© 2012 Rev. Moses C. Onwubiko
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you that you also love one another (John 13:34; cf. Matthew 22:37-39).
By this [badge of love] all men [believers and unbelievers alike] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
Three times in one verse, Jesus Christ refers to the word love. That speaks volumes! He goes on to say, that same love identifies us.
BELOVED OF GOD, without doubt, love is one of the dominant subjects of Scripture. It is the most fundamental element in any relationship. More importantly it is the only badge Christians are required to wear. Love is the one and only law in the New Testament. Imagine! There were about 613 laws in the Old Testament, and only ONE in the New. Love is the basis for the entire Law (Matthew 22:35-40).
Sadly, not many Christians have taken to heart our Lord’s mandate to the church. On one hand, reconsider His Words: “By this all men [believers and unbelievers alike] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” On the other hand, compare Mahatma Gandhi’s quotation seen on a bumper sticker: “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” What an observation. What an honest statement. What an embarrassment to us as Christians.
Christ’s badge of love was visible for all to see, even from a distance. It distinguished Him from the entire human race. The truth is striking! No one, including Gandhi, can read the life of Christ and not be captivated by His immense love for everyone. He loved, even those who hated Him, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24). That is a prayer offered from a heart saturated with love.
“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The following verse tells us that Christians are Christ-like, when they wear His badge of love. “By this all men [believers and unbelievers alike] will know that you are My disciples.” Just think, this means that without the Lord’s badge of love, it’s impossible to identify a Christian as a disciple (student) of Jesus Christ. What’s more, lack of love causes one to lose his personal friendship with the Lord. That should be a great concern to us.
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14).
Our objective in this brief study is seven-fold:
• define love
• explain love
• consider Christ’s love for mankind
• answer “What is Christian love?”
• consider the correlation between love and blessing
• answer “What makes Christianity unique?”
• Scrutinize the acid test for Christian love
Love is a vast subject that cannot be completely conveyed with only one definition. Charles C. Ryrie said: “Like many Christian terms love is more often discussed than defined.”1 Think of it, the apostle Paul wrote a whole chapter just to define love (1 Corinthians 13). For our study love may be defined as a thought based attitude expressed in action for the benefit of the one loved. Love must be supported by action, otherwise love is merely a word. “For God so loved the world that He gave [action] His Son Jesus Christ” (John 3:16).
Action is the best way to explain love. Talk is cheap; action is costly. My beloved, Make no mistake: Christians’ failure to demonstrate Christ’s love was the grounds for Gandhi’s mockery. That’s a tragedy.
Consider the sentence: “I love you.” Here, love is a transitive verb which requires an object. “I” is the subject and “you” is the object. This object must, indirectly or directly, experience love from the subject, the one loving. Without an object love is incomplete and therefore meaningless.
In other words, one cannot allege to posses Christ’s love, without having an object to receive that love. Expressed another way, it is dishonest to claim to have Christ’s love and not back it with action. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Action is the mark of love.
There are various Greek words for love; for this study we will limit our discussion to two, agape and phileo.
The Greek word “Agape denotes a reasoned-out love, rather than an emotionally-based love…one that loves the object irrespective of the worth of the object and even though the love may not be reciprocated.”2 Agape love is the only love that Scripture mandates for us to have for one another.“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In other words, we are to be a reflection of Christ’s love. What’s more, agape love extends to all mankind. See the difference in Christianity!
Agape love has its origin from God, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is a non-prejudice, non-selective love. Its objects may be moral, immoral, tolerable or obnoxious. Anyone who possesses such a love must, like Christ, be ever-ready to live it out. The idea that we only keep such love to ourselves is totally foreign to Scripture. Any love that is not backed by action, is not love at all.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you that you also love one another. By this [demonstration of an attitude of love] all men [believers and unbelievers alike] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John13:34-35).
The love here is agape. Based on this passage, how can the world know that we are truly the disciples of Jesus Christ? The answer is simple: They will know when we love others unconditionally, when we do that which does not come naturally, when we go an extra mile to help the totally undeserving ones, when we are consumed with the well-being of our brothers and sisters in our church and beyond. What is more, they will know that we are truly His disciples when we sacrifice for others. “We know love [agape] by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16 emphasis added).
How do we know Christ’s love for us? We observed that He laid down His life for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He took our place and paid our penalty for us. How can other people know that we are wearing the same badge of love that Christ wore 2,000 years ago? Through observing our thought-based action for the benefit of others. This is the Word of God. Actions speak louder than words!
Christian love is not concealable; it’s livable and observable. “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This is a mandate that demands an action! “The law of Christ” is the law of love, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I haveloved you” (John 13:34). Dr. Vine says, “Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9, 10.”3Likewise, Christ’s love is seen by His unparalleled sacrifice on the cross. This is evidence that a Christian’s love must be backed by action. We cannot circumvent this truth and claim to be a student of God’s Word.
“Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren or toward men generally, is not an impulse from our feelings, it does not always run with our natural inclination, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all, Romans 15:2, and works no ill to any, 13:8-10; love seeks opportunity to do good to ‘all men, especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,’Gal. 6:10.”4
But whoever has the world’s goods, and behold his brother [or sister] in need and closes his ear against him [or her], how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue [“I love you…I love you” type behavior], but in deed [action] and truth [biblically seasoned action] (1 John 3:17-18).
The Greek word phileo is more of a “tender affection.”5 Unlike agape, phileo is selective and condition-based. Phileo is a love that exists between a mother and daughter or son, and vice-versa. In reality, it is a friendly love reserved for a few (John 14:21). What is more, its strength stems from agape. Phileo love by itself is likely to fail; agape love “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Arguably, since phileo is a brotherly love, it is my conviction that a level of such love ought to exist among brethren of the same family, the family of God. “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1). What’s more; “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10). Brotherly love is the Greek philadelphia: ‘love of Christians one to another, brotherly love out of one common spiritual life’ 6
One cannot have Christ’s heartbeat of love and not convey His love to others. So, the question: Is our love for others noticeable? Are we truly exemplifying the life of Christ? “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1; cf. Ephesians 5:1). Some might say “Christian love is a private matter” Ah, how then would “all men [believers and unbelievers alike]… know that you are [His] disciples?” Please ponder this question, as we continue.
Christ’s Love for Mankind
Christ’s love ought to be our measuring stick. If we are to be like Christ, we must understand His love for mankind. His love was unselfish in every sense of the word. When He thought of us, He stepped out of His glory, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). His love culminated at the Cross.
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“While we were yet sinners [unlovable], Christ died [as a substitute] for us” (Romans 5:8).
What is Christian Love?
It is love that mirrors Christ’s love, a love beyond our comprehension in its actions. It sets Christians apart from the rest of the world. Unbelievers cannot manifest Christian love, it is the monopoly of the Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love [agape]” (Galatians 5:22). It is available to every believer in Christ, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22; cf. Ephesians 5:18).
Christian love is effectively demonstrated by mature believers. Baby Christians act childishly when it comes to applying Christ’s love. Many believers behave like unsaved people because of immaturity. Sadly there are many immature Christians and the world is taking notice of their actions. Where are you in your spiritual growth?
How does the spiritual baby grow to maturity to produce this love? Spiritual growth cannot be measured on the basis of time and knowledge. One can be a believer for 100 years, and still be a baby. By the same token, one can be highly knowledgeable in the area of Scripture (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic), and still be as much a baby as one who has no knowledge at all. And having the spiritual gift of pastor or evangelist does not automatically make one mature. Maturity comes from learning the truths of the Bible and applying them, from obedience to God’s commands and from submitting our will to His will.
For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice [application] have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14).
The Correlation Between Love and Blessing
Christian love is unique. “Many waters cannot quench love” (Song of Solomon 8:7). It is what sets Christianity apart from the rest of the world. Beloved, there is another side of this love: abundant blessing. Do you wonder “How does love correspond to blessing?”
Love for God is not only the the basis for Christian love, it is also a magnet for unprecedented blessing, “EYE HAS NOT SEEN, AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD…ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
There are many other passages including.
Because he has loved Me, therefore I will…set him securely on high (Psalm 91:14).
The Lord keeps all who love Him (Psalm 145:20).
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly [those who love Him] (Psalm 84:11).
Love for God is also expressed as: spiritual maturity, integrity, uprightness and experiential righteousness. No one can rightly claim to love God unless he is obedient to His Word. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and disclose Myself [in a personal way] to him” (John 14:21; cf. v. 23). That’s amazing! The one who has love for God is held tightly between the unfailing love of God the Father and God the Son. Nothing compares!
My claim to have love for God is baseless if my love for others is not action laced. No one can truly love God, and not love other people with love undying, whether they are lovable or obnoxious. When asked “Do you love me?” Do you say, “Yes, but…” Ah, there is no “but” in agape love. Ask yourself: Do I love other people, believers and unbelievers alike? The answer is between you and the Lord.
If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love Godwhom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:20-21; cf. vv. 10-12 emphasis added).
The Uniqueness of Christianity
Primarily, three things mark us as Christians.
The first is the indwelling of the members of the God-head. An authentic Christian is one who has anchored his faith in Christ alone, and is indwelt by God the Father (1 Corinthians 3-16), the Son (Colossians 1:27) and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The second is the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us, “who works all things according after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).
The third is the badge of love.
Agape love is available to all believers (Galatians 5:22). It is unique and cannot be duplicated. But Christians forgo their identity where love is not detectable. This explains our Lord’s repetition, “love one another” (John 13:34); “have love for one another” (v. 35); “love one another just as I have loved you” (15:12); “I command you, that you love one another” (v. 17). Beloved, Scripture only needs to say something once for us to respond; repetition is a sign that we dare not take it lightly.
Acid Test for Christian Love
Our study is not an exhaustive one; nevertheless we have a basic oveview of what Christian love is all about. This study closes with some questions. As a husband, do you love your wife with undying love, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5:25)? Wife, do you have respect (the highest form of love) for your husband (v. 33)? Do your thoughts of someone, anyone, rob your peace? If so, check your engine oil of love. It’s likely to have dried up. If so, refill it in a hurry so as to avoid wrecking the engine of your spiritual life.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you that you also love one another. By this [demonstration of an attitude of love] all men [believers and unbelievers alike] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Father-God, it’s our heartfelt prayer that the truth taught therein will impact our lives for the praise of Jesus Christ, the One who loved us so much, and gave His life for us all. In whose Name we pray. Amen
1 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, 1986, p. 39
2 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 1989, p. 192
3 W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1996, pp. 381-2
4 Ibid. p. 382
6 NASB 1995, p. 1885