Word for Wednesday… Evidence (Part 3)
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:35
This past Sunday we concluded a five-week Easter sermon series on the letter of 1 John. In the process of preparing for and delivering the sermons I often wondered if I might be accused of recycling; a good thing when it comes to plastic bottles, but not so much when it comes to preaching. I say this because the central theme of the entire letter, and subsequently every sermon on said letter, seemed to be the absolute necessity of love for one another. John clearly believed this was of the utmost importance. Even without 1 John we could reach the same conclusion, given the amount of time John talks about the subject in his gospel. As the verse quoted above makes plain, John believed our love for one another is the evidence that we are followers of Jesus. Creation provides the evidence of God. Jesus provides the evidence of God’s love for us. When we love as Jesus loves we provide the evidence that we are his disciples.
Reading through a letter like 1 John probably feels like an affirming experience for many Christians and Churches. Loving one another is something they think they are doing quite well. They are probably curious as to what in the world was wrong with the communities of believers that John was writing to, wondering how it was possible that they didn’t understand something so fundamental to their faith. Unfortunately, my experience with many churches over the years has taught me that the struggle of John’s audience to love one another was not really that exceptional. In truth, it’s a struggle for many churches and sadly, that truth is something most churches are not even aware of.
As a pastor, I have personally experienced an absence of love within the congregations I have served. I have had people talk about me behind my back, spread false rumors, or misrepresent me, because I preached a sermon they found offensive or because I challenged long-standing practices. Many pastors I know have had similar experiences, especially in this season of division when a person’s threshold to tolerate conviction is so diminished. Beyond my own personal experience I have encountered people who have attended the same church for decades, and still feel left out, overlooked, and ignored. I know of several others who don’t attend church anywhere, and perhaps never will, because of the way they were treated by their fellow believers.
I don’t say all this to suggest that I have never experienced the love of Christ through my relationships with my fellow believers, or in the churches I have served, because I have. My point is that no community of believers should exempt themselves from John’s challenging words, and not give consideration to ways they could love better. Loving those who agree with us, who look like us, who talk like us, who love us back, and who give us some reason to love them…that doesn’t make us Christian. That doesn’t provide the evidence that we are disciples of Jesus. There are plenty of people who make no claim to follow Jesus who love in this manner. It’s only when we love those with whom we disagree, those who are different from us, those that frustrate us, those that anger us, even those that hurt us, that we begin to look like Jesus; that’s when we begin to prove we are his disciples. It’s only by his grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit that can do this.