Though it is fulfilling, satisfying, and eternally secures us, there is much more to being a Christian than just going to heaven. We have a responsibility, privilege, and task to accomplish here on earth. If we are truly in Christ, then our relationship to Jesus Christ himself, the world around us, the sin that we have to actively put away, and the people that God puts in our lives, must be centered upon His Word and character. But what does it really look like as we interact with people? What does it mean to truly love others?
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:14-18)
In this passage, John is writing to Christians and is assuming that, if they are in Christ, they will love one another with a true and genuine love. But that leads us to an important question: does this love look the same for everyone we meet?
Now, whether we are interacting with Christians more, or non-Christians more, we still run across one problem: people are people. Yet, our love for each type of person should also be contextual and unique. Loving Christians, for example, is often a difficult task. Within the Church, we seem to find ourselves competing for attention, approval, and ministry roles. We also struggle with jealously, bitterness, disagreements, politics, preferences, and selfishness.
But how are we to effectively love the world if we cannot first love each other? This is a very real issue and problem in our churches today, and it must be fixed. John gives us further details of this love, and the urgency that it brings. In verse 15, he uses an illustration that if we do not love each other, we are seen as a “murderer.”
In addition, we also must meet the needs of each other within the body, so that we can fully and effectively accomplish our mission. Verse 17 poses a great question here: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Another great passage to reflect on that displays an example of this is Acts 2, where the body of Christ was meeting needs as they were presented to each other, something that complemented the movement of the Holy Spirit in saving thousands! Lastly, as 1 Corinthians 12 shows us, we are one body with many members, and we must each function according to our gift. This means that we need each other. We should love the body of Christ.
Moving from 1 John to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:13-16, we begin to understand how God has called us to love the non-Christians in our lives as well.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.”
These words of Jesus are not only heart wrenching and convicting, but they are also challenging. We must not lose sight of the degree of darkness in our world. If all we do as Christians is attend our worship gatherings, Community Group, and every other church function, as well as grow in our knowledge of His Word, and spiritually grow ourselves, but we do not allow that sanctification to practically and naturally overflow in our lost world, we are missing the point. Our relationship with other Christians should be a motivation and inspiration to reach out to those apart from Christ, and show them genuine, Christ-like love. This isn’t done by putting a Bible in their face and casting judgment, but by loving them, and meeting them where they are.
Only two kinds of people live in this world: those who know Christ, and those who don’t. Our relationships with both of these is crucial, and Jesus demonstrates how to love each person that has been created in His image: intentionally, genuinely, and for his glory.