How would you answer the following question; “How do you know if you are growing in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
For most people, the answer would be buried inside a list of things they do—Bible study, prayer, church attendance, service, community group participation, etc.—what we call the spiritual disciplines. As good as it is to do these things on a consistent basis, this is not the measure of growing to maturity. Remember, the Pharisees did all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons, and they were repeatedly singled out for the wrath of Almighty God. Let’s take a look at the answer found in the Scriptures.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
We know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.
(1 John 3:14)
So, what’s love got to do with growing to maturity? EVERYTHING! It is the fruit of our growing relationship with Jesus. It is to be the universal mark of the Christian. More than our theology . . . more than our service . . . more than our financial support of the expansion of God’s kingdom. Love is to be the defining mark of the Christian. Paul made it crystal clear that we can be doing a lot of good and important things for God, and look godly to those around us, but the absence of love makes all of it absolutely worthless.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
What an indictment on those who refuse to love their brothers and sisters in the Lord! And make special note that Paul did not give us a pass when it came to the unlovable. We are to love both the lovable and the unlovable . . . those we like and those we do not like . . . those from whom we get something in return and those we do not.
Our Lord also offered some very strong teaching on this subject:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
You see, when it comes to love, we don’t get a vote. If we have been saved by the love of Christ we can do nothing but share it with everyone we come in contact with.
Our love for others makes our God attractive and provides an accurate picture of who He is. Remember, God is love; if we are His children, we too will show love to others—all others—regardless of the cost or circumstance. To be sure, none of us can do this in our own strength. We are far too selfish and self-centered to love unconditionally. But thank God we don’t have to! He has given us all the grace we need to unconditionally love all those He brings into our lives.
I cannot think of a better way to close today’s message of encouragement than to return to the “Love Chapter” and peer behind the curtain of Christ-like, unconditional love to see if our love looks anything like it.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hope all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
Remember, when you give this kind of love to others (albeit inconsistently and imperfectly), all you are doing is giving to them what you yourself have already received and continue receiving on a moment-by-moment basis from the One who bought you with His precious blood. So, what’s love got to do with it—from the bedroom to the boardroom? EVERYTHING!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!