“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is one of the last things Jesus said (John 13:34-35) to his disciples on the night before he was crucified. He told them to love one another in the same way that he had loved them.
This is a verse that gets a lot of play in many churches today. The necessity of love is increasingly heard from pulpits, Christian books, radio shows and so on. Churches and Christians everywhere are scrambling to love the world and serve it selflessly. And that is a wonderful thing. I’m glad to see love making a comeback.
But what about Christians loving one another? Are we as good at this as we are at loving those outside the church? In the Christian world of feuding factions and denominations, theological catfights, and near constant bickering, I sometimes wonder.
Read the words of Jesus again. He doesn’t say people will know we are Christians because we have so much love for the world. He says people will know we are Christians because we have love for one another.
Perhaps Jesus did mean something more human and universal when he said “one another.” But it almost makes more sense if he was talking specifically about the church loving its own members—his disciples loving each other. Why? Because an unconditional love between people of such diverse backgrounds (Jew, Gentile, poor, rich, black, white) bound only by a common allegiance to Christ IS the most noticeable kind of love. There aren’t many circumstances in this life where people of every sort of class, race, circumstance and struggle are unified and bound by unconditional, unearthly love. But this is what Christianity is supposed to be. And when it IS this way, it is such a powerful witness.
Christianity is about becoming a community of disparate believers who nevertheless fuse together under the auspices of that most binding and barrier-breaking of all sealants: Christ’s all surpassing love. It is only natural that this will look countercultural to a world that more often than not divides itself along whatever lines (ethnic, class, gender, nationality) it can come up with. The Christian church distinguishes itself (ideally) by putting aside these arbitrary dividing lines. As D.A. Carson famously described in Love in Hard Places, we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake:
The church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance.
Christians loving each other may prove to be the most difficult love of all (because heaven knows we are all so broken and annoying and stubborn), but in the end I think it proves to be the best witness.
I’m sort of tired of Christians fighting with each other so much, tearing each other down, etc. If from the outside, Christian communities look as petty and unkind as anyone else in the world (or worse), why should anyone be interested in Christianity? But if Christians love each other with the sort of unconditional, self-effacing altruism that Christ modeled for us, we will live up to our namesake and people will know we are Christians just by looking.
So let’s put aside our differences, look to Christ, and love each other more.