6th July 2008
In the Feldon Group the values we hold dear are love for God, love for God’s world, love for one another and making disciples. Today we are thinking about love for one another, a topic that takes up many pages in the New Testament in one way or another.
Jesus gave his disciples a ‘new commandment’: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.’ This is not the same as, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. That had been a commandment since the days of Moses, so it could hardly be described as ‘new’! Jesus was saying something different. He was talking only to his disciples – and in John 13:35 he told them that the world would know they were his disciples by their love for one another. The one thing that tells people you are a Christian is not how often you go to church, not what doctrines you believe, not how many amazing answers to prayer you have had; it is your love for other Christians.
If Christians were easy to love then this command would be easy to obey. But sometimes Christians are not very loveable, and we can only love one another by the power of God. It takes the same miracle of grace to make us love one another as it did to make us accepted by God in the first place – it takes a miracle for us to believe in Jesus and receive him as our Lord and our Saviour, and the Spirit who works that miracle also works in us to enable us to love our fellow believers. And just as God loves us without thinking about whether we deserve it or not, so we love one another whether or not we merit that love. That is what part of what it means to love one another as Christ loved us.
The other part of loving as Christ loved us is that we need to be prepared for sacrificial action. John in his letter reminds us that love for each other has to be practical, not just words. He too is thinking about the Christian community. Although he knew that Jesus taught us to show practical love to our neighbours (the story of the good Samaritan makes this clear), he knew also that our first priority must be for those who are our spiritual brothers and sisters, children of our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. If we care about our neighbours but don’t care about our Christian family, then we show that our spiritual ties are less important to us than our natural ones. That is not the Christian way. We have been adopted by God our Father into his family, and it is important to him that we love one another, without neglecting to love our neighbour as well.
Our love for one another is the thing that makes us a community of Christians, not just a group. The word ‘community’ is used in variety of senses, but generally it refers to a group of people who are bound together by something they have in common. What makes us a Christian community is our relationship to Christ, because that binds us not only to him but also to one another. The Bible uses a number of pictures to illustrate this: we are sheep in one flock, we are branches of a tree, we are members of one family, we are parts of a living body. That last picture is developed by St Paul, to show how each of us is important, each needs the others, and each contributes to the growth of the body as a whole. He takes it one stage further, by describing us as the ‘bride’ of Christ, to show that one day we, together, will be incredibly beautiful, valued and loved.
(Additional points made in preaching)
Love for one another has to be practical.
a) It involves people whom we would not choose as friends. The 12 disciples Jesus was speaking to included Simon the Zealot, who had learnt to hate the Romans, and Matthew, who worked for them.
b) It involves meeting one another. We can’t love if we don’t even meet up.
c) It involves giving and receiving help from each other. Help may be physical – lending a hand, or equipment. It may be less tangible: encouragement, challenge, friendship.
We need to be open both to giving help and receiving help.
Be open to give help. NB: Love as you can, not as you can’t. Each of us have something to offer: the Spirit gives us gifts and talents to help one another in our spiritual journey. Use the gifts you have, and don’t worry if you don’t have the gifts someone needs – others will have them. As the boy with the five loaves and two fishes found out, our offerings in the hands of Jesus can be of more use than we think!
Be open to receive help. Our aim as Christians is not to become self sufficient, but to enjoy God’s provision – which usually comes through other people.
When we love one another we remain in Christ’s love, and our joy is full.
1) What would you say to someone who stated that they could be good Christians without going to church?
2) If Christians truly valued their Christian community, what would you expect to see happening, a) in their personal lives b) in their church life?