Love One Another
By Lars H. Wilhelmsson
The injunction "Love one another" is the foundation upon which all the other commands of Scripture are built. Fourteen times in the New Testament we are exhorted to love one another (twice in John 13:34; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thes. 3:12; 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; and 2 John 5).
The Apostle Paul, writing to the believers at Colosse, said love binds all the Christian virtues together: "As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:12-14).
In the Upper Room just prior to His death, Jesus said to His disciples, "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34).
But what is new about love? The Old Testament is filled with commands to love. "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people," God told Israel, "but love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18).
The new thing Jesus referred to is what Leon Morris calls in his Gospel According To John, the "mutual affection that Christians have for one another on account of Christ's great love for them." Morris continues, "A brotherhood has been created on the basis of Jesus' work for men, and there is a new relationship within that brotherhood."
It is a relationship based on divine love. After Jesus told His disciples that love is a new commandment, He presented Himself as the example of what it means to love. "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
It is not just that we are to love, but we are to love as He loved us. His love is to be the standard of our love for one another.
Paul instructed the Christians at Ephesus to "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (5:2). This is the nature of Christ's love: He loved to the point of offering Himself up to be crucified on a criminal’s cross, thus making an acceptable and all-sufficient payment (ransom) on our behalf.
This sacrificial nature of love is again repeated when Paul instructed husbands to love their wives "just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her."
Love to the point of death is the ultimate expression of love. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
But there is a sense in which there is even a great love than this. Jesus demonstrated it on the cross. Paul explained it this way:
"At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8).
To die for sinners and rebels is the ultimate expression of love. And that is what the cross is all about.
What of some of the passages that exhort us to love one another?
Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love" (12:10). "Brotherly love" refers to the love that should exist between brothers and sisters within a family. And this same love must also characterize the family of God.
To "be devoted" to one another means to love our brothers and sisters in the faith as though they were brothers and sisters in the flesh. In a way we believers are "blood brothers" since our becoming a part of the family of God was through the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7).
The word "devoted" also carries the idea of affection, and that is why various translations read "love tenderly" or "be kindly affectioned." Christians are to be as devoted to each other as are members of a close-knit family.
Paul told the Thessalonian believers, "Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more" (1 Thes. 4:9-10).
The apostle was not here exhorting them to acquire something they did not already possess. Rather, he was encouraging them to obtain more of what they already enjoyed.
Earlier in the book he had pointed out that their "labor [was] prompted by love" (1:3). Here he stated that they not only loved their fellow believers at Thessalonica but "all the brothers throughout Macedonia." What a testimony!
Yet there was room for improvement, for no one can have too much love.
Paul prayed for the Philippian church also that their love would increase. He declared, "This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight" (1:9).
Then he added the reason for his prayer: "So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God" (1:10-11).
Love, says Paul, makes us discerning. Love enables us to choose the best.
Practice Makes Perfect
In order to increase, love must be exercised. Many times God puts us in circumstances that force us to practice Christian love. It often is the difficult person or situation that drives us to our knees and opens us up for God to shed His love into our hearts by His Spirit.
The Bible instructs us to "keep on loving each other as brothers" (Heb. 13:1). The writer goes on to say: "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (13:2-3).
Among Jews and Gentiles alike hospitality ranked high. In fact, it was a religious obligation. It was a poor witness for Christians not to practice hospitality.
Sympathy or empathy was also to be shown to imprisoned Christian brothers. When one member of the body suffered, all suffered (1 Cor. 12:26).
F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on Hebrews, gives us an insight into this love. He quotes how the church tried to secure Peregrinus Proteus's release from prison: "The Christians left no stone unturned in their endeavor to procure [Peregrinus's] release. When this proved impossible, they looked after his wants in all other matters with untiring solicitude and devotion.
"From the earliest dawn old women ('widows,' they were called) and orphan children might be seen waiting about the prison doors, while the officers of the church, by bribing the jailors, were able to spend the night inside with him. Meals were brought in, and they went through their sacred formulas."
The ability to put ourselves in another's place is part of true love. Compassionate love enters into the feelings – the hurts, sorrows, sufferings – of others.
Peter wrote: "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Pet. 1:22-23).
Peter first commended the believers for loving their Christian brothers. Then he commanded them to love their Christian brothers. Why would he command them to do what they already were doing?
The answer is that Peter used two different words for love. He commended them for their friendship love. But he commanded them to also have godly or divine love, selfless, sacrificial love. They were to love one another as God loved them.
In light of the fact that God's "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3), the apostle tells us to "make every effort to add to [our] faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love" (5-7).
Peter makes it plain that these Christian virtues are not attained automatically. Moreover, they may be possessed "in increasing measure" (1:8) – and that includes love. But like a muscle, love must be exercised.
Love Reaches the World
Finally, love is God's method of reaching the world. It convinces the world that we belong to Jesus. "All men will know that you are My disciples," Jesus said, "if you love one another" (John 13:35).
This is frightening, says Francis Schaeffer. It is as if Jesus tells the world that by His authority they have the prerogative to judge whether or not an individual is a Christian.
The world will be reached not by powerful preaching, nor by impressive teaching, nor by persuasive counseling, nor by our latest communication methods, but by our love.
Love is God's greatest force to accomplish the Great Commission. Love constitutes God's strategy to win the lost.
Love is foundational. Jesus is the ultimate example of love.
Love is sacrificial. Love is devoted. Love unifies. Love makes us discerning, empathetic.
Love can be cultivated, enlarged on. It must be exercised.
Love is God's method not only for building and maintaining His Church, but for reaching the world.
"All men," Jesus said, "will know that you are My disciples if you love one another."
– From Alliance Life, official publication of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, August 19, 1981. Used by permission of the author.