Christian love

Our topic today is Christian love – how we are to love our neighbors, our fellow church members, our spouses, our kids, our parents, our co-workers – and whatever other relationships you want to add in here, including any enemies you have. I want to talk about what Christian love is, what it looks like, some of the core components of it and how it’s different than what the world calls love.

Let me set the stage for all this by making the point up front – 

Love is the most important thing of all

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. Here he says that:

  • You can exercise spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, but if you don’t have love for others, you’re just a “clanging cymbal” – v. 1.
  • You can be prophetic and have all knowledge, but if you don’t have love for others, Paul says, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can work amazing miracles, but if you don’t have love for others, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can even sacrifice greatly giving away wealth or dying for a cause, but if you don’t have love for others in this, you “gain nothing” – v. 3.

We can add any number of other examples: what you accomplish with your career, your life achievements, your reputation, your wealth, your relationships with your family and friends, your volunteer work, the roles you have filled in church. The point is the same: without love, you are nothing.

Paul is saying in this passage that these other things are partial and will pass away in the age to come. But “love never ends” – v. 8. It goes on into eternity.

So, for instance, if I come to God on the final day saying, “look at all the knowledge I have!” God could say to me, “the least in the eternal kingdom knows a thousand times more than you.” It’s like I’m boastfully bringing a brick of gold to a kingdom that has so much gold that it uses it to pave its streets.  

Love is what’s all important in God’s kingdom. Love for God for sure, and our topic here – love for others. So here’s some questions to consider: Have you loved others in this life? Have you made loving others the focus of your life? Have you shaped everything you do in life toward the end of loving others?

Now, since love is the most important thing of all, it’s extremely important to ask and then answer the question –

What is Christian love?

1. Love is about actions. Love begins within; in our hearts. But it must come to fruition in deeds of love. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Good thoughts or even good words aren’t enough. When there’s a need and you can help, to love “in truth,” as John says, is to act.

The example from this context is helping someone who lacks basic material needs. 1 John 3:16 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his sister or brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It’s not enough to say good things, “Oh, you don’t have food and clothing?” “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). Love requires action.

Now if we ask, what kind of actions, the answer is – 2. Love acts for the well-being of others. We are to “do good” to all, even if they harm us, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27 and Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Let’s look at some specifics:

  • God loves us in that he feeds us, giving rain and sunshine to all so that our crops grow – Matthew 5:45
  • God loves us in that he gave his only Son to die for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8
  • Jesus teaches us to pray for, bless others, even if they mistreat us – Luke 6:28
  • Jesus healed the ear of the one who arrested him – Luke 22:50; and he prayed for those who crucified him – Luke 23:34

These are all good actions, aimed at doing what is best for another.

Now, if love truly means doing what is best for another then we can’t just go around being nice. We can’t reduce love to niceness. Being nice and keeping up good social etiquette is often more about staying out of people’s problems and needs. For example quickly giving money to a homeless person, hoping they go away. Or not saying anything to a fellow believer who is involved in sin, lest you make waves.

We keep up social etiquette so that we can feel good about ourselves, but we get ourselves off the hook of actually having to love them. Love, however, means doing what is best for the person. And so sometimes love has to be tough and deal with issues, precisely because this is what is in the best interests of the person.

Also, if love means doing what’s best for another, if they harm us,  we can’t just harm them back. Even if you have the legal right to have the person punished, love calls us to a higher standard. Yes, make sure that you and others are safe, but also consider what’s best for your enemy. 

Love acts for the well-being of others.

3. Love is an enduring commitment to act for the well-being of others. This is where our culture is so wrong. Love is not based on feelings. It may involve certain feelings, but these can waver or even go away for a time.

This might be one reason there is so much divorce today, and you see this especially in celebrity culture, the feeling leaves and so the relationship ends. But Christian love is based on a deep commitment to the other person and their good. It’s a choice that we make. That’s why God can command us to love others. You can’t command a feeling, but you can a choice.

This kind of love is a defining characteristic of God. As God says about himself in Exodus 34:6, the LORD is a God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation.” The word here “steadfast love” has to do with unchanging love. It’s God’s sustained covenant loyalty to his people. It’s based on his commitment to our well-being.

Think of God’s love for his people throughout the centuries, calling us, teaching us, walking with us, bearing with us – his love isn’t based on warm feelings. It’s based on this firm commitment to us and for what is best for us. And so as well, Christian love is based on an enduring commitment to act for the good of another.

4. Love involves sacrifice, laying down our lives for others. As Jesus said about himself in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 3:16 speaks of Jesus’ love in this way, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for” others.

Often the world portrays love as focused on finding personal fulfillment, you know, for yourself. It’s about what you get out of the relationship. But Christian love is about what you give to the one you love, or what you give up for them – serving and sacrificing.

In the world if you’re not feeling fulfilled in the relationship you leave. But Christian love teaches us that true fulfillment only comes when we move past self-centered love and learn to serve and sacrifice for the one we love.

5. Christian loves includes all people. It is always easier to limit our love to a certain subset of people, but Jesus teaches us that all are included.

  • It’s easy to love those who like us, but we are to love those who don’t love us; those who harm us. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” – Matthew 5:46.
  • It’s easy to love those who are similar to us, but we are to love those who are different than us – different race, nationality, economic or social status. Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:47.

Jesus teaches that our love is to be perfect or “complete,” like the Father’s love is perfect or complete. The word here in Matthew 5:48 can be translated either way. This is a love which is complete because it includes both the “evil and the good” and the “just and the unjust” – Matthew 5:45.

Let me end by saying –

This kind of love only comes from God

It doesn’t come from our flesh, our self-centered existence apart from God. In the flesh we want what’s best and easiest for us. Christian love!? What!?

  • Good words and thoughts aren’t enough, I have to something?
  • I can’t just be nice or payback wrong, I have to act for their well-being?
  • It’s not based on feelings? I have to hang in through thick and thin? When I don’t feel like it?
  • It’s not about me? I have to focus on giving, even sacrificing?
  • I can’t limit it to people who like me, or who are like me?

The flesh doesn’t want anything to do with Christian love.

No, this kind of love only comes from God, who is love. As 1 John 4:7 says, “God is love.” And only God can produce this kind of love in our hearts. Christian love is “the fruit of the Spirit” who is at work within us (Galatians 5:22) empowering us and enabling us to love in all these ways.

How we should relate to one another

Today I want us to focus on “How we should relate to one another” in our congregation.

God doesn’t just call and work through individuals. He has called us to be in community; a part of the people of God. That’s how God has always worked. Being in a community together has many advantages –

  • we can accomplish more together
  • we can support one another, and
  • we complement each other with our different gifts as the body of Christ

For these reasons and more to be a Christian means to be a part of the church. It means to be plugged into and active in a local congregation.

But it is also true that being in community with one another can be challenging. Misunderstandings, different personalities and points of view can lead to conflict and pain. But God uses this. This is a part of God’s purpose for having us be together, and not just off all by ourselves serving God independently. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our interactions with each other are meant to make us better.

God puts us together, as different as we are to stretch us and to teach us what love is really all about. And you can’t learn this unless you are in relationships with others. And I dare say in relationship with people who are different than you are. And like all love, this can be painful.

The problem is that when we experience relationship difficulties we too often respond in inappropriate ways, which compounds the situation. We do what comes naturally to us – in our human weakness and self-centeredness. Things like gossip, slander, always thinking we are right, always wanting our way, holding on to resentments and negative attitudes, being mean, being cliquish, being impatient,   being hard-hearted. The list could go on and on.

We have all seen or experienced or even practiced these kinds of things. (It’s amazing what can happen in churches.) And because of this and the pain it brings, many draw back and don’t want to be a part. And thus God’s purpose is defeated.

And so we need to be reminded, not of what comes naturally to us in the flesh; we need to be reminded of what comes supernaturally to us by the Word of God and the Spirit of God working in our hearts – to care for each other in our relationships with one another.

And to remind us of what this looks like and to challenge us to be this way with each other I want us to look at the “one another” passages this morning. These are various verses in the New Testament that have the phrase “one another” or “each other” and which tell us how we are to relate as brothers and sisters in the Lord. (These are most of the positive exhortations that have to do with two Greek words that mean – “one another” or “each other.” [αλληλων; ῾εαυτου. The latter is marked by an asterisk.])

 I have arranged them into several categories. As we go through these I want you to think about how these might apply to you, and how you relate to others in our fellowship. Where might God be challenging you this morning? Who might you need to make things right with?

1. We are to love one another

Jesus said, “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.” – John 13:34. Love means acting for the well-being of another. And in this verse Jesus gives us himself as an example. We are to love one another just as Jesus loved us. That is, we are to lay down our lives for one another. We are to sacrifice for the good of one another.

Several other verses also speak to this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7. “Love one another with brotherly affection.” – Romans 12:10. Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

Do we love one another? It’s not about just words or feeling, but about how we treat one another.

2. We are to welcome one another

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” – Romans 15:7. The context here is that of Jews and Gentiles getting along in the church at Rome. Although from very different backgrounds they are to accept each other as fellow believers.

Closely related to this is “Show hospitality to one another.” – 1 Peter 4:9. Hospitality means to be warm and friendly, to make room for someone, to include that person, even if they are different.

Do we welcome one another? Are we warm and friendly with one another?

3. We are to bear one another’s burdens

 Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2. The context here is that of gently correcting each other if we fall into transgression. This is a way of showing our concern for one another. As James 5:19-20 says, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death . . .”

But certainly bearing burdens can cover working with all kinds of needs. We are to help one another with our life burdens. The law of Christ is the commandment, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

4. We are to be at peace with one another

 Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another.”  Mark 9:50. The context here is in part that Jesus’ disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Not only does he tell them that to be great you must be the servant of all, he tells them to be at peace with one another.

Other verses that speak to this: Live in harmony with one another.” – Romans 12:16. Be at peace *with each other.1 Thessalonians 5:13 (own translation).

Are we living in peace with one another? Do we work through our disagreements and conflicts? Being at peace doesn’t mean pretending that we get along. It means working through things with love and respect for one another, so that our relationships are whole and life-giving.

5. We are to serve one another

 Through love serve one another.” – Galatians 5:13

 A similar verse applies this to using our spiritual gifts to serve each other – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve *one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10.

6. We are to bear with one another

. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love . . ..” – Ephesians 4:2. This means to put up with, to tolerate or to endure. If you are married you know that even those couples that love each other the most still have to do this in areas. Here it has to do with the weaknesses in another believer or the things they say and do that might rub you the wrong way.

How are you doing with this?

7. We are to be kind with one another

 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” – Ephesians 4:32. That is, don’t be hard hearted, but rather mild, generous or considerate.

8. We are to forgive one another

Our previous verse goes on to say, “. . . forgiving *one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32. When someone has wronged you, choose to love them, and seek to work through it, and when they make things right, restore the relationship.

9. We are to be humble before one another

 Peter says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” – 1 Peter 5:5.

A specific example of this comes from Paul, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” – Romans 12:10. Lift up your brother and sisters in the Lord. It’s like a competition,  not for praise, but to give honor and praise to others.

10. We are to teach one another

 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing *one another in all wisdom.” – Colossians 3:16. We are to share with one another of what God has taught us. To admonish is to teach in a way that warns and corrects.

 Along these lines the writer of Hebrews says, “But exhort *one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13.

11. We are to pray for one another

James says, “Pray for one another.” – James 5:16. We are to care for each other by lifting lift up each other’s concerns before the Lord that he might give grace and help in their time of need.

Do you pray for others among us during the week?

12. We are to confess our sins to one another

Our previous verse in its entirety says, “Confess your sins to one another pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16. Certainly this means that we confess our sins to the one we have wronged. And it could, when appropriate, mean confessing our sins more broadly than this. This all requires vulnerability before others and honesty.

And then we pray for healing for the person from any discipline the Lord may have allowed them to go through, because of their sin. Once the sin is dealt with, the discipline can be lifted.

13. We are to do good to one another

 Paul says, “Always seek to do good to one another.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15. He says just before this that we are certainly not to repay evil for evil, or harm for harm to one another. You know, “I’m going to get them back!” Rather we are always to do good to each other.

14. We are to encourage one another

Paul says, “Encourage one another and build one another up.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11. To encourage means to instill someone with courage; to cheer them up, to comfort them. Close in meaning to this is the word “build up,” which means to strengthen or to make more able.

Similarly, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” – Hebrews 10:24. The idea is that we can become complacent or lazy and so we are to act to get each other focused and moving forward.

So here are 14 ways we are to relate to one another:

  1. Love one another
  2. Welcome one another
  3. Bear one another’s burdens
  4. Be at peace with one another
  5. Serve one another
  6. Bear with one another
  7. Be kind to one another
  8. Forgive one another
  9. Be humble before one another
  10. Teach one another
  11. Pray for one another
  12. Confess our sins to one another
  13. Do good to one another
  14. Encourage one another

How are you doing? Do you need to make some changes?

Let the power of God’s Word work in your heart and mind to show you the way. And ask the Spirit to come in power to change your heart in any way that might be needed, so that our relationships with each other will be strong and pleasing to God in every way. And so that we can work here together in unity to do God’s work.

May our relationships be so full of Christian love that people can sense it when they come in to worship with us. May God make this so.