Reading through 1 John it is hard to overstate the importance of actively loving others. Again this week in chapter 4 John reiterates what we have called the “social test” of Gospel reality. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God…. 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. ...If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7,11,12,20–21)
John learned from his master well. Jesus said in John 13:34, “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.” Notice Jesus calls this a new command, not a new suggestion. So what do you think when you read this? Does your heart condemn you? As we discussed last week, of course our heart condemns us because we all fail. But, as we also noted, reception of the Gospel promises is not dependent on our obedience. The gospel does not equal moralism. But that does not mean our obedience is not crucial.
Many years ago theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer (who incidentally was hugely instrumental for the early pioneers of Christ Church) called the tangible manifestations of love the “final apologetic” for a watching world. He goes on to state that while our failure to love others may not be a reason for us to doubt our salvation, it is legitimate for a watching world to doubt our Christianity. Here are his words:
Jesus is not here saying that our failure to love all Christians proves that we are not Christians. What Jesus is saying, however, is that, if I do not have the love I should have toward all other Christians, the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian. This distinction is a vital one. If we fail in our love toward all Christians, we must not tear our heart out as though it were proof that we are lost. No one except Christ Himself has ever lived and not failed. If success in love toward our brothers in Christ were to be the standard of whether or not a man is a Christian, then there would be no Christians, because all men have failed. But Jesus gives the world a piece of litmus paper, a reasonable thermometer. There is a mark which, if the world does not see, allows them to conclude, “This person is not a Christian.” (Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of a Christian)
Praise God for his Spirit that abides in us and is the power source for such love. May it shine forth in our midst - that the world may know!