I don't know a pastor—or even a believer—who isn't concerned with getting the theology of faith right. We want to do the research and settle on answers about the rapture, marriage, creation, communion, and heaven and hell. We want to find our "tribe."
I can understand the urgency we seem to feel. Theology is important. It's important to know what we believe and why we believe it. It's important to be connected to people who will support us in those beliefs and who will constantly be pointing us toward truth. Yet in Scripture, Jesus makes it clear:
There is one thing more important than good theology: Love.
Consider John 15. This is the passage where Jesus reminds us He is the vine and, we are the branches. He explains how the Father is like a gardener who is constantly pruning the garden, cutting back and clearing away the things that are getting in the way of his ultimate mission and purpose.
If we want to be a part of the larger garden, so to speak, if we want to have influence, Jesus shows us, we must remain in him and he in us. As long as we remain connected to Jesus and the Father, and He remains connected to us, we will bear much fruit.
On the other hand, apart from him, we can do nothing.
In fact, if we want to have influence but we don't remain connected to the Father—if we aren't about his mission and purpose—we will eventually be cut away and thrown into the fire and burned (v. 7).
So what is Jesus' mission and purpose? This is the part where Jesus really drives his point home. He says:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
Just a few verses earlier, in John 13:35, Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (emphasis mine).
Notice he doesn't say, "by your perfect theology" or "by your hard stance on all the issues" people will know you are my disciples. He says: people will know you are my disciples—that you are followers of Jesus—because you will love like I love.
Love is the most important commandment we are given.
I don't know about you, but this feels a little surprising to me.
In fact, I know there have to be a few of you reading who feel surprised by this declaration because every time I talk about this idea in public, I get a little bit of pushback. Not in a bad way. People are genuinely trying to find the right answer, but often people will say something like, "OK, but Jesus also said we would be hated for being his followers ... so it can't just be all rainbows and fairy dust ... can it?"
No, it can't, and it won't be perfect all of the time, and of course there will be disagreements. In any healthy family there are disagreements among the members. But I find it interesting that the passage they're talking about—where Jesus warns us the world might hate us for following Him—is directly preceded by the passage I shared above.
In other words, just before Jesus says, "people might hate you for being connected to me," He says, "the most important thing about being connected to me is this: You must always love."
How many Christians do you know who are living up to this commandment?
If you're like me, you know a few, but you also encounter dozens on a daily basis who aren't acting in ways that would help others "know us by our love." Just log onto Facebook for a minute. Social media seems to provide a great platform for people who want to argue about theology and forget about love.
And at the same time, if we're really honest with ourselves, my guess is we each have a long way to go in the love department.
I know I see areas in my life where bystanders might not know me by my love.
Yet if we want to be leaders, if we want to be a part of what God is doing, if we want to be connected to the garden of his goodness, this has to be our number one priority. We can't delay any longer.
We must become people who love.
With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of Helpstaff.me (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and MinistryCoach.tv, all while staying involved in the local church.
For the original article, visit justinlathrop.com.
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