The amount of pain, violence, heartbreak, and suffering can be quite overwhelming to those who follow Christ when there is a clear message in the Scripture to help the poor and love people…just as Jesus did. The book of Matthew gives many examples.
“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.” Matt. 5:16
“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!… If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that…If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” Matt. 5:44, 46, 47.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:28
“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandment.” Matt. 22:37-40
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sister, you were doing it to me!’” Matt. 25:40
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” Matt. 28:18-20.
There is so much we could be doing that when we look at it from the highest point possible we end up shaking our heads with the enormity of the task at hand. And while it is easy to say the church could do more and be more for our world, there must also be a balance with honesty that there is so much the church is doing, most of which no one group of data collectors could come close to knowing and documenting. The Church around the world is doing more in the world than we could ever truly know. Therefore, while we can see what must be done, one major issue is the fussing about how much isn’t being done. This kind of inventory can lead us to be unkind, judgmental and harsh with one another. Beyond the gospels, Scripture takes a turn from history and documentation to letters among believers. This is where it gets interesting.
While there is indeed a mandate for some of us to go into the nations, some of us to be evangelists, and the other parts of the five-fold ministry, how is that within the Body of Believers going to be effective if we aren’t loving one another? Once a reader gets into the letters and the epistles of the New Testament, a major theme comes out letter after letter, far more than any other theme, including loving the lost, the poor and the hurting. Remember, these are letters written by the great evangelist, Paul, to the believers in the area.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God and other will approve you too. So then let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” Romans 14:17-19
“Use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Gal. 5:13b-14
“Share with each other’s burdens, and in this way you obey the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2
Regarding the five-fold gifts, they were to “equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” Eph. 4:12
“I pray that your love will overflow more and more and that your will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.” Phil. 1:9
“Make me truly happy by agreeing whole heartedly with each other, loving one another and working together with one mind and purpose.” Phil. 2:2
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Col. 3:14
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives.” Col. 3:16
“But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another.” I Thess. 4:9
“Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promise because of their faith and endurance.” Heb. 6:11-12
“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.” Heb. 13:1
It is clear that the body of believers must hold love and honor for one another in its highest place. Dare I say, if we were to hold this love for each other higher and in a position of greater importance than loving the lost, we would indeed become a great force of love together for the lost and broken. We cannot be mature, strong, whole believers and followers of Jesus in this dark world without each other. We confess to one another for healing. We encouraging one another. We bless one another. This cannot be done as isolated people who believe in Jesus. This is done in the context of believers.
The Bible seems to teach that Paul and the other writers of the letters focused on the growth of the knowledge and wisdom of Jesus, on maturity and holines, and the continued pursuit of loving one another more than mention of what to do in and around unbelievers. These pursuit of holiness and a holy life would then lead to a life lived in humility, grace and love among unbelievers. A life lived in such a way, with the power of love among believers, would make non-believers wonder what was different.
“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love following the example of Christ.” Eph. 5:1
“…live as people of the light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right.” Eph. 5:8
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” Eph. 5:15
“Above all you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Phil. 1:27
“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands – then people who are not believers will respect the way you live.” 1 Thess. 4:11
“And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.” 2 Pet. 3:14
What stands out in these Scriptures it the passion Paul, James and the others had for the spiritual maturity of believers. What is more, their fervent plea for the believers to love one another, not a fervent plea to get out there serve and everyone preach and save the world, is loud and clear. Don’t get me wrong, to love the lost indeed a mandate, and most certainly being like Christ, but we cannot simply overlook the abundance of Scripture that implore believers to love one another. Even Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34). Does this not seem to be a higher command of how we disciple one another? Is it not by love? Is it not through and by love that we teach and admonish one another, confess to one another, correct one another, encourage one another? Are these not the things we strive to achieve in order that we live holy lives among unbelievers? Then it should be a first priority to love one another in order that we might be able to love the lost.
“…finally all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude.” 1 Pet. 3:8
“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Pet. 4:7
Is it not interesting that Peter said that loving one another was “most important of all”? Do we teach that? Or do we teach that our witness is most important of all, or our ministry, or our calling? How can we become men and women of deep and loving witness if we are not deep and loving toward one another?
What of John?
“Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have heard from the beginning. This old commandment – to love one another – is the same message you heard before. Yet is it also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it.” 1 John 2:7
“Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.” 1 John 2:10
“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another…If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers it proves that we have passed from death to life…We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?…And this is his commandment: we must believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” 1 John 3:11, 14, 16, 17, 23
“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God for God is love… Dear friends, since God loved us so much we surely ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:7, 11.
The point is this: Scripture is clear that loving our brothers and sisters indeed proves the love of God is in us, more than loving the lost or our enemies. Indeed, when we love those who do not love us, we are showing the love of Christ. For we were once enemies of him and he loved us. But Scripture is proving over and over that the higher and greater mandate for the glory of God is that we love one another. This kind of power in relationships is made clear to have a higher effect on the world at large. This is not inward focused, nor is it selfish. It is the will of God.
What would it look like in the American church if we began to focus on our love for one another as a catalyst to increased, powerful love in the world? According to Scripture, showing love for our brothers and sisters proves that we have the love of God within us.
This is what astounds the world.