, “by this they will know that you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another.” Notice that he did not say, “by the love you have for me” or “by your love for the lost”, but “your love for one another.” Love for Christ expresses itself particularly in love for the saints. And what is love? When I think of the time I fell in love with my wife, the outstanding characteristic of that season in my heart was my great desire to be with her all the time. As much as possible, I wanted us to be together. Whether that was out on a date, eating dinner, or just hanging out at the house, I just wanted to be in the same room with her. That was the initial practical expression of my love for her. And it works out very much the same with the church. You can tell there is spiritual life, spiritual reality, and a great deal of touching the Lord going on among a people when the brothers and sisters enjoy spending quality time together.
Obviously this does not mean that we’ll always get along, or that conflicts won’t arise between us. (Certainly they will, especially when you’re spending that much time together.) But if that element of touching the Lord together is present, if a group of people have really caught sight of Jesus Christ within each other and have begun to cease knowing one another after the flesh, but only in the Spirit, then there is something among them, some fellowship emerging, that is unlike anything this world has ever seen. A common bond exists in the earth today that can unite the hearts of Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, and Republicans and Democrats, together as one. That bond is Jesus Christ.
Interesting how the Lord effects this bond, though. It is much more than just “finding common ground,” or “agreeing to disagree” when it comes to our differences. The way the Lord brings unity is by destroying those things that naturally divide us. This, Paul says, is how the Lord has made “one” out of “two” (see Ephesians). He has taken all our differences (racial, social, and religious) and nailed them to His cross. There upon the cross he “slew the hostility” that once existed between you and me!
Let’s say there is a conflict taking place between two hostile nations, such as we see in the middle east today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Neither side is backing down. They have their differences-major differences of opinion regarding certain things-and nobody is giving in, not one inch. Let’s say an all-out war breaks out, and the only condition upon which that war will end is the utter destruction of one or the other side. Such is a perfect illustration of a humanity badly divided by the fall. The only way to cure our hostilities toward each other is an utter destruction of those things that divide us. Fortunately, this is just what the Lord has done (and this is why Jesus Christ is the only true hope for “peace in the Middle East”). He has taken all our differences, our hostilities, our divisions, and all the laws that testified against us-setting Jew against Gentile and Gentile against Jew-and crucified them in Himself! What a Lord! What wisdom!
So now what is left between us? Christ has taken the Jew and crucified him. He has taken the Gentile and crucified him as well. What remains? Only an indwelling Lord. Only the common bond that unites men of different creeds, races, and religious backgrounds. Only Jesus Christ. Only a new humanity in Him.
I don’t know about you, but I say this world is in dire need of such an unveiling. It is in dire need of an expression of church life that is in line with the revelation God has set forth in His Son. It is need of the cross… in need of you and me embracing that cross, owning it, and knowing its work to the very depths of our being-slaying us, uniting us, and making us, as we already are, one new humanity in Jesus Christ our Lord.