Jesus’ dream was that his followers would be known by their love (Jn.13:34-35). Think of all the various qualities Jesus could have told us to be known for – truth, justice, holiness, or righteousness. All of these are very important, yet Jesus’ desire was that LOVE be the mark, measure and goal for his new community – the church.
The apostle Paul picked up on this priority of love from Jesus. In a letter to church at Corinth he addressed various groups within the church that had developed a variety of priorities and pursuits (1 Cor.13:1-3). To those pursuing more spiritual experience, he said, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” To those pursuing more knowledge, he said, “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge … but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” To those pursuing more power he said, “If I had such faith that I could move mountains but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” To those pursuing acts of heroism he said, “If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” As interesting and as noble as these pursuits may be, Paul was concerned that secondary things had become of primary importance. His shock statements were intended to knock them out of their complacency in order to bring everything back into proper perspective. The core of the Christian life is LOVE. This is what matters most. We all need to be reminded of this every once in a while.
I Want to Know What Love Is
Love is such a misunderstood word and concept today. It can mean anything from friendship to romance to sex. Jesus came to demonstrate a love of another kind – a love that caused him to be willing to lay his life down for us (Jn.15:12-13). It was a self-giving, sacrificial love ... all for the benefit of others. It was a love unparalleled in the world.
In the letter to the Corinthian church mentioned above, Paul paints of portrait of the kind of love God wants us to be known for (1 Cor.13:4-7). This love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or envious of others. It is not boastful or proud. It is not rude or always demanding its own way. It is not easily irritated and it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. It never gives up and never loses faith. It is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.
God offers us this kind of love so that we experience it deeply … then pass it on to other people around about us. We are to pay forward what God has given so freely to us. Love is to be the hallmark of those in whose lives the presence of God is being reflected. For us to be known by our love, our love needs to not only be genuine, it needs to be VISIBLE. People are to SEE the love that we have for each other.
Spheres of Influence
The first sphere where we need to be known by our love is within our local church family. God sets the solitary in families and each follower of Christ needs to part of a community of other people who are also following Christ. The Christian faith is not a solo sport. It is something we do together with others. Our love is demonstrated through our relationships with our natural family (Eph.5:21-6:4), our Christian friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ (1Pet.3:8). Genuine love involves looking and listening to what is happening in other people’s lives then seeking to respond through encouragement, service, practical support or prayer (1 John 3:11-19; 4:7-21). It is also a love that forgives and that seeks to resolve conflict if it occurs (Eph.4:1-3, 31-32).
The second sphere where we are to be known by our love is within the wider body of Christ. This refers to the Church of Jesus Christ made up of every true believer and local congregation that confesses Jesus as Lord and God (Eph.4:1-6. 1John 4:1-3). Today there are over 38,000 different Christian denominations, each claiming to have the truth. Let us never forget that truth is found in a person (Jesus) and that each of us has only a perspective of the truth. We need to unite around what we share in common (our faith in Jesus Christ) and be willing to accept our differences in secondary matters. Jesus desires that we be united in our love for each other (Jn.17:21).
The third sphere where we are to be known by our love is before the watching world. This was of primary concern to Jesus. He believed that our love for each other would prove to the world that we are truly his followers (Jn.13:34-35). Nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. Sadly, the church is not always known for its love. Sometimes we are more known for what we are against than for what we are for. Yes, zeal for truth is important but God wants more from us than just seeking to have correct doctrine. Our genuine love for one another, as well as our love for our community, demonstrated by acts of service and compassion, is to be our priority.
Sample Discussion Questions
- What do you think Jesus had in mind when he told his followers that they were to be known by their love? What did he see? What did he dream of?
- Discuss the shock that Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 would have had on his readers. What things can subtly become more important than love today?
- What does genuine love look like in action? Make a list (then compare it to 1 Cor.13:4-7).
- What are some ways we can work towards greater unity in the wider body of Christ?
- How would you describe the reputation of the church in our society?
- Is the church known as the most loving place in town? If not, what needs to change?
- What are some practical ways that our small group could impact our local community with God’s love?