They'll know we are christians by our love?

Sign about beliefs and behaviour

It seems to be oh so easy for us christians to get it wrong and misrepresent God. I’ve done it myself many times.

But it must displease God to be represented so badly on earth, and it is harming the mission Jesus left us. It is worth thinking about what we are going to do about it.

The love that will not let us go

Most christians accept that the core of christianity is summed up in the statement “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and this love is expressed in the grace of God which is a gift to all who will receive it.

Many passages tell us that God expects us to show this love to our brothers and sisters, and the whole world.

  • “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
  • “Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
  • “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)

There are many, many more such passages.

And the New Testament also shows us how we are express that love to the world – through sacrificial love that follows Jesus.

  • “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
  • “Love must be sincere. …. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. …. Live in harmony with one another. …. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. …. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge” (Romans 12:9-19)

Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow

And many christians live lives that match these teachings. Christians are more likely than average to volunteer in the community or donate to charity. Christians over the centuries have played an important role in feeding the poor, fighting injustice, educating, establishing hospitals and medical work, ending slavery and caring for widows and orphans.

But unfortunately we don’t have to look very far to find christians ignoring these teachings on love and service.

Internet nastiness

On the internet, christians can be found on forums and blog comments being angry, rude and denigrating unbelievers. And so often, when asked how this fits with the New Testament teaching, they argue that their behaviour is really being loving because it is aimed at forcing the unbeliever to face up to their need of God. Never mind that it invariably has the opposite effect. Never mind that it is contrary to teachings like 1 Peter 3:15, which says we should answer questions “with gentleness and respect”.

Violence vs the way of Jesus

Jesus said we are to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and forgive everyone from our heart (Matthew 5:44, 18:35). Yet christians over the years have often taken up arms for inadequate reasons, and the USA, supposedly a highly christian country, is one of the world’s most violent. Benjamin Corey suggests that American christianity is very different to the teachings of Jesus.

Love for those different to ourselves

Too often christians have failed to show love to people different to us.

  • gays and other LGBTI citizens have been persecuted and denied civil rights, even threatened, bashed and killed,
  • indigenous peoples have had their lands taken from them without compensation, and allowed to languish,
  • African Americans have been mistreated, enslaved, killed and treated as sub-human,
  • Muslims have been treated as if they were all jihadists,
  • atheists have been treated as immoral and untrustworthy, and
  • political liberals have been treated as enemies just for having a different political viewpoint.

Even if we disagree with any of these people, the command to love them still holds.

Lack of love vs the mission of God

We are supposed to be loving the world and making disciples. Lack of love affects both sides of that mission – us and the world.

Lack of love demotivates

Jesus calls us to a sacrificial lifestyle, taking up our cross every day, denying ourselves, and following Jesus. If we have lost our love for the people around us, we won’t really care if they are outside God’s kingdom and unaware of his great love for them. In fact. we are likely to think they deserve to miss out, forgetting that none of us has earned God’s love.

Feeling this way will likely lead us to turn our backs. Instead of loving the world as Jesus did, we will likely retreat into our own little safe havens.

Lack of love turns people away

Jesus’ love and acceptance of society’s outcasts attracted them to him, so he was ridiculed as “the friend of sinners”. When christians lack love it confirms the world’s worst stereotypes of unloving, uncaring “holier than thou” christians. Who would want to join a community like that?

Greg Boyd asks a telling question:

“Are many non-believers walking around wondering why we Christians sacrifice so much in service to them?”

The bottom line

If we christians fail to live out the gracious love of Jesus, our message will rightly be rejected. They’ll know we are only nominal followers of Jesus by our lack of love. And we’ll surely know we need to re-evaluate our behaviour if we find ourselves judging others unlovingly.

If we want to make a difference in the world, if we want to see God’s kingdom grow in the places where we live, let’s be willing to love those we disagree with, no matter what the provocation.

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

Photo: I found this somewhere on the web, possibly on Facebook, but I have no idea who to credit it to.

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  1. You said: “When asked how this fits with the New Testament teaching, they argue that their behaviour (being angry, rude and denigrating unbelievers) is really being loving because it is aimed at forcing the unbeliever to face up to their need of God. Never mind that it invariably has the opposite effect. Never mind that it is contrary to teachings like 1 Peter 3:15, which says we should answer questions ‘with gentleness and respect’.”
    Ain’t this the truth! I was raised in a Christian culture that ‘loved’ sinners by judging and condemning them, by berating them and telling them just how horrible they were, how God abhorred them–all with the objective of making them like one of us instead.
    Why would anyone want to be like us? Eventually, I didn’t want to be like us, so I changed my hateful ways and adopted the way of genuine love toward others.

  2. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through LOVE” Gal. 5:6b
    I have this in a huge sign above our windows in the living room to hopefully remind us that are calling… our mission is to love. How do we love? Well… I look towards Jesus for that and trust the HS in my everyday interactions.
    Great post E!!

  3. Hi,
    But the problem is what showing love is.
    Loving is not the same of showing signs of approval.
    There’s love in disagreement. Well, I’ve talked about it over and over on previous posts. This nowadays concept of love is something like “everything give kudos for everything everyone does otherwise they’re fanatic bigots” … it’s a mischievous concept of love .
    And for all examples you’ve mentioned (LGBT, Muslims, liberals etc) I really see the thing the other way round.

  4. Hi Jonathan,
    I’m a little surprised by your response. I agree with you that love doesn’t necessarily mean showing approval. But what do you think is required of christians towards those we may disagree with? How would we love our enemies or those we think are wrong?

  5. Very good question Unklee. I am very interested in Jonathans’s response.

  6. Well.. Take Charlie Hebdo for instante. Christian were offended just as Muslims by the magazine. Christians did no harm to the staff. Few weeks ago in São Paulo gay parade they exhibited an offensive performance of the cross… There was no violence against GLBT movement. Muslim people live with a high level of liberty in wealthy Western (ex-)Christian countries .
    And as for black people…although the Church remained silent many times regarding slavery and other Violences… Britain Christian helped to abolish slavery here in Brazil… Martin Luther King was Christian. We don’ t need to blame ourselves as Christian that much. Of course that are some really bad actions by Christians… But if we see the average, we’re doing more good than bad, just need to improve.

  7. Hi Jonathan, I don’t think I disagree with anything you’ve said there. But my point is that we cannot be content with just doing OK, or better than others do to us in return – Jesus expects us to do better, and to truly love those we might be tempted to treat as enemies.

  8. But, please, give me practical example. For example, in Charlie Hebdo case, how we should behave?
    It’s hard nowadays to have a decent conversation on any topic with people who disagree with you.
    And love in our languages, English and.Portuguese, easily becomes a meaningless word.
    We use love when we really intend to say lust, like, want-to-buy, friendship, would-like-to-eat, sex, be pacifist, spoil another person etc etc … You know better than me that Lewis had a hard time defining love , we should bear those definitions in mind.

  9. I think the New Testament gives us examples. The love we are talking about is agape love – love that is willing to serve, forgive, pray for, etc – just like in 1 Corinthians 13. We find it easier to have this love for spouse, close friends and close family, much harder to have it for those we don’t like.
    But we are supposed to have it for everyone. We are supposed to want the best for everyone, and be willing to go out of our way to show it – like the Good Samaritan.
    So we should be willing, where we are able, to help out people we don’t like or don’t know. We should have a caring attitude for those we disagree with. Even if someone wants to do us harm, we should be willing to do them good. We should pray for them, for God to do good to them.

  10. Yes, I truly agree with you and I think most Christians do. At least, for me, as a historical Protestant this is what we learn from the Bible. But some people, Christians or not, don’t understand that you may want the best for them without supporting their attitudes.

  11. This is great! I haven’t read a Christian blog that I feel is as important as this one in a very long time! Thank you so much for this!

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