What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? If someone were to ask you, “What does a disciple of Christ look like, or what does a disciple of Christ do,” what would you say? One thing we have learned from scripture is that disciples of Christ will have a genuine relationship with God. They will want to know God better. They will study God’s Word in order to know Him better. They will also have a genuine prayer life. Disciples also see the importance of regularly gathering together with the Church. We ought to not neglect meeting together, as some do, but rather we need encourage one another through the community of faith. A church is a community and God desires for the community to draw closer to Him, to draw closer to each other, and to strengthen and encourage one another as they wait for Jesus to return. Another thing we see throughout scripture about disciples is the importance of love. As we read from a passage in the book of Hebrews, a church ought to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Love is a common theme in a church, at least it should be. In fact, love is an important concept for both believers and unbelievers. Everyone needs love. In fact, I would say that God created us to receive love and to give love. But, what is love? How are we to love each other? This passage tells us a few things about it.
Loving Others is Based On God’s Love for Us
Just before His arrest, trial and crucifixion, Jesus gave His disciples a lengthy discourse in order to prepare them for His imminent death and departure. He summarized their responsibility to one another. He also commanded them to do something. Most people do not really like to be commanded. We are individuals and rebels by nature. Most of us may think commandments or rules are devoid of any care or concern. We would much rather be persuaded or invited to do something. God, however, commands us to do many things because He is God and we are not. God also commands us to do things because He genuinely cares for us. Even the Ten Commandments are given in the context of God loving and liberating His chosen people, Israel. Their response to God’s love for them should have been to obediently follow His commands. But being obedient is difficult to do when we are ruled by our sinful desires. Jesus commanded His disciples to do something, and it may be helpful to understand the context of His command. There is a specific reason why we should follow this command. Look below.
John 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.
First, this is a commandment. It is not a suggestion. If anyone says that to love others is an ideal, they are not reading the same Bible. Jesus was not saying that this would be a good idea for you to do it. He was telling them they better do this. The commandment was simply to love one another. That should not be too hard, right? Loving others may not be easy, but then again, it might not be easy for some people to love you. However hard it may be, loving others is required. To tell people to love one another, however, is pointless if they do not understood the reason or motivation for such a statement. Telling people to love one another is pointless unless they understand the love Jesus has for them in His death for them. You can legislate “no discrimination” in the workplace based on mutual respect, but you cannot make people love one another without understanding the foundation of such love in the self-giving and sacrificial love of God for the world.
Jesus gave this new “love” commandment right after He told His disciples that in “a little while” He would die and not be with them. However, this is not really a new commandment. God has always called His people to love their neighbors (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus reaffirmed this as the second great commandment (Matthew 22:36–40). The command to love one’s neighbor was not new; however, the newness was found in loving one another as Jesus had loved His disciples. Thus, the measure by which we love others is the love that Jesus has for us. He said, “Love one another just as I have loved you.” This means we must know how Jesus loved us. He loved sacrificially. He gave His life for us. Look at the following passage from another letter John wrote.
1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
Jesus’ sacrifice is the supreme example of what genuine love looks like. This reminds me of another familiar 3:16 passage that the same John wrote: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). The Father loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to die for them. The Son loved the Father so much that He willingly submitted to the Father’s will. The Son also loved the Church, His Bride, so much that He died for Her in order to set Her free from the bondage of sin and death. Love motivated God to act. That act of love was sacrificial. That kind of love is the basis for our love for each other. Christian love is not born from within our good character, but it originates in Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. This is the model that we, as those who are children of God and who follow Jesus Christ, should have. When Jesus said, “Love one another just as I have loved you”, He was saying we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for each other. We ought to be willing to die for one another, just as Jesus willingly died for us.
Loving Others Proves Who We Are
If someone were to ask you, “Who are you”, what would you say? Hopefully you would say something like, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I follow Jesus.” Hopefully you would want other people to know that you follow Christ. Some Christians are comfortable living their faith in relative silence, not offending anyone and not announcing their allegiance to Christ. Others will announce it from the mountaintops and make sure everyone knows. How would people know this about you, other than you just telling them? Would how you treat others tell people that you are a follower of Jesus Christ? Can others see Jesus in what you do? Actions are louder than words. What does scripture say about how to let others know who you are? Well, there are several things, but one big way to let others know you follow Christ is by loving others. Look at the following verse.
John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
After Jesus gave His disciples the “new commandment”, He then told them that by following this commandment of loving others just as He loved them, the world would know that they are His disciples. By loving each other sacrificially, the rest of the world will know that we truly follow Jesus Christ. Actions are truly louder than words. They do not make words unnecessary, for we still must speak the truth, but actions do speak loudly. The point here is that if we love Jesus as we should, we will love what and whom He loves—the unlovely, the oppressed, those very different from us, and those who have hurt us. If we truly follow Jesus and obey His new commandment, we will love others as He loved us. Through that love, others will know who we are — disciples of Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, my wife and I just saw an example of Christians not showing Christ clearly to others. They were displaying hate, whether they meant to or not. They may have been telling the truth, but it was perceived by those listening as hate. Oftentimes, we can say the right things but in the wrong way. That is not loving. That is not Christ-like. If what we do or say is not Christ-like, then how will others see Christ through us? How will people see Jesus? In another letter, John connected our love for God and our lack of love for others. Look at the following passage.
1 John 4:19–21 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
This verse tells us several things. One, we love because God first loved us. If you love at all, it is because God first loved you. It is significant to realize that our loving others is born out of the love God has for us. Two, if we say we love God but hate our Christian brother or sister, we are a liar. We do not tell the truth, for to love God means we will love others, particularly His people. If we do not love others, then can we really know God? If we do not love others, can we rightly call ourselves disciples of Christ? God’s people have always been characterized by love. The two great commandments — love God and love others — were originally given to the Israelite nation. They are true for the Church today. We are to be defined by our love for God and our love for each other. By sacrificially loving one another just as Jesus loved us, the rest of the world, the world we are supposed to reach for Christ, will know that we are His disciples. How much easier would it be to share our faith if the world already saw Jesus in our actions?
Loving Others is an Act of Service
So, we see that we are to love others as Jesus loved us. We also understand that by that love the rest of the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. But, what does it mean to love one another? What does it look like? It is easy for most people to say, “I love you,” but are you showing love for one another? True love must be demonstrated by action. The contemporary Christian band DC Talk put out with a song many years ago called “Luv is a Verb”. That song was meant to say that love is not just a statement. Love is not just three words that we commonly say to one another. Love is not something you say, but something you do. It is an action. If our love for each other is not demonstrated by action, then we have failed to follow Jesus’ “new commandment”. In fact, John explained the need for loving other in our actions. Look at the following.
1 John 3:17–19 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;
One thing we ought to note here is that the act of love is an individual act. Before, John mentioned that we all ought to lay down our lives down for one another. One could see this as an act of communal love, that is, the love of a whole church has for others. Indeed, we ought to demonstrate love as a church, as a group of believers. However, it cannot end there. Loving everybody in general can be an excuse for loving nobody in particular. If I am a part of a community that together shows love, I might not feel the need to love someone else personally. The verse above makes our act of love more individualistic. John wrote about “anyone” seeing another in need, therefore, you are personally responsible to love others in this way. Secondly, this passage reveals how specific our love for others ought to be. You may say that if we are to love like Jesus by being willing to die for one another, then that should be enough. If we are called to love others by being willing to die for them, just as Christ died for us, how much more are we bound to love others by helping them when in need? If we are called to give up our lives in love for each other, how much more are we expected to give up our time and treasures to help each other?
Another thing we see in this passage is that our love for others is a result of God’s love within us. Selfishness and godly love are mutually exclusive. They cannot exist together. John asked a rhetorical question, “How can the love of God be in him?” We ought to ask ourselves the question whether God’s love truly abides within us. We ought to really examine ourselves to see if we lack real love for other, a love that acts and responds to others’ needs. If we see a lack of this, it should bother us. Are we where we need to be in our relationship with God? Do we know Jesus as well as we say we do? If God has loved us and we have been genuinely changed by it, that love should naturally flow out from us to others. It is like the healthy tree that cannot help but produce good fruit or the branches that thrive from the nourishment of the vine. If we are in Christ, Christ will be in us, and Christ will flow from us to others. The opposite is that we shut off our love to others. The verb to “close his heart” is the same word we would use to say we are closing or locking a door. It means here that a person shuts off their hearts from seeing the needs of others. It is like slamming the door in a person’s face. What this means is that you see another Christian in need, you have the means to meet that need, but you deliberately and hardheartedly turn your back on that needy person. That is not love!
As mentioned, the true disciple of Jesus Christ is known by his or her love for others. This love is further defined by serving others, particularly when they are in need. Love is to be demonstrated in actions and truth. The word truth is added because even our actions can be hypocritical. It is no good to only say words of love but not act on them. It is also no good to doing acts of love that are fake and not motivated by truth. How can we express our love and commitment to one another? One way is to be there for each other. If the church is truly a community then we must be there for each other. We cannot isolate ourselves except for Sunday and think that the world will know us by the love we have for one another. We need to be involved in each other’s lives. Another way is to be generous with one another. If someone else is in need and you have the means to help that person, or you know someone who does, then you have a duty to help them. As John wrote, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
In closing, our sacrificial love for one another is born out of God’s sacrificial love for us, in which Jesus willingly gave up His life for us. By this kind of love for one another, the world will see that we follow Jesus. And if we are called to lay down our lives for one another, we are certainly called to love others by serving them and fulfilling needs as we are able to meet. The Church is a family that loves one another and serves one another. People, however, seem to be obsessed with “Consumer Christianity”. That means they look for what a church can do for them. They look for activity and programs and things the church can do to serve them and their needs. That is not the picture of the church in the Bible. The church is not a place to get your needs met, although that may happen, but rather, the church is a people who love one another, who are committed to one another, and who serve one other. Another way to say this: Don’t ask what the church can do for you. Ask what you can do for each other? Is there someone in need that you can help but have refused to do so? Have you closed the door of your heart to someone else? If so, ask God to show you where you have failed to love others as you should and for Him to open your heart to the needs of others. Love them like Jesus loved you. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.