On the night before he was killed, Jesus huddled up with his disciples, told them what was about to happen, and laid out his expectations for them. This is what he said: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 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 13:33-35).
Talk about a contrast society! The world practices a politic of power and that is what it understands. The church practices a politic of love and that is not what the world understands … but it will notice. Most of the time, it doesn’t – doesn’t pay any attention to us. But we will get everyone’s attention, according to Jesus, when we love.
If we are married, we love our spouses. That is our way. Among Jesus’s people, wives love their husbands (Titus 2:4). Husbands love their wives (Colossians 3:19). And, because that isn’t always easy, the church helps people learn how to love their spouses. (That is Titus 2:4.) Kids who are raised in a home where their parents love each other have an enormous advantage in life. We mean to give them that advantage.
But we don’t stop with loving our spouses. We love all Jesus-followers, wherever we find them, whatever their race or nationality. We love Baptist Jesus followers and Pentecostal Jesus followers. We love Presbyterian Jesus followers and Methodist Jesus followers. We love Catholic Jesus followers and Anglican Jesus followers. We don’t postpone loving them until we find out their denominational flavor.
But that love for Jesus followers shows up most clearly in the local church. It is here where love shines brightest—but that’s not because we are easy to love. In the local church, like the local factory or the local bar, there are always people who are hard to love. I don’t like his style. I don’t like her habits. He hurt me! She let me down. We’re what Jon Foreman calls “the church of the dropouts, losers, sinners, failures, and fools.” We make no claim to be loveable but we make every effort to be loving.
And we go beyond loving our fellow church members. We do the crazy thing and love our enemies. Here is where the contrast grows clearest. The rest of the world loves people who love them. We love people who do not love us, even hate us. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” That’s the way the world works. It’s not the way we work. “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Like God’s love (and, generally, unlike the world’s), our love extends forgiveness. Whether we are loving our spouses or our fellow church member or our enemy, we are ready and willing to forgive. That is a given. We forgive as the Lord forgave us (Colossians 3:13). We don’t do this because we feel like it – we usually don’t. We forgive because we belong to Jesus. We forgive because God has forgiven us. We forgive because we are the church of Jesus Christ. To refuse to forgive is one of the most serious offenses we can commit.
I hope you are seeing these two things: (1) God’s plan is to use the church – not just individuals in the church – to draw people to King Jesus; and (2) that happens as we are different from others, a contrast society in which people are loyal to Jesus and love each other.
Loving each other includes, as we just saw, forgiving each other, but there is a lot more to it than that. Most of the time, love is not tough but gentle; not hard, but easy; not disagreeable but fun. One of the most attractive things about the church is that we like each other. We are friends. We like to be together, hang out together. go places together. We do chores together. Eat together. Go on vacations together. Together is the key word here.
There is a great example of this in Acts 2. On the day the church first came into being, we are told that they were all together in one place. Later, when there were thousands of them, they were still together as often as possible. They ate together, prayed together, shared their stuff together, and worshipped together. Is it any wonder that they “enjoyed the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47)? Their life together was so attractive that it drew people in. The last line of Acts 2 is (v. 47): “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” And a few chapters later: “…more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (Acts 5:14). The relationships within the church were a major factor in that equation.