There are certain aspects of our walk with God that are essential to character development. Understanding this helps make our challenges and battles more tolerable. Of primary importance is understanding our need to be rightly connected to the body of Christ, to know our place in it, and to function there in the gifts and ministries we have been given.
We have been called into the greatest fellowship—to follow the King with His faithful ones. They are some of the best but also some of the most difficult. Together, they provide just what we need to fulfill our purpose. As we are told in I John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Learning to love our co-laborers in Christ, especially those we may not even like at first, is one way we grow in love. As we are told in I Corinthians 13, we can have all faith, knowledge, and wisdom and do great works, but if we do not have love, it means nothing. The church is full of challenging people, just as we are no doubt challenging to some of them, but we need all to mature in Christ and His love.
When asked about the signs at the end of this age, the first thing Jesus said was “be not deceived” (see Luke 21:7-8). One of the most desperately needed gifts of the Spirit every church body needs is the gift of discernment. Few Christians have this gift, and what we often think of as discernment is just a form of suspicion. The gift of discernment is just as supernatural as the other gifts, which are given to us because our natural gifts are inadequate.
If even the Apostle Paul would admit to having been “foiled by Satan” (see I Thessalonians 2:18), we should all know we are not smart enough to recognize all the deceitful ways of the devil who has had thousands of years of practice against men. The devil can never fool God, but he can easily fool even the wisest people, especially if they have fallen into the pride of thinking it is impossible for anyone to fool them.
We all “know in part, and prophesy in part” (see I Corinthians 13:9), which means no one knows all or can see all. That is why the Apostle Paul did not say he had the mind of Christ but that we together have the mind of Christ (see I Corinthians 2:16). For this reason, even the wisest, most knowledgeable, most prophetic person needs others. The Lord so composed His body that we would need each other, so we would ultimately learn to love one another. If we are to become like the Lord, we must learn to love, because “God is love.”
In I Timothy 1:5 we are told, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith.”The goal of all that we learn, and experience is love. If we don’t keep our attention on the ultimate purpose, we will continually be distracted and often misled by lesser purposes. This too can be a form of deception if we are distracted from our course. Deception does not always come from the enemy.
Philippians 1:9 states: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” So “real knowledge” and “all discernment” can only be seen by those who love. Suspicion is rooted in fear or pride, not love. We cannot discern anyone accurately if we do not love them. God loves even our enemies and desires for them to be saved, so to see them as He does, which is “real knowledge” and “all discernment,” we must see them through love.
Many cannot comprehend this because they have a distorted understanding of God’s love. His love can be the most kind and gentle and the most severe. That is why we are told in Romans 11:22: “Behold then the kindness and severity of God.” All of God’s ways are much higher than our ways, and His love is far greater and different in many ways than our human love. To comprehend His love and to grow in it we are told in Ephesians 4:15 “grow up in all aspects into Him,” which we are told in this chapter is done by finding our place and functioning in His body.
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