August 27, 2007
“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
There are so many different possibilities for being a disciple of Jesus Christ. One could be a committed member of a church, even a tithing member. One could be a missionary traveling to distant lands – or maybe downtown – to help people in Jesus’ name. There is always the prospect of being an evangelist, going door-to-door and inviting people to know Jesus Christ. Of course, collectively, we could do a great many things as disciples, everything from feeding the poor to building houses, big churches, and schools even. We can tend the children after school, train our youth to live Christian lives in the future and raise their own Christian children. Creating a space for retirees who want to enjoy more activities and travel with like-minded people is important. There are so many options for being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The possibilities just go on and on… teaching a Sunday School class or leading a Bible study, singing in the choir, serving on a committee – always a favorite.
The problem is, the Lord did not say we would be known as His disciples for any of those. He said people would know we are His disciples if we love one another. But that is so hard! ‘Have You met these people? They are not all that loveable!’ Present company excluded, of course…
It is interesting. Jesus gives a new command. We human beings love commands. Commands are the sort of thing at which we excel. Take the Ten Commandments. In about two minutes, we can have quite a list of all the people we know who have broken a command. Most of us are honest enough to say that, ‘In our younger years…’. But now that we are serious Christians, we look and act like Christians, and we know what a serious Christian looks and acts like, too; we know what Christians are supposed to do. Of course, we all fall short, but overall, we do pretty well.
But the hitch remains. The bulk of our religious experience – our encounters with the Divine – has become codified into religious teaching and behavior, including rites and works. That is not necessarily a bad thing, inasmuch as the human creature requires order and form. The constant challenge, however, is to avoid confusion between order and form and the Object toward which both are aimed. In other words, we have to keep a continual guard against confusing the means with the End, that is, God Himself. A work can be born of God, but the work is not God. A doctrine can reveal truth, but the doctrine is not God. It seems obvious stated that way, but living with the heart turned toward Christ Jesus rather than getting caught along the way to Him is by no means obvious at all. And Jesus did not say the world would know we are His disciples by all of those commands we know how to accomplish – or think we know how to accomplish.
Jesus pretty effectively closed the loophole for us when He said His disciples would be known by their love for one another. Loving one another is hard. What would be nice is a second choice, maybe not quite as profound, but more attainable than love. Some people are hard to love, and sometimes, we are one of those hard-to-love ones, even when we are unaware we are hard to love, perhaps especially then.
The new command Christ gave is the great equalizer. For all the talents and abilities many great Christian leaders possess and for which they are rightly recognized, the opportunity to love and the authenticity of true discipleship are available to the lowliest and are perhaps more likely among the lowliest than the greatest. Jesus seems to have believed so, just based upon His comments about first and last and greatest and least.
We are known by our love. Nothing in all the world could be harder to do than to love one another, truly love one another. Yes, we love our friends and families, but as Jesus pointed out, so also do the pagans. It is the love of other Christians, other disciples, those whom we do not like too much, that determines the genuineness of our discipleship. That is a major bummer, because that is also the single hardest thing to do. Let me cross the ocean, learn a new language and call strangers to Christ, but don’t ask that I love people whom I find to be difficult. Surely, there must be a second choice to prove one’s commitment?
There is not.
The only means by which we can love as Jesus Christ asked us to love is through the humiliation of constant prayer and pleading. ‘I cannot do what You have asked; please flood my heart with Your own.’ On bended knee and with humbled heart and mind, we learn the deep truth of Jesus’ advice, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
No matter how badly we would like one, there is no second choice. We are Christ’s disciples if we love, plain and simple. Nothing could be harder, and nothing can make our need for Him clearer.
In Christ –
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