“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:34-40.)
Love is the most fundamental part of our calling. Our love for God and our desire to follow Him must always be our first goal, but second to this Jesus commands us to love other people. God works in unity with His people, through those who are willing to obey Him and His commands, and it is through us that He will demonstrate His love for the world. Real love comes at a personal cost. As we love others, we lay ourselves down for the sake of other people, preferring others over ourselves, much like Jesus did for us. The cost of this is real and tangible.
Love for other people, like our love for God, must also involve action to support it. We can use cheap words to say that we are loving God, and the same is true when it comes to loving others. People claim to love others for all sorts of different reasons such as appearing to be nice or even to manipulate them, but the person who carries God’s love is not so interested in being seen to be loving before others, but will quietly sacrifice on behalf of other people without drawing attention to themselves.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-6.)
In this age of social media, it is so easy to draw attention to ourselves and our good deeds towards God and other people, but a person with a pure heart will not care about getting attention for their works, they will only care about the good they are doing. We can use God’s word to draw attention to ourselves as the messenger, and we can also use good deeds to do the same. An impure heart will always look at what they can gain from other people and how they can use others to increase themselves. I have met pastors and ministers who view people as an opportunity to increase their own ministry and try to gather people for their own sake. A minister with God’s heart though, will consider themselves the least and will only look at how they increase Jesus in the lives of others, not use them. A real shepherd will view each person who God gives them to look after with God’s heart. Equally a good church will not look at how it can make itself bigger but at how it can love more effectively. A big church may be the result of us being faithful in God towards other people, but it must never be our focus.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Rom 12:9.)
When we learn to pay the cost of love in deed and not just empty words, our churches will become places of beauty beyond all others. The believers in Acts modelled this perfectly as they became one in heart and mind and shared everything. These believers renounced everything they owned and put the needs of others before themselves in a demonstration of Jesus’ love that has rarely been seen on this earth.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35.)
Indeed, we will be recognised by others by our love:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35.)
The world perceives what is true and what is false in the church better than we do ourselves. One of the reasons that the church is so distained by the world is because they see little of the reality of Jesus in the church, and scant demonstration of His love. Religion will talk of love and may allude to it, but ultimately it will be unwilling to pay the cost that love demands.
If we are to love effectively it is vital that we understand what love is and what it isn’t. God is the very definition of love, (1 John 4:8.) and we cannot correctly understand what is and what isn’t love outside of knowing Him and what He is doing. Pure love flows from God though to His people, it is led by God, not us. No matter what man’s opinion is, if something is not rooted in the truth of God then it is not love.
Love has been twisted by sinful man to mean that getting our own will done is love. In a self-centred church that is based upon the cheap gospel, the people will be concerned about having their will catered to. A Christian who has never learned to follow Jesus will only care about their own place, ministry, position or comfort. To submit to the will of the people is not love, and many ministers have been burned out chasing the demands of their congregations under the pretext of being loving.
Nor is agreeing with the sin of the world to appease man love. When we step out of God in order to justify the world’s corrupt view of what is good and what is evil, we are walking out of love and into darkness. As we saw earlier, it is the job of a follower of Christ to help people out of the darkness of the world with God’s vision of what is good and evil, not become like the world.
If we walk in love that is rooted in God’s agenda alone, this will inevitably lead to hatred from the people as we refuse to act as they act. Despite this hatred, we love regardless, laying down our own lives to see that which is right done in the lives of others.
“And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22 NLT.)
Jesus stated that it is the false prophets who will be loved by the world, and the true prophets who will be hated. It is easy to abandon the truth of God and to be loved by people, yet this will not be love.
“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26.)
“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6 22-23.)
Rejection by both the church and the world is a part of the cost of following Jesus. The degree to which we walk like Jesus walked is the degree to which we will share in both His victory and suffering. God’s uncompromising message of truth will always clash against the hearts and reasoning of man. One of the biggest mistakes we can then make as a church is to compromise Jesus’ message in an attempt to please man. By doing so, we abandon His truth, walk out of His will and lose what it is that makes us be that goodness to the world. True love will sacrifice for the sake of others. True love carries a cost.