“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:24,25).
It’s interesting to note that “love” can be commanded. How can love be a command? Remember your first teenage crush? Did someone command you to fall for that 14-year-old girl? Of course not! You just had hormones!
We speak of “falling in love,” as if we have lost our control and let gravity do all the work. Hollywood’s version of love, in turn, has cheapened the meaning of true love, godly love, and that’s probably why so many relationships these days are hurtful and short-lived.
Far from “doin’ what comes naturally,” real biblical love is not something we naturally do. It is a behavior that must be learned, one that must be taught. That’s because love is about far more than feeling woozy in the tummy. Loving the biblical way is tough, courageous, hard, and certainly does not come naturally.
The Beatles once suggested that “All you need is love.” Often people point to Jesus’ command in John 13:35: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples – if you love one another,” and suggest that the only requirement of the Christian is to love. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular idea. No responsibilities, no commands to obey, just love. “Love wins” is a phrase utilized by popular writer Rob Bell.
But that’s not what Jesus says!
He is saying that the world will know us, not by our teaching truth or biblical ways but by our love.
One is reminded of the hippie era with its idea of “free love.” But love always bears responsibilities! How dare someone have a child and not take responsibility for its care and upbringing? How dare one enter a marriage and not live by the responsibilities of commitment and exclusivity implied within that relationship?
Yes, the world sees the way we love each other and is impressed. This is a great evangelistic tool! Church father Tertullian expressed it sweetly: “See how they love one another; how ready they are to die for one another.”
Jesus suggested that the church’s love and unity would be the foundation of its outreach: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, just as you, father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe in me through their word” (John 17:20,21).
The connection between the church’s warm love and the ability to reach the world is clear. When we’re fractured and divided, they are turned off. When we love, they want a part of that. Who wouldn’t?