Thursday, January 29, 2009

A call to love others

Over the past several months, I've been blogging my way through our church mission statement: "to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people, by reaching and teaching everyone."

Today, we come to the next phrase, "love people." Followers of Jesus Christ are called not only to love God, but also to love people. The principal text for loving others is Matthew 22:39. Jesus, after identifying love for God as the greatest commandment, says in His next breath, "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " Then Jesus makes this stunning statement: "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:40). In other words, if we truly love God and love others, we are perfectly obeying God.

Some people have noted that the first commandment (love for God) covers the first four of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3-11), and the second commandment (love for others) covers the last six of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:12-17). None of us, except Christ, are able to keep these commandments perfectly, but love becomes the supreme goal of every believer.

There's another key passage on loving others, a passage that must be deeply embedded in our hearts. John 13:34-35 says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

There verses teach us five important lessons about love:

  1. The mandate of love. Love is not merely a suggestion, an abstract ideal. It is a commandment from the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:23). And it is not merely a one-time act at the moment of conversion, but a continuous action, to "keep on loving" one another. Love is something that must describe our behavior every day, to all people, in all situations. According to Jerome, this command was so impressed upon the heart of the Apostle John that in his extreme old age, John would often be heard repeating over and over "Love one another...Love one another." When asked why he so often repeated this command, he responded, "Because it is the Lord's commandment; and if it be fulfilled, it is enough."
  2. The model of love. What makes Jesus' commandment "new" is that He has raised the standard of love much higher. A glance earlier in the chapter reveals Jesus on his knees, girded with a towel, humbly washing the feet of His disciples. A few chapters later, Jesus will empty Himself to the ultimate level by dying on the cross for our sin. This humble, costly, unselfish love becomes the model for how we should now love one another.
  3. The meaning of love. The Greek word Jesus uses in these verses is agape. It is an unconditional love, the deliberate setting of your affection upon someone else. True love is choosing to love someone, even when it's not easy, and even when they're not worthy. How grateful we can be God first demonstrated this love toward us! (Rom. 5:8) And now we are called to love others in the same way (1 John 4:11).
  4. The magnitude of love. Jesus says we are not only to love our small circle of friends, but every single person in the church. "One another" speaks of the community of God, the entire body of believers. It's all-inclusive, and includes loving our enemies (Lk. 6:32, 35), loving those who are unattractive, loving strangers (Rom. 12:13), loving our family members, loving the needy (James 1:27), loving the wayward (Gal. 6:1), and loving those who are different than us. None are excluded from this kind of love.
  5. The mission of love. Our love for one another has serious evangelistic implications. We are all ambassadors of Christ, and the world's perception of the church will determine their perception of Christ. Does the world view Christianity as angry, cynical, factional, self-righteous, and hypocritical? Or do they see our kindness, our forgiveness, our faith, our compassion, our sacrifice, and yes, even our tough love? Show me a church that is loving, and I will show you a church that is winning souls for Christ. But show me a church with outreach programs every night of the week, yet lacking love, and I'll show you a church that is actually doing damage to the gospel. Because of our sin, the church will never be perfect until Christ comes and glorifies us, but by God's grace, our love for one another should constantly be growing (1 Thess. 4:9-10). Love is the greatest apologetic for the truth of Christianity.
Jesus commands His disciples to love, but He never said love would be easy. C.S. Lewis writes,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless— [your heart] will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable; impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.
Love is a frightening prospect, but it's also a thrilling opportunity. Let's learn to be vulnerable with one another, so that every church might become a refuge of love, where Christ will be honored and where the world will see the gospel not only through our words, but through our actions.

1 comment:

Pastor Terry said...

I loved your lesson on love! Fantastic post!

Thank you for a well written, thorough and balanced perspective on the Sabbath verses Sunday. I hope many read your article and get clarity on this issue.

God bless you,
Terry Michaels, pastor
Calvary Chapel of the Springs