“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The fish symbol worn as a lapel pin or displayed as a bumper sticker — a gold cross worn as a necklace — is that how Jesus said His followers would be identified? That would have been so easy.
Just put on a necklace or pin a cross on your lapel, and you will be declaring your faith to the world. No heart-rending changes, no need to touch the AIDS patient. You can let the ugly, the irregular, the unlovable sit alone — no need for any sacrificial and self-denying love. Wearing a symbol is a lot easier than being a symbol.
But I do wonder why Jesus said that we would be known for how we love each other. I would have thought He would have said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for your enemies.” The apostle John was there; he understood what Jesus was saying. He repeated the thought in his first epistle: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9–11). My brother in Christ — certainly I can love him! Didn’t Jesus say that even thieves get along with each other? Don’t “birds of a feather stick together”? How does loving my brothers prove my relationship to Christ?
Who are our brothers in Christ? Sitting in our congregation at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church are blacks, whites, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, young, and old. There are artists and athletes, lawyers and doctors, extraverts and introverts, members of country clubs and people who resent country clubs. There are repentant thieves, drug addicts, homosexuals, and repentant moralists who make up our church family.
Our congregation is full of people from Protestant backgrounds, Catholic backgrounds, Jewish backgrounds, liberal backgrounds, fundamentalist backgrounds. There are people who send their children to private schools, some who send their children to public schools, and some who home school. Our church, like all churches, is not homogeneous — Jesus did not intend His church to be.
When you hang around Jesus you soon learn that you have no control over whom Jesus brings to your church family. Peter and John probably did not like Jesus bringing Matthew into the inner circle of the twelve. They did not like tax collectors. The church belongs to Jesus, and I will tell you that He will make a point of bringing people who are not like you, or me, or whoever or whatever you are. There is not a more diverse institution in the world than His church: “Peter, I will not only bring tax collectors, I will bring Gentiles and you will love them, and because you love them the world will be convinced that you belong to Me.”
Jesus set the bar high for this love to our brothers. He said, “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). The Greek word used here is agape, the highest kind of love. We are to love our brothers like Jesus has loved us. The supernatural flow of the love of Christ into our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes a great, inexhaustible resource for our love to our brothers.
A few years ago I visited Niagara Falls. I was unprepared for what I saw. The great Niagara River incessantly flowed over the sudden drop of 160 feet, a drop that is also 3500 feet wide, creating a thunderous noise that envelopes the landscape around it. At the bottom of the falls there is a great pool of water, even though it is still the Niagara River that continues to flow on its journey. There must be (has to be) a large pool there; the sheer force of that volume of water has created it. Just so, the incessant flow of the love of God into our lives — the love epitomized in the sacrifice of His own Son, the incessant flow of the love of God that makes the Niagara River look like a trickle and the falls like a single drop from a faucet, the sheer force and volume of that love — must create a pool in our lives. This pool of incredible love is the source of my love for my brothers. If I stood at the falls and did not see water in a great pool, I would know that the falls are not real. In the same way, if I claim that the love of God is flowing into my life and it does not create a great pool and reservoir of love that compels me to love in the extraordinary way that I am loved, then my claim is proved invalid. It is impossible to receive such love and not give such love.
Keep wearing your crosses, as long as you are saying, “I am not ashamed of the cross of Jesus. I am a sinner for whom He died.” But remember, the world will not be convinced of the truth of the Gospel by our necklaces or lapel pins. It is our extraordinary love that reaches across insurmountable barriers and embraces those alien to us that causes the world to wonder. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”