We spend time in prayer, church and bible reading but how much thought do we give to the one thing that will distinguish us. How do my words and actions demonstrate love? But here is the kicker, we don’t decide that. How we are perceived is the litmus test to the effectiveness of our love.
I entered into a fruitless and sad discussion online about being a Christian. The “opposition” was right on many points but just as angry and bigoted as the Christians they were deriding. They were citing many of the horrific acts and beliefs of Christians throughout time. I had no real argument against this, but I struggled with the idea that I was being lumped into all of these groups even if my beliefs differed. But then what is the definition of a Christian? Are we a universal group? The problem was all the flavors of Christianity out there and how we really talk about what a Christian is.
The Christian Definition
As I contemplated this question, the song “They will know we are Christians by our love” entered my mind and I looked up the verse that inspired it.
John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Forget definitions and labels (born-again and such), the proof is in the subjective pudding. I don’t say this to guilt or shame us (I don’t believe in that) but as a sobering reminder. It makes me sad that I fail and it renews my effort to work on this. More importantly it gives me a much clearer direction. As many have said, we don’t need better apologetics, slicker churches or marketing, we need to figure out how to be more loving in a real way.
But the most powerful aspect of this verse is not the commandment to love one another but the fact that it is the outside world that decides whether we are actually loving. Jesus doesn’t say that we will know we are his disciples by our love, but that OTHERS will know by our love. Our neighbors decide the quality of our Christianity- not by our bible knowledge, church attendance, sinlessness, etc…
This actually makes amazing sense given that we are often blind to how we come across to others. A large component of group therapy is discovering how we come across to others and why. Often I’ll have a father come in telling me that his family says that he’s angry but he says that he is not. I start with the premise that if multiple people are telling you this, something is going on- either you are angry and don’t know it or you are coming across angry for some reason. The Johari window is the foundation for this idea in group therapy (see fig). There are areas of our lives that others see and we are blind to.
I think of the classic book, 5 Love Languages, with the illustration of the husband agreeing to love his wife better, going home, and doing twice as much work around the house as he did before. They meet again the following week and he is confused that his wife believes nothing has changed. Why? Because she wanted to spend more time with him but he thought love meant doing things. It may not be love if we do for others what we want rather than what they want. My point is that there is a brilliance in Jesus’ statement because it is often the recipient that is the judge of how they are being loved.
How humbling to know that my neighbor and my family are the judges of how I am doing as a Christian. It shakes me, saddens me, and inspires me.
I urge you to ask several questions:
Ask the people around you and at your employment- How loving am I? What could I do better?
Am I loving my neighbor?
How am I doing helping those in need?