One day Jesus was asked by a lawyer the ultimate test question – “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Rabbis, scribes, Pharisees and the lawyers had argued over this for decades. Jesus’ answer can be found in Matthew 22:34-40. There would be little argument over the first part, which dealt with loving God, but the second would shake the listeners to their core.
Many years later a Pharisee convert name Paul, penned these words and the shaking has not stopped:
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 4:14
Loving God is directly tied to loving others. We do not live our lives in comparison to others, but that does not mean that they are not part of the process of loving God.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
How we obey this, or not, gives clear testimony to the reality of God in our lives. I believe God sets us up because sometimes He places us in situations to develop what He desires in our character. Fearful ones to develop courage, hard places lead to faith and endurance, we overcome by having obstacles. Muscles need resistance to grow and so do character traits.
How do we develop our calling card to the world, which is love? God provides difficult relational issues as part of the answer.
In the early days of the Church, the central relational issue fought over was the Gentile problem. All of the disciples gained in the early Church were Jewish, then God did the unthinkable – He pour out salvation on Gentiles without them having to become “God-fearers” or converts to Judaism. This caused a major uproar – Peter had his famous vision in Acts 10 – 3 times! Later, before the Church leaders, he had to explain why he dared to go to the Gentiles. Paul also had to explain why he was doing so and the climax was in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. Letters were written, instructions given and leaders sent out to explain how to walk with Gentiles! The Jewish world was turned upside down!
Ok, nice history lesson but what does it have to do with us? God set that whole thing up to help the early church learn how to walk in love -and they did not do it perfectly! Remember Paul rebuking Peter and even Barnabas in Galatians? Sprinkled throughout the pages of the NT are hints and references to relationship struggles and just like then, we must learn how to love one another for God’s glory and in spite of the problems.
About 50 years after the resurrection John the beloved wrote his works. This span allowed plenty of time for the love message to go deep into his thinking. Soak up these verses from John and think deeply about their application to the discipleship process:
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:10
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:14-15
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21
According the John, the apostle of love, if we fail to walk in love we are in darkness, we are a child of the devil, we are still in death, are a murder, we do not know God and we are a liar. I think that is clear. Loving one another is central in the discipleship process.
The logical question becomes, now that I know this, what should I do? That is a great place to start to walk in relational obedience.
At a minimum, we must not do any harm to our neighbors (Romans 13:8-10) and at the other end of the spectrum, we learn to lay down our lives. A reading of Romans 14 and 15 will explain how to walk this out in a practical fashion. While these chapters focus on food, the principles can be expanded to all arenas of our lives. The bottom line is I will not do anything that causes my fellow believers to stumble or be hurt on purpose. Paul sums up the process in these words:
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:19
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:21
We demonstrate that we love God by how we love His children. We will stand before God alone and give an account of what we have done with the gifts and talents He has given us after this life is over, but part of that process will include how we treated His other children.
The world is waiting to see the Church demonstrate the love of Christ. God is love and this truth will be seen the clearest by how we treat one another. If we say we love God we will prove it by how we love one another.