[Part III in a series on Abiding in Christ.] I’ve been surprised over the past few years by how difficult it is to love like Jesus did. I’ve found myself challenged within the church community to love those who are critical of me or who differ on matters of theology and practice. I’ve struggled to accept, let alone love, those who have wronged me, wronged the church or wronged someone I love. We all know these same challenges within our own families, at school or at work or with our neighbors. Christ’s love is an enemy-loving, sinner-loving love. Love like this is just not humanly possible! It is a fruit of the Spirit, a result of abiding in Christ! Could it be that Christ-like love is possible not by brute determination, but rather by humbly asking? Love is one of those things we cannot do with out a growing abiding relationship with Christ.
There is another repeated command that stands out in Jesus’ marching orders to his disciples in the upper room. Within the context of our relationship with Christ (abiding), we are to love one another like he has loved us.
“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.” (John 13:34 ESV)
Loving one another bears the same witness as bearing fruit. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35 ESV) Love is witness, evidence that we are Christ’s disciples. His followers are to bear his resemblance! Understanding and accepting Jesus love is where we must begin, then from there we can begin to demonstrate that same kind of love.
Jesus loved his disciples in two general ways: he served them and then he forgave them! He began their time together in the upper room by showing them “the full extent of his love.” He washed their feet, reminding them that the greatest in the kingdom is the one who serves. Love is demonstrated through service! When he gave his life on the cross the very next day, he demonstrated perfect love by forgiving their sins, offenses that were committed against him! Love is demonstrated through forgiveness! This is the full extent of his love!
John would later summarize Jesus’ new commandment with piercing directness: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV) If I am to love like Christ, I must lay my life down for my brothers, especially those who have wronged me, who are critical of me, and who may disagree with me. I’m reminded that all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned, betrayed or denied him the evening before he gave his life up for them. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) That is the kind of love we “ought to” show to our brothers.
Laying down my life for “the brothers” is probably not going to require that I physically die, but it may feel like it! My pride must die. My need to be right must die. My need to get even must die. Forgiveness is what it practically means to lay down my life for my brothers. After all, that is why Jesus went to the cross, for the forgiveness of sins! Forgiveness establishes reconciliation with God, restoring our relationship with him. It is the same with our brothers. Love is demonstrated through forgiveness! Christ-like love is all wrapped up in two things: service and forgiveness.
The church’s witness to the world is tarnished by our lack of love for one another. Christ’s reputation, his very character, is tarnished! When we recognize our failure to love, repent of our sins and chose to love like Christ loved us, we have the opportunity to spotlight the beauty of God’s love and grace like never before! God’s love is a serving and forgiving love. That is how Christ loved us and that is how he told us to love one another.
Love is the essence of God’s character, to the point that John can say, God is love! (1 John 4:16) When we abide in him (stay connected to the vine), this is the type of fruit that he produces through us, his branches! One could argue that love is his choicest fruit, delicious, attractive, edifying, and irresistible! It’s no wonder that it tops the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Perhaps one of the most important things we should ask the Father in Jesus’ name is that we would have a growing capacity to love one another as Christ loved us. After all, this is our greatest witness to the world!
Coming next: PART IV – Obeying