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: