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2. This I Command You, To Love One Another

This I Command You,
to Love One Another

2nd in a series of synoptic sermons on “Spiritual Direction” by Pastor Eric H. H. Chang. This message was delivered at Chinese Gospel Church in Montreal, PQ, Canada, on January 3, 1982.

Today we continue our exposition on spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is the direction in which the Lord Jesus Himself walked. As the apostle Paul says, “For if we (Christians) live, we live for the Lord. and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Ro 14: 8) “For the Lord” means for the very same purpose and goal for which He died for us. That direction is to lay down our lives - to wholly give ourselves for the salvation of mankind. But this embraces a large area. Lest we be left with some wonderful ideal beyond our reach, let us consider how this commitment can be put into practice. How does this teaching translate into everyday life? In many ways, we shall see that John 15:9-17 is truly a precious passage for it summarizes the points which will help us set our sights on the goal.

The Standard of Love

The commandment to love one another in John l5:l2 is quite familiar to most of us. Often there is the temptation to end this verse there. At this level, we could still get by by claiming that in some manner we do truly love the brethren. Now the Lord does not end the verse there. The Lord does not leave us in doubt how we are to love one another. We are to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We are to love in the same way as Christ loved. This is the Lord’s standard of love. This same love in action emerges in 1 John 3:l6,

“By this we know love that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

The Lord Jesus calls this His commandment. A commandment by its very nature is not optional. Either we determine to walk the way He walked or we shall not be His disciples. The kind of love the Lord demands is none other than the kind of love He is giving to us. So we see the Lord sets forth clearly both the standard and the necessity of love in the life of the disciple.

Love and Joy

What kind of love does the Lord give us? In v. 13, we read,

“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Let us try to catch a picture of the Church the Lord Jesus builds with His redemptive life and His blood. Capture the vision of the Church when we all obey this commandment. To date, we must frankly confess that we have not obeyed this command. I have failed as I freely confess to you. In our selfishness, we have often not been willing to have this total love. Consequently we have not lived victoriously and have often lost the joy connected with this command in v. 11.

As we begin to live in this full self-giving, there will appear a joy that we never knew before. The moment we become defensive and shut ourselves in, the joy goes. Have we not all had some experience of this? If only once, we tried giving ourselves away, not afraid to be hurt, we would experience something of the vision of the Church the Lord had in mind: a Church in which each lives for the other and all live for God.

The Requirement of Love

What is the Lord’s requirement in our love? What the Lord requires is that those who commit themselves totally to Him must also commit themselves totally to one another. Total commitment is not merely to God, as we may have thought. Much to our shock and fear, Christ requires our total commitment to love one another as well.

(In the main), we are more prepared to commit ourselves totally to God because we trust Him. He is wise. He is good. Even in His severity, God is merciful. But we don’t trust people.

This command to commit ourselves totally to our brothers and sisters is often more than we can handle. We don’t trust their judgement and wisdom. Even sometimes we have questioned their genuineness. Always there is the haunting suspicion that if we open ourselves to one another, we may get hurt. The commandment to commit ourselves totally to one another is therefore frightening. To attain to the total commitment to God seems already such an awesome task. To commit ourselves to one another - how shall we attain to this?

Love and Power in Prayer

I have, in other contexts, pointed out that the relation between Christian and Christian (is so close) to the picture of a husband to a wife. In all aspects, the commitment is total on the spiritual level. Among brothers and sisters, it is spiritual but nonetheless total to one another. Now this relationship is absolutely vital to our spiritual life and the spiritual power with which we function. To illustrate, the Lord draws attention to our power in prayer.

The Lord makes our power in prayer directly dependent upon our obedience to this command to love as He loved. Have we not all known people who have prayed and were annoyed, when God didn’t answer their every whim? What is our experience in prayer? Here the Lord demonstrates a condition for the answering of prayers - we must fulfill His requirement to love. V. 16 relates,

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.”

These words are the promises of the living God to give us whatever we ask. A person not totally committed to God and, much less committed to one another. need not quote this promise because the context of this promise is total commitment. Here lies the danger in quoting Scripture verses that draw our attention only to the promises of God. The very promise has an associated context. We may not claim one of these promises unless and until our life accords or conforms to the conditions set fur in the context.

Love and Experience of God

Now there is a glorious aspect in this passage. As our life and teaching manifest the teaching which accords with godliness, the Lord challenges us to take Him at His word. We may ask what we will and He will answer. The Lord does not hide Himself. He desires that we may experience Him as the living God. The Lord dares to make such a promise when we walk righteously before Him in our generation. I challenge you as well to experience evermore deeply the fellowship God desires to have with you as you walk in the light of His Word, the living Word.

The life of George Muller is a challenging testimony. Not once does the living God fail. In his autobiography, he details his many prayers for the orphans and their financial needs - he always obtained what he requested. He meticulously catalogued every prayer and answer. More than 50,000 prayers. More than 50,000 answers.. As he neared the end of his life, someone asked, “Were any of your prayers ever not answered?” He said, ‘There are two people I have prayed for and I have not got an answer yet.” After his death, inquiry was made and it was discovered his prayers had both been answered. Why? Here was a man totally committed to his God and totally committed to God’s people. This is the absolute confidence we can have in prayer. Despite my weaknesses and failings, the Lord has, in His graciousness, answered my prayers far beyond anything that I could expect or think.

Love and Salvation

Quite apart from the matter of prayer, the Lord taught me the importance of this total commitment as it relates to our salvation. This truth was revealed to me through my mother’s death. Let me relate it like this.

In 1977, I had just returned from a preaching tour in various places in Ontario. On my return, I was exhausted and there was yet before me a preaching engagement in the West a week hence. One morning my wife, Helen came in the room and just stood there in silence. She quietly handed me a telegram informing me of my mother’s death along with the message to come to Switzerland immediately. I couldn’t take it in. My last memory of her was that of a vigorous and happy lady. Had I not just received a letter from her a few days before?

When I went to my mother’s apartment, in this town in Switzerland, everything in her apartment was tidy and clean, reflecting my mother as she always was. The apartment looked as though she had just gone out for a walk. For several nights, I knelt before the Lord by the bedside and said, “Lord, I don’t understand this.” A light had gone out of my life. My heart felt like it had a great hole in it - one which was to remain for years.

I could not understand why there was this profound sense of loss because there was no deep natural affection for my mother. In my upbringing, I was closer to my father. Mother went to work, leaving me in the care of my nanny. My nanny bestowed every kindness upon me. She bore with me in all patience. In giving this account, one can see there was no natural grounds for affection for my mother. Perhaps it is the danger of some who marry young. Young mothers, in many cases, see their children as burdensome. All the more I was at a loss to account for this emptiness. Even in later years, she was deeply disappointed that I had gone to Bible college, feeling I was wasting my precious energies, rather than becoming the great man she hoped I would become in the world. Often my visits were accompanied by a coldness to the Gospel in those days.

Gradually the message of the Gospel reached into her life not through any preaching, but because my mother began to see the power of what God was doing in my life constantly. I determined a stubborn love: though there was no natural reason to love, I would love her with the love of Christ. One day she knelt beside me in prayer and received the Lord as King of her life. Wonderful [was] the moment when she yielded herself to Him. As she became totally committed, her whole attitude changed. She became a person I had not known before. A goodness, kindness and humility pervaded her life. Whereas before there was an impatience and intolerance when I came home, now there sprang forth a devotion and love. Mark well how the Lord changes a person. Thereafter I could never sleep so well as when I went home to see my mother. We gave ourselves totally to one another, having first mutually given ourselves to God. As we determine to walk close to God, our relationships will carry the fragrance of God in our lives. Why was there such a deep sense of loss when my mother died? In His goodness, the Lord showed me the reason I felt this loss so acutely: I had lost someone who was living out this very Scriptural principle we are expounding today - the totally committed person.

Another lesson dawned on me. How precious is someone who loves us not merely on some physical level, which passes away - but is spiritually committed in total love. Such is the beauty in the community of God’s people. Each individual’s love not only does not lose his quality in the group but is simply irreplaceable. Your contribution to the life of another brother or sister is indispensable. The loss will be felt. Through this painful experience, I learned this amazing lesson and began to grasp the vital importance of fulfilling the Lord’s teaching in the Church.

Love’s Commitment in God’s Family

I wonder, can we grasp what is the strength that comes from the assurance that you are loved with a total love? I began to realize that my commitment must be not only to my mother but to every single person who is my brother and sister. Has not our Lord said in Matt. 12:50,

“For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother, and sister and mother.”

To commit ourselves to everyone is rather difficult but I must commit myself to every brother and sister whom I know does the will of my Father. To such a person, one is absolutely committed. So today I would make my commitment to you as well. To those who strive to carry out the Father’s will, I want to make the same specific commitment I made to my mother: So long as I have something to eat, you will have something to eat. So long as I have a place (to live in); you will have a place (to live in). My commitment to you is unconditional, as the Lord requires - so that together as a Church, we may have the fullness of commitment the Lord died to accomplish.

Our direction is to be like Him and that the Church of God be a community like Himself. The wheat that falls into the ground and dies brings forth wheat, like unto itself. How my full heart yearns for the day when the Church of Christ is once again His glorious Church, holy and blameless, when the world can look at the Church and say, “Hey, I see the love of God. Here is total commitment.” Truly it shall be as the Lord has said on the matter of discipleship:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35)

So I shall stand, not only for you, but with you to the limit of my ability. Now my capacities may be limited but my Father’s are unlimited. Remember His words, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” This is exactly what we shall prove. There is no problem too big for our Father. In this line, we will aim to build a Church that shows the life and quality the Lord seeks of His people.

Love and Service

In v. 10 Jesus says,

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide (live) in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide (live) in His love.”

Preface this verse, with the fact that on the one hand, He commands us and on the other hand, He serves us. Thus He says in Matt. 20:28, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” What we learn from this mutual commitment is a deep respect. In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples feet, emphasizing this point. Some are entrusted with leadership. Some follow. Let me stress on this one thing however, that in the Church of Christ, leadership is not a status but a function. That is to say, the leader is not a grade higher than you, he simply has a different function from you. The leader must respect those who are led. Anyone who does not understand this has no place in the Church of Christ. I profoundly respect you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us put aside the worldly concept of status or position. It has no place in God’s house. The leader is the servant, as we all are, for Christ’s sake.

Love and Openness

Where there is this commitment to one another, there is joy. Joy means enjoyment. The Christian must never be ashamed of enjoyment - particularly the enjoyment of one’s brothers and sisters. If the fellowship does not bring joy, our commitment is very much in doubt. Our commitment is in trouble. Often our relationships are “chained door” relationships. We conduct ourselves behind a chained door, slightly open for fear of being hurt or exposed. The chain defines the limit. We are always watchful and guarded. Always defensive. Therefore we cannot relax with one another. After all, we may even be criticized or rebuked.

Contrast this to the full commitment to love one another. We are not afraid of our brothers and sisters. If you are committed to me, you should tell me my faults. In fact, I beg of you, to tell me my faults. I ask not for nice words. Any fault of mine could prove spiritually fatal to me. If there is something bad, please tell me. If there is nothing, what do I have to defend? What is there to fear? Why are we so touchy? I don’t have to put the chain on. Just come in. Let us learn to value our brothers and sisters so that together we can grow in the body of Christ.

Love and Friendship

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant-does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friend, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:1)

If the Master hides nothing from us, why do we hide anything from one another? Friendship is trust and openness. Let us learn to relax with one another. Friendship is the most profound relationship any two people can have. When friendship goes out of a marriage, it is dead. It becomes just a legal union, where we are stuck with someone we can’t live with. Rather, marriage is to be friendship at its highest level. Our partner is our best friend. Endeavor to build this relation with one another, to enjoy one another. Friendship is built on mutual trust. In this verse, Christ has set the standard for every relationship. When friendship goes out of life, what remains? If there is friendship, it matters not what age we are. there will never be a generation gap.

Let us therefore be a Church where this openness and trust prevails. In so doing, the glory of God will be revealed in our midst. His power will be manifest in our prayer. We shall see glorious things as our direction of life accords with the Lord’s.

(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church