By Jonathan Fletcher
Almost every group features a distinction or two – those emblematic markers that define a particular population. For some groups it is an affinity or aversion; for others it is an ideology or pursuit. It could be a style of dress, type of music, certain athletic team or hobby. Whatever particularity, it is the thing that says, “This is us.”
Despite a huge diversity in thought and expression, Christianity has (or should have) such a defining characteristic. Curiously, if you were to survey a group of respondents and query as to what this characteristic is, there would, no doubt, be sufficient answers as to demonstrate the milieu that comprises a diverse population. While many of these answers would expose a rich heritage of belief, there is one that Jesus himself offered to define those who were His followers. It’s love.
The Apostle John recorded this directive in his Gospel (John 13:35 NIV): “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus adjured his disciples, and all who would ultimately call themselves by that name, to demonstrate their fealty by living the lifestyle of love that He modeled so perfectly. His desire was a revolution of love that would draw a desperate population into a relationship with God – a God so loving, that he would lay His own life down for their eternal benefit.
Jesus made love his trademark. His commandment was that His love should be Christianity’s brand. Be defined by this way of living, was his call. He chartered them (us) to “love one another” but he didn’t stop there. Jesus extended his requirement of love to everyone. In Matthew 5:44, He instructed his disciples to “love your enemies.” He wasn’t satisfied with an insular group who were generous only to those who were like them. Instead, He desired a community of people – impacted by his love, ready to share that love with any and all in need. Then and now, love is the defining characteristic of those who follow Jesus.
References about love abound throughout the pages of Scripture. On top of that, volumes of books have considered love as a topic. You can find messages, podcasts, blogs, articles, wall hangings and coffee mugs all expounding the definition and nature of love. In this brief space, it would be impossible to offer an exhaustive treatment of love. Please do consider, however, the following three important truths about love:
1) True Love is derivative of God’s Love
To love another truly, it fully requires that we have received God’s love ourselves. As John mentioned in 1 John 4:7-8 (NIV), “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” To love in the style of Jesus requires that his follower knows Him. Further, love is not a construct of humanity. Rather, love flows from God. His desire is that those who have encountered his love would share it with all they come in contact with.
2) True Love is always self-sacrificial
Jesus’ example of love was to lay down his life. For us. When we were at our worst. He offers fellowship in this type of love to all who would follow his example. It is in this style that love truly becomes revolutionary. It is a commonality of humanity that we live with self as the first concern of our lives. We are self-absorbed, self-centered and selfish people. After all, what image is the most common on social media? The selfie. Our tendency is to view each circumstance through the lens of “how does this affect me?” Yet, when a person treats others as more important than himself, he paints the picture of Jesus’ love in action. That person professes through his life that he bears the watermark of Christianity that Jesus defined. The world stands up and takes notice.
3) Every person is lovable because every person bears the image of God.
When God created man and woman, He created each of them based on an image, His. In fact, every human bears the image of God. Because of this reality, every life is valuable and every person is lovable. It is a demonstration of the wonderful creativity of God that with as much diversity and individuality that exists in the world, every person uniquely bears an aspect of God’s image. Our commandment is to, therefore, love each person and their astounding uniqueness. There is no space for hate. As love is derivative from God, hate is derivative from… well, the furthest away from God that you can get.
I find that the holiday season is one of the greatest times to examine myself as it pertains to love. Am I living the love that Jesus demonstrated? Have I placed myself at the center of my life or am I sacrificing for others? Do I store up my love for those closest to me or am I willing to live with love for those who would call themselves enemies?
There are many activities well worth your time. As the holidays approach, there are so many things to do – people to see. In the hustle and bustle, let us remember, as we relate to others, there is one responsibility that must rise above the rest. It’s love.