LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Themes of love, forgiveness and unity surfaced throughout the Monday morning session of the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference as speakers developed the theme of “What If? One Love.”
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, outlined three principles Christians have to live by in order to create “a love-driven unity to unite us in common mission with a common purpose for the glory of God” — walk worthy, display right attitudes and live God’s unity.
Preaching from Ephesians 4, Stetzer said God has already made us “one, we just have to live that out.”
While believers’ high calling from Christ allows “us to walk worthy … Southern Baptists will not be able to do so until we walk in gospel unity with fellow Southern Baptists,” Stetzer said. And “without the right attitude, unity is never possible,” he added, noting the fruits of the Spirit such as humility, gentleness and patience.
Humbly stand before God, speak to one another gently and be patient with those with differing ideas, he said. “The nations need our witness and not our conflict.”
“I’ve read the end of the book. It doesn’t mention Southern Baptists. … But it mentions God’s people, and it mentions men and women from every tongue, tribe and nation,” Stetzer said. “I want us as a family of churches to be a part of that great ingathering from every tongue, tribe and nation and God might say to us, ‘You loved each other.’”
Anyone who won’t forgive can’t rightly claim to be a man or woman of faith, added Tom Elliff, former Southern Baptist Convention president.
“Faith is acting on the basis of the revealed will of God,” he said. “If you will not forgive, you are denying the truth that God is sufficient for you.”
Christians have to make a “singular deliberate decision of the will in which you consider someone to no longer be indebted to you,” Elliff said. “The devil will constantly tempt you to retry that person in the courtroom of your emotions.”
When that temptation comes, believers have to resist because they have a mandate to forgive in Ephesians 4:32. But they have a model for forgiveness in their own salvation, he said. Having the memory of when grace intervened on their behalf, “because of what’s happened in you, you then can put this aside,” Elliff said.
Taking the phrase of Philippians 2:2 “maintaining the same love,” Mike Landry said believers are playing with fire if they try to share the gospel without a heart for the people.
When the Great Commission becomes a “task to check off on a spiritual checklist” instead of a relational mission, Christians are in danger of caring more about numbers than changed hearts, said Landry, pastor of Sarasota (Fla.) Baptist Church.
To keep from falling into that trap, believers should “get to know God as more than a systematic theology piece,” he said. “As you get to know Him and how He works, you get acquainted with the activities of God … and that begins to transform your heart.”
Christians should also value people and not just see them as a means by which the church can grow, he said. “We’ve got to get to the point where we see people as important. … If that happened, if we ramped up our missions efforts by maintaining that same love, we would see far more people come to know Jesus.”
Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, Calif., also emphasized the importance of loving each other.
“You can be a successful pastor without loving people,” he said. But the New Testament book of Acts describes a love for one another and healing among people and 1 John 4:11 says that if God loves us, “we ought to love one another.”
“Here’s what supposed to happen if one walks into a gathering of believers — they see so much love among us that they actually see God there,” Chan said, noting this includes putting up with and forgiving each other. “People could actually see and experience God through your love.”