By J.R. Miller
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples--if you love one another."
Jesus was about to leave His disciples. "Yet a little while I am with you." He wanted them to stand together when he was gone. He knew, too, how great a danger there was, that they would fall apart. His church which He had come to establish depended on these men. If they were not true and loyal to each other, His work would fail. So, with all earnestness, He pleaded with them to love one another. This would be their safeguard and the secret of their power after He had left them. Nothing but love would hold them together.
Jesus spoke of this last exhortation to them as a new commandment. Why new? Really it was new. There was an old commandment which ran, "Love your neighbor--as yourself." The new commandment is, "Love one another--as I have loved you." Love is the distinct mark of discipleship. "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples--if you have love one to another." Christians are to be known in the world, not by the creed they profess, nor by their church membership--but by their love for each other. Love puts a brand on them. Sometimes we hear of a church with strifes and quarrels among its members. What kind of witness is such a church giving to the world for its Master? "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another." The church which has a right to call itself a church of Christ--is one in which the members love one another--as Christ loves them.
This puts upon us a serious responsibility as churches and as individual Christians. We dare not be contentious, quarrelsome, biting and devouring one another. The world would then laugh at our profession that we are a company of the friends of Christ. When a man joins a church he assumes the obligation of love. He says, "I will love my fellow Christians--as Christ loves me." What does he mean? Does he mean that he will love only the gentle, agreeable, congenial, refined members; those who show him a great deal of honor, those who are kind to him, sympathetic, eager to favor and help him? He must love these. But suppose there are among the members--some who are not congenial, not obliging, who do not show him deference, whose lives are not lovely--does he have to love these? "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples--if you have love one to another." There do not seem to be any exceptions. How was it with the first disciples? Were they all of the loveable kind? John was. He must have been sweet-spirited, good-tempered, and affectionate. But how about Peter, Matthew, Andrew, Thomas? Were they all loveable? One of them had treason in his heart. Another denied Jesus. All of them forsook Him in the hour of His great need and sorrow. Yet, how did Jesus love these? He loved on--He loved to the end. How are we to love our fellow Christians? As Christ loves us.
What would be the effect if all Christian people, all who belong to Christian churches, would begin to love one another--as Christ loved His first disciples, as He loves every one of His people now? Paul tells us how true Christian love acts, how it shows itself. It is in personal contacts and association. "Love is patient" (see 1 Corinthians 13:4). That is, it bears patiently with others faults, unkindnesses, ill-treatment, and ingratitude. "Love is kind." It keeps on being kind, in spite of all the unkindness it receives. It is kindness that we need always to show--just the art of being kind is all this old world needs--and it must always be kept in our lives. The trouble is, however, that with too many of us our kindness is spasmodic, is shown only when we feel like it--and is checked continually by things that happen. Nothing ever stopped Christ's kindness--nothing ever should stop a Christian's kindness. Love in the heart--should flow out in the life, as an unintermittent stream.
Take another line from the picture. "Love does not behave rudely." That is, it never forgets itself, is never ill-mannered, is not prideful. Bad temper is rude. Did you ever notice in the story of the life of Jesus--how He always respected people? He seemed to have reverence for almost every person who came before Him, even the worst? The reasons were--that He loved everyone, that He saw in each the glorious possibilities of heavenly sonship. If we had our Master's regard for and His deep interest in the lives of men--we would never act rudely toward even the unworthiest.
A newspaper gives an account of a new society which has been organized by a company of people. It is called "The Take Heed Society." It seems that a member of the company boarded once in a rather sleepy New England town with a prim spinster who was a wonderfully charitable woman. She was never heard to say an unkind word to anybody. Further acquaintance showed that charity and brotherly feeling were almost universally practiced by the people of the village. The good woman made inquiry and learned that they all belonged to this organization, never met in a body as other societies do. They had no officers, paid no dues, and assessed no fines except individually upon themselves. There was a fine mentioned in the pledge--but this was to be imposed by the offending person upon himself if he ever violated the fundamental rules of the organization. He was to fix his own fine, making it as large as he was able to pay, and it was to be paid, not to the treasurer--but to the first poor and needy person he met. It is said that every member of the company had eagerly joined this Take Heed Society when it was proposed to organize it. It may be worthwhile to start such societies in families, in boarding houses, in Sunday-school classes, in circles of friends. It might help much in getting this law of love--not to behave ourselves rudely--into every day of life.
"Love is not easily provoked" (see 1 Corinthians 13:5). That is, it does not become vexed or irritated at what another may say or do. It may be noticed, too, that some people even get provoked at inanimate things! A man awkwardly stumbled against a chair, flew into a violent passion, and kicked the chair with great energy. Bad temper is said to be one of the most common of the vices. No other infirmity is so often confessed. A great many people will tell you that they find no other fault so hard to overcome, as that of bad temper. They do not seem, either, ashamed to make the confession, and apparently do not consider the fault a serious one. Sometimes it is spoken of apologetically as an infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, certainly not a fault to be taken very seriously, or anything more than a matter of regret. It has been said that bad temper is the vice of the virtuous. Men and women whose characters are noble, whose lives are beautiful in every other way, have this one blot. They are sensitive, touchy, easily ruffled, easily hurt!
But we make a grave mistake when we let ourselves think that bad temper is a mere trifling weakness. It is almost disfiguring blemish. We know that Jesus set for us a perfect model of living. He came to show us in a simple human life--how we ought to live, and then how, through His grace and help, we may live; and He was never provoked. You cannot point to a single instance of His becoming even ruffled in temper. He never lost His calmness, His repose of mind, His peace. He was reviled--but reviled not in return. He was insulted--but showed no sign. In all His quiet, restrained, and loving life--He never once was provoked. When he bids us to love one another as He has loved us--this is certainly part of what He means.
Another part of our lesson concerns life with others in personal contact and association. Paul, in a letter, named several people who, he said, had been a comfort to him. It is a fine thing to have one say of us that we have been a comfort to him. There are people who have been a comfort to you. You are glad they live. Then there are other people who have not been a comfort to you, who have not made life happier and easier for you.
Sometimes you hear one say that a certain person has been a thorn in his side. In a conversation on a railway train, one reports catching this bit of a sentence: "Yes, I suppose she's good--I know she is. But she isn't pleasant to live with!" A goodness that isn't pleasant to live with--is not the kind that Jesus had in mind when He said we should love one another as He loves us. Indeed, being "pleasant to live with" is one of the final tests of Christlikness in life. Christ, Himself, was pleasant to live with. He never made anybody uncomfortable by His lack of lovingness, by selfishness, by censoriousness, by unsympathetic moods or words or looks. Whatever else you may fail to strive to be at home, among your friends, in your church life and fellowship, do not fail to seek and pray to be pleasant to live with.
You are careful never to fail to do the little things of duty. Your friends cannot say that you are inattentive to them, that you leave undone any of the kindly deeds of neighborliness or even of brotherliness which you ought to have done. But if, meanwhile, you are not pleasant to live with--is there not something greatly lacking? The ideal Christian life is one that gives comfort to others as well as help. It is gracious and winning in spirit--and also in manner. It is a blessing to everyone it touches.
Loving one another as Christ loves us--must make it easier for others to work with us. A minister was telling me of a couple people in his church who are excellent workers, full of zeal and energy, always doing things--but he said they had always to work alone--they could not work with others. There are horses that will not pull in a team--they are to be driven single. There are people who have the same weakness. They want to do good--but they must do it by themselves. They will not work with another person. Then, soon it is true the other way--nobody else will work with them!
There is a kind of buggy with only two wheels and a seat for one. It is called a sulky, because it obliges the rider to be alone. Some people are happiest when they ride alone, when they work alone. But the love of Christ teaches us a better way. We need to learn to think of others, those with whom we are associated in Christian life and work. It is so in all associated life.
It is so in marriage when two lives are brought together in close relations. It is evident that both cannot have their own way in everything. There is not room for any two people to have their own way in the marriage relation. They are one now, occupying one the place of one, and they must live as one. There must either be the giving up of all by the one to the other--or else there must be the blending of the two lives in one. The latter is the true marriage. Each dies the one for the other. Love unites them and they are no longer two--but now one--two souls with but a common thought, two hearts that beat as one.
The same process should prevail in Christian life and work. Headstrong individualism should be softened and modified by love. Jesus sent forth His disciples in pairs. Two working together--are better than two working separately. One is strong in one point--and weak in another. The second is strong where the first is weak, and thus the two supplement each other. Paul speaks of certain people as yoke-fellows (see Phil. 4:3). Yoke-fellows draw together patiently and steadily, two necks under the same yoke, two hearts pouring their love into one holy fellowship of service. It is very important that Christian people should love one another as Christ loves them--when they are called to work together for their Master. None of us should insist on always having his own way. In community of counsel there is wisdom. Jesus says distinctly, that when two agree in prayer there is more power in the pleading, and the prayer will be surer of answer.
In our Master's service we should work together in love. It never should have to be said of us--that other people cannot work with us. The secret of being agreeable work-fellows is love. The Christian who is always wanting to be an officer, to have positions of prominence, to be chairman or president, first in everything, has not caught the spirit of the love of Christ, who came not to be ministered unto--but to minister. Love never demands the first place. It works just as enthusiastically and faithfully at the foot of a committee, as at the head of it. It works humbly, seeking counsel of the other members, and not asserting its own opinion as the only wise one. It seeks in honor to prefer the other rather than self. It is content to be overlooked, set aside--if only Christ is held up. It is patient with the faults of fellow workers. It strives in all ways to have the Master the real leader in all work. "Love one another; as I have loved you," is the command of Christ. Hold together, stand together. Be as one in love for others which will sacrifice anything, everything, that the Master's name may never suffer any dishonor.
This counsel of Christ calls us to a love like His--in building up His kingdom. "As I have loved you." How as that? He loved and gave Himself. We must love and give ourselves. Some people are leaving out the cross these days--in their thought of Christ. They preach about His wonderful teaching, His marvelous character, His sublime works--but say nothing about His death. But we need the cross. We can be saved only by His sacrificial sin-atoning love. Then, the service of ours which will really bless others--must also be a sacrificial service. "As I have loved you" means loving unto the end. We must give our lives for the brethren--as He gave His life for us.
It is not easy--but it was not easy for Christ to love us as He did. To love as He did--is to let our lives be consumed as in a flame, to let them be burned as on an altar. The trouble with too much of what we call love--is that it costs nothing, is only a sort of gilded selfishness, is not ready to give up anything, to suffer, to endure. Oh, profane not the holy name of love, by calling such life as that love! To love as Christ loves--is to repeat Christ's sacrifice continually in serving, bearing, enduring--that others may be helped, blessed, saved. Christ's love laid itself across the chasm of eternal death--to make a bridge for us to pass over, from death to life!
"Love one another, as I have loved you." Let us try to know what the words mean, and then let the love of Christ itself into our heart. Then it will not be we that love--but Christ loving in us.