From the 14th to 17th of April, Straits Baptist Church, Melaka, held their church camp at Pangkor Island, Perak. Themed, Unity is Strength, babies, children, adults, and senior citizens all got together, played together, ate together, competed together, and learned together. On the second night, Bro. Phillip Chong spoke on Unity within the church.
“Obviously, we cannot talk about unity without talking about love,” he said, and proceeded to read from John 13:33-35:
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
“This is a very familiar passage, but oftentimes, it is with the familiar passages that we miss certain details. It says, everyone—that is everyone including those who do not know Christ—will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for not everyone, but one another.
Phillip began by addressing the question, “What is so new about this new command?” Earlier in His public ministry, Jesus had already said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even then, that wasn’t new. Love your neighbor as you love yourself is from the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament.
Then in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus taught the people to love their enemies. In fact, He said if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors and pagans, do that? Such teachings at that time were new and radical, and His disciples were there.
Now, in John 13, Jesus is done with His public ministry and He is alone with His eleven disciples after Judas betrayed Him. On that final night before He was arrested, He tells them, I have a new command for you: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
There are many possible options for why this is new, but Phillip only highlighted one: The standard. Previously, the command was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” You were the standard. But now, the standard is much higher—it is Jesus’ love for you. Therefore, you are to love your fellow Christians not as yourself, but as Jesus has loved you.
The next logical question to ask then is, “How does Jesus love you?” How Jesus loves will determine how we are supposed to love one another. “Obviously, the love of Christ is so incredible that it surpasses all knowledge. We could spend forever just talking about it, “Phillip said, “but I want to highlight two aspects of Jesus’ love.”
1. Jesus’ love is not based on our loveliness.
Our love usually is. That is why when someone tells you, “I love you,” you naturally understand that as, “he think’s I’m lovely!” or “She thinks I have certain qualities that are lovable!” So when we hear a preacher say, “God loves you,” sometimes we might misinterpret that and think, “God loves me, so I must be a pretty decent person.” But that’s not the point.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Some people think that since the world is so big and so full of people and yet God loves the world, God’s love is therefore amazing. But in John’s writings, “the world” is not merely referring to planet earth as a neutral place, but the entire created order—it is a whole system that is in active rebellion against God. That is why in 1 John, he tells us not to love the world.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
(1 John 2:15)
In other words, God’s love is actually so amazing not just because the world is so big, but because the world is so bad. God loves us because He is love. Jesus’ love is in no way based on the loveliness of His people.
“Sometimes we’re surprised that the church is full of unlovely people. But why should we? After all, Christians are sinners who acknowledge their need for a savior. Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. I know that quote can be abused, but it’s true.
“Is our church a safe place for sinners? Is it a place where sinners can be comfortable confessing their sins without fear of being condemned? Sure, our sinful ways need to be corrected and errors should be repented of, but they should all be done in the context where they’re first accepted and loved because of Christ. Not just tolerated.
“Now, that’s a big word today,” Phillip went on to say. “But tolerance is too small. If I were to ask you, “How was the food?” And you say, “It was tolerable,” does that say very much about the food? We should love and embrace each other.
“Last year, I read a biography of a woman by the name of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. She was a practicing homosexual and a prominent figure in the LGBT community who spoke at gay pride rallies. Long story short, she was saved and is now married to a male pastor. But one thing she said broke my heart. She said that the one thing she missed from her former life was the community.
“The world is looking for something authentic. They can’t stand hypocrisy. That is why churches that openly acknowledge that we are full of sinners saved only by grace and lovingly embrace each other precisely because of that, is extremely attractive to the world.
“Some of you are resenting other Christians or dislike them. You need to repent of that. Remember that those you dislike are those for whom Christ died. Remember the grace that you received in spite of your overwhelming sins. Should you not also extend grace to your brother or sister in Christ who sinned against you far less?
“Consider also this: That in a little while from now, you would both be in heaven, and you will both be dearer to each other than your dearest friends and family on earth. So see them through that lens, and the resentment should go away.
“Now, maybe you don’t resent anyone. Maybe you get along well with everybody and you don’t have any enemies. And maybe there are some Christians you really love. So you may think, “Yes, I’m obeying this command.”
“But hang on. Are the Christians you love people you are naturally fond of? Would you like to be in their company even if they were not Christians? Of course there is nothing wrong with that, as it is perfectly natural to like people who are similar to you, but I must ask: Are there any Christians you love with whom you have nothing in common and don’t naturally find attractive? That you honestly would not even be friends with if it weren’t for the fact that they are Christians?
“If the answer is “no,” I’m not sure you are really keeping Jesus’ command here. There are plenty of non-Christians who love Christians too. Are we then suggesting that they are also obeying the new commandment? No. In the same way, it is entirely possible that you love other Christians for all kinds of reasons and they just so happen to be Christians.
“Again, there nothing wrong with that. But what Jesus accomplished on the cross was to bring together people who have nothing in common, or may even be natural enemies. Jews and gentiles. Slave and free. Young and old. There is now a new family—a new humanity. And we are to love each other. If for no other reason, than because Jesus has loved us.
“So the goal of this camp is not to grow closer to those you are already naturally close to, but with people you might not have anything in common with except for your love for Jesus. Here’s a very practical challenge for you: Tomorrow morning at breakfast, choose to sit with those you are less comfortable with—that you have the least in common with. And go on and build relationships from there.
“Do not say we have nothing to talk about. You have plenty to talk about. You have a great God and Savior to talk about! It’s quite sad actually, how sometimes at our church fellowship meals, after we say grace and thank God for the food, God is not mentioned once in our conversation. That’s possibly the reason why we prefer to talk with our own friends. So that we can talk about sports, travel, movies, school, politics, etc.
“But if our conversations are filled with the sweetness of Christ, it really wouldn’t matter who you sit with. It wouldn’t matter if that person does not share your passion for football, because you share the same passion for Christ. It wouldn’t matter if those uncles and aunties don’t watch the same kinds of movies as you do, because their years of experience have taught them more about the love of Christ.
“That should be our target—our goal: To build Christ centered relationships with believers you would not naturally bond with. What I am proposing does require us to step out of our comfort zones. It doesn’t matter if we’re introvert or extrovert, because we’re required to do things that we do not naturally enjoy doing.
“I want you to realize this: Those we think we have nothing in common with, we actually have a strong bond—because of Christ. In church, we often focus on our differences. But we need to remember that what we have in common is far more significant than what divides us.”
2. Jesus’ love for us was sacrificial.
The Lord Jesus, though He was equal with the Father, humbled Himself to become a man and sacrificed Himself on the cross for us.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
(1 John 3:16)
“We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Obviously, in most cases, this does not mean that we will literally die for one another. It may come to it, as it has to various Christians throughout the centuries, but we’re not always faced with life or death situations. That is why, in the next verse, John continues:
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1 John 3:17-18)
“This passage is often quoted to motivate us to do good works outside the church, and we should certainly do that. But in John’s language, brother or sister is actually fellow Christian. Throughout his writings, the apostle John seems to be more concerned with Christians showing love to other Christians, and so does Paul.”
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
“This is not an excuse to say to other people, we can’t help you because you don’t belong to us. It is saying that if we want to help them but we neglect even our own, what kind of witness would that be? Loving and serving one another within the body of Christ highlights a kind of bond that transcends all their human relationships. When we are believers in Christ, we are closer than anything else in this world.
“So John is saying that if we are willing to lay down our lives like Jesus did, how much more should we be willing to sacrifice our money or our time? Caring for others is extremely time consuming. In fact, it is emotionally exhausting. But if we should be willing to lay down our lives, how much more should we be willing to lay down our personal preferences for others?
“I think that is particularly relevant in our age. We have absorbed a consumer mindset. We think that everything out there is a service provider meant to cater to our every specific need and preference, and so sometimes we view the church in the same light. We think that the church is a service provider and we are the consumers who come to shop for our fulfillment.
“Whatever happened to considering others more significant than yourselves? Because the truth is that the church is a service provider. But you are the church. Every one of you is a service provider. So stop thinking about what suits you and start thinking about everyone else. What then is the effect if we love like this?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
“Our love for each other is how we witness to the world. Even though this command sounds exclusive (love one another), it is ultimately inclusive, because it is meant to send a message to everyone out there.
“Do you realize how powerfully evangelistic it is to have a community that loves and embraces sinners regardless of their race, background, or social class?” Phillip asked. “It testifies of our Lord and Savior who loves and embraces sinners regardless of their race, background, or social class.
“Do you realize how powerfully evangelistic it is to have a community that is willing to sacrifice for one another? It testifies of our Lord and Savior who was willing to sacrifice Himself for us.
“The Bible says that we are supposed to attract others by how we love each other. So that when outsiders come in and see us who are made up of different age groups, different preferences, all together worshipping God—old people singing contemporary songs and young people singing hymns—all loving and embracing each other, that is something attractive. In fact, it’s a preview of heaven. So let us love, love, love each other the way Christ has loved us.”
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