When I was in college, I heard the first sermon I had ever heard on John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” For 20 years I had been in churches every Sunday and Wednesday, and to more camp meetings and revival meetings than I could remember. I had heard all about God’s holiness, His forgiveness, His judgment, His creation, His prophecies, but I could not recall anyone talking about His love!
I learned to read from the Bible and had read many of the references to the love of God and the love of disciples, but had never heard a teaching specifically on the subject of love! It seems amazing to me now, when I look over all the references from Exodus to Revelation that refer to the LOVE God has for us, that it took so long to sink in, but even in our society, love was generally not expressed with words, nor very publicly.
My Dad and Mom loved each other, and they loved us four children, but we rarely expressed more than a hug as PDA, Public Display of Affection, which was how everyone around us seemed to live, and none of us ever said “I love you” to the others until I was between my junior and senior year of college!
Yet when I heard this teaching at age 20, it leaped off the page of the Gospel of John at me! This was The Mark of a Christian, which happened to be the teacher’s selection for his sermon title. We are called to holiness, to do good works, to be kind, etc, but the most explicit expectation of Jesus was that we would “love one another,” and by this prove to the world that we are His disciples.
Remember that love “is not a mushy feeling or sentimental emotion.” It is a decision to look for what is best for another. This is why the Bible can command us to love each other (John 13:34; John 15:12; Romans 12:10;I Peter 1:22; 4:8). It is not up to how we feel about each other, it is about how we think and behave toward each other! It is how we choose to relate to each other!
C.S.Lewis recognized this when he wrote, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.” I would go further and posit that by behaving as though you love someone, you are in fact loving him, as we are commanded in the Bible to do.
And there is special encouragement to love those who share your faith in God. Galatians 6:10 instructs us to do good to all people, but especially to those who belong to the family of believers. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that LOVE should be the evidence to a watching world that we are His disciples.
And how do we show this agape (uh-gop-ae) love to others? The New Testament letters are full of instruction on specifics of how to shine with the love of the Creator. He taught us that we should be like cities set on hills, or lamps on stands, so that others could see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven (Matthew 4:16)
A good project for your Bible-reading would be to keep a notebook nearby as you read the New Testament letters, and make a notation of any instructions that would fulfill this command that we are to love each other.
I Corinthians 13 is of course the Love Chapter and describes this agape love in detail:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
So imagine your next encounters with others with whom it may be difficult to get along, and just be patient, but not just when it is easy; that’s not patience at all! Be patient when you are in a hurry and they are stopping you from doing what you want or need to do.
Just be kind, treating them as you wish you would be treated (Matthew 7:12). Do not be envious of their blessings, nor brag about yours. Do not be insulting nor hurtful in your words or actions. Do not look for how you can benefit from them, but see what you can do to be a benefit to them. Do not be angered easily; there are times anger is appropriate, but these are rare compared to the times we get angry over what matters to us, not to Him. Protect, do not destroy; trust, do not be overly suspicious; hope, do not give up in disgust; and always keep hanging on, do not give up.
If you look at Israel during the time of the Judges, “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21::25 ESV). The repeated pattern that began in Judges 2 of Israel abandoning their Creator for idols, His allowance of enemies to plunder them, the rising of a “Judge” who would lead them to repentance and out of oppression, celebration for a while, until they abandon their Creator again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and on it goes!! By the time I reached Judges 19 I wanted to destroy Israel!! But the I AM, who is always faithful, did not give up on Israel. Out of His love, He continued to work with them until He could finally cure them of their idolatry. And so He calls on us to always forgive our brother or sister, not just seven times, but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22)!
But how should we love those who are not our brother or sister? Let’s talk next week, February 15, 2015, about that in Marked by Love (Part 3), a Valentine’s Day Special!