John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Wouldn’t it be great if I could be judged by my fish bumper sticker not by the amount of homeless I drive by with my windows up? Or if on Sunday, my outfits and raised hands in worship made me a better Christian and it didn’t matter that I don’t talk to my neighbor of 3 years. How nice would it be if I could be a jerk to my incompetent coworkers so long as I did my quiet time each morning? If I could just wear a Kerusso t-shirt and not have to interact with anyone in public it would be so much easier. There are so many ways I have wished that I could be judged as a Christian, so many things that I hope people, and sometimes even God, will notice. Despite all my attempts to re-brand and shift the focus, the world (all people) only look at one thing; how I love others, and I fail at that more than anything.
For a long time Christians have tried to define themselves by anything and everything other than the words of Christ in John 13. If you go to church regularly, if you give a tithe, if you don’t swear, if you repeat this special prayer, if you check yes in the box, if you read the right books, etc. Take your pick. Christianity has become a fad, a social class, a political party, it’s become a club that we join because membership promises some great benefits. We treat it like our alma mater and buy license plate covers and coffee mugs so that others will know that we are part of the group. However, the kingdom of God is not like the things of this world, a message Jesus tried so hard to get across. My eyes were recently opened to this as I observed it in others and God was quick to reveal the hypocrisy and striving in my own heart.
Finding a person who has been personally hurt by a Christian is often as easy as looking at the person next to us. We all have stories of either pastors, leaders, parents, friends, coworkers, or just random strangers yelling on the street who have carried the name of Christianity yet their impact on our life left us hurting. This happened to me recently when a couple individuals, with whom I had a relationship with, attacked my character behind my back and spoke some very hard and hateful words to my face. As I watched these individuals worshiping in a corporate worship session a short time later the sincerity of their worship did not convince me that they were Christians. Why? Because I did not feel loved by them. It was then that God opened my eyes to the truth spoken 2000 years ago; it does not matter what we do, if we do not love, we are not Christian.
This is why so many individuals have been hurt by Christians, because we have defined what a Christian is on our own terms and not God’s terms. We have believed this lie that we get to define what it takes to be a Christian and therefore we do not worry so much about loving others because that’s not a criterion. There are people all over who call themselves a Christian but don’t love, because why would anyone when we are taught to think that going to church and putting a fish on our car is enough to get us to heaven. The problem with this is that God gets the blame for what people do under the name Christian. So when a pastor beats his wife God gets blamed because this man was a “Christian”. God is a god of love and it is by love that his followers should be known. When we substitute anything but love as an identifier for Christianity it ends up with God getting the blame for our sinful actions.
Following Jesus has never been about what we will get out of it. It isn’t an investment that we get to cash in on upon death, or a golden ticket to ride on the long black train. Following Jesus is about realizing that he loved us more than we could ever deserve and therefore we should love others. It’s about giving grace because we received grace. In Matthew 18 Jesus tells a story about a man who had his debt forgiven by his lord and then turned around and demanded that his debtor pay him. The news of this comes to the lord and he calls this man a wicked servant because he received grace but did not give grace. This is the essence of Christianity, we must love others because he loves us. If we do what Jesus does we are like Jesus, a Christian, if we do not do what Jesus does (i.e. love) then we are not Christian.
Loving others is hard, it is much harder than most of the other ways we try to define Christianity, and I am the first to admit that often times I do a lousy job of it. It is something that takes practice and lots of work because it’s not always our first instinct to love one another. Thankfully we have an example in Jesus and scripture that teaches us how to love (1 Corinthians 13). So let us return to the words of Jesus and let our religion and our faith be defined by our love for one another. Then, slowly, we can hope that the name Christianity will leave a pleasant taste in the world and not as bitter of one.