“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
It must not come naturally. Otherwise, why would Jesus have to make it a command? He must have thought that somehow, someway, believers have the ability through the Holy Spirit to live a life of genuine love. Yet not only do we have the ability, we also have the responsibility. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that self-sacrificial love is the way that the world will know we are children of God. Notice that Christ did not say: “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you know many verses and have your theology solid…” or ” by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you attend church, speak in tongues, and avoid all sin…” Those other things may be quite beneficial, and even necessary, but the proof Jesus demands of an ongoing relationship with Him is simple – love one another.
So how do we show this love? I believe it is expressed through our unconditional acceptance of people regardless of race, creed or color. Whether that person is kind to you or treats you like dirt. Whether you agree with their lifestyle or stand against it. All of these things are quite irrelevant when it comes to obeying God and loving others. If you set up any pre-requisites for loving others, then you are disobedient to Christ and ineffective in your witness.
Let’s look at how this principle played itself out in the life of Jesus. In John 4 we find Him in a tense situation; He’s a Jew, living in a land occupied by Romans. The Romans do not particularly like the Jews, and the Jews return their sentiment. Yet, when Jesus is asked to heal a Roman official’s son, He does so immediately — no strings attached, no power plays, no political games.
Jesus doesn’t hold grudges, nor does he require obedience before demonstrating love. He cares for people regardless of their personality, position, or possessions.
In Luke 9:51-56, Jesus and His disciples were walking through Samaria. Jesus was trying to teach a group of people who were rude and unresponsive. Ever met anybody like that? What is your typical reaction? His disciples’ reaction was to ask Jesus: “Do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?” Jesus basically replies, “No way! Are you demon possessed?”
Evidently, in Jesus’ mind, anger, revenge, prejudice, and unloving attitudes are unacceptable and sometimes demonic.
I know that as Christians we are called to hold each other accountable. Yet we should not use accountability as an excuse to harbor hatred or indifference. As well, we should not expect those who do not know Christ to live as we do. Unbelievers need to be shown that they will be completely accepted by the family of God. This acceptance should not come because of any qualifications or actions on their part, but because God loves them. God loves people unconditionally. So should we.
There are people that you know who are lonely and don’t fit in. Many feel ashamed and outcast for whatever reason. If we make anyone feel like an outcast because he/she is different, we do not live up to the example Jesus set for us.
If we check people out to make sure they’re cool before we share the gospel, we are allowing our prejudices to interfere with God’s work. This is a tragic mistake.
Often the error of non-acceptance turns people away from God and Christianity — possibly forever. They run as fast and as far away as they can in the other direction, seeking out other religions and organizations that will embrace them. At that point, Satan and those he has deceived will stretch out their welcoming arms. If the enemy has the ability to “love” and accept people, then how much more should we! Remember, people will go where they are accepted and stay where they are loved. Is your world a place where people want to stay?
Do you know any “outcasts” that could use some love expressed through acceptance?
Do the people in your circle of influence know you as a disciple because of your outward expressions of unconditional love? Why or why not?