Love and Humility

Love in the body of Christ starts with humility.  “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).  These qualities; humility, gentleness, and patient forgiveness are exactly how Jesus Christ demonstrated His love to us.  “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29).

Look at the following passage of admonitions for healthy body life in the church.  Notice the thread of love and humility that flows through it.  “Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.  Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom 12:9-16).

Self-promotion and self-righteousness are the enemies of love.  A proud and self-righteous attitude was one of Jesus’ chief complaints against the Jewish leaders of His day.  He said of them, “I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him.  How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and do not seek the the glory that is from the one and only God?” (Jn 5:41-44).  In contrast to Jesus, the Jewish leaders sought the glory of men rather than the glory of God.  Why?  Jesus makes clear in verse 42, because they lacked the love of God in their heart.  Love and selfish ambition are not compatible while love and humility are inseparable friends.

Finally, the apostle Paul, exhorts the church to maintain our unity through love and humility and holds up Jesus as our example.  “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:2-8).

“Make my joy complete.”  The greatest church planter in the history of the world was overjoyed by churches that were united in spirit, maintained in love, and marked by humility.  Finding these in our own church – in ourselves and our community of believers – are cause for much joy.

Love and the Body of Christ

Last post we introduced the idea that “love one another” is part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34).  The “new” of this commandment not only signals a radical departure from the consequence model of the Old Testament, but its practice also involves a new community; the church.  Following Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, His disciples became part of something totally new; the church, the literal expression of the body of Christ on earth.  And love is the foundation from which everything springs forth in how this body life is to be lived.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).  Love is the foundation for spiritual growth in the church.

“And so, as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).  Love is the foundation for unity in the church.

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love” (Col 2:1-2)  “Knit together in love” is a beautiful picture of the love fabric that unites us in the church.

“Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (I Thess 4:9).  The Thessalonians were taught by God to love one another.  What does God want to teach us about loving one another?  We will continue with that thought next time.

The Greatest Commandment

“And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I Jn 3:23).  This, in my opinion, is the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  Believe in Jesus and love one another.  Accept Christ and love one another.  Embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ and love one another.  Or said another way, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).  Faith and love summarize the two part aspect of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.

Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need for faith to enter His kingdom, to join His family.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn 5:24).  “They said therefore to Jesus, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn 6:28-29).  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (Jn 6:47).  Faith equals belief and gaining eternal life is synonymous with entering the kingdom of God.

Jesus introduced the second part of the greatest commandment in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This commandment may seem commonplace to us, but it was radically different and incredibly new to Jesus’ disciples.  They were used to the Old Testament consequence method of eye-for-an-eye where good people are blessed and bad people are punished.  But Jesus has been building up to something completely new as He has been introducing in various ways the idea that, in His kingdom, his citizen’s basic stance toward one another is love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

We have a hint of this in the conversation between Jesus and Peter in Matthew, chapter 18.  Peter, apparently beginning to embrace this idea of love and forgiveness, asks Jesus if this love should extend so far as to forgive his brother seven times.  Now, because we know the rest of the story, we think Peter was being a bit stingy at seven.  But think of Peter’s background in the Old Testament consequence model and we see that Peter’s offer to forgive seven times is actually quite generous in context.  Of course, Jesus blows Peter’s attempt at generous forgiveness out of the water by recommending unlimited forgiveness toward our brother in light of God’s great forgiveness of us (Mt 18:21-35).

The reason I bring this story up is because Peter did eventually fully grasp the love and forgiveness message of Christ.  He would later write, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Pet 4:8).  Love one another; its part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  And we will continue on this path to explore what love looks like when “kept fervent.”

The Great Commandment

If you were to ask a group of believers, “What is the greatest commandment in the New Testament?”, the most likely response would be a quote of Matthew 22:35-40.  “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’  And Jesus said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5).  This is the great and foremost commandment.  And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (quoting Leviticus 19:18).  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’ ” (Mt 22:35-40).

Notice the fine print in the question and Jesus’ response.  The lawyer requested “the great commandment in the Law.”  And Jesus’ reply highlights the command to love God and love your neighbor as the foremost commandment in the Old Testament, i.e. “the whole Law and the Prophets.”  In short, Jesus is giving us the greatest commandment in the Old Testament.

What is left out of the “great commandment” from a New Testament point of view is the community aspect of loving one another that is developed later in Jesus’ ministry and explained in great detail in the subsequent New Testament epistles.  If you think about it, the two great commands of Matthew 22:35-40 have an individual mandate.  Only you can know, sense, or feel how much you love God.  And in regard to the second command, the “love your neighbor” illustration Jesus uses in the parallel Luke 10:25-37 passage has the good Samaritan working alone to help the fallen traveler.

So how do these commands, the greatest in the Old Testament, affect the New Covenant believer?  Consider these New Testament passages:  “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal 5:14).  “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is a fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10)  “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).

The New Testament teaches that love is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.  And with His focus on loving God and loving your neighbor as the great commandment of the Old Testament, Jesus is laying the foundation for the greatest commandment of the New Testament.  We will find out what it is next time.

Imitators of God

The New Testament teaches that our family resemblance to God acquired at the new birth is what empowers us to love as God loves.  God’s love toward us not only gives us the ability to love, but gives us the model for love as well.  In fact, several of the New Testament writers implore us to demonstrate our family resemblance by imitating God in how we love.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:1-2).

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).

“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I Jn 3:16-18).

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I Jn 4:10-11).

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:35-36).

This is just a sampling of the idea that when we love, we imitate the love of God, our Father.  As Paul Miller wrote in Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus didn’t say we should love our enemies because ‘that’s what love does’, He said we should love because that’s what the Father is like.”