This weekend at The Vineyard I wrapped up our series on the Nicene Creed with the idea that theological study is virtually useless without an honest expression of love. I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss something that I didn't have time to unpack in the message.
I used the entirety of John 13 as a primary text. I'd like to point out these verses in particular:
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jesus in John 13:34-35, NIV)
Here is an explicit statement of strategy from Jesus to his disciples regarding the expansion of the Kingdom. It is my hunch that many of us tend to miss this strategic mandate on two different levels.
The first is a blatant disregard for primacy of love in our faith. We read these verses but we really don't believe that Jesus is accurate on this point. We explore and invent a myriad of strategies other than love to try to show the world that we are on Jesus' team. It is not by our knowledge that all men will know we are with Jesus. Not our power or our ideas or cultural awareness. It's not our worship style or ecclesial construct. It's love. Love is what "outsiders" to our faith notice first and foremost about true followers of Jesus.
The second dangerous oversight for us in this passage is missing whom Jesus says is the receiver of our love. He tells us to love one another. In loving one another we create a community so dynamic and countercultural that "all men" will look toward us in amazement full of wonder and intrigue. Our missional strategy is to love each other so rightly and radically that those outside of the faith will long to be invited into it.
At The Vineyard our mission statement is to love the people of Cincinnati into a relationship with Jesus Christ and to give away to the world all that God has given us. I love that mission. It creates an outward focused church with a laser focus on the people of our city. Our mission truly lived out creates selfless missionaries fully devoted to Jesus and the Kingdom.
Here's the rub though: we cannot love the world until and unless we first love each other. If we are not careful, we could become outward focused in practice without the base of a true servant community. That would be the ultimate bait and switch: we'll love you until you are one of us, then when you want in, the love stops.
Another way to say it is this - truly loving your family, your small group and your close Kingdom friends is a form (perhaps the most fundamental form) of evangelism. One genuine Christian community addicted to love and selflessness is the greatest advertisement there is for the gospel of Christ. Precisely because most people innately know such a community cannot be sustained within normal depraved people. Something supernatural must be going on when broken people genuinely love one another deeply without agenda. Loving other disciples is a central part of what it means to live an outward focused life.
This in no way lessens our resolve to love those outside of our community. To say so is paramount to saying that if I choose to love my wife more deeply I must therefore love my children less. There is no fear of scarcity in agape love. The more we love each other, the more we will love the world. As the love between Father, Son and Spirit flows from their very essence outside of themselves and onto all humanity, so our love for one another spills onto the world around us.
If you have ten minutes, read this ancient letter on the same subject...