“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
What did Jesus mean when He said “as I have loved you”?
Which commandment, Lord, you ask? Go to the nations, baptise them? Make disciples? Teach them to obey every commandment?
No, He says. Not that commandment – what about the new commandment I gave to you? That you love one another as I loved you?
THE PRESENCE OF GOD AS WITNESS
In the Old Testament, there was a way to distinguish a believer from a non-believer, a follower of God from a non-follower of God.
It was by the presence of God. The people of God were distinguished by the presence of God.
Exodus 33:16-17 reads: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
And so the presence of God went with Moses and the Israelites.
That was the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, Jesus expands on it.
He explains that the presence of God is more than just about being for us.
The presence of God is wonderful when He is amongst us. But the presence of God is more than just about “feeling good” and “peace”.
While it is those things, more than that — it’s there for a purpose.
And the purpose is witness.
If the presence of God is on us, people see it on us. People will see the lives that we’re living and notice the difference.
That should be the distinguishing mark, the hallmark, the calling card of Christians and the Church. That hallmark is a godly love that is evident to all men.
That’s how they tell what a God-follower looks like. That’s what it looks like when a person or a group is marked by God.
The distinguishing mark of Christians and the Church should be a godly love that is evident to all men.
Without this love, we are just noise. Clanging cymbals, resounding gongs. Without love, we are nothing.
If love is not evident in the Church, we are nothing. We’re just noisy neighbours to the rest of the world.
That’s the model answer. But what is the real distinguishing mark of the Church today?
WHAT DOES THE WORLD THINK OF THE CHURCH?
I asked my Facebook friends a couple of days ago just to see what they would say. I got answers like:
- “I don’t see a difference in the way Christians live compared to others.” We talk the good talk, but do we walk that talk?
- “Some Christians like to act like they have no problems.” The inauthentic Christians, the inauthentic Church.
- “Christians, I find them offensive, prudes, weird.” Sometimes, this is how the Church comes across.
People think of Christians as hypocrites, judgemental, self-righteous, argumentative.
They think we’re not really interested in other people unless they fulfill our agenda like an “evangelism KPI”, or even better — the tithe.
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Some of this fire is the fact that the world will just hate us, and that’s okay. The world hates us for the right reasons because we follow a different God.
But at the same time, very often, our representation and witness of Christ to the world has negative elements in there.
21% of non-Christians according to Barna’s research have a positive view of their local church. Non-Christians in America, for whom “religion” is mainly synonymous with Christianity — about half will tell you that religion is harmful.
That’s the view of the Church to the outside world. This is the tide we’re swimming against.
On top of that, there’s the one thing we all know very well — division.
Christianity is so marked out by division, by the lack of unity.
The real loser to all of this is Christian witness. We end up not merely being apologetics, but apologetic.
If we don’t get our interactions with the world, our perception by the world sorted out, the real loser is Christian witness. Souls are in the balance.
AMBASSADORS OF JESUS OR EMBARRASSING JESUS?
Looking to my NIV — my “negatively inverted version” of the Bible — let’s take John 13:34-35 and spin it around.
“A new commandment I give to you. But you didn’t love one another as I loved you. How will all men know that you’re my disciples? If you don’t have love for one another, how will people see what the love of God looks like?”
You are their gospel. You are the face of Jesus to the world.
The world is seeing the face of Jesus through you, and it’s not bright and shining. It’s unpleasant, it’s “please, don’t knock on my door again”.
In John 13, Jesus’ demonstration of humility and love by washing His disciples’ feet comes fresh to the disciples’ minds, who were probably already thinking back on His earlier displays of love shown towards them: enduring, meekness and grief over division.
Jesus’ example was what they must have sought to imitate. And so should we.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. When He loved them to the end, He loved them to two ends.
One, the end of His life. Two, the end of time.
Jesus had to love them to make sure that they are there with Him at the end as well.
LOVE THAT ENDURES
Like Jesus, we must love another with a love that will endure, with a love that will tahan, with a love that will persevere, with a love that will push through, with a love that is not finite but infinite.
With a love that is far deeper than something we can just muster up in the carnal.
A love that endures is not about ministering where it is convenient, but ministering where it is crucial, where it is most needed.
It’s not about a touch-and-go love but a love that transforms, that time, that takes investment, that takes an enduring love.
LOVE THAT IS MEEK
Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
He came to Simon Peter who said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Instead of meeting Peter’s strength with more strength, Jesus came and softened it with that incredible meekness.
What would this meekness look like from us as the Church?
It would look like a posture that stops saying, “Do you know who I am?”
A meek posture would say this: “I know who I am – a sinner saved by grace. The only competency or qualification I have? I have His grace marked out upon me.”
As sinners saved by grace, meekness is knowing that nothing except the grace of God qualifies us to talk about God.
LOVE THAT IS EXEMPLARY
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
Now that you know these things, don’t just sit on the word. Go do it, that you may be blessed in the doing of it.
Love one another with a love that is exemplary.
I teach, we do. That’s the Jesus mindset.
What Jesus did for His next generation of disciples is this: He didn’t merely expect them to do the right thing or expect them to parrot Him.
He took the time to talk them through it, to teach them to do it, to do it with them, to do it for them. He mentored the next generation to do the right thing.
Not “I tell you, you do”. It’s “I teach, we do”. That’s the Jesus mindset.
LOVE THAT HATES DIVISION
The evening meal is in progress, the devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus and Jesus is troubled in the spirit.
I’ll give you my interpretation of how Jesus was feeling. He’s just so sad over this guy who He’s known for the last two to three years, this person who at one point had some kind of mustard seed of faith, some degree of belief.
Because this man would now betray Him. I believe Jesus was just so grieved, so heartbroken by the fact that there was a rift in their relationship.
Are we a church that is marked by division – or a church that is grieved and troubled by division?
It’s not merely superficial love, I’m talking about spiritual love.
It should trouble us in the spirit when someone is going down the wrong path.
Grieve for them, grieve the way Jesus would – even for Judas.
Loving one another is not merely a commandment. It is a gift from God.
Whatever God gives us is a good thing, He does it for our good. He gives good gifts!
Treasure unity. Value each other. See each other as precious in your eyes, because they are all precious in Jesus’ eyes.
Loving one another is His gift to us, and He’s telling us that we will be blessed if we do it.
They wrote back, saying: “We don’t do that unless all the churches in the country write in to make that request”.
So Canon Wong and other leaders went from church to church to get all the signatures of all the denominational and church heads.
They sent it back to Billy Graham, who then agreed to come at the end of the year.
Are we a church that is marked by division – or a church that is grieved and troubled by division?
Loving unity is not optional, it is essential.
Loving unity is us as the Church showing the world a manifest expression of the gospel of reconciliation.
If we really care about evangelism, remember: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This is Christian witness. Love one another, and by that people will understand the love of God. By that, people will see what a loving community looks like.
What would it take for the world to look at us and have their first thought be: “If that’s what the love of God looks like, count me in!”
The Church must get its act together in love.
Forget the division, forget the divide, forget who’s better or who’s worse – forget all that.
The most important thing is, do we love one another? Can the world tell that we love one another?
Paul told the church in Corinth: let everything you do be undergirded by love.
So, let all that you do be done in love. Let the hallmark of the Church be love.
Even as Jesus put forward this command to love, He’s telling us that loving one another will require laying down our lives.
It will require meekness, humility and endurance that we didn’t think we had. It will require a passion for unity and for peace, so much that we hate division.
It will require something in us to die so that in our reconciled relationships, Christ might live and shine.
This excerpt is adapted from a sermon preached by Pastor Edric Sng on the second day of LoveSingapore’s Summit 2022.
- What does unity mean to you?
- What does the Bible say about unity?
- What is one thing you’re struggling with when it comes to loving the Body of Christ?
- Practically speaking, what does it mean for you to love others as God has loved you?