In his classic book, Healing for Damaged Emotions, David Seamands tells a humorous story that resonates deeply with me.
Perhaps you have heard about the man who was traveling on a dinner flight. When he opened his prepackaged meal, right on top of the salad he saw an enormous roach. When he got home he wrote an indignant letter to the president of that airline. A few days later, a special delivery letter came from the president. He was all apologies. “This was very unusual, but don’t worry. I want to assure you that that particular airplane has been completely fumigated. In fact, all the seats and the upholstery have been stripped out. We have taken disciplinary action against the flight attendant who served you that meal, and she may even be fired. It is highly probable that this particular aircraft will be taken out of service. I can assure you that it will never happen again. And I trust you will continue to fly with us.” Well, the man was terrifically impressed by such a letter, until he noticed something. Quite by accident the letter he had written had stuck to the back of the president’s letter. When he looked at his own letter, he saw a note at the bottom that said, “Reply with the regular roach letter.” So often we reply with the regular roach letter to people suffering with emotional problems. We give pat, oversimplified answers, which drive them to deeper despair and disillusionment.
It is a disheartening thing to think that somebody cares, that somebody hears you, that somebody is invested in what you are saying, only to discover that they have just sent you “the regular roach letter,” that they really were just going through the motions. I want to call upon us all to stop sending “the regular roach letter,” to stop going through the motions in which we pretend that we hear one another, pretend that we are communicating with one another, and pretend that we love one another. I would like to call us to actual, authentic relationship. More than that, I would like to call us to actual, authentic love.
Toward that end, our church covenant begins with a strong statement concerning the need for love to reign in this church and the type of love that should reign.
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us
Our question is this: is this a biblical precept? Is it viable and true? And, if so, what would such a love look like?
What is at stake in our love for one another or lack thereof? Friendship with Jesus and our witness before a lost world.
Why would we begin our church covenant with a call to love one another as Christ loves us? Why does this matter? After all, if our worship services are strong, our music is strong, our preaching stays at least above “below average,” and people are generally happy with their pockets of friends, why should the church be called to radical love for one another? What, in other words, is at stake when it comes to the church loving or not loving one another? According to Jesus, a great deal!
To begin, friendship with Jesus is at stake. In John 15, Jesus offers a simple syllogism that demonstrates a truly important point. A syllogism is a logical construct that works like this:
- If A equals B
- And B equals C
- Then A equals C
See if you can spot the syllogism in Jesus’ words:
12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
- Jesus’ “friends” are those who keep His commands. (v.14)
- Jesus’ command is that we love one another. (v.12)
- If we do not love one another we are not Jesus’ friends.
Imagine that! Our love for one another, or lack of love for one another, demonstrates whether or not we are Jesus’ friends. Put another way, the true state of my relationship with Jesus manifests itself in the degree of my love for you.
Perhaps you might protest: “But you cannot command love!” But of course you can! How do I know? Because Jesus did so! Jesus’ command to love is the starting point of all true love just as Jesus is also the means by which we are enabled to love. He does not give us an unreachable ideal that is situated out there somewhere. He gives us a summons to Himself and then describes what is at stake!
Do you claim to be Jesus’ friend? He has given us a sure measuring stick to tell whether or not that is so. It is this: do you love His children?
Thus, our love for one another signals something about our love for Jesus. Furthermore, our love for one another signals something to the world. In John 13 Jesus says:
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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
What does our love for one another signal to the world? Simply this: “that you are my disciples.” It signals to the world and says to the world, “I really am a follower of Jesus. I really am His friend. I really do love Him. You can see this in how I love others.”
To fail to love one another is to announce to the watching world that everything we say we believe is pure unadulterated nonsense!
When the lost world hears you tear down your fellow Christian they determine that this gospel we say we believe really has no power after all. When we gossip about one another just as lost people do, we reveal that our hearts have not been changed by the love of Jesus Christ. David VanDrunen writes:
The church ought to be central to the Christian life because the church is the only earthly community that manifests the redemptive kingdom and grants us the fellowship of our true home, the world-to-come.
Yes. “Ought”! We should be manifesting “the redemptive kingdom” and granting “the fellowship of our true home.” In other words, the church should look and sound now the way heaven will look and sound then!
Warren Wiersbe has passed on an amazing example of the power of our love to either draw men to Jesus or push them further away from Jesus.
In the summer of 1805, a number of Indian chiefs and warriors met in council at Buffalo Creek, New York to hear a presentation of the Christian message by a Mr. Cram from the Boston Missionary Society. After the sermon, a response was given by Red Jacket, one of the leading chiefs. Among other things, the chief said:
Brother, you say that there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the Book?
Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.
Let me ask you a question. First, imagine that you have presented the gospel to your neighbors and they listened respectfully. Then imagine they said, “Tell you what: I’ll come to your church for six months. I’ll sit in the classes and small group sessions. I’ll sit in the worship services. I’ll come to the fellowships and socials. And I’ll listen. I’ll listen to how you and the rest of your church talk to each other and talk about each other in each other’s absence. And I’ll creep your and your fellow church members on social media. I’ll watch and listen closely. And if, after six months, I see in you and your church something that is totally different than what I see in those who are not Christians, I’ll accept Christ.”
If they said that and they did that, would your neighbors accept Christ? Would your neighbors be able to see and hear in you and in this church something different than what they see and hear in the world? Would your love draw them to Jesus?
What if your neighbor’s coming or not coming to Christ was dependent upon the quality of love they saw in your life and in our life as a church? Would they become Christians?
Thatis what is at stake.
What shape should the form of our love for one another take? The shape of the cross.
If that is what is at stake—and it is—we are right to ask what kind of love the world should see in the church. What shape should the form of our love for one another take? To approach this, let us consider once again John 15.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Jesus gives two descriptions of the type of love we should have for one another:
- “love…as I have loved you”
- “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The love of the Church should be the shape of Jesus’ own love for us. In other words, it should be cross-shaped, for the cross is the definitive expression of God’s love.
We must love each other as Christ loves us, and Christ loves us by laying His life down for us.
What does that mean? It means a willingness to die for one another, to do whatever we need to do to help draw one another further and further into union with God. This is no surface love. This is the self-giving love that we see in Christ and that we are privileged to offer to one another in the body of Christ, the Church.
It is easy to love those who love you back. “If you love those who love you,” Jesus said in Luke 6:32, “what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Cross-shaped loved, however, loves those who may in fact hate you in return. To this you might respond, “But who on earth would choose to love somebody who hates them, somebody who wishes them ill, somebody who indeed seeks to harm them in return? Who would offer love knowing that they will receive in return rejection and pain?”
Simply put, Jesus would and Jesus did! Jesus offered the world love knowing that those to whom He made this offer would nail Him to the cross! If, then, we are to love as Christ loves, that means we must be willing to love even our enemies. True, Jesus defines the greatest love as laying down your life for your friends. That is part of the call He has given to the Church. But He has called us to more than that, for He also laid down His life for those who would crucify Him, calling out to the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The love of Christ is the love that is willing to suffer even for those who would reject us in an effort to call us to God. Paul said in Romans 9 that he was willing to suffer for his fellow Jews to win them to Christ.
1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,my kinsmen according to the flesh.
This shows us that it is indeed possible for us to aspire to an actual cross-shaped love!
In their book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Christopher Smith and John Pattison speak of coffee as a metaphor for self-giving love.
As coffee lovers, we sometimes think of the gospel as a coffee bean. We can’t experience the pleasures of coffee directly from the bean. It is experienced indirectly, as the bean is roasted (put through the fire, so to speak), ground to a powder and subjected to boiling water. We’re confident that God desires for us to find joy and deep pleasure in our local faith communities, but we’re equally convinced that it is futile to seek that joy directly. One of the great paradoxes of the gospel is that we find supreme joy indirectly as we go through the fire, are ground up and poured out for each other. This process of giving ourselves up for one another is at the very heart of the way of Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12: 2).
It is a beautiful metaphor. We must love in a way that is willing to pass through the fire for one another. Cross-shaped love is love that is willing to suffer for another.
How can we cultivate love for one another?
Cross-shaped love is absolutely necessary, but cross-shaped love does not just happen. Rather, such love requires effort and intentional cultivation. John Calvin’s honest assessment of the difficulties of loving others without quitting is refreshing in its candor. Here he is commenting on Paul’s need to encourage us to “not become weary” (v.9):
This precept is especially necessary because we are naturally lazy in the duties of love, and many little stumbling-blocks hinder and put off even the well-disposed. We meet with many unworthy, many ungrateful people. The vast number of the needy overwhelms us; we are drained by paying out on every side. Our warmth is damped by the coldness of others. Finally, the whole world is full of hindrances which turn us aside from the right path. Therefore Paul does well to confirm our efforts, so that we do not faint through weariness.
Yes, there are many roadblocks to love and we can grow “lazy in the duties of love.” How, then, do we cultivate love in the body of Christ? Let me offer five practical steps.
- Compete to out-love one another.
In Romans 12 Paul writes:
10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
What an unbelievable picture of love in the body of Christ. What if we became a body in which each member sought to compete in showing love, sought to outdo one another in showing honor? Imagine a church in which each person sought joyfully, sincerely, and honestly to outlove the person in the pew next to him or her!
My wife and I frequently text one another and one of us will say, “I love you!” The other will say, “I love you more!” The other will say, “Nope! I love YOU more!” Finally the other will say, “Nope. Impossible.”
This is what love between Christians should be like. Yes, imagine a church in which each member sincerely attempted to outlove his or her brother and sister in Christ more and more and more!
- Serve one another.
Cross-shaped love is serving love. It doesfor one another. In Galatians 5 we read:
13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Jesus is not calling us to mere intensity of feeling. He is calling us to genuine service! We love one another when we serve one another.
I recall having to leave town all of a sudden some years ago when my father had a serious accident back in my hometown. We rushed to get to his side. When I returned after that very stressful and frightening trip, I was touched to see that two men in the church had come over and mowed my grass. I was deeply touched. My brothers in Christ had loved our family through service. There is a powerful declaration of love in acts of service.
- Be patient with one another
Cross-shaped love is also patient love. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love
Consider the language of these verses:
- Bearing with one another
The scriptures assume that Christian love will be a love that must be patient, that must bear with one another. There are times when you will need to be patient with others in the body of Christ. There are times when others will need to be patient with you.
Christians can be too hard on each other, too quick to misunderstand, too quick to grow angry. Think of the longsuffering patience that God has shown you. Can you truly refuse to show such patience to your brother and sister in Christ?
Has somebody frustrated you? Show patience. Does somebody need correction? Do so gently with an eye toward your own failures. Be careful with each other. Be kind to one another. Bear with one another.
- View love as a hill we climb instead of a plain on which we linger.
It would also be helpful to envisionof love rightly, to think of it as a climb instead of a lazy lingering. Love is a hill, not a plain. In 1 Thessalonians 4 we read:
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10b …But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more
“Do this more and more.”
Love each other more and more.
Strive to love more. Strive to go higher in your love.
One step after another, bit by bit, up, up, upyou go! This is how we love! We climb. We push. We refuse to get frustrated. We press onward and upward!
- Forgive one another.
Finally, cross-shaped love forgives. It does so because Christ’s love is a forgiving love! Peter, in 1 Peter 4, wrote:
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
It is generally agreed that the powerful phrase “love covers a multitude of sins” is referring to love’s willingness to forgive when one has been sinned against. This does not mean that love does not see the sin for what it is and respond in an appropriate manner in effort to bring the other to right repentance. But it does mean that the reaction is bathed in the love of Jesus Christ and has the love of Christ both as its modus operandi andits ultimate goal.
Church, love one another!
Let us covenant to love one another!
Love as you are loved!
Seamands, David A. (2010-11-01). Healing for Damaged Emotions(Kindle Locations 169-179). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.
VanDrunen, David (2010-10-15). Living in God’s Two Kingdoms(p. 134). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series” (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989)
Smith, C. Christopher; Pattison, John (2014-05-06). Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus(p. 57). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Quoted in Timothy George, Galatians.The New American Commentary,vol.30 (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994), p.425.