I’ve been thinking about this word and all its implications. So many people wear this word as a badge of honor, thinking it distinguishes them as good and right.
But does it?
Because Jesus set the new standard. He told us what was most important in Matthew 22 – “37 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
What’s most important? Anyone else would have said following me or giving to me or being like me. But not Jesus. When asked what was most important to God, Jesus narrowed it down to one word: LOVE.
Not the label of being His follower. Not the benefits of the blessings God can bestow. Not the glory of being one of His children.
But love. Loving your fellow man.
Paul explains love in 1 Corinthians 13. We can be the best version of ourselves, but without love it isn’t authentic or lasting: “1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing”.
Without love, what do we really have? We have noise. We have the avoidance of wisdom. We have nothing of eternal value. John agrees with this, saying “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
So I wonder what all our paraphernalia means. We wear our crosses – necklaces, bracelets, earrings – with pride. We wear our t-shirts and sweatshirts as badges of honor. We cover our cars in bumper stickers so we are easily recognizable.
But why? Because we want people to know who we are? Because the label “Christian” is important to us? Because our faith isn’t worth anything unless someone recognizes it?
But God says over and over again in the New Testament that labels are not important. Love is:
- A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35)
- This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12)
- These things I command you, that you love one another (John 15:17)
- Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8)
- But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
- And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)
- Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22)
- Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous (1 Peter 3:8)
- And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
- For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another (1 John 3:11)
- Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11)
- No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
Not just for the sake of being seen. Not just as lip service. But sincerely and honestly. “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12:16). “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
And what I see happening in the world today is not love. It is not Christianity. It is man making his own rules to have his own way. Because rejecting differences isn’t God. Killing in the name of religion isn’t God. Focusing on color isn’t God. Living with prejudices isn’t God.
Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God is unselfish. God is forgiving. God is merciful. God is gracious. God is good.
And this is how we should be. We should be driven to love one another, not show off the labels society deems important.
Because it wasn’t about labels in the first century. In fact, after Jesus died and was resurrected, it was detrimental to your life to label yourself as His follower. It meant almost certain death with possible torture first. But those first century believers didn’t care. Because it wasn’t the label of being His follower that inspired them, stirred up their compassion, or created great passion in them. It was the miracle of the risen Christ, the One they saw tortured and crucified and then resurrected and alive again, that changed their lives.
So what will inspire you today? Will it be a label that has no real value or meaning? Or will it be the divine love that changed the world and changed your heart?
Marie Fremin. 9/22 and 9/24/16