by Patrick Mitchell on January 12, 2022

They will know we are Christian by our ________.

That blank has been filled in with any number of words over the years. Sure, the song and scriptures say love, but our lives and churches have filled the blank with other, lesser, things.

Theology. Outreach events. Evangelistic approaches. Worship style. The t-shirt that says Jesus but looks like Reese’s (You know what I’m talking about).

We would never speak those alternate endings out loud, but that’s what onlookers might suggest we think is more important than love. Rarely has a church split over love, after all. Yet, this is the beat of the drum to which Jesus says his disciples march.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By THIS everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13.35 NIV)

When Jesus himself was asked the question, what is the greatest commandment, he responded as expected, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22.37) What wasn’t expected was part deux of the response in verse 39: And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus struck at the core of established ways of thinking about love for God. What we might think of as vertical aspects of the faith dominated the Judaic landscape at that time. This would include fasting, sacrifices, tithing, Sabbath-keeping, etc.

By bringing love your God in contact with love your neighbor, Jesus created an intersection between the horizontal and vertical. Vertical love for God must extend horizontally to others. In other words, disciples of Jesus cannot emphasize vertical religious piety to the detriment or neglect of horizontal righteousness.

Doubling Down

A couple of decades later, the apostle Paul embraced Jesus’ words and doubled down in his letter to the churches of Galatia:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5.6 NIV)

And again a few verses later, in verse 14:

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul doesn’t even bother to include the love the Lord your God part! He boils it down to one thing – love others. Loving others is the irreducible minimum of the Christian faith In other words, the church can get a lot of things wrong. But, love is not one of those things.

What does our love say about our Lord?

As the proverbial city on a hill, the church can be seen from miles around. Jesus followers represent the church wherever we go, which means we represent Jesus wherever we go. If we are going to be the light of Jesus in the darkness around us, it begins with an audacious love.

 This love draws very few lines. In fact, the only line it won’t cross is sin. Jesus ate and drank with sinners, partied with tax collectors (think political/religious traitors), and never once condoned sin or committed sin. That tells us proximity is not participation. And rest assured, proximity alone is enough to get you condemned by those stuck on the vertical axis of righteousness.

A Question to move us forward

To keep us heading horizontally in our love, pastor Andy Stanley poses a helpful question that moves to action:

         What does love require of me?

It seems like a simple question to ask in a given situation. But it is harder to follow through than you might think. Why? I’ll let Andy answer. This question “closes loopholes. It exposes our hypocrisy. It stands as judge and jury. It’s so simple. But it’s so inescapably demanding.”[1]

This question removes nearly all of our nicely packaged vertically minded religious reasons for acting unloving. It definitely takes away all preferential excuses. It kicks the can of convenience out of the picture entirely. What excuse do we have left?

The world is angry. Media outlets make a handsome profit peddling hate and fear. Only the Church has the light of Jesus’ love to offer. And that light has to get into the dark places. It has to leave the comfort zones of the church buildings.

The only thing that counts is faith working through love.

[1] Andy Stanly, Irresistible. p. 233.

  

[1] Andy Stanly, Irresistible. p. 233.


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