Wherever there is a true love for the Lord Jesus Chist, there is a true love for the Lord’s people.
In his parable of the vine, Jesus himself sets our attention upon this particular fruit of abiding in him—the love for God and for God’s people that he himself has, and which he commands us to have likewise: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:8-14).
This same love was both taught and exemplified by the apostles. Consider Paul’s heart, and consider what he prayed for in the hearts of believers in the churches under his care:
- “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3.14-19).
- To the church in Thessalonica: “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (1 Thessalonians 3.12). “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3.3).
- In his epistle to the Colossians, after going through a list of godly traits that the “elect of God” must clothe themselves with (this time he did not use the metaphor of fruit), Paul culminates with the following exhortation: “And above all these things put on charity [i.e. put on love], which is the bond of perfectness” (see Colossians 3.12-14).
- And, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1.7), whether from the Jews or non-Jewish Greek-speakers (10.12)—and, by extrapolation, all Christians even today—Paul reiterated the second great commandment of the law: “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (12.9-10).
- Again in Romans, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13.8-10).
Love for God and for God’s adopted children is the “more excellent way” to which Paul purposes to elevate the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 12.31-chapter 13), same as he did all the churches in his care, as we have just seen.
Although 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at Christian weddings (and is sometimes read at non-Christian weddings), it really has to do with the love of Christians toward one another within the Christian community—the local and worldwide Church. Look at the context: Paul was not at that point writing about Christian marriage (however, of course he would preach this same love to the new husband and wife). He was addressing the Corinthian church, and leading them up to this Christian agapē-love rather than what they were preoccupied with in those days.
In our churches today we need this love: “charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Again, “Let all your things be done with charity [i.e. with love]” (16.14).
And again, his his second epistle to the Corinthians: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 1.14).
How are we doing, on his most excellent way? Without this love that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, each one of us still has sins that could tear our churches apart (Galatians 3.14-15).
To raise this matter up even further: does this love pour out of our own souls, and has it yet become so “in your face” obvious in our Christian fellowships, that it proves Christ is in us to the watching world?
We always need hold in our minds, and work to improve upon, our obedience to our Lord’s ever new commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; 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).
The apostle Peter exhorts us: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 2.22).
John is sometimes called the “apostle of love” because he has much to teach us about loving God and loving the Church. And we have much to learn. One example: John pleads with us, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not [the Church] knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein 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 ought also to love one another” (1 John 4.7-11).
How many times does something need to be taught us in the Bible, before we do it? If our heart is right, then once should suffice. So, when we see something taught over and over and over and over again by our Lord and his apostles, then the cumulative impact of it should humble us and bring us to repent of our personal and collective failure in this matter, and to pray to God that we would make obedience to it a distinctive part of our lives, and of our churches. I here set before you a list that I have seen in various places—I claim no credit for it, and I am sorry I don’t know where to find its original source:
- “Love one another” (John 13.34)
- “Love one another” (John 13.35)
- “Love one another” (John 15.12)
- “Love one another” (John 15.17)
- “Love one another” (Romans 12.10)
- “Love one another” (1 Thessalonians 3.12)
- “Love one another” (1 Peter 11.22)
- “Love one another” (1 John 3.11)
- “Love one another” (1 John 3.23)
- “Love one another” (1 John 4.7)
- “Love one another” (1 John 4.11)
- “Love one another” (1 John 4.12)
- “Love one another” (2 John 5)
That’s the list, but as we have seen, it is not complete.
Love for the church is surely part of what Christ himself describes as the second greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22.37-40; see also 1 Thessalonians 3.12).
Paul likewise affirms that it is the more excellent way, the greatest character trait of godliness, and the fulfilling of the law (1 Corinthians 12.31; 13.13; Romans 13.8-10).
And Peter exhorts us to add to our faith “brotherly kindness” and “charity” [i.e. love] (2 Peter 1.7).