Jesus’ Unique Requirements—Part III

June 13, 2014

The third mandate Jesus issued regarding the witness of his followers is found in John 13, right after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. His humble and socially shocking demonstration apparently got a conversation going among the men. Jesus said to them (among other things):

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34f)

Jesus knew human nature pretty well to put his finger on the Achilles heal of many a church (and denomination). To state the matter positively, “The mutually lived-out heart love of Christians for one another will be the single greatest missionary force in the world.” (Dale Bruner, Commentary on John, 796). On the negative side, a lot of damage to our Christian witness occurs when, within the life of our congregations, we are unkind, rude, argumentative, or otherwise unloving. In every church I have served, my administrative assistant has been reduced to tears by the abusive incivility of callers who are members of the church! The wail always is, “But they are Christians; they’re supposed to be kind and loving.” Right on. So it hurts the Body when some find it justifiable to be condescending or demanding—not in the Spirit of Christ!

It is interesting that John focuses on Christ’s exhortation to his followers that they love one another. Matthew lifts up Jesus’ teaching about loving enemies (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43), and we certainly must do that. But John, in his gospel and in his letters, emphasizes the importance of loving one another as a sign of our faith’s genuineness and a requirement for our Christian witness. He is not saying, “Enjoy the love fest. Keep it to yourselves.” No, John’s Jesus is saying, “Love one another for the sake of others, so that nothing will obstruct their trust in Me.”

I checked in with my Coffee Ladies this week about this exhortation, and yes, sure enough, they each had a story of so-called Christians who turned them off to the church because they gossiped, bickered, or bad-mouthed others. It was truly a bummer to hear this. But when we do these things, we undermine and invalidate the gospel’s message; and who wants to take a chance on that kind of group?

The Apostle Paul is helpful here for describing love for the church. The famous 1 Corinthians 13 is not a passage about love in marriage, it is a description of what love is and is not in the life of the church:

06.13.14.Love Is Grid

In summary, love is not self-centered or insecure. Love extends tenderness to others, while abiding in God’s truth in full submission.

As many of my friends travel to Detroit today and tomorrow for the General Assembly of the PC(USA), which starts on Saturday, I am painfully aware that ours is a Christian tribe having trouble demonstrating love for one another. I do not think love, as Jesus promotes it, precludes honest and respectful debate. Nor do I think it is our prerogative to define for God and others what love is. Some “insisting on their own way” are saying to the church, “You must love me, and to do that you must accept my commitment to homosexuality. More than that, in order to love me, you must celebrate my commitment to homosexuality.” I do not think this is what Jesus meant by loving. Certainly one is to show utmost kindness and courtesy to the homosexually committed. There is no justification for rudeness or arrogance, which are unloving. But we are called to be patient (waiting for something yet to come), happy in the truth (obedient to the Word of God), willing to share the burden of others in the meantime, and hopeful for the transformation Jesus promises (new Life, free from sin).

So as you pray for the members of your own congregation and presbytery or district, could you also offer a prayer for the commissioners and observers as they begin to meet this weekend? “By this everyone will know that you are [Christ’s] disciples, if you have love for one another.” Make this a reality, Lord Jesus!



4 Responses to “Jesus’ Unique Requirements—Part III”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    Rock on, revmary!

  2. Lynnie Morgan Says:

    Mary, I have long given up on the church. When Kevin Murphy came to St Matthew I asked him if he would sign for me to go to seminary ( at that time I thought God was leading me to work in the church.) He said no, that the seminary would eat me alive.) since then I have had so many negative experiences at St Matthew that most of the time I’m not sad if we don’t have an Aid for Amy and I don’t have to go to worship. There is a cry sour twist in my mouth for the “church”. Now the Body of Christ I can get behind, generally speaking. But the “organized” church I can live without. Maybe it is church politics I have a bad taste for. I love what you have written and I yearn for a body I can go to, worship with, and leave feeling like I was in union with and spiritually in sink with. I suppose St Matthew is about as close as I will ever get to that desire. I am limited because of our situation with Amy as to when I can get out. How on earth do you love one another when you are a conservative in a shark tank of liberals who see no other way to think? It’s tough which is why Jesus made such a big deal about loving one another. But one must always keep in mind that where two or more are gathered He is there but when two or more are gathered there will always be politics, too. It’s quite a challenge!!!

    Lynnie Morgan ~ Sent from my iPhone!


  3. Jodie Says:

    We usually leave out of 1 Cor 13 the first and last verses because they are at the end of 1 Cor 12 and at the start of 1 Cor 14, but his definition of Love is sandwiched between two exhortations that we “follow the way of Love”. And in Galatians, after fighting an extremely effective theological battle against blind adherence to the Law in Scripture (“o foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” – his rhetoric is awesome), he admonishes all of us:

    “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

    This, I am afraid, is the most underrated prophetic admonishment in the entire New Testament.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA

    • Gene Says:

      Jodie, I don’t think I have ever seen the point you are making better stated.
      We are following the way of love, and moving past blind adherence to the Law, and beginning to adhere, as a Church, to the follow the exhortation that we follow the way of love, loving God as we do so.
      Being Church as we are truly called to be, not as we have long, long been COMFORTABLE being Church is hard.
      But, it is worth it, and it is what God has called us to do

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