Summary: God’s compassion for the world and power in his people combine for an unassailable testimony of his grace and greatness.
Jesus “did not speak to them [the crowds] without a parable…” (Mark 4.34). And the Apostle John shows us that Jesus’ parables were often acted teachings, the most famous of which is in John 13: “Jesus laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13.4-5). A few minutes after this “living parable,” Judas reject this grace of a humble God; Jesus then teaches the remaining disciples what is the heart or core of the footwashing sermon. Here is the defining mark of the true Christian. [Read John 13.31-35. Pray.]
Love may not be what we would expect as the defining mark of a faithful follower of God. Do we not sometimes act as if Jesus said:
* by this all people will know you are my disciples, by your profession of faith? Do you have an orthodox profession: a Trinitarian theology, a Christ-centered redemption, salvation by faith alone?
* Or, perhaps, all people will know you are disciples of Jesus by your Sunday behavior: up early for church and never cutting the grass in the afternoon?
* Or, they will know you are his disciples by your ethical positions: pro-life bumper stickers and support for prayer in the public schools?
* Or maybe by the company you keep: the school you attend, the signs in your yard, the church where you are a member?
But none of those are his test: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So I wonder, do people know that we at The Church of the Covenant are Jesus’ disciples? Somehow, people must be able to see and sense whether we truly love one another. Saying that we do is not good enough, is it? It is not, “People will know we are Jesus’ disciples because we claim to love one another.” They must be able to discern the reality, so what do they sense and see in us?
If we ask those outside the church who know us well, “What is a defining mark of Church of the Covenant?” would they say, “love”? I especially want to be sensitive to that when I read the concerns from Bible-believing pastors of another age.
J. C. Ryle, 46: “Of all the commands of our Master, there is none which is so much talked about and so little obeyed as this.”
John Calvin, Commentary, 70-71: “How necessary was this admonition [‘a new commandment I give you’] we learn from daily experience. Since it is hard to keep love, men lay it aside and contrive for themselves new methods of worshipping God…. Let this name of ‘newness,’ therefore, stir us up to cultivate love. Nor is it superfluous that Christ insists on this so earnestly. The love of ourselves and of our neighbor no more agree than do fire and water. Self-love keeps all our senses bound in such a way that love is altogether banished. And yet all the time we think that we have acquitted ourselves well.”
So I take from this command of Christ a corresponding test of our community: is love the defining mark of our congregation? In order to evaluate and improve, note:
1. We Are To Love One Another Because of Jesus’ Love for Us (John 13.33, 34b)
Verse 33 begins with a most gentle and comforting title: “little children.” One Bible scholar suggested, “my dear children,” as an accurate translation. Jesus chooses an expression to communicate care and compassion and concern. He soon must share a disappointing and frightening truth, so he first speaks a word of kindness to help bear the load.
Then in verse 34 he reminds his men that their love is based on the model of his love. Love one another, “just as I have loved you.” Together (the phrases, “my dear children” and “just as I have loved you”) remind us of God’s deep and abiding care. When he asks us to love one another, it is not with ignorance of the difficulty. He is not telling us to do what he would not. This is not the command of the boss who makes his employees do work that is beneath him. The Master leads the charge and exhorts his men to chase him into battle: “Come, Christians, follow, where your Savior trod. You know my love for you; let it motivate your love for fellow believers.” We are to love because of Jesus’ love for us.
2. We Are to Love Another Because It is a New Command (John 13.34)
John 13.34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”