Love One Another

I want to discuss over the next few weeks a 2-word concept that runs throughout the New Testament.  It is such an important concept that it is used 100 times in 94 verses in the NT; 47 times as instructions to Christians. 

The word can be grouped into 4 categories:  30% are related to love 30% are related to unity, 15% are related to humility and a 4th category picking up the ones which don’t fit the other categories[1]

“One another” is the concept. In English it is 2 words, in Hebrew it is one word.

This term is relevant to our focus this year on spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.

The things we do exhibit our inward motivation and character change toward Christ likeness. It is how people see whether and how we are transforming.

I have said it before: An inward transformation of values and character produces a radical transformation of outward behaviour[2]. Inside first, outside second.

It is not the things we do that determines our spiritual maturity, but the things that we do give a guide to the progress on the inside. 

Charles Spurgeon preached that we must judge [people] by their fruits; and if the fruits are not changed, the tree is not changed. Character is everything: if the character is not set right, the [person] is not saved.[3]

That is a hard-line viewpoint from a 19th Century preacher but the production of godly fruit is not an “all in or all out” criteria.  It is a progression. That is why we refer to it as growth.

The question to ask ourselves is what am I growing?  Mushrooms? Mould? Prickles? Or Fruit consistent with the character of God? Am I the same today as I was yesterday or last week or last year? And is the change positive or negative?

The author and theologian Marva Dawn reminds us that the more we make choices in godly directions, the more our character is formed to be people who will more easily discern godly options, attitudes and habits.[4]

Today I want to focus on the verses concerned with loving one another.  There are about 27 NT verses that fit into that category (depending on your translation).

We need to start, as always, with Jesus:

 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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

3 times in this Scripture the term ‘one another’ is used. It is a command to love; it is love breathed in from God that needs to be breathed out to those around us, and our love is a testimony that we follow Jesus.

All this in one sentence.  In a nutshell, this is why we need to love our fellow believers.

Now let’s bounce to the end of the New Testament letters, to 1 John to see how John explains what our horizontal relationships of love have to do with God. John was writing to the churches in modern day Turkey at about 95AD

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10).

In other words, loving each other is the living evidence that we are born of God. That we are His children. That we share His nature. John sounds close to Charles Spurgeon here, in or out!

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love, does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7–8).

Love is the living confirmation that we have been born of God and that we know God.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us (1 John 4:12).

Loving each other is the outworking of God’s love within us. It’s the work of his saving presence in us made visible.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16b).[5]

So, John has expanded out the same concepts and reasons that he recorded Jesus as saying in the Gospel of John.  He felt that it is was important.

The Gospel of John is sometimes referred to as the Love Gospel because the term is used so often throughout that book.

Loving each other is the fruit of abiding in God and God abiding in us.

Love for our fellow Christians is crucial if we are to exhibit spiritual growth and maturity.  But as I have said before, we cannot manufacture this pleasant façade.  It is not a mask that we wear when we want to, rather it is a DNA change.  

It comes from within and it comes through the Holy Spirit who resides within us.

The Spirit produces Christ like character in us by the manifestation of the fruit of the spirit. [6]

But again, it is not “lie back on our deck chair and wait for the Holy Spirit to start and complete the transformation”. We have a part to play in this transformation.

The more intentional we are about our choices, the more God’s Spirit can work in us to develop a certain character, a certain set of virtues, a lifestyle of godliness. [7]

The Leadership Teams aim in our focus this year on spiritual growth and maturity is to help you to grow and give evidence to the world that we are born of God and know God.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

How do we foster this love for one another?

Let’s turn to the first letter of instruction from Paul who is a source of much good advice on the topic. It is best read like a bullet point list:

Romans 12:9ff

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.

11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

 21 Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

 

There is so much instruction in these 12 verses, we could spend a month of sermons here. But I don’t want to spoon feed you, I want you to work through this list yourself in your own time, they are easy to read but hard to carry out. Paul speaks clearly, there are no hidden or secret meaning for you to discover. Romans 12:9-21

 

What can you glean from this list of behaviours which will encourage love within you for your fellow Christian?

 

Loving one another is all encompassing and without qualification. It recognises that there some who do not love us back but that failure of reciprocal love should not determine our action or reaction in relation to them

 

In the Boundaries course, we are taught that we are not responsible for other people’s actions, we are only responsible for our own feelings attitudes and behaviours (FAB).

 

And Jesus tells us that those FABs should be loving one another.

 

And a couple of other love one another verses from the same letter to the church at Rome:

 

Romans 14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.

 

Romans 14:19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

 

Rom. 16:2       … welcome [fellow Christians] in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help [them] in whatever [they] may require from you

 

Let’s face it, we like whom we like and avoid others, even if they happen to believe in the same God as us. But we are called to be bigger than that.  We have been given a command by Jesus to love our neighbour, not just to tolerate him/her, nor to avoid them at all costs.

 

I want us to examine ourselves and see how we measure up to this most exacting of commands.

 

The ‘one another’ command relates to loving fellow believers.

 

There is another commandment which is not the subject of this sermon which is just as important but not within this sermon mandate:

 

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 

The ‘love your neighbour’ relates to loving people in our area, Christian or not.  It is not talking specifically about loving our enemies. And we will talk on that again someday.

 

A lovely piece of advice from CS Lewis for each of us when we realise that we don’t measure up to what God expects from us in the area of loving others:

Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbour, act as if you did…When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. (C S Lewis)[8]

I do not raise this to condemn but to encourage you to greater Christ likeness, to greater maturity in your faith so that all may see that you are truly a disciple of Jesus.

               

 



[2] Ronald Sider Just Generosity 11

[3] Charles Spurgeon “Healing by the stripes of Jesus” Messages to the Multitude   223

[4] Marva Dawn Joy in Divine Wisdom: practices of discernment from other cultures and Christian traditions 149

 

[5] Piper, J. (2004). “Treasuring Christ Together”. The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Number 2, Winter 2004, 22, 85–86.

[6] Rasik Ranchord Dare to be a disciple 110

[7] Marva J. Dawn Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting  97

[8] Leanne Payne Listening Prayer 48