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The huge if

At the table of communion, and at the very end of his earthly life, Jesus addressed the disciples and said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.

We need to note that this was not spoken to the disciples as representatives for the humankind, but he rather spoke to them as children of the kingdom of God. Jesus addressed his own, his friends, his brothers, and he called them “small children” – an expression of endearment.

He did indeed love them. He had taught them “giving love”[1], and he had given himself to them in love for the duration of their discipleship. As he reminds them of this love, he gives them a new commandment: “Love one another!”

Now, we need to understand that Jesus had spoken of love for God and love for your neighbor throughout his ministry, so generous love was hardly something new. He used the parable of the merciful Samaritan as an example to widen the scope of love from loving your own to loving your stranger. He even instructed people to love their enemy.

The commandment to love is different from the ethical commitment to treat your neighbor with love. The love Jesus spoke of, is an identity marker.

In our time, in search of identity, man is looking inward to find out who he is, and he also craves affirmation from society to confirm what he found inside. He joins groups, or clans, who have the same values, attitudes, and approaches concerning the problems of our time. Generally spoken, he tries to find himself, which has come to mean a way to distinguish himself from others. His focus is “Who am I?” The Christian understanding of identity is different, as it rather asks the question: “Where do I come from?” The believer understands his identity trough belonging, through a sense of family. God is my father, and all believers are my brothers and sisters. Being a child of God, my identity lies in my relationship with God. This identity has certain markers and loving the brothers and sisters in the kingdom is one of them.

This commandment to love one another in the kingdom is given exclusively to the disciples of Jesus. What is often forgotten, is that this commandment has a goal bigger than itself. The point is so much more than building an accepting and loving fellowship among the believers. Being a disciple basically means striving to be like the master. This is also what Jesus points to when he tells them that the standard of their love is to be measured against his love towards them. It is certainly wonderful to be loved and cared for. And it is certainly great to be the center of someone’s love. But this is hardly the point of the commandment of love in the kingdom. The reason is seen in the prayer Jesus prayed after the last supper[2] – that if this love is practiced among the believers, the world will believe that Jesus was sent by God. This was Jesus’ rationale for love, and this is what the commandment aims at. Turning the love in the kingdom into self-indulgence, is quite contrary to the commandment.

The commandment is reciprocal, which is clearly seen by the pronoun “one another”. The only way to live this kind of love, it to love the other. As long as my focus is on me and my needs, the love will be self-centered, which is the direct opposite of reciprocal. The wonderful secret here, is that as the disciple of Jesus loves the other disciples, the disciple automatically becomes an object of love himself. This is not the goal, but a function, of a reciprocal relationship. So, when Jesus commanded them to love one another, there was no need to secure love for self. By becoming a disciple of Jesus, one’s identity is inverted – instead of focusing on yourself, you seek to focus on the others.

This love is visible for those outside the kingdom. The non-believers see it by the way the disciples treat each other, and how they respect and care for each other. They see how the community of disciples show patience when things are difficult and unbearable, and how they always give the other the benefit of the doubt. Pride is absent, and there is no competition for attention. There is a culture of decency there, and an evident respect and protection for family and relationships. The community culture is not self-serving and does not give room for bitter conflicts. Being human, bad things inevitable do happen, but honest openness secures problem-solving and forgiveness. There is no place for holding a grudge in a community where endurance is valued. Loving each other creates sustainable trust. This community cannot see another disciple suffer without intervening, giving, lifting, supporting. These actions, attitudes and values grow from a faithful relationship with their Lord. The disciples imitate his life, his values, his relationship with God, but also his perseverance in suffering. By this love, the disciples of Jesus are recognized. Recognition is due to the identity marker.

Emotions you have, love you do. The love of the kingdom is modelled after Jesus’ attitude. He did not understand his equality with God as a prey of sorts, something to be grasped, clutched, guarded. He rather let all that go to be the bearer of God’s love to a world that both needed love, but that also did not want God in the picture in any way, shape or form. It would rather carve its own gods, according to its felt needs – gods that would adhere to instruction, and not go around “goding”. He knew his life would be one of service, of rejection, of suffering and terrible death. This did not deter him from becoming God’s love to the world.

Love in the kingdom is not without emotion. The New Testament acknowledges and promotes all kinds of faithful friendship, care and warmth between parents and their children, and talks highly appreciatively about the strong affections leading to marriage. The New Testament language, however, reserves other words for these emotions.

Love in the kingdom is action. It is giving. God gave his own son, and this is the pinnacle of love. And so, there is no greater love for a disciple than to give his life for his friends. In this light one understands that giving whatever you have for your brothers and sisters in the kingdom, is visible love. This kind of love is not based on the liking or cherishing of the other, but on the needs he or she has. This is the “giving love” of the bible. You extend the love from God to the other, from whatever resources you have.

Disciples see the danger of “giving love” exchanged for emotional love. They know emotional love is addicting and, in the end, destructive. When emotional love is allowed to roam freely, the danger is that you yourself become the object of love. You love because it feels good. When the emotions wane, so does the relationship, because the other was essentially there to make you feel good. Love does not do that.

Reciprocity is therefore a given, as a consumer attitude would suck all value to itself, and the love in the kingdom would implode.

The challenge, of course, is the word “if”. In other words, the Lord was fully conscious that this way of life was not something that automatically followed faith.

It is common to claim that those who believe in Jesus, do love one another in the way described above. This is neither what Jesus said, nor what we see in the world around us. What he said was that he gave his disciples a new commandment, an order they need to choose to follow.

Therefore, there must first be disciples. To become a disciple of Christ, a God-encounter needs to take place and you need to accept Jesus as your savior and lord.

The word “lord” here is not a name, but a function. “Lord” is the one who has the power to make decisions. For an individual to rightfully call Jesus “Lord”, that person must defer sovereignty over his or her own life to Jesus. If not, that individual is either playing games or fooling him- or herself.

The commandment is given to those who have already received Jesus as savior, and it therefore follows that it is possible to be a disciple and not practice the commandment of loving one another. It is not recommendable, it is not desirable, it is actually debilitating when it comes to fulfilling the great commandment – to make disciples of all nations.

Loving one another is not a given – it is a result of bowing down to the Lord. Therefore loving one another in the kingdom is worship – acknowledging him as Lord and exalting him by executing his commandment.

As intersectionality places people in opposing groups, according to race, class, and gender, and understands our existence as systems of discrimination and disadvantage, the kingdom is commanded to love.

We believe that all men are free to choose to believe what they want, and to live as they will. This is the responsibility of every man and woman in their lives. But they need to be informed.

In the kingdom, however, we believe in oneness. We believe there is only one God. We believe there is only one faith, and only one church – and they defined and owned by Christ, whom we worship. We believe in belonging. Together. Equal.

From the very beginning the disciples of Jesus were gathered from all walks of life. As Jesus left his friends and returned to the right hand of God, he gave the believers the task to make disciples of all nations, all languages, all people groups. And so when you look at the church, you find no distinction – rich or poor, slave or powerful, man or woman, child or adult, no matter what is your skin color - as you receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you enjoy the same state: You are a child of God.

In gratitude over this immense privilege, but also because we have come to know the fear of God, we bow in adoration and worship. This too is an identity marker of the kingdom.

Any child of God, without regard to function, has the power to enter into his presence, and some of us enjoy this more than words can describe. This too is an identity marker of the kingdom.

As an individual encounters God, bows down to his sovereignty, and becomes a child of God, he or she starts to realize they have changed citizenship, and now belong to another realm. Their homeland is where God is. This prompts a longing for home. To be with him where he is. This too is an identity marker of the kingdom.

Let us then strive to fulfill his commandment, and thus create an atmosphere of life-changing envy: See how they love each other!

[1] Agape (Gr.)

[2] John 17

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