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Love one another


Love One Another

Readings:  Jn.13:31-35; 15:8-17. 1Jn.4:7-12


Jn.15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

The society in which we live is a secular one. The agenda of this society is the promotion of personal pleasure, personal choice and personal opinion (hedonism, consumerism and relativism). But as society has pursued such an agenda we have not arrived at a paradise on earth but rather we have been led in another direction, to the spiritual destitution, the moral disintegration and the social isolation that so characterise the secular society of our day.

Deliberately excluding God from human life does not lead anywhere other than to destruction and despair but the sad fact is that most of our contemporaries simply don’t see it. What they need above all is an encounter with God, the Living God, and that is what God wants them to have!

To many however this just sounds like religious mumbo-jumbo. "Where is your God?" they say "we can’t see him" they say but then don’t wait around for an answer. And there are answers.

Jesus came into the world in order to make God, the One True Living God, known – in looking at Jesus we meet with God and we are confronted by him:

Jn.1:18 "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known."

"But", comes back the riposte "we can’t see Jesus" and, of course, in one sense they’re right. There is, however, another verse in the Bible that begins in exactly the same way as that one we’ve just read and this is what it says:

1Jn.4:12 "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."

If we’d lived during the first century in Palestine we could have seen Jesus with our own eyes and so known God but we weren’t and now that Jesus is in heaven we can’t see him that way any longer. But there is another way for us to meet God for God has determined to make himself accessible. God can be "seen" today in a church where God’s people love each other because he promises that if we love one another then he indeed will live in us!  

To obey Christ’s command then to love another in the church turns out to have a profound practical significance. Of course our prime motivation in this will be to honour our Lord and Saviour by obeying his command and doing what he tells us but it is good to know that we can expect practical benefits to flow as we do so!

So let’s look more closely at this subject together.

The Christian Life has a Christian Lifestyle
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of God’s grace. The salvation that we are offered in Jesus Christ is not for those who can somehow make the grade but for those who recognise that they are unworthy sinners. It is for those who know that they don’t deserve it and could never deserve it as a result of what they themselves could do.

The fact that our salvation does not depend upon our actions must not however be taken to imply that our actions are totally unimportant. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, spoke about the need not only to go through the narrow gate but also then to walk in the way that leads to life. He went on to describe that way as being hard. Now, if Jesus did not intend to make any demands upon the way his followers were to lead their lives he would not have spoken of the way being hard. But he did and it is!

Carrying out Christ’s command to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord can sometimes be very difficult indeed because Christians can be very awkward and ornery people. After all, Christians are just sinners saved by grace and none of us are yet the finished article. We all have our own individual foibles and sharp corners. We are told by our Lord to do more than simply put up with one another we are to love one another.

Do you see what this means? It means that if we are Christians we cannot content ourselves with giving mental assent to a few ideas because Jesus demands serious action of his followers. Christianity can’t and mustn’t be reduced to an easy-believism.

We begin the Christian life when we receive by faith the salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ and the time for action begins the moment we are saved. The new life we are given in Christ must be lived out on a daily basis. Our actions and our behaviour as Christians are significant. There is a certain kind of behaviour that is normative for the Christian believer and our Saviour expects us to demonstrate this in our relations with each other. This behaviour specifically includes mutual love. For any of us to fail to live in this way would be to live an abnormal Christian life, a sub-normal Christian life, and may indeed indicate that we don’t actually possess spiritual life at all.

This is not to say that the way Christians love one another will be perfect, while here on earth there will always remain room for growth and development, but it does mean that a real love must exist and for this love to be a reality it must be expressed – we are not thinking primarily about feelings here but about action.

Jesus did not make a suggestion to his followers that he thought they might like to consider. He didn’t say that if it felt right and if it was convenient that they might like to think about being nice to one another. He didn’t say that to his disciples then and he doesn’t say it to us now. No, this is what he said and says still:

Jn.13:34 "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."
Jn.15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
Jn.15:17 "These things I command you, so that you will love one another."

It was in this way that Jesus gave his followers their marching orders adding that as they carried them out others would recognise them as his disciples:

Jn.13:35 "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

This command had a profound effect upon Jesus’ apostles and in particular the apostle John who as we have just seen recorded Jesus’ command in his gospel. A number of years later when John wrote his letters he was still concerned to draw attention to what our Lord had said:

1Jn.3:11 "For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another."
1Jn.3:23 "And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."
2Jn.1:5 "And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another."

Nor was John content simply to pass on what Jesus had said he had also sought to put Jesus’ teaching into practice in his own life:

1Jn.4:7 "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God."
1Jn.4:11 "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

The apostle Paul, doubtless also building upon the foundation that Jesus laid, similarly urged Christians to love one another:

Rom.12:10 "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour."
Gal.5:13 "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

In both of these examples the love Paul has in mind is evidently practical and not restricted to the mere feeling of sentiment. To the Roman Christians he links love to honouring others and to the Galatians love is to be an expression of service. Writing to the Christians in Ephesus he expressed similar thoughts without using the actual phrase ‘one another’; this time in the service he had in mind was that of bearing with others.

Obedience not the only Reason
While straightforward obedience must be the dominant reason why the Christian will and must seek to love his fellow believers this is by no means the only reason.

We have already seen that when God’s people in Christ’s church genuinely love another this ensures that God is present with them and the presence of God with his people has a powerful effect tool So if we really want our church to function as that "city set upon a hill which cannot be hidden" we must "let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven." Our good works will include fulfilling Christ’s charge to love one another.

Nor are these the only reasons that we are given for demonstrating such love to one another. Here are some more:

  • We are to love because this love comes to us from God himself and demonstrating it in our relations with each other testifies to the fact that we do belong to him, that we have been born again. How can a loveless person claim to be born of the God? How can one who claims to know God behaviour in a manner that is at such odds to him? Is not the God we profess to know a loving God? If it is true that "God is love" how can one born of him bear no family resemblance to him at all?

  • We are to love one another because God has himself first loved us. It cost our God to love us. To express his love for us he sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins! But what does that mean? Well, it means firstly that there was nothing to attract him to us but everything to cause him to recoil. Our sin provoked his anger and not warm feelings of affection. His love overcame the barriers we had erected and he reached out to us while we were still utterly undeserving – as Paul wrote it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us, that he made himself the propitiation for our sins that John refers to.

And this is the model and pattern that is to be the measure of our own love. It is relatively easy to be express love to people we like, to people who are nice to us, there is nothing particularly Christian about that is there? For, as Jesus pointed out to his disciples, even the tax collectors do that. Yes Christians will express love to other Christians they like but they will also want to express love to those fellow-believers they don’t particularly like or get on with, the difficult people. And we will do so because we were like that to God and he loved us and aren’t we glad he did even though our responses to him have been repeatedly marked by failure as we’ve let him down again and again!

  • We will seek to love one another too because we want to know and enjoy the blessing of God upon our lives. What is the believer’s chief delight? It is to know the near presence of God in Christ. That is the major focus of our weekly prayer meeting – we want to know God in our midst. Well, God says he abides in those who love, that is he dwells with those who love, and we will want to hold him to his promise and so we will seek to ensure that we do our best to meet his conditions.

We have on our notice board outside that we are a friendly church. That really should be an unnecessary thing to write; can a true church be anything other than friendly is not an unfriendly church really a contradiction in terms? And yet we do put it there because we want to be what Christ calls us to be. We don’t want to be a church where people regularly attend but who resolutely refuse even to speak to each other and there sadly are such places.

The Place of Prayer
The command to love one another is clear and its importance is underlined by the fact that it is repeated. The measure of the love that we are to aspire to show one another is also clear and that too is repeated – we are to love as Jesus has loved us:

Jn.13:34 "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."

Jn.15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

What hope do we have of rising to such a high and demanding standard? It seems to be beyond us doesn’t it? But we are not meant to be discouraged by this and give up in disappointment. The apostle shows us some ways in which we can proceed:

Firstly, Paul recognises that it is God himself who teaches us that this is what he requires of us:

1Thess.4:9 "Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,"

And the way Paul puts it is not simply that God teaches us what we ought to do but he actually teaches us to love one another. This means we are not in this on our own, left to our own resources. What a relief that is and what an encouragement!

Secondly, Paul turns to pray for other Christians concerning their love for one another. Note how he prays – he recognises that there is room for growth and he prays that his Christian friends will make progress in this area:

1Thess.3:12 "and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,"

In praying like this Paul expresses his confidence that the Lord will in fact help sincere Christians to become more like their master.

What’s more it would appear that his prayers were bearing fruit for he wrote to them again telling them not that now he was praying for them but that he was giving thanks for the progress they were making!

2Thess.1:3 "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing."

May the Lord enable us to love one another with a genuine sincere love that honours Jesus as we model our love upon his own example of self-giving sacrifice.

And to God be the glory.


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