Summary: What proves that we are disciples of Jesus is our love for one another.
First Presbyterian Church
Wichita Falls, Texas
February 11, 2012
Witness to the Resurrection
Mildred M. Jones Jernigan
(January 1, 1914 – February 9, 2012)
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
34 ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Some years ago, I asked the leaders of our church to do a little exercise with me. I fabricated two imaginary people, one a man and the other a woman. Since this is First Presbyterian Church, I named the man ‘First Phil’ and the woman ‘First Phyllis.’ I suggested that we think of each of them as a composite of the kind of person who participates in the life of First Presbyterian Church.
And I asked the question: What do we want to happen to them while they are here at our church? What kind of people are we trying to produce? Assuming that our church has some kind of impact on people, what do we want that impact to be? Every church – every organization, for that matter – is possessed of a certain climate. What does our church’s climate do to the First Phils and First Phyllises who breathe its air? How do we affect people? How do we want to affect them?
Now, I’m thinking that, since we are a church, what we want to do is: We want to influence Phil and Phyllis to be functional, effective disciples of Jesus Christ. After all, isn’t that the mandate that Jesus gave us in the first place? We call it the Great Commission: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples….’ So, is that what we’re doing?
And how would we know? Do we have any idea what a functional, effective disciple would look like? What are the qualities that we would observe in First Phil and First Phyllis if it were all working?
How about a certain intonation of the voice, an affectation of holy resonance? When I was a divinity student, the other ‘preacher boys’ and I would work on sounding like a preacher. Is that it? Is that what we’re going for?
Or, what about a busied life with a high level of activity, especially activity that revolves around the church? I remember as a teenager in church hearing about ‘Brother So-and-so’ or ‘Sister So-and-so,’ of whom it was said: They were here every time the doors were opened. So, is that it? Is that what marks an authentic disciple of Jesus?
Or, maybe it’s Bible study. I’ve met people who were in three or four Bible studies every week. Is that what it is?
Actually, we don’t have to wonder. Jesus himself told us what the sign of an authentic disciple is. He said it right here in John 13:35: ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
It’s not that any of those other things are wrong. Well, maybe the artificial tone of the voice isn’t so great, but all the rest may very well be part of the package. Disciples of Jesus Christ will undoubtedly participate in the life of a local congregation, and they will most certainly have their noses in the Bible from time to time. But these things aren’t the distinguishing quality. Love is.
I look at Mildred’s life. That’s what you saw in her, isn’t it? She was a vital part of this congregation: a member of this church and a regular participant in worship. I can remember seeing her Sunday by Sunday, walking through the hall outside the church office, on her way into the sanctuary to lift her voice in praise of God.
And she was involved in Bible study. She was in the Friendship Class, for many years the most vibrant and active Sunday School group in our church.
But there was more to her discipleship than these things. As important as they are, they cannot stand alone. And they didn’t – not in Mildred’s life. The key quality, the one that gave all the others their meaning was love.
That’s the essential ingredient, isn’t it? The apostle Paul once said, ‘[Even] if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…. [Even] if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [Even] if I give all I possess to the poor…, but have not love, I gain nothing’ (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
This was the living proof of Mildred’s discipleship: She had faith. She had a generous heart. But she had love as well, and, without love, all the rest is empty religion.