Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Loving One Another

Revealing the Invisible God

The early church was characterised by a strong love for one another. In this article we look at what the Bible says about this love.

A Divine Love

The New Testament uses a unique word for divine love; the Greek noun “agape”. This word and its derivatives are mentioned about 172 times in the letters written to the church between Acts and Revelation. It is used in three main ways: God or Christ loving people; Christians loving God or Christ; and Christians loving one another. Of these three types of divine love, which do you think is referred to most often in these passages?

From the usage of the word “agape” and its derivatives in these passages summarised below, we see that it is most frequently used to describe Christians loving one another.

Context of “agape” (Acts to Revelation) Frequency (%)
Christians loving one another 51
God or Christ loving people 22
Christians loving God or Christ 15
Husbands loving wives 3
God is love 2
Other contexts 7
  100

These relationships may be represented by a schematic diagram. God is the ultimate source of this love. “God is love”; it’s part of His nature (2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Jn. 4:7). We know this because He sent His Son to die for us. God loves people, which is indicated in the diagram as a vertical relationship (1 Jn. 4:11). Christians receive this love from the Holy Spirit; it’s a fruit of the Spirit and part of the divine nature (Rom. 15:30; Gal. 5:22). Christians love God, which is indicated in the diagram as another vertical relationship (1 Pet. 1:8; 1 Jn. 5:1). Furthermore, Christians are told to love one another, which is indicated in the diagram as a horizontal relationship (1 Jn. 3:23; 4:21; 2 Jn 5). This love, which has been implanted in each believer, should flow out to all other believers; those in your congregation and those in other congregations (1 Jn. 5:1).

This diagram illustrates how God’s love is shown today: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 Jn. 4:12NIV). The invisible God, who was revealed to the world in the gospels through Jesus Christ, is now revealed to the world through believers. His love is only complete in achieving its goal if we love one another; otherwise, God’s love is invisible. That is amazing!

The other usage of “agape” in these passages is when husbands are told to love their wives, which is love between two particular people (Eph. 5:25, 28, 33).

A Command

There are two important commands in the New Testament; “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us” (1 Jn. 3:23). The first is to believe what the Bible says about the Lord and to follow Him. The second is to love one another.

The second command is repeated, “And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another” (1 Jn. 4:21). So this is a love between any two believers. The reason is given as, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). In fact, Christians owe this love to each another (Rom. 13:8).

Elsewhere this command is expressed as a specific example of “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2;8). Believers should have a desire to do the will of God and loving one another is one of His commands (1 Jn. 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 5-6).

Other commands in Scripture about loving one another are: to love your fellow believers (1 Pet. 2:17); to “do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14); to serve one another humbly in love instead of biting and ravaging each other (Gal. 5:13); to bear one another in love (Eph. 4:2); above all, to love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4:8); and to walk in the way of love by following Christ’s example (Eph. 5:1-2).

Not only is this love for one another divine and one of the Lord’s commands, it is also a sign.

A Sign Of A Believer

The apostle John wrote the letter of 1 John to Christians of his time saying, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). He wanted them to be assured and certain of their inheritance of eternal life. To do this he gave them some tests to distinguish believers from non-believers, which were based on people’s characteristic behaviour. These tests were: obedience to God’s word, love for one another, beliefs about Christ, and righteous living. So love for one another distinguishes a believer.

Loving one another is evidence of our Christian faith (1 Jn. 3:14). John also wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8). Furthermore, if we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen (1 Jn. 4:20).

Christians tap into God’s love and their faith gives them the ability to love one another. According to the Bible, those who do not love their Christian brothers and sisters are not God’s children (1 Jn. 3:10).

The best examples of loving one another are given in the Bible.

Recognizing Love For One Another

Loving one another is an example of the command to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:9). This means, loving others as we love ourselves. It is not selfish. It’s what can we do for that person, not what can we get from them. Remember the Good Samaritan who helped a stranger. It includes helping others, kind deeds and generous support of the needy (2 Cor. 8:8, 24; Heb. 6:10; 1 Jn. 3:18). Remember the Lord who sacrificed Himself for us (Eph. 5:2). It’s an unconditional love; He loved us before we loved Him. It’s a giving love; He gave Himself for us.

This love is described as being “for one another”. We are to love because each believer is “another”. It’s an acceptance, an interest and a concern for another believer, just because they are another person. All other things about them are irrelevant, such as whether we like them or not and whether they may reciprocate our love. Such supernatural love of one another is a conscious decision of the will and not a feeling or emotion. Otherwise, we couldn’t love those that are difficult to love. Loving one another is an attitude towards them that is a motive for all Christian behaviour (Gal. 5:13).

A well-known description of this love is: “Love is patient, love is kind … rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). It is associated with being gentle to others (1 Cor. 4:21). It is the most important Christian virtue (1 Cor. 13:13; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Pet. 1:5-7).

This love builds up others by thinking what is best for them and supports others by praying for them (Rom. 15:30-31; 1 Cor. 8:1). It involves making allowance for each other’s faults (Eph. 4:2) and overlooking minor faults and failures in other believers (1 Pet. 4:8). As the Lord showed His love in giving (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 5:25), we can show our love by giving our time, our abilities, our money, and our lives to others.

But, unfortunately, we can grieve the Holy Spirit by not loving one another.

Absence Of Love For One Another

The Bible gives signs of what life is like when we don’t love one another. Instead of loving we harm, we covert what someone else has, we steal from them, and this pattern of behavior can lead to murder (Rom. 13:8-10). Thinking of others in a way that leads to pride (1 Cor. 8:1); hating other believers (1 Jn. 3:11-15; 4:20-21), quarrelling with them (Gal. 5:13-15); and placing burdens on them (2 Cor. 11:11; 12:14-16) is also characteristic of a lack of love.

The well-known description says that when this love is absent, instead there is jealousy, boasting, pride, dishonouring of others, self-seeking, anger, keeping records of wrongs and delighting in evil (1 Cor. 13:4-7). This is self-indulgence.

When this love is absent, we need to get right with the Lord by confessing our sins (1 Jn. 1:9) and get right with others we have hurt by apologising and confessing before God’s love can flow through us again and out to others.

Lessons For Us

Loving one another is a command and duty; it is not an option. Its frequent occurrence in Scripture shows that it is of prime importance. In a world that is always looking for love, Christians are the only channel for divine (agape) love. Such love is a distinguishing characteristic of Christians.

Paul told those at Colossae to put on love above all the other aspects of Christian character (Col. 3:14). Let’s put on love every day by: living so God’s love can flow through us to one another; deliberately loving one another; giving ourselves for others; filtering all our conversations with such love (Eph. 4:15); being kind, thoughtful, considerate, patient and tolerant of each other’s views; and being known as people who love one another.

Paul told the Corinthians to excel in this kind of love (2 Cor. 8:7) and prayed that this love would increase amongst Thessalonians and it did (1 Th. 3:12; 2 Th. 1:3). Let’s make this our goal as well.

John wrote about a love that is active: “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). It asks, what can I do to help? This includes doing things that others can’t do and encouraging them to do things they can do and to make decisions that only they can make. We can only encourage someone in this way if we know what life is like for them by spending time together and listening to others; and not talking too much ourselves (Jas. 1:19). Hospitality is good for this.

Finally, in Hebrews we are urged to consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:24-25). Let’s spur one another on towards increasing love for one another.

Written, October 2008

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