Can You Widen Out in Love?
THE chain holding a ship’s anchor has to withstand immense strain to keep the vessel from drifting. This is possible, however, only if the links in the chain are secure and strong. Otherwise the chain will snap.
Much the same can be said of the Christian congregation. For a congregation to be vigorous and healthy, the individual members need to be bound together in unity. What is it that binds them? Love, which is the strongest force for unity. No wonder that Jesus Christ told his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” Indeed, true Christians have the kind of love for one another that goes beyond casual friendship and mutual respect. They develop self-sacrificing love.—John 13:34, 35.
Appreciating Our Fellow Believers
Many congregations are made up of people of different ages, races, nationalities, cultures, languages, and social backgrounds. Each member has his own likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, and usually each one has a personal burden to carry—perhaps ill health or financial insecurity. This diversity may pose a challenge to Christian unity. What, then, can help us to widen out in love and remain united despite the challenge? Genuine appreciation for all in the congregation will help us to deepen our love for one another.
What, though, does it mean to appreciate someone? According to The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word “appreciate” means to “be sensible or sensitive to; esteem adequately; recognize as valuable or excellent; be grateful for.” If we appreciate our fellow believers, we are sensitive to their needs, we hold them in high esteem, we recognize their excellence, and we are grateful that they join with us in worship. As a result, we grow to love them very much. A brief consideration of what the apostle Paul wrote to first-century Christians in Corinth will help us to see how we can show Christian love to the fullest extent.
Corinthians “Cramped for Room”
Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians in 55 C.E. and his second letter within a year of the first. His comments indicate that some in the Corinthian congregation lacked appreciation for their fellow believers. Paul described the situation in the following words: “Our mouth has been opened to you, Corinthians, our heart has widened out. You are not cramped for room within us, but you are cramped for room in your own tender affections.” (2 Corinthians 6:11, 12) What did Paul mean when he described them as being “cramped for room”?
He meant that they were narrow and ungenerous at heart. One Bible scholar feels that the Corinthians’ love for Paul was “blocked off by rocky straits through unfounded suspicion . . . and injured pride.”
Notice what counsel Paul offered: “As a recompense in return—I speak as to children—you, too, widen out.” (2 Corinthians 6:13) Paul encouraged the Corinthians to widen out in love for fellow believers. This would mean being motivated, not by mistrust and pettiness, but by a positive attitude and a generous heart.
Widening Out in Love Today
It is heartwarming to see how true worshippers of God today put forth great effort to widen out in love for one another. Admittedly, widening out takes effort. It is not simply an intellectual exercise. Widening out demands that we behave differently from people who do not live according to Bible standards. Such people often have little appreciation for others. They can be careless, flippant, and sarcastic. Let us, therefore, never allow ourselves to be influenced by these attitudes. How sad it would be if our love, like that of the Corinthians, was stunted by feelings of mistrust! This could happen if we are quick to see a Christian brother’s faults but slow to acknowledge his strengths. It could also happen if we are cramped for room in our affections because someone comes from another culture.
In contrast, a servant of God who widens out in love has genuine appreciation for fellow believers. He holds them in high esteem, respects their dignity, and is sensitive to their needs. Even when there is genuine reason for complaint, he is eager to forgive and refuses to bear a grudge. Instead, he gives his fellow believers the benefit of the doubt. Generosity of heart helps him to show the sort of love that Jesus had in mind when he foretold: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35.
Reach Out and Make New Friends
Heartfelt love will enable us to reach out beyond our circle of friends and seek the fellowship of those in the congregation with whom we do not usually have close contact. Who might these people be? Some of our Christian brothers and sisters are shy or, for one reason or another, have few friends. We may at first feel that we have little in common with such ones, apart from our shared worship. But is it not true that some of the closest friendships in the Bible were between people who, to all appearances, had little in common?
Ruth and Naomi, for instance, belonged to different generations, were of different nationalities and cultures, and even had different mother tongues. Even so, their friendship went beyond such differences. Jonathan was raised as a prince, and David as a shepherd. Their age difference was substantial, yet theirs is one of the closest friendships mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. Both of these friendships were a source of pleasure and of spiritual support for those concerned.—Ruth 1:16; 4:15; 1 Samuel 18:3; 2 Samuel 1:26.
Even today close friendships develop between true Christians who belong to different generations or whose situations in life are totally dissimilar. Regina, for instance, is a single mother with two teenage children.* She has a busy schedule and little time for socializing. Harald and Ute are a retired married couple who have no children. On the surface, these two families seem to have little in common. But Harald and Ute applied the Bible counsel to widen out. They reached out to include Regina and her children in many activities, spending time with them in the public ministry and enjoying some recreation.
Can we widen out beyond our regular circle of friends? Why not seek closer contact with fellow believers of another nationality, culture, or age-group?
Responsive to the Needs of Others
A generous heart will move us to be attentive to the needs of others. What sort of needs? Well, observe the members of the Christian congregation. Young ones need guidance, elderly ones need encouragement, full-time ministers need commendation and support, and fellow believers who are downhearted need a listening ear. Everyone has needs. We want to respond to these needs as much as we reasonably can.
Widening out also means that we will show understanding to those with special needs. Do you know someone who is chronically ill or who is facing some other trial in life? Widening out in love and cultivating a generous heart will help you to be understanding and supportive of those in need.
As Bible prophecies for the near future reach fulfillment, strong bonds of unity within the congregation will be of far greater value than possessions, abilities, or achievements. (1 Peter 4:7, 8) Each of us can personally contribute toward strengthening the bonds of unity in our own congregation by widening out in love for our fellow believers. We can be sure that Jehovah will bless us richly for acting in harmony with the words of his Son, Jesus Christ, who said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”—John 15:12.
Some names have been changed.
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Appreciating our brothers and sisters means that we hold them all in high esteem, respect their dignity, and are sensitive to their needs