Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Love one another.

I have noticed that churches often center on telling us to share the gospel.

"Preach the gospel to the world!" they tell us.

"Share your faith!"

"Witness for Christ!"


When I was very little, I remember being herded into an assembly of children and taught, "Missionaries are not just people who go to Africa or South America!  You are all missionaries!  You all need to tell your friends about Jesus!"  Well yes, sort of.

Spreading the good news is considered synonymous with being a Christian.  It is the mark, the measure of your Christianity.  I'm not sure if they say it, but they certainly suggest that you are not a worthy, complete or certain Christian if you are not actively going out into the world and spreading the gospel regularly.  Regularly.  Like, multiple times per week in circumstances planned and orchestrated by you.

Now, I am not going to deny that the Great Commission is in the Bible:  "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."  (Matthew 28:19, NIV)  But look at that:  it says to make disciples and baptize them.  I don't think I am supposed to baptize anybody!  I don't think this is an open invitation for any believer, no matter how new, to share his faith and proceed to baptize somebody.  So, I'm not convinced that this directive is addressed to everybody (it does specifically say that Jesus was speaking with His 11 disciples at the time), and thus, I am not sure that everybody is equally obligated to evangelize.

I once heard a pastor who maintained that Jesus gave the Great Commission four times, based on Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8 (as a continuation of Luke) and John 20:21.  Given that at least three (and perhaps all) of these references are quite possibly accounts of the same event, an event where Jesus had a private, intimate conversation with His eleven closest followers, I thought it was rather a stretch to say that Jesus repeated the Great Commission four times, and intended it for all believers.

I'm just saying.

It's not that we shouldn't share the gospel.  We should.  But we should do it according to God's direction and the opportunities He provides.  I've blown opportunities, and for that I am ashamed and sorry.  But I still maintain that it is not imperative that we go out forcing opportunities to inflict the gospel message on people who do not want to hear it.  It's not that they don't need to hear it; it's just that God knows when they are ready to respond, and it is His power that converts souls, not our gung-ho enthusiasm. 

The reason I bring this up is not to discourage people from sharing the gospel!  By no means!

The reason I bring this up is because I think we have misplaced priorities.

If you really want to live out your Christian faith in a life that is pleasing to God, you should read the Bible and find out what God wants from you.  When I read the Bible, specifically the New Testament, the thing I see repeated over and over is this:  Love one another.

What if instead of beating ourselves and each other up over how many times we shared the gospel last week, instead of living under guilt and pressure to perform, what if we set our hearts to learn and live the kind of love that God asks of us?

What if we are focusing on the wrong thing, and the right thing would be to focus on loving each other?

In Matthew 22:37-40 and  Mark 12:29-31, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  In Luke 10:26-28, He tells an expert of the law that these two commandments are the summation of what God requires of us.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, "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," (NIV, my emphasis).

Jesus laid down the gauntlet.  We are to testify to His love by loving each other, especially within the brotherhood, or the family of believers.  Do we do this?

Am I accurate?  Is love an important trait for Christians to exhibit?  Is it a recurring theme in the New Testament?

Well, of course there is the entire book of 1 John, which uses the word, "love," 27 times.

1 John 3:11 says, "For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another," (NIV).

1 John 4:7 says, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God," (NIV).

1 John 3:23 says, "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us," (NIV).  You can read the rest of the book if you want a whole lot of material about love (and, as far as I can tell, no overt emphasis on boldly proclaiming the gospel).

But what about others besides John?  Does Paul exhort us to love?  Paul was the first missionary; wouldn't he be more interested in telling us to join him in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth?

As far as I can tell, Paul says, "It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers..."  (Ephesians 4:11, NIV).  Do you see the repeated word there?  It's someSome does not mean the same thing as all.

Again, I'm just saying.

But what does Paul say about love?

Romans 12:9-10, "Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves." (NIV)

Romans 13:8, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law," (NIV).  And there is more in Romans 13:9-10.

Then there's 1 Corinthians 13, Paul's famous love chapter.  Here are some excerpts:  "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  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.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love," (NIV).

Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love," (NIV)

Galatians 5:13, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love," (NIV)

Ephesians 4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love," (NIV).

Ephesians 5:1-2, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," (NIV).

Philippians 1:9, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight," (NIV).

Philippians 2:1-4 (which not only exhorts us to love, but explains what love looks like),  "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others," (NIV).

There are so, so many verses.  I can't possibly list them all.  A few more, but far from exhaustive . . .

Colossians 3:12-14, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

And this is where I was studying, that spurred me to write this post in the first place...

1 Thessalonians 3:12, "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you," (NIV).

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more," (NIV).

2 Thessalonians 1:3, "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing," (NIV).

2 Thessalonians 3:5, "May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance," (NIV).

I could list more from Paul, but I am running out of space, so I will just give you a few quotes on the importance of love from non-Paul sources before I stop.

Hebrews 10:24, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds," (NIV).

James 2:8," If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right," (NIV).

1 Peter 1:22, "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart," (NIV).

1 Peter 3:8, "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble," (NIV).

1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins," (NIV).

Jude 1:21, " . . . keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life," (NIV).

There is much more about love in the New Testament than I have listed here.  Yet I challenge anyone to come up with even half as many references that exhort us to go out and proclaim the gospel.

Again, I am not saying that we should not proclaim the gospel, as God leads us.  We should.

However, I am mystified as to why our churches spend so much time telling us to proclaim the gospel, exhorting us to proclaim the gospel, even piling guilt on us for not proclaiming the gospel, while at the same time, we hear so little about the importance of loving one another.

Maybe if we got the love part right, the primary command, the foundation of our faith, the identifying mark of who we are, then the witnessing would fall into place.

I'm just saying.

I'm pretty sure that if we got the love part right, the witnessing would be much more powerful and effective.

I'm not certain that the Bible commands every single believer to go forth preaching the gospel to the nations, but I am very certain that the Bible commands us to love one another.

Love one another.