BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (JOHN 13:35, TNIV).This week, I’d like to simply string a few texts together and let them do the talking (or, ahem, the writing). Here goes:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1, 2).
Do everything in love (1Corinthians 16:14).
If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
If the above verses have any truth in them, then we have to confess two things. First, we must take these verses seriously. Jesus and the Apostles were clear that nothing else is as important (i.e., “above all” in 1 Peter 4:8) as embracing love, as our doctrine, as our lifestyle, as our message, and, most importantly, as our method in reaching the world.
I just finished reading the book UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons, and I have to confess that I, too, am guilty of embracing a religion that, historically, has placed almost everything else above loving others. Jesus prayed in John 17, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus had hoped that the love seen in His followers would convince the world that He IS this world’s Savior; however, because many of us do not obey Christ’s command, the Christian church has today become the best argument and evidence for some that He IS NOT.
Writing this week in defense of another popular and gifted preacher who has just been labeled as a heretic, a friend of mine wrote the following:
“You have to wonder why millions of people have been tortured and murdered by Christians throughout history for espousing ‘heretical’ views about baptism, communion, the church and a very long list of other doctrines, while not one person (so far as I know) has been officially disciplined—let alone accused of “heresy”—for failing to adequately love (as when they tortured and murdered others in Jesus’ name, for example).”
It’s an honest question for sure.
As one final example, I’ll take you through an exercise that I was recently taken through. Read the following closely and see if you can identify this scene, which is taken from religious history: (Warning, the following historic account contains graphic violence.)
“Mothers were skewed on swords as children watched. Young women were stripped and raped in broad daylight, and then doused and set on fire. A pregnant woman’s belly was slit open, her fetus raised skyward on the tip of a sword and then tossed on one of the fires that blazed across the city.”
I guessed the Middle Ages. What did you guess? More often than not, people’s number one guess is the Crusades. Sadly, what people say is, “How horrible. That must be describing Christians.” Actually, the above passage describes the violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims in India in the spring of 2002, as described in the New York Times. BUT, the fact that this is so readily attributed to Christian history should be a wakeup call to all of us who are followers of Jesus. This is the reputation that Christians still hold in the world we are trying to reach with the message that God is Love.
I, too, am not innocent. I, too, have been part of this. I, too, have been part of something that has been the main obstacle keeping people out of the kingdom instead of being the means to get people into the kingdom. Simply through the label “Christian,” I am known in the broader society for a lot of things—and sadly, the depth of love for sinners, my enemies, and even other Christians doesn’t make that list.
How is this going to get turned around? I am convinced of a third thing, and that is that we will never begin loving others by simply trying to do so. What we need is a transforming encounter with God as He really is, as revealed through the life and teachings (and death) of Jesus. What we need is a transforming encounter with God’s love for each of us on a deeply personal level. Only by love is love awakened.
We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
This is why Paul prayed the following:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17–19).
Filled with all the fullness of God? Yes, that’s what I need! I want to be an imitator of God and walk in the way of love too. All of our credibility depends on it (John 17:20–21).
I leave you with these two thoughts this week:
1) Whatever faults we may accuse others of having, if we are devoid of love for them, all of their faults are NOTHING compared with our own (Matthew 7:1–3). We can have all of the right doctrine in the world, but if we fail to love as Christ loved us, we are all heretics.
2) The God of this universe loves you more deeply than you could ever fathom! Take some time this week to bask in, meditate on, and dive deeply into what’s in His heart for you. It, in and of itself, will awaken those very same things in your heart for those around you as well.
Love as Christ loved you,
Live in love,
And keep enlarging the kingdom.
Much love to each of you,
With the utmost sincerity,