“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
I wonder if Jesus paused after saying, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples…”
I mean, whatever comes after that statement is crucial. If Jesus had put this forward as a question, I'm not sure the disciples or we would have given the correct answer. Imagine Jesus asking this:
How will all people know that you are my disciples?
By our faith?
By our church attendance?
By our radical devotion to God?
By being “more than fans” of Jesus?
All these answers would be wrong.
Even “by our love for God” is the wrong answer.
Jesus says that it isn’t our love for Him that shows anyone anything. It’s our love for each other.
Is love for one another what Christians are known for? A quick look around the church may prove to be discouraging. A glance at Christians interacting on social media will no doubt leave us believing love for one another has all but died. And a good look in the mirror won't reveal the solution. Just more of the problem staring back at us. This whole love thing seems rather hopeless, but as I read the words of Paul to the Colossians, I see that nothing could be further from the truth.
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing…” (Col. 1:3-6).
Paul is continually thanking God for the Colossian’s faith in Christ which came about through hearing the true word of the Gospel. This faith created a heavenly hope that freed them to love one another in the here and now. If Christians will be known by their love for each other, the Colossians are an example of what that looks like and how it happens.
This hope is created and sustained by one thing... the “word of truth” (the Gospel).
It doesn’t happen through striving and working. It doesn’t happen because we are told that it should happen. It happens through God-birthed hope. It's a hope that frees us to love. Hope in a second advent. Hope in the promise of a new heaven and new earth. Hope that all we need has been gifted to us now and yet still waits for us. The hope of an already secured future in the kingdom of God. This hope is created and sustained by one thing... the “word of truth” (the Gospel). God forms this hope in us as the good news of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for us hits our ears. God feeds this hope with bread and wine joined to the true words of Christ: “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.”
Only these promises of God can make us free enough to love each other. The true word of free salvation. The glorious and hope-forming message that the war is over. God and His creation have been reconciled. It’s the good news that there is nothing left to do that frees us to do everything.
Love is not hopeless. It cannot be hopeless. Love springs forth where faith in the word and promises of God is created and sustained, and where hope in the Crucified Christ who has come and is coming again abounds. Where there is love for one another the promises of God have first been believed and created hope.
Where there is love for one another the promises of God have first been believed and created hope.
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul famously says:
“Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Faith becomes sight as the hope of the second advent becomes reality. But the love that faith born hope has produced goes on forever.