Every year, around Memorial Day you will see this Scripture posted many times: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). In Scripture, this passage is not in the context of military service, but Jesus’ teaching his disciples about the high cost of discipleship and the type of love they should demonstrate as a result.
What if Christians applied this to their own lives? How much more influential would the Church be if we demonstrated this type of sacrificial love to one another? In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” He was telling His first followers that the badge of the true disciple was awarded not to those who just go to church, do good things for God, and sit in bible study groups. All these things are not wrong in themselves. He said the standard of measurement is love.
The word for love here in the original Greek language is “agape” love. It is a sacrificial love, a love not based on feelings or preference, but an intentional choice. A good example would indeed be that of a soldier who loves his country so much that he would lay down his life for it. Another example would be the love Jesus said we were to have for our enemies. Certainly not something we “feel” like doing is it? It’s not the way we typically use the word, such as “I love my church” or “I love ice cream.”
Yet, I do not see this kind of love exhibited among most Christians today. Even personally we have experienced quite the opposite recently. I am no longer shocked at what people will do or say anymore. False witness, betrayal, and a propensity to “throw one under the bus” if required has become the norm more than the exception. And the sad thing is that is has become hard and harder to see the difference between Christians and non-Christians. Too many times I encounter people whose emotional wounds are not from the world, but people who say they follow Christ.
Most Christians don’t know what agape love is, looks like, and fewer still have ever had to employ it. Face it, we live in a very selfish world. Just look at social media. People spend most of their life now talking about THEIR lives, the food THEY just ate, THEIR great family, and where THEY just traveled, etc, etc. As well, we seek “followers” of self on venues such as Twitter. It’s all about ME now. “So why should I sacrifice for YOU?
Many Christians – too few that are disciples of Jesus – Oh, most all will say they are. But I no longer care as much about what you say than what you DO. This is quite common in the church planting movement. People like to to think they are “all in” and the challenges of church planting demand such a commitment. But let a shinier bandwagon come by and they are the first to jump ship. The lure of human success and spiritual organization dangles in front of them like attractive fruit on that forbidden tree in the Garden. Charismatic personalities, peer pressure (or the “crowd” your mama said to be careful about following as they are usually wrong), and human reasoning often affects decisions and loyalties more than the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are too often followers of other ideas, philosophies, and people, and just “fans” of Jesus, when it should be the other way around.
Bandwagon fans want others to do all the hard work, make all the sacrifice, and then they just show up and enjoy the results. I find it interesting at how Jesus dealt with the bandwagon fans of His day. He had developed quite a following. However, He did not try to sign the crowds up for his new ministry and quickly take an offering and promote His new book. No, He challenged their motives. He made them well aware of the high cost of following Him. He did all He could to run them away and talk them out of it, and to expose any thread of selfish motive they may have. Jesus always knows how to throw a little hardship in and see who is still around afterwards, who is still a disciple.
Most Christians are not living in the power and control of the Holy Spirit – I do not think you can manifest agape love to any usable degree in your own human strength. You must be filled with the Holy Spirit. You cannot be filled with the Spirit if you are full of self (see earlier point). If you are filled with the Spirit you will manifest the fruits of the Spirit and the agape love of self-sacrifice. Your life will begin to manifest the love we so often quote in I Corinthians, chapter 13.
On Memorial Day we honor and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. But we should also remember the ONE who also paid the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation. In response he demands the same for us spiritually. We must die to self. We must die to our own agendas. We must die to this competition among church assemblies that has crept into the Body of Christ and caused disunity and a negative witness in the community. We must die to this habit of dishonoring those who have gone before us and serve alongside us. We must die to this thinking that “bigger is better” and the desire to create man-glorifying models of success, no matter who we run over and abuse in the process. We must die to the pride that causes us to only love those just like us and reject everyone else that threatens our social image, standing and comfort.
Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Would others say you are a disciple if they measured you love for all the Christians you know, not just the ones you like, because they like you? Would others say you are a disciple of Jesus? Do you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit so much that you love even those considered your enemies?