Love’s Litmus Test
I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”
Make no mistake: Jesus was a revolutionary. He didn’t overthrow the political establishment, but He turned the spiritual world upside down. In the culture of His day, people lived by the “law of retaliation,” which is commonly stated as “an eye for an eye.” This principle says that an injured person has the right to retaliate to the same extent as the offense. Jesus though, told His followers that He had a different law: Forgive your enemies.
In the final week before He was killed, Jesus gave instructions to His men, and His directives for believers relationships with one another was just as revolutionary as His message about enemies. He instructed them to “love one another; just as I have love you.” We can imagine the power of that statement to men who had been with Jesus for over three years. They had seen Him overlook a thousand of fences, they had watched Him forgive a thousand sarcastic remarks, and they had witnessed Him return kindness for coldness a thousand times. Suddenly, they realized He was telling them to love one another with the same patience, forgiveness, and kindness He had shown toward them countless times.
Loving people comes down to choices. When we’re tempted to compete with people to show we’re superior, to compare ourselves with them, or to engage in petty jealousies and gossip, we need to stop, think about the way Jesus loved, and choose a different course. Love doesn’t happen because we use flowery words or express good intentions. It becomes real in our difficult choices every day.
The fundamental issue in life and Scripture is the ability and willingness to forgive like God.
That we are a divided world, nation, church, and people is evident. As I wrote today, I’m aware that in Virginia we will be choosing our new governor. Many of us will go to a booth and cast our vote. In the end some will rejoice that their candidate won and others will lament that theirs lost. How we as both winners and losers respond to those who hold opposing views will be critical for us a a people. The choices set before us will be that we choose to remain divided, that we choose to respond with either gloating or anger, that we choose action that reflects hatred, jealousy, resentment, and the like or whether we will accept the fact that one candidate received sufficient votes for election. Whether our particular candidate won or loss, we have to choose whether we will come together as a people, work together for the common good and learn to work through our different views.
More critical than a divided state or nation, especially just being politically divided, is the divided church. In the mind of God, no such thing exists. It isn’t that Jesus wasn’t aware that among the disciples in the room, there were differences of views and even priorities. Consider Judas who was a Zealot, for example, whose motive was to restore Israel to a world power and to overthrow the Roman government sitting with Matthew who worked for that very government as one who collected taxes who was sitting with business owners such as James and John that were required to give a portion of their income to the government. Sometimes we forget that these men came from a variety of backgrounds and who they were came with them even as followers of Jesus. Often I hear people talk about these men as though they were somehow different that us. In truth they were just like us. The church is made up of people from all walks of life and we are deceiving ourselves if we believe that none of that contributes to how we view the work and mission of the church.
To this group and to us Jesus gives a radical commandment; “Love others in the same way I have loved you!” That raises the bar from the Old Testament commandment of “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” To love others as Christ loved us is indeed a challenge and some would say an impossibility. However, Christ never commands us to do what He does not help us do. Since He gave this as a commandment, He expects us to comply with it. It is not an easy thing to love at all with unselfish love. We all are driven by our own motives and desires and often we would like to think that these are always the same as those of God. Much of our division in the church is our projection that our particular view is God’s view and some other view certainly opposes God. We often wish to have things that satisfies us even if it’s at the expense of others. Judas was willing to put Christ and the other disciples at great risk to attain his goal. I’m sure he never imagined the outcome. I think that he thought that Christ would use His power to show the Jewish leaders that He was truly the Messiah and Judas would accomplish what he set out to do. But Jesus had no desire to overthrow the Romans and establish an earthly selective kingdom made up of only Jews. His mission was to redeem and deliver the whole world from the slavery of sin and that included Romans and Gentiles as well as Jews. I wonder how often we wish to make our plans God’s plans rather than making His plans our plans.
Recognizing that these men and us will always find ourselves with opposing views, Jesus instituted this new command: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” I think it’s fair to say that we find ourselves at times with a different view than God’s view. Yet even in that moment, God gives us grace and mercy until whatever it is that separates us is resolved. This is what Jesus is commanding. We are to operate in grace, patience, forgiveness and love in the exact same way that Gods operates toward us. We give grace to others because we have been given grace. We are patient with others because God is patient with us. We forgive because we have been forgiven and we love because we are loved.
We are always free to debate, to disagree, or to have another view; but we are never permitted to let any of that sever or damage our relationship with one another. I’ve learned over the years that there will always be those with whom I disagree about something or those who may be on the opposite side of a decision, yet those disagreements cannot become a wedge that divides and separates. Our identity is first that of being the children of God, brothers and sisters, family. Families may squabble but healthy families let love overcome differences and everyone is allowed to have a different approach but none can segregate the others from the family.
One day every Christian will stand before Christ who loved so much that He gave up His life for us. I don’t think we will be asked about how we did the work of God, which rituals we engaged in, what our social or political views were. I think the question of the moment will be, “Did you love others like I loved you?” I hope we will be able to say, “God by your grace and help, I loved others to the best of my ability and where that was difficult, I asked in prayer for grace to love even those I disagreed with. As I sought your forgiveness, I sought for help to forgive those who wronged me. As I gave my life for Your service, I gave myself to serve others.” And may we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”
Dr. John Thompson