After my most recent post, I didn’t exactly know how to feel. I was grateful for the people who found my words helpful and for the ones who reached out to discuss it afterward. I was concerned by the possibility of my intended point being missed, by any direction of attention to a political figure rather than the Word. As a blogger with higher aspirations, I have to admit that I was excited to see the stat bar rising for a few days. Since that post, there have been plenty of other things to be righteously frustrated about. I’ve ranted and rambled through pages only to conclude that, while a valuable articulation of thoughts, the products didn’t need to be posted.
There are a lot of things that could be said right now. There are many ideas that would be as inflammatory as they are truthful if they were shared in the public square. They may have their day eventually, but not today. Many of us are suddenly learning to be uncomfortable with the system we’ve benefited from for so long – why add an unnecessary weight to that? It’s prideful to think that my frustration with the world or eagerness to gain a few more clicks is worth contributing to that burden without reason.
My mom had a simple encouragement after June 2. It may also be a good reminder for all Christ-followers as we strive towards empathy and reconciliation:
“Keep abiding. Only way to bear good fruit.”
“Abide” is one of my favorite Bible-words. I even like the way it looks in Greek: μένω. (It’s one artistic idea away from my next tattoo.) μένω communicates abiding, remaining, continuing, or living with something or someone. John, another of my favorites and suspected Four on the Enneagram, uses the word pretty frequently and with deep theological richness.
“‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. … Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.'” – John 15:1-2, 4
“Abiding” is rich with imagery as well as theology. It brings to mind the picture of a pre-Fall Eden in the cool of the day, or sheep in green pastures beside quiet waters, or reclining at the dinner table near enough to Jesus to ask him a question. But abiding is more than merely picturesque! Like an offshoot sustained by the core of the vine, we have nothing and can do nothing if we aren’t continually relying on the bread and water Christ provides. We have a concrete and desperate need to remain with him.
So what does it mean to abide with Jesus, the Word of God? Well, for one, it means continuing in the word of God revealed in Scripture. (The prophets are really hitting different in our current climate, folks.) But the command that accompanies this call to remain is not an internal, individualistic one. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“‘If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. … My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.'” – John 15:10, 12
I think it’s interesting that here Jesus commands his disciples to love, and later in Galatians 5, love is listed as the first of the fruits of the Spirit. Our abiding only leads to love by Jesus’ perfect example and the Spirit’s motivating power.
In her book Disunity in Christ, Christena Cleveland points out that Jesus sets the example for love by pursuing us despite theological, cultural, and physical differences, overcoming divisions we use to label people “Right Christians” or “Wrong Christians” in our minds. John makes a similar point in 1 John 2:17:
“The world and its desires [– its nations, parties, prejudices, and denominations –] will pass away, but whoever does the will of God [by loving like Jesus did] lives forever.”
(“Lives forever” = “μένω in eternity.”)
Jesus doesn’t struggle with labeling those who abide with him Right or Wrong Christians; he just calls them “friends.” Both his theology and his love are better than ours, and what does he say the greatest expression of love is? To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18
“‘You are my friends if you do what I command.'” – John 15:14
Friendship with Christ satisfies our hearts when the world frustrates and disappoints. It reminds us where to find contentment when we start striving for acclaim. It puts our differences in perspective as we pursue unity. It opens the door to a community beyond ourselves that equips us to step into the world’s mess. Abiding with him is the starting point for our efforts against injustice and the finish line of our hope for renewed creation.