So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10, ESV, emphasis added)
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11, ESV)
Faith is not just what we have inside of us. Faith must find its way out of us into the world in which we live. One of the areas where we must not forget to extend the grace that we have received is to those who are a part of our community of faith. Paul plainly tells us that we should love one another and that we must not miss the opportunities to do good to those of the “household of faith.” It would seem that Paul believed that it was easy to miss. As in most cases, the most familiar things are most often taken for granted.
If we cannot help one another, whom we know and see on a regular basis, how are we ever going to convince anybody else that we care for them? What we will create is a consumption-based relationship. People will come and receive from us because we are willing to give, but true and deep relationship will not be a part of our time together. The heart of the church is the joining of the hearts of its members.
This truth of our faith is an outgrowth of what Jesus taught the disciples. Without a caring church there will be no power in the testimony of the church in and to the world. Jesus’ clearest example shows that if we are not growing and participating in loving actions toward one another, our witness will amount to nothing.
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, ESV)
Paul also joins in and expands on this point and lets us know that it is possible to fulfill God’s law when we love one another as Christ loves us. The idea here is not that we can do now what we could not do before without Jesus. What this next statement points to is that the purpose of the law was to help us love one another. Unfortunately, the law had the opposite effect on us.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8, ESV)
And again Paul says,
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10, ESV)
John goes so far as to say that our love for one another is evidence of the very existance of God when he says,
No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. (1 John 4:12, NLT)
God has chosen to use the bonds of love between members of the body of Christ as evidence of the Gospel, his existence and his ability to change the human heart. Too often we stop short of saying this. If we accepted this as a part of our faith and calling much of the bickering that we see in our churches would have to stop. But, this would mean that we had to live out the love that Jesus demonstrated toward us. We cannot fake this kind of love. We cannot behave our way into loving people like Christ loved the church. That is impossible.
Genuine love can only come by a radically changed heart. Only when we are willing to surrender our own desires to do what we want and to choose whom we will love can we begin to love biblically. An this may be where many of us falter. We want to be able to choose whom we love. But, Jesus had something to say about that (Matthew 5:43-48).
There is a question that I now find myself asking regularly. It is based on a Paul’s declaration in Galatians 2:20. This is the question:
Whose life am I living?
If I cannot answer this question I will not be able to move forward into what God desires for me in my life. What is worse is that if I cannot answer this question I have to ask some other questions about the “change” that was borne as a result of my profession of faith. There is a struggle to live a life of faith. This is natural, but which side appears to have the upper hand? Who keeps winning?
The second verse that started our discussion makes a subtle claim that I do not want us to overlook. John is declaring that the message that he and the other disciples took to the world and the nations was and is the same message that was delivered “from the beginning.” It would be somewhat naive to believe that John was thinking only of Jesus’ ministry. John, in his Gospel and in the letters, tends toward an eternal perspective. John, I believe, is pointing us toward the fact that God has always desired to express his love toward his creation. But, that is not enough. An important component of God’s plan was also to have love be the defining reality of all relationships.
The way that the Bible seems to describe the connection between our faith in Christ and our love for one another, there does not appear to be a way to separate the two. If we claim to have faith in God and there is little-to-no evidence of love for those that are also God’s children, then we are walking on dangerous ground. John said in his first letter that this is, in essence, an impossibility. If we love God then we must love one another.
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. (1 John 4:20, ESV)
Read that verse again. John calls us liars for saying that we love God and then fail to show love toward our brothers!
Based on this verse, how are you doing? You cannot at the same time love God and hate your brothers in the faith. Love is a positive, intentional action toward those you see. There is no such thing as “passive” love. Love is action. Love is movement. Love is alive. Anything less than this betrays the condition of our own hearts.
In closing, I want to offer this prayer for you to consider and pray for yourself. Let it be a guide.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Your love for me is perfect. You demonstrated your love by sending Jesus to live, die, be buried and to rise again on the third day. Help me to feel deep within my heart the weight and power and breadth of your love in Jesus. Help me to take what you have put within me by the power of the Holy Spirit and share it with those who are a part of my family of faith. I know that I may not always like or approve of what they do, but that does not change that I should love them as Christ loved the church.
Father, help me to prove your love for me by loving others. I no longer want to be a liar. I desire for my life and testimony to agree. The only way that this will happen is by trusting in you to transform my heart. I recognize now that this is a daily act and a life-long process. Give me the strength and courage to surrender to your will, your plan and your purposes for my life.
In the name of Jesus the Savior I pray, Amen!