BY THIS SHALL ALL MEN KNOW YE ARE MY DISCIPLES
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (Jn 13:34).
This famous statement of our Lord is so well known to most of us that few of us will take time to meditate on it. Few of us, for example, wonder why the Lord says this commandment is new when the command to love our neighbours as ourselves is clearly already given in the Law of Moses, and indeed, in the Law of creation imprinted in the heart of man created in the image of God (see Leviticus 19:18; Romans 2:14–15; 1 John 2:7). Few of us would have understood as Calvin did, that "In order to impress more deeply… on the minds of His disciples the doctrine of brotherly love, Christ recommends it on the ground of novelty; as if He had said, ‘I wish you continually to remember this commandment, as if it had been a law but lately made’" (John Calvin on John 13:34).
Again, few of us would have considered how our Lord’s commandment could be obeyed, for after all, love does not seem to be something that can be legislated. Worst still, many of us who came through contemporary worship backgrounds would have been first introduced to this verse through the little song based on it, so that we tend to think that the Lord is enjoining a romantic aura of light-headed tenderness towards one another. But this is clearly not what the Lord was intending to teach. When He teaches us: "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15), He is effectively teaching us that love is not just a feeling. The feeling of affection must be present, but it must be an affection that manifests itself in actions. The Apostle John picks up on this idea when he urges us: "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18). How easy it is to say that we love someone, yet how difficult it is to actually manifest our love one for another. And it is even more difficult, it seems, to manifest our love in a way that others may know we are the disciples of Christ.
A congregation in which members begin to hug one another after worship service may indeed appear to be very loving to anyone who is present to behold. But this surely cannot be what the Lord or the Apostle John mean. How then should we manifest our love one for another, that we may bear witness to all men as a church?
May I suggest four ways as revealed in the Word of God.
Love in Material Terms
First, the Apostle John suggests that a practical way of showing love to the brethren would be material help for the destitute: "But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 Jn 3:17). James elaborates this idea in his illustration of genuine faith: "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?" (Jas 2:15–16).
In the early church, this was one of the most visible ways in which the churches exhibited brotherly love (cf. Acts 2:44–45; 4:34). Today, in an affluent society, such as in Singapore, there is little occasion to demonstrate love in this manner. Even those who are technically in debt are usually not in debt on account of poverty, but necessity or luxury. And such debts are usually serviced in ways that are hardly felt by the debtors. However, are there not other believers who are less privileged than us in other countries? If we know of any, should we not learn to share our wealth? Also, with rising medical costs in Singapore, it is increasingly likely that a poorer member of the church could be thrown into dire needs when a member of the family is hospitalised for some major illness. If this happens, it would be imperative for the church corporately and individually to rally to help. This would certainly be a manifestation of our love one for another. And it will be a manifestation that can indeed be seen by others, such as the relatives and friends of the beneficiary.
Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens
Secondly, the Apostle Paul, quite obviously referring to this commandment of Christ in John 13:34, teaches us: "Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). The context (especially verses 1 and 3) suggests to us that by ‘burdens’ Paul meant faults or weaknesses of others. Calvin comments beautifully:
To love is not to wish well one to another, but to bear one another’s burdens, that is, to bear those things which are grievous unto you, and which you would not willingly bear. Therefore, Christians must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, that they may bear flesh, that is, the weakness of their brethren. Love therefore is mild, courteous, patient, not in receiving, but in giving; for it is constrained to wink at many things, and to bear them. Faithful teachers see in the Church many errors and offences which they are compelled to bear. In household affairs there are many things done which displease the master of the house. But if we bear and wink at our own vices and offences which we daily commit, let us also bear other men’s faults, according to this saying: "Bear ye one another’s burdens," and: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
It is sad that many of us, who claim to be the spiritual descendants of Calvin, often fail to bear with the faults of one another. This has often resulted in bitter intramural quarrels within and between churches so that the name of Christ is blasphemed among the Gentiles (cf. Rom 2:24). It is true that love "rejoiceth in the truth" (1 Cor 13:6), and that truth cannot be compromised for the sake of unity. But can anyone of us honestly say that we know everything and that all that we know are correct in everything that we say, do and believe. There are indeed fundamental truths in the Scriptures which an honest study of Word of God will leave us without any doubt, such as: the doctrine of the triunity of God, the deity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the reality of miracles recorded in the Scriptures, the visible corporal return of Christ as King and Judge, the inerrancy of the Word of God, justification by grace through faith alone, the sovereignty of God, particular substitutionary atonement of Christ, etc. But are there not also many areas where good Christian men differ? And are there not different degrees of convictions in so far as the Christian life is concerned? Should we not learn to bear with one another in these areas? One is an amillennialist, another is a historic premillennialist. Should we not bear with one another? One will take public transport on the Lord’s Day, another will not. Should we not bear with one another? One will sing only psalms, another will sing hymns too. Should we not bear with one another? One will attend evening service and prayer meetings regularly, but another will not. Should we not bear with one another, even as we pray that more will be committed to attend to these means of grace?
Beloved, let us bear with one another, and with brethren from other churches who may differ with us on some secondary issues. "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom 12:18). Only when we do so, than we may clearly be a testimony to all men that we are the disciples of Christ.
Weep With Those Who Weep
"Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Rom 12:15). This instruction by the Apostle Paul is but one of his applications of his general command that we should love each other with sincerity (see verse 9). This is yet another way in which brotherly love one to another can be manifested to the world. We rejoice with those who rejoice on such occasions as weddings. A notable presence of church members at a Christian wedding, whether it be at the church service or the banquet, can be an overwhelming experience for unbelieving relatives and friends of the couple.
Similarly, we weep with those who weep when we appear at the hospital to comfort a brother or sister in Christ who is bed-ridden or is keeping vigil by the bedside of a loved one who is critically ill. Many of us wonder what we can do at the hospital. We may not know what to say, and we may feel uncomfortable just standing there and doing nothing. We know we can pray with our anxious brethren, but some of us may reason that we can pray at home as well. Well, beloved, those of us who have been through similar crises, would no doubt testify that the presence of members of the church itself can be a great encouragement. It is a comforting thought that the church cares, and that we are not weeping alone.
We weep with those who weep also when we go to the ‘house of mourning’ to comfort the bereaved. The presence of a large number of church members at the memorial service of a departed believer can be tremendous testimony of Christian love to the relatives and unbelieving friends of the deceased. This applies also in the case of the demise of a loved one of a member of the church—even where it is not a Christian funeral. Members of the church must, of course, not participate in any of the pagan rites or take any of the superstitious tokens (e.g., red strings or towels) related to the funeral. Your mere presence could serve a twofold purpose of encouragement and witness.
Avenge Not Yourselves
"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom 12:19). This is another application of the Apostle Paul under his general instruction to Christians to love one another. It is another means, albeit negatively, by which the church testifies that it comprises disciples of Christ. When brethren in Christ take one another to court for one reason or another, the testimony of Christian love is immediately destroyed, and the Name of Christ brought into disrepute. Paul elaborates on this point in 1 Corinthians 6:6–8. "Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren" (1 Cor 6:5–8). It is the epitome of hatred between Christians to be fighting over personal honour or some material possession with one another in public and before an unbelieving judge.
Beloved, if ever we have a situation in which one of us feels cheated by another, let us bear in mind both the Lord’s general commandment and the Apostle Paul’s specific instruction and refrain at all cost to take a brother in Christ to court. The child of God ought rather to suffer lost rather than to tarnish the Name of Christ and His Church.
Love in sharing, love in forbearance, love in sympathy, love in non-retaliation. These are the ways in which the Christian Church may manifest brotherly love to the unbelieving world. May the Lord grant us that we love one another so tenderly that these things become very natural for us, so that we manifest love one to another without any second thoughts. But as we work towards maturity in love as a church, let us not neglect to make use of every opportunity to witness to the world as the disciples of Christ who laid down His life for us (1 Jn 3:16).