It was the Fall of 2015 when, without a phone and with a limited amount of money, I arrived in the Land of Opportunity. Shortly after arriving at the airport, I was looking around and noticed that everything was so different compared to the way that I was used to. I realized that the only one I could trust and find support from in those moments was God. As I was thinking and waiting, someone picked me up and brought me to the place where I was accommodated to attend the public meetings of the General Conference. When the event ended, I visited different families in various places and I noticed something interesting. Even though I didn’t speak the language very well, there was something that would remind me of home in each house I would visit. The food, the music, the morning and evening worships, the Sabbath and other daily details were the very ones with which I, too, had grown up.
When Jesus was on the earth, in one of His conversations with God, we find Him praying for His disciples throughout the ages. In, Jesus prayed that His disciples might be united with one another and with God. This very unity is what I experienced by being far from home. Although I was away from friends and family while visiting the brethren in the United States, I was blessed to be welcomed by my church family. It is such a beautiful thing when, no matter where you go, God’s church is the same, united in truth and in faith.
As humans, we were created as social beings. Especially as children and young people, we long for associations with those like us. We are given a glimpse into why we are relational creatures in, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Not only does this statement show us that we are made in God’s image, but it also points to the plurality of the Godhead. This reality isn’t just a doctrine to add to our beliefs, but it also has implications for us in how we live with our relationships. If, for eternity past, God Himself had not even existed as a solitary being, it becomes obvious that creatures made in His image would thrive with the same conditions. This principle applies to the church. Whether we accept it or not, we all have an inherent need to be connected with others. We might have friends at school or at work, but these people are only friends.
Yet, on the other hand, a brother or sister of the same faith can understand our Christian walk and the battles that we are facing every day. When the apostle Peter was in prison, his church family had been praying for him all night long. Peter didn’t know that they were praying for him until the Angel of God led him to them, and we can imagine his gratitude to have brethren who cared for him. It is so wonderful to know that someone understands you and prays for you!
I was just four years old when I suffered extensive burns after our home caught fire. For a couple of months, while recovering at home, there would be someone who came to visit me every day. These people would treat my wounds and oftentimes bring me different toys to distract me from the pain. My grandmother was also affected by the fire. I remember that a sister traveled about 200 miles to live with my grandmother until she was healed. Even though I was only four years old, I was very impressed and encouraged by this love. I realized that even though they had no responsibility to be there, they still came and seemed happy to help, rejoicing with every sign of recovery.
The church family is the place where we encourage each other by sharing our experiences, supporting each other and preparing for the Kingdom of God together. “We sustain a loss when we neglect associating together to encourage one another in the service of God. . . . We are all children of one Father, dependent upon one another for happiness. . . . It is the proper cultivation of the social elements of our nature that brings us into sympathy with our brethren and affords us happiness in our efforts to bless others.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 541.
Many believe that the church needs them. While this belief may have aspects of truth, such a continuous mindset can cause some to forget that they also need the church. In order to form characters that reflect God’s image and in order to fulfill our commission on this earth, we all need to be connected and united with our brothers and sisters. The apostle Paul pictures the church as a body where each individual is a component of the church body and Jesus Christ is at the head of it. You and I are small members of this body.
Many times we see people with a missing arm or a missing finger walking around. We recognize that they are still alive, but have you ever seen an arm surviving by itself without being connected to a body? Or have you ever seen fingers being alive without being connected to an arm? The same is true for us in the church capacity. The church can survive and will go on without us, but we cannot survive in this world without being connected to Christ. Jesus affirms this inby saying, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” While some may believe that they can be connected to Christ and still be separate from the church, the Spirit of Prophecy contradicts this by commenting that, “Connection with Christ, then, involves connection with His church.”—A Call to Stand Apart, p. 68. We need to be connected with Christ and His Church in order to survive spiritually and fully fulfil our duties on this earth.
After Jesus departed from His disciples, they realized that they had misunderstood their Master’s appeals for unity. While gathered in the upper room, they “all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (). “Putting away all differences, all desire for the supremacy, they came close together in Christian fellowship. They drew nearer and nearer to God, and as they did this they realized what a privilege had been theirs in being permitted to associate so closely with Christ. Sadness filled their hearts as they thought of how many times they had grieved Him by their slowness of comprehension, their failure to understand the lessons that, for their good, He was trying to teach them.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 37. The disciples also realized how childish they had acted towards each other. During the short time that they still had together, the disciples made it the best. Now they were living and working in harmony for the same purpose and with the same Spirit.
We may sometimes find ourselves in their experience. We may have attended church since childhood or have been a member for a long time, and yet, we can still have many areas in which to grow with regard to our associations with others. By holding envy against our brethren, or always reminding them about the wrongs they have done to us, or even talking about some behind their backs, we can fall short of the commissions Christ gave to us. The Bible mentions that “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (). The disciples were happy to have another chance to do things right; yet, they regretted the past. Do we know for sure that we might have another chance? Day by day, we hear news that those who we knew have lost their lives. No one has tomorrow guaranteed to them. Therefore, we are advised in the Word of God that, “if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” ( , ). And, “be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” ( )!
“Christ had bidden the first disciples love one another as He had loved them. Thus they were to bear testimony to the world that Christ was formed within, the hope of glory. ‘A new commandment I give unto you,’ He had said, ‘That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another’ (.”—The Acts of the Apostles—Steps to Christ,, p. 547. Man was created perfect, but through disobedience, he lost this virtue. “Through disobedience, [man’s] powers were perverted, and selfishness took the place of love.” p. 17. The lack of love brings out all these wrong things that we hold against each other. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent” ( )!
Humility is the medicine for hypocrisy. When we stop looking at ourselves and stop thinking that we might be better than those around us, we allow Christ to work in our hearts and He will strengthen our relationships with one another. In, the apostle Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The Spirit of Prophecy gives additional insight into Paul’s experience by commenting that, “After association with the Son of God, the humble follower of Christ is found to be a person of sound principle, clear perception, and reliable judgment. He has a connection with God, the source of light and understanding.”—Christian Education, p. 199.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” ().
Forgiveness also plays an important role in our relationships with one another. When we hold a grudge upon a brother or sister, our souls are poisoned and anytime we see the person, we would judge every act, and we place the same judgment upon all those who associate with them. “ ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ The conditions of obtaining mercy from God are simple and reasonable. The Lord does not require us to do some grievous thing in order to gain forgiveness. We need not make long and wearisome pilgrimages, or perform painful penances, to commend our souls to the God of heaven or to expiate our transgression. He that ‘confesseth and forsaketh’ his sin ‘shall have mercy.’ ”.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 552. If we can’t forgive one another here on earth, how can we expect to share heaven for eternity together? Our sins are forgiven based on how much we forgive. In , we are advised: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
“John, realizing that brotherly love was waning in the church, urged upon believers the constant need of this love. His letters to the church are full of this thought. ‘Beloved, let us love one another,’ he writes; ‘for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’ ”—Ibid., p. 548.
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” ().