Recently, I had a dear friend pass away. He was someone that I used to be very close to. Despite being unrelated, he was like an uncle to my children. I loved him. Grievously, debates about minor theological principles clouded our relationship. I hadn’t spoken to him in many years when I received the call that he had terminal cancer. My heart broke. He had mere weeks to live, and I couldn’t help but feel I squandered precious time with someone I loved. The hardness of my heart and pride tore me away from a wonderful friend. This relationship I should have fought for instead was broken. Now in what seemed an instant, there was no time left. I wanted him to know how sorry I was and how much I loved him. I wanted to tell him of all my regrets, to say goodbye, and that I would see him again soon. I felt a call to reassure him of his salvation and forgiveness in Christ.
And so, swallowing my anxiety, I stepped into his hospital room. Before me lay a portion of the man I once knew. His body was shriveled. Cancer had eaten away most of his strength, the same strength he once used to shingle my father’s house and throw my daughter into the air as we smiled in awe at her laughter.
He laughed at his impending demise in his usual easy-going fashion, knowing that death had been defeated for him. And so on that night, our joy mingled with our tears as we said, “See you soon!” to a wild, untamed spirit. Shortly after, his funeral brought us together with other Christian families we had lost. This mending of broken relationships was something I had long prayed for. As is often true, God used loss and suffering to remake what was fractured into something new.
“Oh the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways” (Rom. 11:33).
In a haze of sorrow and joy, I opened my Bible to Matthew 22, where Jesus is questioned by a Pharisee:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. One of them, an expert in Moses’ Teachings, tested Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?”
Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ All of Moses’ teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matt 22:34-40).
When I read this passage, I am reminded of the importance of relationships. Since the death of my friend, the Holy Spirit has shown me over and over again that in life, both our relationship with God and our relationships with our neighbors are everything. As Paul argues, living in community for each other’s joy and progress in faith is the very point of our lives in Christ while we remain here on earth (Phil. 1:21-26).
We live and work in service to each other and by doing so, we live in service to God (Matt. 25:40). The gospel I believe in is the very thing that makes any of this possible. Without Christ’s restoration of our connection to God, true connection to our neighbor would be hopeless. Without the gospel, all relationships are empty shells having no substance and no fortitude. Instead, they are likely to come and go with every passing whim.
In Christ, we have a forever family. In Christ, we can love and live together daily because of the Holy Spirit that persists inside each of us. My heart fills with joy knowing that you, fellow believers, are also my family. We share a likeness even if we have never met. Because of our shared belief in Jesus, none of us is ever alone.
I let a small squabble destroy the relationship I had with my Christian family. As it says in Titus 3:8-9, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”
But I trust that because of the gospel, God will continue to mend what I, in my sin, continue to break. I know that because of my baptism, my justification is absolute, and my sanctification is sure. And because of this knowledge I have the ability and freedom to pray now and for the rest of my numbered days, “Lord, for the sake of your son, forgive me. I ask that you continue to humble me and teach me. Guide me away from what is worthless and keep my eyes firmly upon you. I pray in the name of Jesus whose life you gave for me. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
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