“If you love me, keep my commands."
- John 14:15 (NIV)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
- John 13:34 (NIV)
There is but one command that Jesus gave us: “Love one another.”
So if our Christian walk is centred on this one thing, how then should we fulfil this command? What is this Love that Jesus commanded us to perform? If we no longer rely solely on the law to direct our actions to make us holy, then should we not study this Love as fervently as the Jewish teachers studied the law?
So what is love?
The Bible has two greek words that are used to describe love: agape and phileo.
Agape love is unconditional love - it is a Godly love. God is agape love.
Whoever does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape). - 1 John 4:8 (NIV)
This love can only come from God and from out of a relationship with God. This love comes through the spirit. Agape love requires a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, since the non-regenerated soul is unable to love unconditionally. Agape love gives and sacrifices expecting nothing back in return.
"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."
- Luke 6:35 (NIV)
On the other hand phileo love is ‘brotherly love’. It comes from intimacy and friendship. It is from our emotions. It is conditional on that love being reciprocated. It demands to be returned - and when it is not returned, it can turn into hatred.
We see in the western world many marriages, when they collapse, become very bitter. I watched my sister become very bitter and full of hatred towards her former husband after their marriage broke up. This shows that the love that this marriage was founded on was Phileo love, not Agape love.
When I married my wife, it was an act of will, not emotion. I loved her with all my heart, and still do, but when it came to marriage it was an act of my will, not my emotions. It was for better or for worse - ’til death do us part. I made a decision to love her for the rest of my life regardless of what happened.
So how should we love one another?
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NIV)
…As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
- John 13:34 (NIV)
Jesus was the perfect example of God’s love. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be around Jesus? The disciples must have experienced this love and so when Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so love one another.”, they would have known exactly what that meant.
One unique individual was John - the disciple Jesus loved. What sort of unique relationship did Jesus have with John?
What was John’s character?
John and his brother James were called the “Sons of thunder” by Jesus for wanting to call down fire on a town that rejected Jesus. He was known for his zealous protection of Jesus’ interests. But Jesus told him that it was alright if someone, not in their team, was casting out demons in His name (Mk 9:38, Lk 9:49). Also, he and his brother offended the apostles by asking for a special position in Jesus’ kingdom (Mk 10:35-41).
Clearly John was a very passionate and zealous person. Jesus tamed John’s passions and purified it of unrestrained violence so John became the apostle of love. In the end he used to say continually to his people, "Little children, love one another." Some of them, after a time, began to be tired of hearing this, and asked him why he repeated the words so often, and said nothing else to them. The Apostle answered, "Because it is the Lord's commandment, and if this be done it is enough.” (Sketches of Church History by Reverend J.C. Robertson).
He understood the vital importance, and the completeness, of this one command.
How far did Jesus go in loving us?
Jesus went all the way to the cross in His love for us. The nails did not hold him on the cross, his love did.
When we look at the lives of the apostles, everyone one of them, except John, died a violent death. It is said that Peter was in the process of escaping his death in Rome when he saw a vision of Jesus. Peter asked him, “Where are you going Lord?” Jesus replied, “I am coming to be crucified again.”
“By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.” (Fox's Book of Martyrs).
John was even cast into a pot of boiling oil, but miraculously came out unharmed so was exiled to the island of Patmos.
None of them considered their life when it came to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. They showed their true faith by loving their fellow christians as Christ had loved them - by dying for them.
The Israelites when they were in the desert were a hard hearted people. God continually showed them His love and grace, but they needed the law to give them absolutes on how to love one another - as they did not have the Holy Spirit to transform them and lead them.
We on the other hand have the Holy Spirit. We are being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We have the continuous guidance of the Holy Spirit - even when we are tempted to stray from the path of love. We therefore can use the law as a guide, but only a poor shadow of what God truly intended for us to do in order to love one another.
I am tempted to say, “If you feel the law does not apply to you, you are wrong. We must do all that it commands and more.” However, I want you to understand, as I have said before, that there are various parts of the law that definitely do not apply to us - e.g. the eating of clean foods and circumcision. Even the apostles preached strongly against these. However, the moral laws do apply to us - that is, those summed up in the ten commandments - and Jesus even strengthened these to include our intimate thoughts - hence the need to renew our mind (thinking).
Examine your hearts
So I want you now in a moment of silence to examine your hearts in regard to this love:
Do you love these people here in this church and the community around you in a way that puts them before you?
I ask each of you, “What do you do with the love you are shown here? Do you take it out to the community or do you simply go away feeling good and keep it to yourself?”
I ask the servants of God, leaders, are we here to serve the people and put them first or feel and look important with our own pride and selfish desires?
Each of us must ask ourselves, “Are we selfish with the love and forgiveness God has shown us? Or do we tell others of this love and show them how to receive it for themselves?”
Is our love demonstrated through action? Or do we simply love with words alone?
Funny, but I know as I say this that many of you are feeling uncomfortable. But I can tell you that the ones who are feeling the most uncomfortable are those that are the most worthy of praise. Yet those who are feeling satisfied with themselves are the ones that need to rethink their attitude and their hearts.
Don’t miss this opportunity to offer yourself anew to God and recommit yourself to a deeper work of love - and leaders / servants this includes us. Just because we preach the word or serve as a leader, does not mean we have yet become perfect. If any of us feel this way, then you are simply perfect in your pride. If now you are saying, “Ah, that is not me.” Then it is you.