Adapted from a devotion by WELS Congregational Services Director Jon Hein
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
I sort of wish Jesus hadn’t said that. I would have preferred him to say, “If you are wearing a cross or if you go to church, everyone will know you are my disciple.” Though I know people who wear a cross or go to church and don’t follow Christ. Others think wearing a cross or attending church somehow makes them better than others. Instead, as a mark of discipleship, Jesus picked a task that is, in a sense, so easy even a three-year-old can do it. So easy. And yet…showing Christian love…also so, so, so hard.
What makes it so hard when Jesus asks us to love? A couple things. First, we know that in God’s eyes, love is more than an emotion—it is an action. Say I see a homeless man and, because I’m kindhearted, I feel bad for him. That kindly feeling does nothing to fill his belly.
That leads to a second reason why showing Christian love is so hard. We know the length to which God would have those actions go. The standard for love is Christ himself. And he is awfully loving. John chapter 13 begins with Jesus taking off all his outer clothing, wrapping a towel around his waist, pouring water into a large bowl, and—one-by-one—washing the disciples’ dirty feet. Man! You need help moving furniture in your office. I’m there. Your car needs a jump. I got the cables and am happy to help. Your feet stink. . . brothers and sisters, if I’m being honest, I might draw the line there. Not Jesus. Jesus’ love never draws lines. On the evening of that same Maundy Thursday, Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. He excused Judas to go and betray him. Jesus didn’t have any expectations that people would ever be as loving to him as he was to them. He just showed love, without expecting any payback.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Jesus says things like, “Love is patient; love is kind; love never fails; love keeps no record of wrongs.” To show the type of selfless, sacrificial love that Jesus showed . . . to demonstrate love that draws no lines, that knows no limits. . . that’s too much. When we think like that, we need to remember that Jesus does not say, “a new suggestion I give you.” He also does not say, “a new helpful tip I leave for you.” He says this is the will of the Lord and King that you love one another as I have loved you.
But here’s the thing with Jesus. . . every single time he asks us to do something, he also gives us the ability. Flawed and foolish humans sometimes ask the impossible. Your boss might demand that a task be completed by a certain day and time. And you may want to say, “Dude, unless you have the ability to magically make days have 30 hours instead of 24, there is no way that gets done on time.” Jesus is not flawed. He’s not foolish. When he asks us to do something, he gives us the power to do it.
Christian love gains an audience for the gospel. When unbelievers look at believers, they see a radical love within them. They experience it. They want to know more. It is going to take more than wearing a cross or going to church for others to see you are a disciple of Jesus. Think of the inmate who is convinced everyone has given up on them, or one who has recently been released and is struggling mightily to adapt. Has Christ empowered you to give a love that draws no lines and knows no limits to this person? God grant it among us all. Amen.
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