Love One Another

 

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The Greatest Commandment For Christians

When asked by one of the Pharisees what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied with these famous words, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' ". (Matthew 22:37-39). Although at that time and place, these were the greatest commandments, and still are generally, there is another commandment which, specifically, is actually every bit as great, and as important for Christians to obey. It is found, again, in the words of Jesus, in John 13:34 & 35; "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Christians must understand that this statement is unique in the teachings of Jesus. It is the only passage in the Gospels in which He used the word "commandment" in reference to something He said. In all his other uses of the word, He was referring to the Law of Moses. Furthermore, everything else He said in the Gospels can be considered teachings based on the Law and the Prophets. Only this commandment is exclusively that of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself.

It is also noteworthy when, where, and to whom Jesus gave this commandment. He was speaking in the Upper Room at the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot had already left when He said it. Jesus gave this commandment to no one else but His Disciples. Through them, He gave it to the Church.

The full implications of this new commandment are rarely fully understood and taught among Christians today. And the greatest failure of the Church today is failure to obey it. As has been said elsewhere in this Web site, the entire Church is going into the Tribulation. It will be as much a great chastening of the Church as a great judgment on the unsaved world. One of the biggest reasons for it is this failure.

Intrinsic to this problem is failure of many Christians, including leaders, to fully understand what the Biblical mission of the Church is. Too many have the idea that since we are "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth", that it is our job to solve all the problems of the world. This idea has caused the needless waste of untold quantities of Christian time, energy and resources. It has also done, indirectly, serious hurt to many Christians, and has been the cause of Christians turning away from the Faith.

"Love Your Neighbor As Yourself"

Since Jesus said told the Pharisees that the above commandment is the second greatest, it follows that in the commandment to "love one another", He was saying something that went far beyond loving your neighbor. Just what did He mean?

There are limitations to the requirements of the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself". St. Paul identifies the parameters of obedience to this in Romans 13:9 & 10, summing them up with the words,

"Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

Obedience to this commandment is mostly passive in operation. It is, as Paul shows in this passage,  more a matter of what we don't do then it is of what we do. The same is true of the Golden Rule.

There is one thing that is not implied in the Golden Rule, which is implied in the Commandment to "Love One Another". It is that we should make an ongoing practice of being servants only to our fellow Christians. There is nothing in the New Testament that suggests that we should be servants to the unsaved in any systematic, ongoing way. On the other hand, being servants to our fellow Christians is the one point of obedience that is most stressed. There are many New Testament passages that speak to this. Furthermore, it is a total misunderstanding of the Word to read into any of them a commandment to make a practice of being servants to the unsaved. Again, it must be understood that this is a uniquely New Testament doctrine.

Essential to understanding this is a correct definition of the meaning of the word "brother" as used in the New Testament. Contrary to what is often erroneously believed, it doesn't refer to the whole human race. By the words of Jesus Himself (Matthew 12:48-50) it refers only to our fellow Christians: "For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and mother and sister." We should understand this definition to apply to every occurrence of the word "brother" (and "sister") in the New Testament unless the context indicates otherwise. Contrary to what many Christians erroneously believe, "the brotherhood of all men" is not in the Bible. Only our fellow Christians are our brothers and sisters in the Biblical sense.

So important is this issue that the task of actually finding all these Scriptures will not be left to you. Here is presented a table that lists and briefly expounds on some of them. Just read them, and judge whether they are faithfully understood.

Loving Our Fellow Christians
  Scripture References: Comments:
1 John 13:34 & 35, "...Love one another..." Condition for all to know that they are His Disciples.
2 Matthew 20:26 & 27, "...be your servant...". Addressed only to the Disciples, no reference to serving the unsaved.
3 Matthew 24:45-51, "Who then is a faithful and wise servant....?" Being servants to our fellow Christians is a major requirement for being ready for Christ's Coming.
4 Matthew 25:40, "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these..." Being servants to our fellow Christians is being servants to Christ. Not doing so is not serving Christ.
5 John 15:13 & 14 and I John 3:16, "...lay down his life..." "Laying down our lives" means being servants to our fellow Christians, in obedience to Christ..
6 John 13:13-17, "I have given you an example..." Jesus Himself performed the lowest service, but only for His Disciples.
7 Acts 6: 1, "widows were neglected" These were widows in the Church. See below.
8 I Timothy 5:10, "if she has washed the saints' feet..." Paul makes giving assistance to widows in the Church conditional on their performing the lowest services to other Christians.
9 Acts 11:29, "...to send relief to the brethren" Help only for Christians, not for the unsaved.
10 Romans 12:10, "Be kindly affectionate..." Talking to, and about, Christians.
11 Romans 12:13, "distributing to the needs of the saints..." The needs of the saints, not the unsaved. The context is entirely about ministry to our fellow Christians.
12 Romans 14:21, "...nor do anything by which your brother stumbles...." Our lives must be controlled by concern for the spiritual well-being of our fellow Christians.
13 II Corinthians 9:1, "concerning the ministering to the saints" A collection was being taken, by, from and for Christians. Not for the unsaved.
14 Galatians 6:10, "especially to those who are of the household of faith". We should give priority to doing good to our fellow Christians, as opposed to the unsaved.
15 Ephesians 1:15, "your love for all the saints..." For the saints, not for the unsaved. The emphasis here, as elsewhere, is on loving our fellow Christians.
16 Philemon 1:5, "...the love...which you have...toward all the saints". Again, no reference to loving the unsaved.
17 Colossians 1:4, "...your love for all the saints" Again, nothing about loving the unsaved.
18 I Thessalonians 1:3, "...the love of everyone of you abound toward each other". Once again, no reference to loving anyone else. It is love between Christians that Paul gives thanks for.
19 Ephesians 4:3, "keep the unity of the Spirit" This requires love. We should apply this to doctrinal differences.
20 Ephesians 5:21, "submitting to one another..." Always take the attitude of a servant toward your fellow Christians.
21 Philippians 4:16-19, "And my God shall supply all your need..." Because they gave Paul material assistance. This isn't an unconditional promise. See verses 15 & 16.
22 Colossians 3:12-14, "...bearing with one another, and forgiving one another..." Addressed to the Church as a group, about how they should behave as a group.
23 James 2:14-16, "if a brother or sister is destitute of daily food...' Your faith is worthless if you aren't a servant to your needy fellow Christians.
24 James 5:13-18, "call for the elders..." A brief discourse on effective prayer, prayer that happens to be mainly for our fellow Christians.
25 I Peter 1:22, "...obeying....in sincere love of the brethren...." Loving our fellow Christians is the essence of obedience.
26 Peter 2:17, "Honor (= respect) all people, love the brotherhood". Peter contrasts obeying the Golden Rule with loving our fellow Christians..
27 Matthew 12:48-50, "For whoever does the will of My Father is My brother..." His brethren, and therefore our brethren.
28 I John 3:14-16, "...because we love the brethren". Loving our fellow Christians is the true test of our salvation. If we don't, we're not really saved.
29 I John 3:18, "...how does the love of God abide in him?" Loving our brothers has to be expressed with action, in the form of service.
30 I John 4:11 & 12, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought...." Loving our fellow Christians is the rational and proper response to what God has done for us.
31 I John 4:20, "how can he love God whom he has not seen?" If you do not love your fellow Christians, you do not love God, and are not obeying the First Commandment.

The above is not meant to be complete or exhaustive, but is given by way of Scriptural examples. It should be enough to illustrate the degree to which the doctrine of the priority of loving our fellow Christians is emphasized in the New Testament.

Serving the Unsaved

Now, don't accuse me of saying, or even implying, by this that Christians should never help unsaved people. But there must be a difference between our attitude toward the unsaved and our attitude toward our fellow Christians. The unsaved are not saints. They are not our brothers. We are only told to love and serve our fellow Christians. We owe nothing to the unsaved but to pray for them and preach the Gospel to them - if they'll listen. (I daresay that Christians should do more of both.) Of course, it is perfectly good and right to give one-time spontaneous help to the unsaved when they have obvious, urgent needs. This is the true concept of the Good Samaritan. But we should not make an ongoing ministry out of it.

What the Good Samaritan did was a one-shot response to a legitimate, obvious and urgent need. Although he took full responsibility for the recovery of the man he helped, there is nothing in the Parable to suggest that this kind of thing was an ongoing ministry of his. This should be the only basis on which we materially help the unsaved.

A Christian who makes a practice of being a servant to the unsaved is setting himself up to be needlessly abused. In Matthew 7:6, in the middle of the same passage in which He introduced the Golden Rule, Jesus told us not to "cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you". Several years ago, a Church in New York City was looted and vandalized, to the point that it closed down the Church, by hoodlums who had been eating the meals the Church had been serving to the homeless. The people in that Church had been violating this warning, with the results Jesus predicted. This is just the "tip of the iceberg" of what Christians have needlessly suffered as the consequence of serving the unsaved.

A related concept is found in Matthew 8:22, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead". As it applies to ministry, this means that we should never do for the unsaved what they can very well do for themselves. This squanders our resources, which is poor stewardship, and, again, sets us up to be needlessly abused. We can suffer enough for being obedient, without putting ourselves in the position to suffer for being disobedient.

The True Mission
of the Church

As stated above, a major reason why Christians make the mistake of being servants to the unsaved is that too many Christians, leaders especially, do not have a Scripturally accurate understanding of the true mission of the Church. Again, many have the erroneous idea, that because we are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world", that it is the job of the Church to solve all the problems of the world. Not only are we not called to that, but in view of what is prophesied in the Word, trying to do so is an exercise in futility. You may have never heard this before, but trying to do something you know is futile is a sin! It's poor stewardship, and may even be Scripturally equivalent to idolatry!

So what is the true mission of the Church?

1. Fulfill the Great Commission.

The first part of the mission of the Church is fulfilling the Great Commission, as in Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." This is another place where the Church as a whole has failed miserably, for all that, Praise God, many Christians have laid down their lives, literally and figuratively, trying. Part of the failure in our times is in how we understand the phrase, "make disciples of all the nations". In the thinking of many modern Christians, this means, "make a few disciples here and a few there". If you read it in the Greek, you can see the error of this immediately. The "of" isn't there. The Great Commission really means "make disciples of everybody". That is, "accomplish a spiritual takeover of the world". Jesus prior statement, "All authority has been given to me on heaven and on earth" tells us that we have been given everything we need to get the job done. The Great Tribulation will be, in part, the consequence of our failure. But we could have done far more, long since, if Christians had been more attentive to being servants to their fellow Christians.

However, this is not to be taken as an excuse for becoming servants to the unsaved, on the grounds that "some of them will get saved." The Bible does not tell us to do that to reach the unsaved. The Bible tells us to preach the Good News to them. Contrary to a lie of the devil that has been frequently taught in recent years, putting a plate of food in front of a hungry bum is not the Gospel!!! The idea that it is may sound good to those who hear it, but there is no Biblical support for it. As it says in I Corinthians 1:21, "It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believed". In other words, there is no Biblical admonition or precedent for doing anything for purposes of evangelism other than prayer and the preaching of the Word to reach the unsaved.

By the way, both street evangelism, and door-to-door evangelism, which are often frowned upon by modern Christians, are endorsed by the Word. See Acts 20:20. This kind of outreach takes courage and commitment, but it works. Just ask the Moonies, the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

2. Build the Church

And that as opposed to doing anything for the unsaved world. The main Scripture for this is Ephesians 4: 11-16, especially verse 13, "till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ". Beyond making disciples our main concern as Christians is growth, individually and collectively. It is noteworthy that this verse doesn't treat growth on an individual, but rather on a collective basis. A Christian's growth will be limited apart from the Body of Christ. We are meant to both function and grow as a body. Therefore, what we teach and practice as Christians, in terms of ministry, must be primarily directed toward the spiritual growth of the Church. Relative to the world, the Church must be an introverted Body. We are called to be separate from the world, and that applies both actively and passively. That is why we must put the priority on serving our fellow Christians.

There are ministers and ministries that, in the way they function, basically treat other Christians as human resources for serving the unsaved. But this is a travesty of true, Scriptural ministry, and in practice is the abuse of Christians by Christians. It is actually the error of Mathew 24:49.

The world as we know it is gone into sin to the point of no return. It will soon be destroyed, for all the material good we may do now. When it is gone, only the Church will remain. To focus on material ministry to the lost is putting our efforts in the wrong direction. It is a lost cause. It is at best an exercise in futility. At the worst, its overt disobedience.

Understand this too: our relationships with our fellow Christians are more important spiritually than any of the unsaved, even our relatives. If they aren't saved, our relationships with them end at the grave, if not before. Our relationships with our fellow Christians will last for eternity. It is these relationships that we should be working on building. We need to learn to reach out to our true brothers and sisters, not the unsaved.

Why the Tribulation?

Most of, if not the entire, Church is going into the Great Tribulation. It will be as much a great chastening of the Church as judgment on the unsaved world (See Zechariah 13:9). If all God meant to do was punish sinners, hell is sufficient for that. To put an end to sin on earth, all He needs to do is put an end to mankind. The Tribulation will last for several years because it has bringing Christians to repentance as one of its main purposes. (This is paired with bringing the surviving Jews to Christ.) The failure of Christians to love one another will be one of the biggest reasons for the chastening.

How shall we put this into practice?

  • As far as both Christians as individuals and entire Churches are concerned, there are few that couldn't do more to flat out preach Gospel to the lost, and few that couldn't do more real praying for the unsaved than they do. What are you really doing to help fulfill the Great Commission?

  • Every Congregation should have an ongoing program to give material assistance to the needy in its midst. It is perfectly Scriptural to put conditions on who gets the help, ( See I Timothy 5), but the help should always be available to Christians who really need it. No Christian should ever have to trust the Lord for his next meal or a place to sleep, especially not in the United States and the other prosperous nations of the Western World.

  • Never turn down a Christian who comes to your Church for help. It's better to risk being abused by a con artist than to turn your back on a needy brother. (See James 2:15 &16, and I John 3:17 & 18.) The former is not a sin on your part. The latter is. This is not to say you can't investigate the needy Christian's story to see if he's telling the truth. If you can, you should. A person who won't give you straight answers probably isn't a needy Christian.

  • Affluent congregations should regularly contribute to helping the needy Christians in poorer congregations, regardless of denomination differences.

  • If a particular Church suffers a disaster, such as the destruction by fire or storm of their homes and/or sanctuary, other Churches should pitch in to help them rebuild, again, regardless of denominational differences.

  • All Christians who are able to should contribute as much as possible to such programs and causes, instead of living affluent, 20th century lifestyles.

  • On the spiritual level, all Christians should have lists of other Christians for whom they pray regularly. This includes both people in ministry and individuals they are close to. This should be a regular discipline in their Christian lives.

  • Every Christian should look for something he or she can do that constitutes Scripturally taught and/or precedented ministry to his or her fellow Christians. When the Christian finds it, he or she must do it.

  • Study the New Testament to learn every detail given about how to relate to your fellow Christians and work at putting it all into practice.

  • Renounce letting doctrinal differences be a criterion for who you will and will not help, unless a Church can be seen to be teaching and/or practicing something that is blatantly sinful, like tolerance for practicing homosexuals. Again, practicing or teaching something really sinful, not just something you disagree with.

    On the other hand:

    • Don't do anything as ministry for which there is no Biblical admonition or precedent. To do so may be a serious sin. See Leviticus 10: 1 & 2. An enormous amount of Christian time, energy and resources are being wasted in this way.

    • Christians should not, as a rule, give money to or otherwise support secular charities. These organizations frequently have big corporations that back them financially for tax shelter purposes. These same corporations usually have rules in their bylaws that prohibit them from making donations to Churches and Ministries. As good stewards, give your money to help your needy fellow Christians and to support real ministry.

    • Don't run programs, such as soup kitchens, that systematically give handouts to the unsaved. Don't support ministries that do. As good as this in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of many Christians, there is nothing particularly Christian about it. For example, the legendary gangster Al Capone ran soup kitchens in Chicago during the Great Depression. You are not supposed to give systematic service to the unsaved.

Don't throw pearls before swine.

Let the dead bury their dead.

DO LOVE ONE ANOTHER!!!

You won't be ready if you don't!

 

See also
"Keeping My Brother's Money"

 

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Contact Author, William D. Brehm