Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”John 13:34-35
I have been thinking about why we exist as a church and what we can do to build up the church community in these post-Pandemic days. In the past, we would tell someone, “Come hear the word of God preached!” Today, we may hear the response, “Do you have livestream?” Or: “I am listening to SermonAudio.” In the past, we may say, “Do come to assemble with the saints to worship.” Today, we will often hear the reply, “But it takes too much time and energy to do that; we can always worship online; besides, your church worship is quite boring.”
How can we counter this somewhat discouraging hindrance to building the church of Christ? From one perspective, the solution is for the ministers to keep preaching God’s word faithfully. The Lord Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). If we are faithfully preaching, eventually, the sheep and lambs of Christ will be excited to come to hear Christ. But wait! Can’t the sheep hear good sermons via SermonAudio or livestream? So, if we only have faithful preaching, we may end up with the church remaining stagnant, stunting, or worse, diminishing rather than growing. What, then, can we do?
The solution, I believe, is and has always been found in the words of the Lord to His disciples:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”Jn 13:35
Christ loved us. Therefore, we must love each other. We must love each other as He loved us. In this way, the Lord shall add such as should be saved to the church (Acts 2:47) as they are drawn to Himself through our practical display of His love.
Let’s talk about this for a moment by considering first, how the Lord loved us; secondly, how we must love each other; and thirdly, what others should see of us.
1. How the Lord Jesus Loved Us
No matter how much we say, we shall not be able to exhaust the fullness, depth and extent of the love of the Lord for His elect. His love for us is unconditional, infinite, eternal and unchanging. He manifested His love by taking on our nature—not only to identify Himself with us, but also to represent and sympathise with us. He further demonstrated His love during His earthly ministry by humbly washing the feet of His disciples, by healing those in need of relief from pain, by preaching repentance and the way of salvation to those who are lost, by going out of the way to reach out to His sheep who go astray, by His compassionate response to poor sinners who come to Him, by defending them against the criticism of proud persons, by praying for them, by keeping the law of God on their behalf, and by dying a cruel death to pay for the penalty due to their sin.
By “as I have loved you” (v. 34), the Lord is, no doubt, referring, at least, to some of these acts of love.
2. How We Should Love Each Other
The Lord teaches us to love one another as He loved us. But clearly, we cannot love one another to the degree or extent of our Lord’s love for us. For example, we are not called to keep God’s law for one another or to die for one another to pay for the guilt of each other.
Nevertheless, we are called to imitate the constancy and unconditionality of the Lord’s love. And we are called to imitate how the Lord demonstrated His love to individuals He encountered along the way.
Therefore, let us love one another by humbly serving one another the way the Lord served His disciples by washing their feet.
Let us love one another by praying for one another as Christ prayed for us.
Again, let us love one another by being kind to one another the way that the Lord was kind to the leper, to the unnamed woman who washed His feet with her tears, or to the woman caught in adultery.
Again, let us love one another by going out of the way to bless each other in the way that the Lord went out of the way to minister to the Samaritan woman or the Gadarene demoniac.
Again, let us love one another by admonishing one another when necessary, as the Lord admonished Peter for his overconfidence.
Again, let us love one another by being willing to do good to one another even when there is a risk of being misunderstood. Remember how the Lord Jesus was so often misunderstood when he healed on the Sabbath? He cared not about the people’s disapproval when He was sure He was doing the right thing.
Again, let us love one another by defending the good name of one another. Remember how He defended the woman who washed His feet with her tears when she was criticised by Simon the Pharisee? And think about how he stood up for the children who welcomed Him into Jerusalem.
Furthermore, let us love one another by empathising with one another the way the Lord Jesus wept with the sisters of Lazarus at his grave.
We must do these things if we love one another as Christ loved us.
3. What Should Visitors See of Us
The Lord says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples” (v. 35). Naturally, then, He is not only concerned about what we see in each other but what others see in us. He is suggesting that when others see us exhibiting love to one another the way that He exhibited love to us, they will conclude that we are His disciples. Or, to put it in another way, when they see us loving one another, they will be provoked to consider the motivation behind the unusual attitude and behaviour, and they will, by and by, realise that we are what we are and do what we do because of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Now, this is what ought to be the case. However, most of us will know that what happens, in reality, is often much messier. It usually takes quite a while before a visitor to the church notices the love that the members have towards one another. But impressions, whether consistent with reality or not, are often formed very quickly. The members of the church may be very loving, but someone visiting for the first time or second time witnesses a member of the church saying a harsh word to another, or he finds himself alone and largely ignored. Such a visitor may, then, decide that the church is unloving and uncaring. He may decide never to step into the church again. Has this not happened?
What shall we do to prevent such a scenario?
First, let us remember that love is patient and kind, and is not irritable or resentful. Though love rejoices in the truth and fears not man’s opinion, it eschews stumbling others. Therefore, let us take this to heart and be mindful of the impression we may give to an observer by the way we relate to one another. Let us show our love by being genuinely patient and kind to one another.
Secondly, let us remember that our love must not only extend to those who are members of the church. Love must also be hospitable. The apostle Paul prays for the Thessalonians that the Lord may make them “increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men” (1 Th 3:12). Remember Augustine. How was he drawn to Ambrose? He was not drawn to Ambrose, as we might imagine, by his intellect and eloquence since he is himself intellectual and eloquent. No, no; he was drawn by his kindness.
Often, those who stay on in the churches and continue to assemble with the saints are those whom the love of Christ has touched, not only as displayed amongst members of the church, but also as displayed towards them.
Brothers and sisters of Christ, let us bear this in mind. Christ did not only love His existing disciples. He also loved those who would potentially be His disciples. Those who went to Him, He showed love and kindness. Likewise, we must show love and kindness to those who come to us.
This is what we must do if we are to grow the church. We must do this if we are to encourage more to come and to stay on and assemble together with us for the glory of Christ.
We can’t grow the church by emphasising our doctrinal purity or intellectual integrity. We must grow the church through love. Nevertheless, let us be clear that we are not a social gathering. Unless we are united in Christ, we are not truly united to each other. Love rejoices in the truth. If we are not united in the truth that is in Jesus, we are not united in love at all.
Therefore, let us, while seeking to manifest the love of Christ to each other and to others, not forget to exalt the name of Christ consciously and deliberately. Had He not loved us by living, dying, rising and ascending for us, we would be on a fool’s errand of fakery. But He has, and therefore, let us press on in gratitude and love towards Him who loved us and will receive us despite our many failures—including our failures to love one another. Amen.