GOD’S LOVE IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS
The beloved scene of Jesus with some of His closest disciples sharing their final meal before His departure is found in John chapters 13-17. Simon Peter and the other Simon, Andrew, the two James’s, John, Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, Thomas, Judas and the other Judas were there. As they listened to Jesus’ words, a sense of uncertainty fell into their hearts. This Passover seemed to be different from any before, as if something uncomfortable and unexpected was about to happen.
What was it, that Jesus was saying to them? What important things were on His heart, at this final time with them all? What instructions did He give to them?
Did He leave them with brilliant words about how to get the most out of life, or the best ways to influence people and make friends, or health tips, or how to be a good parent? Did he teach them about how to cast out demons, or manage a group, or be an effective evangelist? No.
Mostly, He assured them of His love and talked with them about loving one another. He, their leader and teacher, put on the clothing of a servant and knelt before each of them, washing their feet one by one. To many of us, the impact of His actions is not so clear. But to these ones, in their culture and day, there could be no better way to explain what He meant: My love for you is like this. Now, love each other in the same way.
John 13:34: “Now I’m giving a new commandment (law) to you, to love one another. AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, love one another. It’s by this, that everyone will know you’re my disciples: if you have LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER”. (This is the defining thing that will be different about you, this is what people will notice about you).
John 15:12-13: “Abide in my love, even as I abide in my Father’s love. Love one another, even as I have loved you. There is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for a friend.” Jesus was about to show them how far this kind of love would reach, by His own example.
This is not an exclusive, isolationist kind of love, meant only for Jesus’ followers. God’s great love is for ALL. But at this particular time, Jesus was focusing on the ones who were with Him, and speaking into the future of those who would follow Him.
WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
One who follows, is a disciple (one who tags along with, or follows temporarily, or follows closely). The one who follows closely over a long period of time becomes more like the followed in their very essence: their ways of thinking, beliefs, habits, actions, heart attitudes.
The people of Jesus’ time were more familiar than we are, with the concept of being a follower. Most people were not formally educated, and new ideas and philosophies easily caught their attention. With no cars, buses or trains, people spent a lot of time walking long distances together, or hanging about in the cities discussing their preferred occultist, or the most popular public speaker. Many Gentile people followed propagators of pagan myths about Zeus, Athena etc., who were gods of war, competitive power and lust. Jews followed their own teachers of their law with all of its demanding details.
If we in the 21st century had a window into all of these people’s personal lives and into their society, what would we find? Would we find caring, mutually supportive communities whose people were known for their spirit of hope, thankfulness, enthusiasm, graciousness, self-sacrifice, honour etc.? Or, was theirs a society crumbling from the inside, where too many people were self-indulgent, exploitative, living without understanding or restraint, confused, afraid, and either the oppressor or the powerless? History tells us it was the latter.
WHO AM I FOLLOWING, AND WHY?
What leader, what teacher am I following? In my heart of hearts? Whose ways am I most intent on learning from?
Galatians 4:19: Paul said, “I long for CHRIST to be formed in you. I am waiting expectantly, longing for you to be constantly, daily becoming more LIKE HIM”.
Why? For what reason? So that Paul would one day receive an ‘Excellent Leader’ medal from God? No.
He was in waiting for the ones he prayed for to BE LIKE CHRIST ON THE EARTH.
John 17:21: I have given to them this love, so that they and the world will know.
People who follow Jesus will love each other, because He is not like the others. He is loving. The One we are following is love, our source of love.
PRIORITISING LOVING ONE ANOTHER
Acts 2:41-43: Behold, a miracle! All the believers were in the SAME HEART AND MIND! “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and the great numbers of those who believed were of one heart and mind (soul), and they all shared what they had with each other.” The Spirit of love made this possible.
Romans 5:5: “God’s love has been POURED OUT INTO OUR HEARTS through the Holy Spirit, who has been GIVEN TO US.” The love of God was “shed abroad”, “poured out”, in their hearts!
We are all different from each other, all unique in our temperaments and personalities. Our life experiences have been different. We have different spiritual gifts. But IT IS POSSIBLE to all have the same heart and mind. It’s amazing! It can happen, because He has given to us His Spirit of love!
Treasure it. Appreciate it. Understand the importance of our mutual love and fellowship. PRIORITISE it, put it up there and keep it at the top of the list.
LOVE IS FOUNDATIONAL
All of this is foundational, elementary! So much rests on it. So much depends on it.
We all have priorities in our lives. Some of us have daily or weekly checklists, to help fulfil what seems most important. We have our own priorities in our Christian beliefs and doctrinal emphases, too. (Is faith, or evangelism, or getting every doctrine right, or exercising the gifts of the Spirit, or worship the most important thing?).
But, what is the DEFINING thing, for us who are disciples of Jesus?
Ephesians 4:3: “Giving DILIGENCE to keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body”. (Not twenty, or two hundred, or a few thousand. Just one).
“Be kind to each other, tender hearted, forgiving each other EVEN AS CHRIST forgave you” (4:32). One thing that’s sure in life is the need for constant forgiveness to be flowing. His love working effectively in us is what makes it possible. (Some powerful stories about forgiveness that keeps on overcoming, are those of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, Jacob DeSchazer, Richard Wurmbrand and Louis Zamperini. You can read about these stories here).
Matthew 6:9: OUR Father in Heaven. Here, we discover that Jesus included us in this picture! Him and us together… “Our Father”. How amazing!
John 17: Jesus knew the hour was drawing very close, when the great trial and the victory would all be done.
He prayed (1) That He be glorified again with the same glory as before, (2) That the Father would protect those who belonged to Him from the evil one, and (3) That His beloved and the ones who were to be His in the future (including us!) might all be made completely one… in complete unity, even as He and His Father are one. Jesus was looking forward to fully sharing His former glory again with His Father, and also longing for us to be partakers of the same glory and love.
Would it ever be possible for the Son, Father and Holy Spirit to be divided? Of course not! They are one! Jesus prayed for this same spirit of at-oneness for us.
Our unity is glorious!
THE DEFINING THING
THIS should be and remain the defining thing about us. THIS should be the one ingredient that is constantly stirred up in our lives. It’s like stirring the colour in the paint, or the sugar in the coffee, or the vanilla in the cake. It changes it all.
1 Cor 13:1: If I speak with tongues, or prophesy, or have immensely valuable gifts of wisdom, knowledge and faith, it’s just a big noise if I don’t have love.
FIGHT FOR LOVE!
This is really what God expects of us as Christian people. If we are mature in our Christian walk, we will make sure to keep this elementary truth before us, and guide others who are in our circles, in its way.
How do we keep the love? What must we guard against? We must guard against attitudes or actions that would harm another, against hatred, against anything that could cause a divide, a chasm, a break in relationship to happen. A good guard is one who keeps watch and is instant in sending out the alert, that those people in their care must drop every other priority and respond with the needed action.
“Above anything else, guard your heart, for from it flows everything of your life” ~ Proverbs 4:23
Imagine a world where everyone treated each other well! We would have Paradise! This is what God dreamed for His creation, the apple of His eye, US, human beings! This is what existed before the fall. Now, since the second Adam (Jesus) came, it is possible for us who are believers. We are His followers, His family, His body on earth, His inheritance.
We need to know this in our spirits and our minds. By revelation and understanding from the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. It’s more important than you and I know today. Pray to know it again tomorrow and the next day, more deeply and clearly.
STRENGTH IN LOVE
Where there is division, we can be sure that God’s love is not in charge. The fellowship amongst believers isn’t being treasured. Its power isn’t understood. Jesus Body on the earth is weak.
But where there is love, there is strength. There’s strength in our love, our togetherness, our unity!
The Gospel we believe in and promote, is a Gospel of love. We have been given a new “law”… not a new list of rules, but a new heart condition and a new way of life. It’s the ingredient that changes everything else!
Throughout John chapters 13-17, we see God’s great love taught and demonstrated at the ‘Last Supper’. Jesus had loved His own while He was with them on the earth (13:1). Now, with His departure imminent, He blessed them with understanding and with His prayer that they would know the love He and His Father shared and the gloriousness that would soon be His again.
After His death, well after He had risen and gone back to His Father, this group of Galilean men would be able to look back and understand and share with others why God had washed their feet and laid down His life for them.