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TRAITS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH: Unshakable Love for God & Neighbor (Part 3)


In a church where I once preached, an elder was speaking about love in a devotional talk on a Wednesday evening. His tone, however, was not what you would expect. He said something to the effect, “There are too many people who do not want to talk about anything except love.” He made it sound like a dirty word, or at least something not to get us very excited. He is not alone, for too many take a similar tone.

God, however, put His love at the very heart of the good news. The good news is that

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Take this away from the New Testament and there is not much left. Without God’s love, there would have been no annunciation scenes. John the Baptist would have had no one for whom to prepare the way. The disciples would have lived out their lives as unknown fishermen, tax collectors, and so forth. The brilliance of Paul would have been wasted in trying to uphold the Law that could not save – and in congratulating himself on how well versed he was in the rabbinic tradition that enslaved men by the thousands.

Jesus Himself more than once declared that to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind and strength is the first and greatest commandment. He also added, “The second is like it. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He added, “On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The “Law and the Prophets” meant the entire Old Testament system. Love was the lynch pen of the Law. The social laws attempted to codify behavior that would have sprung naturally from love. If people loved God and each other, there would be no need for Law.

I have often heard the quote, but do not know the origin of it – though I have heard it comes from St. Augustine of Hippo: “Love God and do as you please.” Once I was preaching at the Broadway church in Mt. Clemens, MI, a predominantly black congregation. At that time, they had two services, and when I said “Love God and do as you please,” you should have seen the face of the associate preacher. He was almost shocked white – until I added, “because if you love God, it will please you to please Him.” In the second service, when I came to that line, he grinned and said very strongly, “Now, tell them the rest of it!”

Do we love God as the psalmists of old loved Him and longed for fellowship with Him?

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:1-2, 10)

For us, loving God like that sounds like a mystic experience – and we are not much into mysticism! That is o.k. God knows we are material creatures, and need something tangible to love. This is perhaps one reason Jesus, after naming love for God as the most important command, added “The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mathew 22:39).

John must have had this in mind when he wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The gateway into a deeper love for God is a deeper love for one another.

Perhaps that is at least one reason there is so much emphasis on loving one another in the epistles. Love fulfills the Law.

Paul wrote in Romans 13:8-10,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Love is so critically important to Christianity that Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper, “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35, The Message).

He had just said to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” To “love your neighbor as yourself” was not new. That was in the Law (see Leviticus 19:18). Jesus quoted this and called it the “second” most important commandment (Matthew 22:39).

The novelty of the new command that made it different from previous commands to love one another is the quality of the love. Jesus said, “Love one another – as I have loved you.” The standard of our love for one another is Jesus’ love for us.

How much did Jesus love us? That same night, following the Supper, Jesus led His disciples out toward Gethsemane. On the road, He continued His discourse with them. In John 15:9, He made this amazing statement:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”

We are to love each other as Jesus loves us. Jesus loves us in the same way the Father loves Him. We are to have the same love for one another that exists in heaven between the Father and the Son.

WOW!!!

No wonder Jesus said people would know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another.

Is this what the world sees among the followers of Jesus today? If not, why not?

Nearly every congregation claims to be a place where love abounds among the members. The question, though, is whether our love has the quality of love that Jesus spoke of for His disciples. Or is our love like that which Jesus said existed among the publicans and pagans who loved only those who loved them – in contrast to loving even our enemies as the Father loved us when we were His enemies? (See Matthew 5:43-48 and Romans 5:10.)

What difference would it make if we took this teaching seriously? The early Christians did take it seriously. And the world was turned upside down.


Next
– (4) Indestructible Hope of Glory


Previous
– (2) Undying Faith in Jesus

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