[Jesus said,] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, 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 for one another.”
John 13: 34-35
People around us aren’t transformed by fancy church buildings, dramatic lighting, or exciting props in messages. They might be impressed by those things on a superficial level, but what they’re really looking for is authentic love- the real thing. They want to know if the love Christians talk about touches hearts and changes lives. They want to see love in action, not just in slogans on the marquee. They have seen and heard too much hypocrisy to be fooled again,
Jesus said that believer’s authentic love for one another is the litmus test or whether we follow Him or not- and people are watching us. When people are hurting, do we step in to mend a broken heart? When a tragic accident occurs, do we show up at the hospital the first day…or also at the house a week after the person leaves the hospital? When a marriage dissolves, do we help each person put the pieces back together and provide stability for the children? When needs surface, do we really care enough to step in and help? When someone is boring, do we continue to listen?
Jesus is saying that people have a right to wonder if our devotion to Him is real, and the true test of our loyalty to Him is our care for one another. God is invisible, needy people aren’t. Platitudes don’t cut it. Arms-length programs can be sterile, but costly; glad service to those in need speaks volumes about the authenticity of the love of God in us.
Are you passing the litmus test? Learn to love and you will learn to serve.
Love each other as God loves each one of you, with an intense and particular love. Be kind to each other: it is better to commit faults with gentleness than to work miracles with unkindness.
Each of us are no doubt familiar with the saying: “Actions speak louder than words.” And that’s absolutely true, but sometimes words are powerful too. Proverbs says that there is “the power of life and death in the tongue.” Most people in the world are constantly subjected to critical, often demeaning words hurled at them by frustrated people. Showing kindness accompanied by kind words is a powerful combination to combat all the ugly and evil we are seeing around us. Jesus said that the words He spoke were life and our words ought to be life words too.
The need to love and care for others has always been a necessary distinctive of the church. Sometimes, however, the church becomes a hostage to individual’s agendas that have little or nothing to do with Christ or the Gospel. And when the church isn’t supportive of their agendas, those individuals not only act ugly, they also spew out words of death. Sometimes there are those whose desire to get their way overrides even common respect and decency. In the stressful environment of our world today, it seems easier to speak death than it is to speak life.
Our text verse comes from a very intense time in the life and ministry of Christ. The tide has turned. No longer are the multitudes following Him. As a matter of fact they had left in such numbers that Jesus asked the disciples if they, too, were leaving. On top of this tension, James and John and their mother had approached Jesus to request that they be given the seats at the left and right hand when He was seated on the throne. We can imagine how that went over with the other nine disciples. But it was that night when Jesus gathered the disciples in the upper room to observe Passover that He spoke the words that was to define the disciples- that you have love for one another just as I have loved you. Sealing those words with action, He girded Himself with the servant’s towel and knelt before each of them and washed their feet. The Bible doesn’t say, but I have to wonder if they hung their heads in shame for their words and conduct. As we read the book of Acts, we discover that the disciples made these words of Jesus their model of conduct. We read that the two giants of the church, Peter and Paul had a huge dispute that could have easily divided the church. But love and wisdom prevailed and the whole church came together in a meeting. During that meeting, God used James to speak a unified approach to how the Gentiles were going to be accepted into the church. They were not going to be required to become Jewish proselytes. In Paul’s writing, he describes the conflict with Peter as “I withstood him to his face.” But these two strong men never let the disagreement separate them nor divide the church. In their letters to the churches, they spoke of their love and appreciation for the other.
When we choose the way of love, it includes conflict, divisive issues, and personality clashes. There will be moments and things that we may not be in agreement about, but if we walk in the ways of Christ, we will choose our love for others over our conflict with them. We don’t have to demand that they agree with us nor should we feel pressured to agree with them for the sake of “peace.” And never should we yield a position on any subject if that position is a biblical one that has been carefully studied and prayed over and in keeping with context and the character of God. At the same time never should we break fellowship with weaker believers. Instead, because we love them, we work to restore them to fellowship.
A dear friend of mine who is a Christian counselor says it this way: “we can always embrace, but that doesn’t mean we endorse.” In other words, I can love you but that doesn’t mean I endorse your lifestyle. I can love those engaged in sin without accepting or approving their sins.
In a final example, let’s look at an encounter between Jesus and a sinner. It seems that a woman had an affair. We don’t know whether she was married or the man she had the affair with was married or they both were married. According to Moses’ law, the two of them were to be stoned for their sin. The breaking up of families was a serious matter. The leaders brought the woman to Jesus to push Him to pass sentence on her. If He did, He would be accused of not loving. If He didn’t, He would be accused of breaking the laws. The first words Jesus spoke set the stage. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” One by one they all left until now it was just the woman and Jesus. “Where,” He asked, “are your accusers?” “There are none,” she replied. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. But the conversation didn’t end there. We can be sure that the words, “Nether do I condemn you” were words of love. But the following words were spoken in love too. “Go and sin no more.”
Love’s work doesn’t end until the other person has been forgiven and healed and restored. We can easily criticize and condemn. Anybody can do that. But it takes one who has been the recipient of the love of Christ, the pardon of His forgiveness, and the restoration to the family of God to love the fallen, the broken, the offensive, and the perpetrator of our hurts and disappointments. But active, involved Christians who operate by love is exactly what the world needs.
Dr. John Thompson