One of the fascinating things about the command to love one another is the ease with which some Christians rationalize or justify not doing so. Of course, we would never confess to “hating” them; that’s a very strong word and so not Christ-like. Yet ever so often at the root of what we sometimes describe simply as “avoiding so and so” or “I’ve forgiven them but I just won’t speak to them” is a reflection of our inability or unwillingness, to – by God’s grace – agape one another. I have been there and more than likely so have some of you. However, if we judge our actions by the Word, the only standard that really matters, how do those actions stand up?
In 1 John 4:20 we read, “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ but keeps on hating his brother, he is a liar; for if he doesn’t love his brother who is right there in front of him, how can he love God whom he has never seen?” (TLB). If you are like me, your mind rebels: “But I don’t hate him/her, I really don’t!” However, through God working on me as I read the Word, I came to realize that the word translated “hate” also means “to detest; to love less”. That last part got my attention because what it implied was, paraphrasing John, if I love (agape) God, and love (agape) my brother less, I am a liar because I cannot unconditionally, self-sacrificially, actively, volitionally, and thoughtfully love God, who I cannot see, and deny the same love to my brother whom I can see. Does it mean we love others the same way we love God? No, of course not. Jesus made the clear distinction when He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). In other words, we are to love one another with the highest and purest form of love that can be offered to another human being; we are to agape them. It is not a suggestion; it is a divine command.
But what does loving like that mean? A long time ago I read the profound statement, “Loving someone is wanting what is best for that person, even if that best does not include you.” That is hard for most of us to accept because our human nature is more selfish in its approach. We are primed to love selfishly instead of selflessly (see Phillipians 2:4). Can we truly want what is best for someone else if it means watching on the sidelines as they pursue or achieve that best? Sure we can even though it is not always easy. We would do well to remember Jesus’ words, “I demand that you love each other as much as I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:12, 13). At the heart of that command is self-sacrifice, one of the attributes of agape love. If we desire the best for ourselves, we should desire no less for others, even if that best has nothing to do with us.
As we close our look on this theme, I’m struck by Jesus’ next statement – so profound in meaning, yet one we could easily overlook: “You are my friends if you obey me.” (v.14). Friends, IF …
Are you a friend of God? As you ponder the question, bear in mind who defines the terms for the friendship. He does. “You are my friends if you obey me” seems clear enough to me. You?