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JohnOne of my favourite passages in all Scripture is John 13:34-35:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

It is the most solemn hour of His Ministry. Jesus knows what is coming, so does Judas, but no one else does. He first gives an example of love by washing the feet of his disciples, and when Peter gets upset, brings him round by saying that unless his feet are washed, he cannot be part of Jesus – at which, characteristically, Peter more or less demands a full body wash; how easy it is to love Peter, and how obvious it is why he had the Grace to first see Jesus for who he was; that great heart was so full of love that God did not have to travel far to meet him. It was that which made him make a promise which he could not keep, and that which made him die for his Master in the end.

Christ forecast that his disciples would be known by their love one for another, and, for all the difficulties there were in the aftermath of his death and resurrection, they do, indeed, seem to have been marked out by their mutual love. It seems unlikely that St Paul did not cause as much asperity at times as he gave out, but even he and James seem to have managed to contain their mutual irritation; they were too much alike to see it, and both keenly observant Jews who had come to see what other Jews has missed – that Jesus was the Messiah.

We know that the Church Fathers could sometimes be less than charitable in their dealings with those with whom they disagreed; St Cyril of Alexandria was less than kind to Nestorius, and, in return, his detractors heartily loathed him. One of the most common charges against Christians is that they have often behaved in this way; one of the most common defences is to say that this is necessary because we are dealing with heretics; and, of course, if each side considers the other a heretic, that is going to produce something pretty horrible on both sides. What seems quite lacking is the humility that suggests that one might have misunderstood, or that trying to shout loudest might not be the best way forward. I wonder what, had there been such, Church Mothers would have had to say about this – it looks like typical Alpha Male behaviour.

It is certainly a million miles away from the first being last, and from the leader being the servant of all. As we look back now to earlier conflicts, it seems that the splits after Chalcedon and in 1054 might well have been avoided had both sides listened more and shouted less; that might be so of later splits.

There is, I think, no example of this sort of behaviour actually helping anyone or any cause. It has led to splits and leads to their perpetuation. Is it Christ in us which makes us call others heretics – or something else? Do we show we are His in our attitude? Or do we show a love of self and a desire to ‘win’? Or are we only truly His in humility and love!