Loving One Another
|The message that I want to present is something that is very much on my heart. It is something that I believe with a passion. You may think that I am being too radical, and you may disagree with me, but I want you to examine the Scriptures for yourself. It is not my words, but it is what the Scriptures are saying. I believe that it is the Word of the Lord and when you look at the Scriptures fairly you will be compelled to come to the same conclusions.
1. The Test of Love
The basic theme of this article is this: that on the Day of Judgment God is going to look at one thing and one thing alone as evidence that we are Christians. And that is, whether we have shown love to other Christians, particularly those in need. This is the unique evidence that we are true believers. It won't matter how many times we have been to church. It won't matter how many times we have been to prayer meetings. It won't matter how many hours we have spent on our knees. It won't matter how many times we have read through the Bible. It won't even matter if we have led others to the Lord, or if we have been missionaries. Jesus says that there will be those who have cast out demons in His Name and He will say, "I never knew you." Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that even complete self-denial or martyrdom are worthless in and of themselves. "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." Nothing on that day will compare in importance apart from that one question: have I shown love to other Christians, especially those in need?
Matthew 25 is a very clear and unmistakable description of the Day of Judgment. Jesus comes in His glory, the angels with Him, and He sits on the throne. All the nations are gathered before Him, everybody who has ever lived, and He divides them, the sheep from the goats. As He divides them He says to one group, "for I was hungry you and gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me." They reply, "When have we done this?" And Jesus responds, "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren," (in other words, to other believers), "you did it to me." Because Jesus is living in His people, if we do something for another believer, we are doing it for Christ who is in them. Then Jesus turns to the other group and says, "Depart from me, you cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." The basis of judgment is the same: they haven't shown love to His people.
The fruit of faith
This grates somewhat on us evangelicals who believe that justification is by faith and faith alone. It sounds a bit like works salvation. But we have to remember that this is only the evidence of what Christ has done. We are not saved on the basis of works, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. But we will be judged by our fruit. Christ judges the tree by the fruit it bears, and this is the particular fruit that He has chosen to be the badge of true salvation.
You may agree with my understanding of what this passage is teaching, but feel that I have to balance it with other teachings of Scripture and not get things out of perspective. I can show you that there is not a single description in the Bible of the Day of Judgment that disagrees with what I have just been saying. It can be proved from virtually every major writer in the New Testament.
First let's look at Hebrews 6:4-6. This is a difficult passage about those who seem to be Christians falling away. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame." The writer here is talking about people who appear to be believers. They have tasted of the good things that are in Christ Jesus, but then fall away. Now we know in hindsight that these people could never have truly been saved, but from the perspective of the people in the church it looked as if they were believers. Maybe they even spoke in tongues or had some outward manifestation, but it is evident that they were never truly saved.
However, in the next few verses we see that the author is convinced that the Hebrews to whom he is writing are not false believers. He says, "I am convinced that you will not fall away, that on the Day of Judgment you will be found to be true Christians." How can he know that the people he is addressing are not the kind of people who are going to fall away? What is the distinguishing characteristic that tells him that on the Day of Judgment these people are going to stand and not be found to be false? Verse 9: "Beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you." What are the things that accompany salvation that convince the writer that those he is speaking to are not false Christians and are not going to fall away? Verses 10 and 11 say: "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labour of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end." What amazing words. He is saying that if they want assurance that at the end they are going to be saved then they should be diligent to continue in this manner. And what is the manner? ministering to the saints. The teaching here as to what distinguishes the true believers from those who appear to be true but are false is exactly the same as in Matthew 25.
James is dealing with a similar situation. There are some people in the church who may not be saved. What is it that distinguishes these people? In James 2:14 he says, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" In other words, here are people who profess to be Christians, but how can we distinguish whether they truly are? He continues, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:15-17.
James is saying that faith inevitably works itself out in love for the brethren. When James is talking about works, he is not talking about the works of the law, he is talking about works as the fruit of faith, and the context of the whole of James and particularly this chapter is particularly that of showing love to fellow Christians. In the beginning of the chapter James takes the church to task because when two people come in, one with filthy clothes and the other obviously wealthy, they show favouritism to the wealthy brother and shun the brother who is poor. This is the context in which he is making his distinction between true faith and false faith. Once again, the acid test of true faith is whether or not people are showing love to Christians, particularly to brethren in need.
You can't fake it
Why is this particular work chosen as a test? Because this is the one work that cannot be faked. You can fake anything else, but this you cannot fake. Even some preachers have turned out not to be Christians. Some evangelists have made shipwreck of their faith. Some have apparently done wonderful things for God and it has been empty. Some have done great philanthropic works, which have turned out to be worth nothing. Love for friends and family is not sufficient. Of course we should love our friends and our family, but even unbelievers do this. It does not distinguish the sheep from the goats. What distinguishes true believers from false, is showing love to other believers, particularly those who are in need, particularly the unlovable.
Love for poor people in general is not sufficient. The point of each one of these passages is, "Love for my brethren, my people, love for believers." There are some unbelievers who do amazing things for the poor. There is a well-known individual who did wonderful things for the poor and gave a tremendous amount of energy for them, but had a reputation among co-workers for being difficult to get on with. The most telling test is how we relate to those we live with and are involved with on a daily basis.
Why is this the one evidence that Jesus chooses to distinguish the sheep from the goats? It is quite simple really: it is a test of whether Jesus Christ is living within us. You see, Jesus Christ has given His life for His people; He died on the cross out of love for His people. If He is living within us, then His love will be alive in us. If Jesus is in us, then when we look at another believer, that love that poured His life out in sacrifice on the cross will be evident in us. We will see them as a person for whom Christ gave His lifeblood. So "Christ in us" cannot help but be demonstrated in love for other believers, because it is the same love that He showed on the cross.
1 John 3
In 1 John 3:16 we read: "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." There you have it perfectly put together. This is how we know what love is all about: Jesus laid down His life for us, so as He lives in us, we lay our lives down for our brethren, His people. (Of course Christ's death was far more than an example, but it was nevertheless an example.) Verse 17 goes on, "Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" How can someone possibly be a Christian if they shut up their heart towards another person for whom Christ has died? Christ's love for His people will flow from us.
1 John 4
1 John 4:12 says, "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us." Now let's take this idea of God's love being perfected in us and move on to verse 17. "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world." This is an incredible verse. What is John talking about? Could we really be bold in the Day of Judgment? An alternative word would be confidence or courage. We are not cringing and afraid that really we are not true believers. Boldness, courage or confidence on the Day of Judgment, is based on the love that has been perfected in us, the love Christ has given us for one another. "If we love one another God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us." Once again, another author of Scripture is telling us that on the Day of Judgment the one thing that will count above all else, is whether we have love for one another.
We have referred to five passages in Matthew, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, James and 1 John and I want to look at one more passage. Philippians 2:12 is a well-known verse, but I don't think it is always correctly understood. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." What is he talking about? The "therefore" is crucial because he is linking back to what was said previously. Verses 1-4 of this chapter are talking about love for the brethren. "If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." A strong and forthright plea that they love the brethren, with an emphasis on humility. Wishing to drive home the argument for "lowliness of mind" Paul uses the example of Jesus Christ. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." (v.5) He goes on to describe the example of love and humility in the way that Jesus came from glory down to earth and then to the shame of the cross. He was the perfect example of what Paul wishes the Philippians to be in verses 1-4.
Paul's argument then is the same as John's. We love others because Jesus has first loved us. Jesus has given Himself for us, and this is a motivation for us to give ourselves for others. This love is in us because the mind of Christ is in us. If the mind of Christ is in us then we cannot but show love. How is this mind expressed? by sacrifice. Verse 8: "Being found in the appearance of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." So if this mind is in us we will humble ourselves, just as Christ did when he washed His disciples' feet.
Then we come to verse 12 and the "therefore". Paul is saying that our salvation is to be worked out by letting the mind of Christ be in us. What does this mean in practice? The sacrificial self-denying love for Christ's people, described in verses 1-4 and exemplified in verses 5-11.
2. Love is Christ's Work in Us
Paul does not leave it there, but continues, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." (v.13) It is not our work but Christ's work in us. I stated previously that this love is the one thing we can't fake. The reason we can't fake it is because humanly it is impossible. Only Christ in us can do it. Otherwise we could boast and say, "Look what I have done! Look how much love I have shown!" If you set to do this in your own strength you will fail. 1 John 4:17 reads, "Love has been perfected among us." It has been perfected. It is not that we have worked up loveChrist has formed it in us.
John 15 is a well-known passage about the vine and the branches, but we often neglect to see that the context is that of the teaching of the new commandment. What is the new commandment? That you love one another as I have loved you. This is stated in a number of places through this part of John: 13:34,35 and 15:12-13,17. John 15:12-13 reads, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." This is the same idea of sacrificial love as found in Philippians. Verse 17 reads, "These things I command you, that you love one another." With this context in mind, look at verses 4 and 5. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Christ tells us that we can only fulfill the first commandment by means of Him abiding in us.
I remember a Christian once telling me "I tried so hard to love that person, that irritating Christian at church, and I failed and failed and failed. In the end I gave up and prayed, 'Lord, you will have to do it in me. You will have to love her through me.' Once I started to trust entirely on Christ, my whole attitude to her changed and I found a love for her in me." That is how it works. We just have to depend on the Lord and say "Lord, I can't do this. I can't love that person. He just annoys me. He so irritates me. You are going to have to do this in me." And He will. He has said, "Without Me you can do nothing." (v.5) There must be total dependence on the power of God.
There is not space to examine all the passages that link the test of love with the second coming. It is well worth examining 1 Thessalonians 3:12,13; Romans 13:8-12 and Galatians 6:8-10.
3. The Context of Love: the Local Church
Now we will turn to the Apostle Peter, who tells us, "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things [in preparation for the Day of Judgment] have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'" (1 Peter 4:7,8) He goes on to describe what he means: "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
I believe that the Scriptures teach that the primary opportunity for showing the love of Christ is within the local church, and one of the main means by which we do this is through the exercise of our gifts. In Romans 12:3 and following, the church is pictured as a body with the hands, feet and eyes and so on. Christ has given us gifts for the upbuilding of the body and the exercise of those gifts within the body is a primary opportunity to put love into practice. Now this doesn't mean to say that if I have the gift of teaching I am not to exercise hospitality. Everybody has to show the basic works of care and love. But in addition to that, we all have our own unique gifts.
There is a perfect example of gifts and love working together in the Book of Philippians, chapter 4. Paul, as an apostle, is one of Christ's gifts to the church. In Philippians 4:10 he writes to them about the way that they have shown love to him. He says "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity." It may seem strange that Paul is praising them for caring for him. It sounds like he may be trying to drop a few hints that they should care for him a bit more, but that is not the point at all. The point is that what encourages Paul most of all is the evidence that there is a true work of God among the Philippians. That is what he is looking for and he rejoices greatly when he sees them showing love to him when he needs it. Verse 17: "Not that I seek the gift,..."not that I am in this for myself"...but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account." This is how he describes the love that they have shown to him: "A sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God." (v.18)
How did Paul function in the body, the church? He was given a gift as a teacher and an evangelist, but in order to carry out those tasks, he was dependent on the rest of the body. Paul went through times when he needed to be fed, when he needed to be clothed and cared for, when he was in prison, when he needed people to help him. He couldn't have done his tremendous missionary work without the loving care and concern of God's people. As he exercised his gifts to the church, they exercised their gifts, and the mutual exercise of gifts is what carried the church forward.
We can see this idea very clearly in Philippians 2:17. Paul says, "Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all." Paul is saying, "I am pouring out my own life, my own gifts, for the church." He is giving his gifts to them, and they are giving their gifts to him. Sacrificially giving our gifts to one another is a beautiful and wonderful thing in God's eyes.
God has chosen to save the weak and foolish things. He brings into churches many weak and needy people: people with problems and difficulties. Paul says of the Philippians, "You did care but you lacked opportunity." God will bring us opportunities to care for one another. In 1 Corinthians we read that there are not many noble who are saved, but there are many who are needy, many who are the weak of this world, many who have problems. These are the ones God delights to save. Some have physical difficulties, some financial, and some emotional, but they are all needy. The church is the opportunity to show love to the weak ones that Christ has saved. This is a beautiful thing in God's eyes. It is so precious to Him, as Paul says, it is "a sweet-smelling savour" when He sees a family of His people showing love and concern to one another.
Now, I would be the first one to say that the statement "All you need is love", is horribly wrong. Love needs to be shown in the context of truth and wisdom. Love is simple but life is very complex. The idea of showing love to the needy is a very simple one but in practice showing love can be extremely complex. That is why we have teaching in the Scriptures such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistles. We need to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, and have the wisdom of Christ in how to show love. Sometimes showing love can be a difficult thing that requires a lot of discernment, but nevertheless, love itself is basically very simple.
4. Love is the Most Effective Form of Evangelism
In John 13:34-35 Jesus tells us, "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." Loving our fellow believers in the church is the most effective kind of evangelism we can have. In John 17 Jesus prays for His people: "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us." (v.21) And what is the purpose of this? "that the world may believe that You sent Me." That is evangelism! How is the world to believe that Jesus was sent by the Father? Because believers are one in Christ: "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (v.23) Christ ends this prayer in verse 26, with a prayer "that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."
Why is it that this is the most effective witness in evangelism? It is really quite simple. Our message is that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. He poured His love out to save His people. The message is only convincing when it is seen in action, when we demonstrate love in our local church family.
We are the people of Christ, who are actually representing Him. Men and women have to be confronted with Christ alive in us. They should see Him when they look at us. Who is Christ, but the man who came and gave His life for His people? When they see this man in us, that is what gives our message power. When people saw the apostle Paul, they saw a man with Christ's love in him, through the power of Christ working in him mightily. That is why Paul made such an impact. He didn't just deliver his message and disappear. He was a man who lived his life poured out in love for Christ's people.
A great example of this is a missionary called Amy Carmichael. She went out to India but circumstances soon forced her to look after orphan children rather than spread the Gospel. She built a Christian community over a period of forty or so years. Her goal for the little Christian community was to take seriously the commands of Jesus to love each other. The impact of that community modeling the love of Christ was so great that ripples of it went out all over the world. The dark Hindu society that surrounded them was massively impacted by the Gospel. People would come in and say "I have never seen love worked out like this in practice."
Application: laying down our lives
John is very practical in 1 John 3:16-18 "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." The remarkable connection made in verse 16 is between Christ's death on the cross and our sacrificial love for one another. We all know the verse, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt 16:24) I believe that this verse is generally misunderstood and the essence of taking up our cross is actually loving the brethren. But why is it described as a cross? You may say, "It is not hard to love other believers. Why should that be a cross?" Let me tell you that real love is hard. Real love is a cross. Real love is giving our lives and denying ourselves, and is loving the unlovely. It is denying everything that we naturally want to do for the sake of others. Although the idea of love is simple, putting it into practice is a kind of death to self. It cannot be done but through the power of Christ.
To be very practical here, the place to start is with our spouse if we are married, or our nearest family members if we are not. Every marriage is composed of two fallen human beings living closely together. We should see this as a God-given opportunity to deeply minister to another. That is where love has to start, and then move on to our close relatives and friends. If we are only prepared to show love to people that we don't know very well, it counts for nothing. We should then look for opportunities to show Christ's love to others in the church.
As the Lord has shown me these teachings in Scripture, I have been forced to rearrange the priorities of my life. This love must be my number one goal because I see it is Christ's number one goal for me. We have to rearrange the priorities in our lives and determine what is really important. If we do that we will look for opportunities to show love. We will be on the alert. We will be sensitive. We will see needs and see people. We will select times and places where we can show the love of Christ.
In the first-century society when Christ was on earth there was tremendous poverty and physical need. In these days in the West we don't quite have the same needs, and I believe that now we see a greater amount of emotional need. There are people who are devastated, who have been through horrific situations in their lives, such as violence, abuse, bereavement, or marriage breakup. They have been destroyed emotionally. And that can be as much of an opportunity to show Christ's love as to people who are hungry or naked or sick.
All of the passages that we have looked at are clearly speaking of love to other believers, and if we are to be true to Scripture, than must be our first priority. However, there is a wider application. This message has an application in evangelism when we see things from the perspective of God's sovereign grace. God has died for His elect, some of whom are not yet saved, and we must be willing to show them love by bringing the Gospel to them. This was the attitude of Paul who on his missionary journeys was willing to give his life for the people for whom Christ died but were as yet unsaved.
In conclusion, we must see people as Jesus sees them. When His mind is in us we will look at our fellow believers and see them as the beloved ones for whom Christ has died. We will be able to say to our brethren, "Jesus has hung on the cross for you. His life-blood has been poured out for you. The fact that He loves you so much makes me want to love you. You may look horrible to me; you may be irritating to me; you may have dreadful faults. Your constant craving for attention is so annoying. But Jesus loves you, and I love you because He loves you."
I want to end with one of the things that has moved me so much as I study this. When I realize that Christ loves me so much that He wants other Christians to love me, it really thrills me. He didn't stop loving me on the cross. In fact He continues to love me so much that He is going to judge other Christians on the basis of how much they loved me. Isn't it wonderful that His love for me is so abiding? I am so precious in His sight that He wants others to love me, and He wants to love me through other people. He set His heart on me. His love for me is not some cold mechanical concept, as if I am merely a name on the list of those He saved. He died for me, but now His love for me continues from day to day. As we put this love into practice, we will experience the love of Christ through one another.
In John 14:21,23 Christ tells us that if we obey this command to love one another, then we will experience the presence and love of God in our hearts. I truly believe that as we exercise this love then we will know more and more of the experience of His love to us and the assurance that He loves us, and on that great day He will say "Come and be with Me for eternity. Enter into my love."
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by Dr. Andrew M. Fountain