The One Anothers - Love
[This is the sixth of several articles in the One Another series]
We have been spending our time lately on the one anothers of Scripture. We first looked at those 35 direct commands where that phrase is used – one another. I've since tried to organize them in a way that is easy to hold in our heads, with the three main headings love, unity, and humility. We have seen that there is a lot that God has for us to obey. But after all of that, if you had to zero in on the most important command of all, with regards to our Christian fellowship, what would it be? Would you emphasize unity? Would you focus on humility? Or the command to forgive, or the command to welcome, or the command to serve? Well I won't leave you in suspense. I've saved the best for last. This is the command that encompasses many directly, and overarches them all – that command? Love one another.
This is the first and the greatest of the one anothers. Hear this command from the Lord Jesus himself: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12). And there is no room to define love on our own terms here, Jesus goes on saying, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you" (15:13-14). This command to love one another is the most repeated of all the one anothers. (John 13:34, 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 4:7; 2 John 5).
And we shouldn't be all that surprised. We should all remember the lawyer's question to Jesus in Matthew 22: "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:36-39). The greatest commandment? Love toward God from the whole person and to the greatest extent. The second commandment, tied to the first: Love your neighbour – whoever he or she is – love them as you would love yourself.
What we have seen from Jesus and the Apostles is a narrowing of that general command to the life of the church. And in the context of Christian fellowship there is nothing of greater importance than the command to love one another. Love is paramount. This sacrificial, putting others first, kind of love. Remember it is Christ who sets the bar for what love is. John writes these helpful words in his first letter: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:9-12). According to John what does love do? It sends salvation, it becomes incarnate, it gets close, it rescues enemies, it brings life. Love bleeds. Love takes the fall. Love is embodied in the gracious self-sacrifice of Jesus for sinners like us. This is your model, Christian. Love like that.
Paul also helps us fill out what true love looks like. In that famous passage so often quoted at weddings, we read this amazing list of what love is, what it looks like, and what it does. Paul begins by stressing the importance of love. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). It would be better to be a simple Christian who practiced love, than to have the flashiest faith but lack it. It would be better to apply the little knowledge that you have in loving others, than to be a great scholar who lacked love. It would be better to love your brothers and sisters here at home than to sell your goods and sacrifice your life abroad, while lacking true love.
But Paul goes on and shows us what true love looks like. Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. (Are you convicted yet?) Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. This is the pitch we are called to hit. This is the aim of our Christian fellowship.
Under this banner of love go many of the one another commands. We are called to "serve one another" but to do this "through love" (Galatians 5:13). We are called to "bear with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2). We are called to warmly greet one another, even with a holy kiss, or as Peter says, "with a kiss of love" (1 Peter 5:14). In that we are called to greet each other with love and warmth. We are told directly to "love one another with brotherly affection." (Romans 12:10). And to "outdo one another in showing honour". This is what love for one another looks like.
So in light of all of this, we each must ask ourselves, "how am I doing?". If we are honest we will all see areas that need improvement. And that is fine. This is part of the Christian life; growing in godliness, being sanctified, going from one degree of glory to the next. It is by the grace of the Lord Jesus that we grow and become more like him. But we are called to take responsibility for that sanctification. We are called to grow in this love. So again I ask, "how are you doing?".
Let me close by offering some practical ways that we can apply this love for one another in the body of Christ.
1. Don't miss the home front. Love the brothers and sisters at home. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Colossians 3:19). Love her with sacrificial, Christ-like love. Wives, love and serve your husbands. Put him before yourself, seek his good, and seek to bless. Do you have children? Love them with 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. Remember, love is patient, love is kind, it is not irritable or resentful. Aim for a truly loving home. Pray for this, work for this. Sometimes it is the home front that is the hardest work. But this is our calling.
2. Narrow your focus. Love the brothers and sisters in your local church. This has been the emphasis of this whole series, to foster healthy Christian fellowship in our church. Yes, these things should be applied in your broader Christian relationships, but do not miss the primary application in your local church. While I do love my brothers and sisters in Uganda, I haven't met them, and have very little opportunity to obey the one anothers toward them. At most I can pray for them and send them a gift. But my brothers and sisters at Redeemer are right here in front of me, week by week. So the command is to love those brothers who are right here, to love one another in the context of the local church.
3. Show up. Love shows up. How will they know you love them if they don't see you there? How will they know you love them if you don't engage? It might seem simple and easy, but it really is a crucial ingredient of loving one another – just show up. Go to the event. Go to all the events. Come early. Stay late. Talk with your brothers and sisters. Invite them over. Say yes to invitations. Now this might be simple, but it will take sacrifice, and it will take time. But remember the definition of love? Christ-like self-sacrifice. If you can't sacrifice your calendar and your convenience, how are you ever going to lay down your life for your brothers? The best indication of great future faithfulness is little acts of faithfulness in the here and now. And one more thing on this – don't underestimate the encouragement and blessing that you bring just with your presence alone. When you show up to Bible study, or prayer meeting, or Sunday worship – you encourage the others who are there. You show you love them just by being there.
4. Find ways to serve. "Through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). Once you show up it is good to look around and ask if anyone needs some help. Maybe you can set up tables, help with cleaning afterwards, or any of these practical types of things. Or maybe you will find a particular sister who needs encouragement and a listening ear – go ahead and take that opportunity, serve her with Christ-like love. God has uniquely gifted each of us in the body of Christ to contribute and to serve one another. Don't miss the opportunity. Love one another through serving. In this we follow our Lord Jesus who embodied this spirt of service:
"But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28).
5. Keep the joy of the Lord. One of the great dangers in the Christian life is that we would lose sight of the gospel of God's grace. We just grit our teeth and resolve to do better. But God has called us to so much more than that. In Christ we are set free – free to finally live in this kind of love. God in Christ has done for us what the law could not do – he has set us free to live for him. The sun of righteousness has risen with healing in its wings. And now "you shall go out leaping like calves from the stall (Malachi 4:2). Our great motivator in the one anothers is the joy of the Lord. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).
And this changes everything. When you are enamored with the grace of God and filled with his joy, you want to show up, you want to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ. You count it a privilege to be in such a company. This is that missing piece that is so critical. If you want to live a fruitful and mature Christian life, then look to the Lord for his love, his grace, his mercy, his peace and his joy.
While the first commandment is to love God, and the second is to the love your neighbour, there is actually a commandment that we need before these. And that is to receive his love for you. You will not love God and love one another unless you know and treasure God's love for you in Christ. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
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