- Mark Buchanan, pastoral theology professor at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.
originally published in the LEADERSHIPJOURNAL.NET, Fall 2015. p. 78.
The apostle Paul had no reason to hate Christians before he became one. Read that again… SLOWLY.
Before his conversion, Paul’s loathing of Christians was purely ideological. The only Christian we know he met face-to-face, pre-conversion, was Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, faith, and whose face was like that of an angel. But Paul hated him and all he represented. His hate was rooted in nationalism, dogmatism, chauvinism, and his own private demons.
No Christ-follower had hurt Paul personally. No one had given him grounds for such violent enmity. He was the original ISIS member. Then he became a Christian.
After that, he had many reasons, deeply personal ones, for despising other Christians: their pettiness, foolishness, meanness, gullibility. Paul’s letters reveal how factious, mulish, and small-minded Christians could be. But he loved them, lavishly. His love was rooted in grace, in his own story of divine love and how it found him, played him, raised him, and made him new.
I left pastoral ministry two years ago after 24 years in the harness. I now teach pastors. I typically sit down each week, one-on-one, with two or three, to talk, pray, and co-discern. Certain themes recur. One is that pastoring is hazardous to one’s own soul. The fruit of the Spirit - love, peace, joy, and the rest, which are the wealth we bring to the task - are daily put at risk by the hard soil, acid rain, and bitter winds that churches can produce.
I am convinced that a pastor’s greatest discipline is to know, above all, that you are “the one whom Jesus loves.” That phrase is John’s thrice-repeated self-description in his Gospel. But John also describes Lazarus this way. Later, in his first letter, he says, “We love because He first loved us,” and “behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!”
John didn’t exclusively claim the title “The One Jesus Loves.” He was just the first to really grasp it, to live into it, to live out of it. All along John had been recording the words and acts of Jesus - showing His disciples the full extent of His love by washing their feet, even those of Judas; calling these men His friends and offering up His life for them; loving them just as the Father had loved Him; inviting and commanding them to abide in this love.
I think the penny dropped first for John: Oh my goodness. He means me! Even me! I am the one Jesus loves!!
That’s the only explanation of how and why John went from being a “Son of Thunder,” a rash, brash, angry, unloving, unmerciful, ungraceful man, to being the “apostle of love.” He found out that he was the one Jesus loved.
As did Paul. As do all those whose love exceeds their own…
So the encouragement is this - be the one whom Jesus loves, and let your words, actions, and life flow from that.
For some of us, this is going to hit MUCH more near home than for others, and rightly so. Some have learned and experienced that love first-hand, and are the first to dish it out… for others of us, we still need to grasp it. To relish in it. To ponder and praise Him for it… and to accept it.
Contrary to what I’ve always been taught, John wasn’t bragging about being so good that Christ loved him more or even first. John was relishing and wondering at the amazing grace Jesus showed even him… and he slid those reminders in his writings for us to grasp deeply and worship lovingly.