One of my favorite hymns is “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”. In it, we sing of how we will walk with each other, and we will work with each other. Most importantly, perhaps, is its declaration in the first verse that “we are one in the Spirit” and “we are one in the Lord”. Indeed, as members of the Body of Christ (the Church), we are made one in Christ Jesus. And, as members of the one Body of Christ, we are called to love – to love God, and to love our neighbors.
In John 13:34-35, Jesus gives us the foundation for the well-known hymn. He says to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is by our showing love for one another that everyone will be able to tell that we are Christ-followers. It isn’t because of the crosses we wear around our necks. It isn’t because of the bumper stickers we have on our cars. It isn’t even because people see us walking into a church building from time to time. Plain and simple – from Jesus’ own lips – it is by our love that people will know that we are Christians.
So, perhaps it is not a big surprise that I – along with (thankfully) a multitude of other Christians – am so disgusted with “pastors” like Fred Phelps (the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas). I am (to put it mildly) frustrated and deeply troubled every time I see these people on television or I read about them in the news. I fail to understand how it can possibly be a demonstration of God’s love to protest people’s funerals or picket various school or military events. I struggle to understand how a group of self-proclaimed Christians can even consider parading around the country with signs proclaiming that “God hates”. God hates? I dare say that isn’t what we find in scripture!
Again and again, the scriptures tell us about God’s love – not God’s hate. The scriptures tell us that God shows “steadfast love to the thousandth generation” (Deuteronomy 5:10). Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares, “In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:8).” Even when God is angry, God doesn’t stay angry – instead, God showers us with a love that never ends! And that shouldn’t surprise us – after all, God is love (1 John 4:8).
Echoing the words of Christ, the author of 1 John tells us: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:20-21).” We show love because we have been shown real love – never ending love – in Christ. And so, we are called to love one another in the same way.
Friends, in a world where “churches” make headlines by preaching hatred, let us strive to be bold in our proclamation of love. May we embody the love of Christ and bring the words of the hymn to life, so that all in our community – and even in all the world – will indeed know we are Christians by our love.