As I’ve mentioned here before, I became a Christian during the 70’s. 1974 to be exact, in the midst of the Jesus People Revolution and the charismatic movement. Those were heady times, and one way our new found faith was expressed was in new, “modern” worship songs. I remember in our church youth group singing, “This is the day,” “Lord of the dance,” and yes, we actually sang “Kum ba Yah.” We would even sing the English words to it. Looking back, I realize those were really very corny songs, but we didn’t care, we were cool and radical! One song in particular still stays with me (and not in a good way). “They will know we are Christians by our love. You can find it on YouTube – if you must. Now it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the lyrics or the message behind the song, it was that the way it was sung – at least in our youth group – sounded like a funeral dirge. You couldn’t find a group of young people sounding so desperately depressed while singing of loving each other. To this day I cannot listen to this song without those sad feelings flooding back.
But let’s go back to the message of that song and fast forward to today. The idea behind the song comes from Jesus’ words to the disciples in the Upper Room the night before the crucifixion. They are found in the Gospel of John.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 ESV)
Later in that Gospel, Jesus prays that through the expression of our unity with each other, the world would believe in Him. In the history of the early church, the Christians had a reputation for being loving people. The great theologian Tertullian (ad 160-220) claims that the Romans said, ‘See how [these Christians] love one another.’ In fact, many attribute the wildfire spread of Christianity to their love for each other and love for the pagan Romans around them.
It is appropriate and necessary that we fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love one another. There is no greater evidence of God’s miraculous presence in the world than a group of disparate, unrelated, unalike people who normally would be hostile to each other living in respect, deference and love for each other. This is not something that is birthed out of the human soul but out of the divine will. It is when we love one another that we most closely reflect God’s nature.
The problem, I think, is that we have so redefined “love” as to make it nearly unrecognizable. We have turned “love” in acquiescence and “unity” into “uniformity.” Love now means that we simply accept whatever beliefs or behavior you have because we don’t want to be judgmental regardless of whether those beliefs are consistent with Scripture. It would not be loving, we think, to hold each other accountable for ungodly behavior. Love means you can do pretty much whatever you want. Christian unity now seems to mean that you have to agree with me or you are divisive. We must all think alike, believe alike, act alike especially when it comes to political views or social agenda. And what the world sees when in peeks into the church is very ugly and unattractive. I really don’t think this is what Jesus meant.
I think there is a way to stand against ungodliness without being hateful. There is a way to speak against unbiblical teaching without condemning. Unless the Church recovers its ability to be separate from the world but united in Christ, we will simply be a bunch of clanging cymbals and obnoxious noisemakers. We must find a way to reflect accurately God’s love for people AND His (not our) condemnation of sin in a way that is redemptive, not destructive. Let’s stop pointing fingers at each other and instead point others upward. Yes, I know it is easier said than done and the Church has had a spotty record over the centuries. Yet we must continue to pursue love with all our heart because that is what He commanded.
The question is, “Will they know we are Christians by our love or will they walk away disappointed and disillusioned?”