For Christ Our Lover
By John R. W. Stott
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments…He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him…If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him (John 14:15, 21, 23).
I confess that these are favourite verses of mine and have often been both an encouragement and a challenge to me. Jesus assumes that His followers will love Him, indeed that we will love Him more than our parents, children, spouse, brothers and sisters (Matt. 10:37; Lk. 14:26). Knowing full well that the Old Testament command was to love God first and with all our being, He nevertheless expects His disciples to give their supreme love and loyalty to Him. Further, He is clear how He wants us to express our love for Him: not primarily by protestations of love, or by singing sentimental "hymns of personal devotion" (as the old hymnbooks used to call them), but by "having" His commandments (i.e., searching them out from His teaching and storing them up in our minds) and by "keeping" them, in other words, by moral obedience. Moreover, to the disciple who proves his love by his obedience, He makes an exceptional promise: "I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (v. 21). Again, "My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (v. 23). It would be hard to conceive richer promises than these. Christ promises to His lovers that He and His Father will come and dwell with them, and that He will make Himself known to them. The test of love is obedience, and the reward of love a self-manifestation of Jesus Christ.
There are times in every Christian’s life when we are sorely tempted to disobey Christ, either because we do not like what He commands, or because we do not understand why He should command it, or because we think we know better, or because the commanded thing is out of fashion. It is at times like these that we need to remember the rationale of obedience. The love of Christ controls us. It has awakened our love for Him. So "for His sake," because it is He who commands us, we shall gladly and promptly obey.
Christian Mission Is for Christ
"So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
The contrast between these verses is striking. According to verse 21, in one of the most sensational expressions in the whole New Testament, it was "for our sake" that God actually made the sinless Christ to be sin on the Cross, by causing Him to bear our sins. According to verse 20 it is "for Christ’s sake" that we are ambassadors and "for Christ’s sake" (the same words are repeated) that we beg people to be reconciled to God. Thus, because Christ acted for our sake we now act for His. The Cross of Christ was undertaken for us; the Christian mission must be undertaken for Him. The thought goes back to the teaching of Jesus Himself: "whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it" (Mark 8:36). Edward H. Bickersteth echoed this in his stirring missionary hymn:
For My sake and the Gospel’s, go
And tell redemption’s story.
His heralds answer "Be it so,
And Thine, Lord, all the glory!"
They preach His birth, His life, His Cross,
The love of His atonement,
For whom they count the world but loss,
His Easter, His enthronement.
Since the whole concept of evangelism is out of favour in many parts of the church today, and since the great majority of Christians could hardly be described as zealous witnesses to Jesus Christ, it is necessary to pursue the question of missionary motives. Why should we desire to win our relatives and friends for Christ? On what grounds can cross-cultural messengers of the Gospel justify their endeavour to convert to Christ the adherents of other religions? The apostles would have answered these questions without difficulty or hesitation. All Christian mission is undertaken "for the sake of Christ."
Here is Paul’s statement near the beginning of his letter to the Romans. He had received "grace and apostleship" from Jesus Christ, he wrote, in order to "bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among the nations" (Rom. 1:5). In similar terms the Apostle John described the earliest missionaries. They had gone out, he wrote, "for His sake" (3 John 7). The Greek expression is more arresting than this. It says that they went out simply "for the sake of the name." We are not even told whose name is meant. But there is no need; we know without being told. It is the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus Christ. For the sake of that name Christian missionaries of every generation have left their homes, identified with another culture, risked danger, disease and death. Their primary motivation has always been and still is that the name of Jesus Christ should be given the honour it deserves.
In my reading of missionary biographies I have not come across a better example of this than that of Henry Martyn who in 1805 left England for India, and later moved on to Iran as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. A brilliant Cambridge scholar, he translated the New Testament into both Hindi and Persian, in order to share the good news of Christ with Muslims, who spoke those languages. His Christian devotion was so intense and passionate that any insult to Jesus cut him to the quick. In Shiraz about a year before his untimely death at the age of thirty-one, somebody said in his presence that the crown prince of Persia had killed so many Russian Christians in battle that Christ had taken hold of Mohammed’s skirt and begged him to stop. Here was Christ kneeling before Mohammed. It was a bold, even a shocking statement. "I was cut to the soul at this blasphemy," Henry Martyn wrote in his journal. "I could not endure existence if Jesus were not glorified; it would be hell to me, if He were to be always thus dishonoured."
I clearly remember my sense of astonishment and shame when I first read those words. It remains with me to this day, for I have never experienced so complete a personal identification with Christ as to feel insults to Jesus as if they were addressed to me. Nevertheless, at least I think I understand what Henry Martyn was describing. I am also sure we need to apply the same principle to ourselves, even if we stay at home and never get within a thousand miles of becoming a cross-cultural missionary. Some of our relatives and friends do not know Jesus Christ. We have colleagues at work to whom He is a stranger. In London where I live there are millions of people who walk down the streets, and jam the tubes and buses in the rush hour, who neither know, nor acknowledge Christ. Instead of honoring His name, they profane it. Instead of exalting it, they trample it under foot. How do we feel about it? Do we care? Are we wounded in spirit, even to the smallest degree, that He is not receiving the glory He deserves? It is this zeal, even "jealousy," for the honour of Christ’s name which is the strongest, the highest, the noblest motive for all Christian mission.
Christian Suffering Is for Christ
It comes as a novel idea to many that Jesus expected His followers to suffer for Him, just as for His sake He expected them to obey and to witness. Yet the fact is irrefutable. Two quotations from Christ’s own lips will be enough to demonstrate it, the first being the eighth beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount, and the second belonging to the so-called "apocalyptic discourse" at the end of His ministry.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad…!" (Matt. 5:10-12).
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake" (Matt. 24:9).
Jesus’ prediction was amply fulfilled. The story is told in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John, for example, who were first flogged and then strictly forbidden to speak any more in the name of Jesus, left the meeting of the Jewish Council "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name" (Acts 5:40-41). The most conspicuous example of suffering for Christ, however, was the Apostle Paul. Almost immediately after his conversion Jesus sent him a message via Ananias: "I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name." After the first missionary journey, which took him and Barnabas through Cyprus and Galatia, they were described as "men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 9:15; 15:26). Paul described his own sufferings in similar or identical terms. Here are some examples:
"We are fools for Christ’s sake" (1 Cor. 4:10).
"While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor. 4:11).
"For the sake of Christ…I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities" (2 Cor. 12:10).
"I am ready not only to be imprisoned, but even to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13).
And what Paul experienced himself he expected, at least in some measure, to be the common lot of all Christian believers. Indeed, he links faith in Christ and suffering for Christ as twin gifts of God to His people: "It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine" (Phil. 1:29-30).
The same two gifts are given together, the believing and the suffering, to many Christians throughout the world today. As we sit in the security and comfort of our Western churches, there are thousands of humble Christian believers elsewhere who are inhibited and persecuted in various ways because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. I have a friend who has laboured for many years as a medical missionary in a particular Muslim country. At a time when a local newspaper was carrying bitter attacks on the Christian faith, he wrote: "It seems to be our lot as Christians to be misunderstood, criticized and opposed by the world; and while the poor, the diseased, the blind and the spiritually hungry come to us in their need, and in their hundreds, some of the wise, the rich and the self-sufficient spend their time slandering and opposing us, as they did when the Lord Jesus lived among them in the flesh…It is the greatest privilege in the world to be spat upon for His sake. Oh that we were more worthy of it!"
"The love of Christ controls us." It is from a profound sense of indebtedness to the Christ who has loved us that "for His sake" we should be prompt to obey, eager to witness, and ready to suffer. To live "for Christ" is to live always within sight of the Cross.
– Taken from Understanding Christ by John R.W. Stott. Copyright © 1979 by John Stott. Used by permission of Zondervan.