Two of the most profound things about Jesus’ teachings were the simplicity of His messages and how those messages often impacted the different domains of our lives. The more I read the Gospels, the more convinced I am that amidst the hustle and bustle of life and the many mixed messages from our pulpits, a good place to go is back to basics. What did Jesus have to say about specific situations in which we find ourselves?
I thought about this as I had cause to reflect on His words, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35, KJV), and wondered: what would happen if we all did that? In one incident recorded in Mark, a Scribe asked Jesus which commandment was the first of all, to which He replied, “The first is … thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (12:29-31).
The profoundness of the last eight words of His reply is beyond words, yet Matthew took it one step further when he reported Jesus saying, “On these two commandments hangeth the whole law, and the prophets” (22:40). Nothing else that we are commanded to do come close to the command to love God with all our being AND our neighbours as ourselves. Paul expands on this concept when he writes, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Without the love of Christ demonstrated to each other in our everyday lives, nothing we could ever do really matters.
Now, I readily concede that some people, for whatever reasons, are very difficult to love. Left to our own imaginations we would prefer not to be within a “country mile” of them, yet Jesus did not command us to love only the lovable or those who were nice to us. He said, without ambiguity, “Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you: that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven … For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt. 5:44-46). I am struck by Jesus’ reason for our showing this kind of love – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” We should note His deliberate use of the word “disciple” instead of “follower”. The disciple is a learner, a pupil, whose only goal is to learn from his teacher in order that he may become like that teacher. A follower has no such ambition. As we reflect on this important distinction, the relevant question therefore is – which are you?