Believers in Jesus are bound by the same frailties as the rest of humanity, yet we are not to mirror behaviors that are considered “normal” by the world. We are to reflect a different standard.
Yeshua enshrined this expectation when He said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The implication is that even among Yeshua’s followers, it takes genuine effort to care properly for one another.
Love appears natural, even easy where there is a harmony of opinion, but we see how supernatural and truly extraordinary love is when it’s demonstrated against the backdrop of disagreement and conflict. Yet Jesus said that it’s by this love that the world will know. How often does the world have large-scale opportunities to witness this supernatural kind of love these days?
In my lifetime I have witnessed the remarkably bloodless transfer of power from an apartheid white regime in South Africa to the majority black rule of the present. I will never forget the exhilarating privilege of being in Johannesburg on the day Nelson Mandela was freed from prison on Robin Island. I saw how Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk cooperated in establishing a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” that enabled both justice and forgiveness to be realized. One may freely acknowledge disappointment with the current state of affairs in South Africa, but it cannot be denied that Christian commitment to love and liberty provided the power and possibility for this remarkable historic transformation.
On a more personal but equally profound level I have heard stories of Rose Price and Corrie ten Boom, Holocaust survivors who forgave former Nazi torturers, men who eventually came to know God’s extraordinary forgiveness through faith in the Messiah Jesus. As these humble women both confessed, how could they not forgive those who had received the same salvation and forgiveness they had found in the Savior? From a human perspective, their gracious response may seem grossly unfair and many might even find it odious. Some may see it that way because they do not understand the love Jesus demonstrated and asked us to emulate. This love is not natural. It is beyond human capacity. But according to Messiah, this love is exactly how all will know that we are His.
Today we have within our grasp an extraordinary opportunity to help “all to know”—that is, if we are willing to take it. I am speaking of the possibility of reconciliation between Palestinian and Israeli believers in Jesus. The utterly intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine is regularly recorded on the pages of history, in the newspapers and on TV. Other powers have tried to step in to help, not the least of which is the United States. It seems that no government is able to accomplish even the most meager progress toward lasting peace. But Jesus can accomplish the impossible through the power of God’s love.
When Arabs and Jews can say to one another, “I love you in Jesus’ name,” then all will know, then the world will see the reconciling power of the gospel. The realities of the cross and the empty tomb make that possible, but many in the church are unwittingly undermining this powerful work of God in the world today.
Palestinian and Israeli believers are both persecuted minorities. Their common faith and the rejection each face from their own communities could be cause for mutual support. Unfortunately, the ferocity of theological and political disagreements among many Christians who are not directly involved in the conflict serves to hinder reconciliation. More’s the pity when Christians who genuinely want to help one side or the other end up contributing to an adversarial stance between these two minority Christian communities when they should be Spirit-led allies.
Those of us in full-time ministry to Jewish people may be tempted to parrot hyperbole about the Israel/Palestine conflict, condemning those who speak up on behalf of beleaguered Palestinians. Perhaps it seems to some that doing so is necessary to both show favor toward as well as receive favor from Israel and the wider Jewish community. Others may feel it necessary to counter the evils of “replacement theology” forcefully as we insist on the correctness of our eschatological views. But if we are not careful, if we seek to undermine “the other side” we risk eroding what narrow middle ground is left for Christians on either side to stand upon— especially for those Israeli and Palestinian believers who live in the zone of conflict.
Those who weigh in on the side of Palestinians face similar temptations. Victimization has become a powerful tool to win the argument in a context where Christians are increasingly sympathetic to a vision for empowering the weak and fighting against injustice. A remarkable public relations effort has been undertaken to gain Christians’ sympathies, channeling them to the plight of the Palestinians, which in itself is a good thing. But often when Christian celebrities have been wooed in the hopes that they will care for oppressed Palestinian peoples, it is framed to set them against against Israelis who are held as unilaterally responsible for the suffering. It seems that both Israelis and Palestinians are supported by respective groups of Christians who speak as though “the other side” has only themselves to blame for their own suffering. And so hyperbole and misrepresentation continues on both sides.
The worst of it is when Palestinians or Israelis who want to sit and listen to the other side find themselves viewed as suspect, even disloyal to their own people. In fact, the vitriol reserved for those who try to seek reconciliation is often greater than the hostility directed to the opposition.
Against this backdrop echo once again the words of Jesus, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). There is a better way and believers must show that way to a watching world so that by this all will know.
So how does “this” happen in the current contentious environment? Through reconciliation. Reconciliation by definition can only occur between individuals or groups with opposing viewpoints. We cannot have “this” by only mixing with those individuals or groups with whom we agree. We have to seek out and love the ones with whom we disagree. Second, we need to be willing to sit and listen to the other side, to allow for clear communication, understanding and for the love of Christ to accomplish what we cannot accomplish in our flesh. To sit together, to pray with one another, to share a meal, to have communion around the table of the Lord; these are the acts of love—this is the formula for Christians to begin a process of reconciliation. This can truly help all to know.
Right now our Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers are in the midst of an evangelistic campaign in a region that includes Haifa, Israel. In the midst of this large and diverse community of Arabs, Israelis and Russian immigrants, our teams are out on the streets handing out tracts and speaking one to one with people in whose hearts God is at work. The campaign is being led by Jews for Jesus staff members Peter and Oded; Peter is an Arab and Oded is Jewish. The chaplain for the campaign is an Arab believer who pastors a local congregation made up of mostly Messianic Jews.
Our Lower Galilee Behold Your God campaign is just a taste of what is possible when proclaiming the gospel takes center stage in our efforts to find reconciliation in the Israel/Palestine conflict. When we make the gospel our basis for fellowship, then we will have real hope for reconciliation. Every other agenda must take a back seat to proclaiming the gospel, but the implications of the gospel mean that we will be willing to sit and listen and talk with those who love Jesus, even if they disagree with our views on politics or eschatology. When we are prepared to set aside all secondary agendas, to love and to listen, then we can really talk of reconciling; then and only then will the world truly know.