The Paper Pulpit
In The Grace of Giving, Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pa., and enjoyed a friendship with George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled 70 miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
“No, Peter,” General Washington said, “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend,” exclaimed the preacher, “He is the bitterest enemy I have.”
“What?” said Washington, “You have walked 7- miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata — no longer an enemy but a friend. Loving others is how the world knows that we are Christians.
Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). But sometimes it is just plain difficult to love some of the members of God’s family, isn’t it? A man said to me on one occasion, “I love mankind; it’s just certain people I can’t stand.” Loving people in general is not so hard; loving specific people can be an altogether different story.
To deny that loving others is possible, though, is to deny the truth of Scripture. Look at it this way: God, who is the very embodiment of love, created us in His image. We, therefore, have the capacity not only to love, but also to love everyone — just as God does. God came to earth as a man named Jesus. He manifested His love in human form. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within, and since God is love ... well, you get the picture. God’s love is “made complete” in Christians as we demonstrate our love for one another.
Because no one has seen God at any time, love makes us the embodiment of who God is. For many people, the only evidence of the love of God they will ever know may be us — the way we treat others, the kindness, compassion, tolerance and patience we exhibit to others. This means that others see the love of God, or fail to see the love of God, largely by the way we demonstrate His love in our attitudes, words and actions.
Think about this the next time that negative member in your church gets on your nerves — and some people are experts at doing this. God has promised not only that you can care for such a person, but that you can demonstrate the love of Christ to him. Loving those who love us is easy, but loving those who are hard to love is much more difficult. Even so, it is a small price to pay in exchange for the awareness that you have borne an effective witness to the love of God.
If you have the joy of being part of a church where the members genuinely love one another, you are truly blessed. A church like that will always have a dynamic impact on its community. Unfortunately there are also churches where dissention and distrust prevail. Such a church cannot have a positive impact on its community.
Not every church member, or even every pastor, demonstrates Christian love as well as did Peter Miller in the days of the American Revolution. For example, I read the story recently of a pastor who was fired by his church following a bitter church split. Feeling anger toward them, he decided to have the last word. Following his death he was buried in the church cemetery. The church members who had fired him found these words inscribed on his tombstone:
Go tell the world that I’m dead,
But they need shed no tears;
For though I’m dead I’m no more dead
Than they have been for years.
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.