I find consistent reading of the Bible incredibly engaging because I am always learning and relearning important truths. Today I had one of these relearning experiences. In his first letter, John points out something that I am guilty of and I know that many other Christians like me are guilty of: mis-prioritized love.
One of the major themes of John’s letter is love. The aspect of love that I relearned today is that as children of God, our love must first be directed toward our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. Obviously, this doesn’t mean we with-hold love from those outside of God. There’s plenty to go around. What John does seem to teach is that our love for each other should take a top priority.
John’s letter is written to Christians and all throughout he’s admonishing them to love their brothers (and sisters):
- Part of understanding that we have been born again into life is loving our fellow Christians (3:14).
- We are to sacrifice ourselves for our brothers and sisters (3:16).
- We are to make sure that our brothers and sisters have what they need to live (3:17).
- We know that God’s love is perfected in us when we love each other (4:12)
- The person who hates his brother or sister in Christ does not actually love God (4:20)
- The person who loves God should also love his brother or sister in Christ (4:21)
I know that I can get caught up in focusing my attention in trying to love those outside of the faith and not intentionally loving my fellow saints. I’ve seen the famous words of Jesus misquoted hundreds of times and I’ve done it myself:
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Jesus is telling his disciples that those outside of the faith will know that we love Jesus by seeing our love for those who are also Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is NOT saying that those outside the faith will know we love Jesus by how much we love non-believers. At least not here.
This is an important mindset shift to make. It seems like for many (myself included) that it’s easier to love those outside of the faith until they get saved and then we feel like we’ve done our part and move on to the next heathen. There are fellow Christians in serious pain and hardships in our churches and we are spending our time and money helping those who reject Jesus. Hear me- it’s not wrong to do this. What is wrong is neglecting our brothers and sisters in Christ to help those outside of the faith. In the above mentioned passages, it seems like John and Jesus want us to prioritize our love to our fellow believers.
But how will we reach people if our love is focused inward? Don’t we need to love those outside the faith too? Duh, of course we do. But imagine a community of Christians that love each other deeply. So much so, that they make darn sure that everyone in that community has what they need and feels loved and connected to everyone else. I think that when this happens, those outside the faith sprint to Jesus and his people with open arms. Isn’t this what everyone wants? A group of people who love and take care of you?
Maybe what Jesus is trying to tell us is that as His disciples, we need to love each other in such a special way that those who are not His disciples will not be able to resist becoming one.
Maybe instead of spending so much time and effort into outreaches, churches could invest more time and effort into “in-reaches.” Reaching out to those who are already believers but are struggling and need that love that Jesus commands us to give.