God could have saved us through the sacrifice of His Son and then left each of us to find our way to heaven on our own. In His wisdom, however, He created the church so we’d have a family of believers to help us make it. The church was designed to be a family. A place where we don’t have to be as on guard as we do out in the world. A place to receive encouragement as we battle temptations. A place where the older can teach the younger (Titus 2) and where we can find others who have been through what we are currently suffering and can offer advice and exhortation. This family, when it runs as God intended, is far more supportive than most physical families. Unfortunately, men have corrupted God’s family, often acting as if it were an institution where they can garner power, influence and/or wealth. Other local branches spend more time fighting among themselves than they do supporting each other. It is no wonder so much of the New Testament is instruction for how we should be getting along with each other. Depending on exactly how you count it, there are 51 passages in the NT specifically about how we should (or should not) treat one another which use that phrase, “one another”. If nothing else, all the references to “one another” should emphasize that we are connected. We are not individuals; we are of each other, part of a group. The 51 passages encompass 22 different commands about how we treat one another. Everything from forgiveness to exhortation; from kisses to admonishment; from not lying to not “biting and devouring” one another. The most basic command, which is really the underpinning of all the other instructions, is that we are to love one another. If we get that right, all the others will fall into place; if we fail to love, no amount of teaching on the other commands will accomplish anything.
The first thing to note about love is that it is a first principle. 1 John 3:11 “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” John says that the instruction they heard from the first was to love. One of the first things taught to new Christians by the Apostles themselves was love. He repeats himself in his second epistle: 2 John 1:5 “And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another.” A lot of churches have “first principle” classes for new converts to teach them the basics of Christianity. According to John, loving each other should be prominent in that class’s curriculum.
That leads right into the next point. Obedience to the truth leads to love. 1 Pet. 1:22 “Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently.” Obedience to the truth was “unto” love of the brethren. That is the result of obeying the truth. Notice what else Peter says about brotherly love here: it is to be from the heart. In our culture, we think of the heart as the seat of emotions and so might get the idea that we are to be emotionally attached to our brothers. In the first century, however, the heart was not considered the seat of emotions, but the seat of reason. One thought with the heart. So, the command to love our brothers from the heart isn’t a directive to gooey feelings, but rather to decide to love our brothers by doing what they need. Choose to do good for them. Remember that the famous description of love in 1 Cor. 13 is all about actions. Choose with your heart to love your brothers and sisters and do for them what they need.
Connected to the idea that obeying truth leads to love is the fact that God teaches love. 1 Thess. 4:9 “But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another”. Love is from God and is basic to Christianity.
Love fulfills the Law. Rom. 13:8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” I really enjoy that Paul cites examples of the ten commandments to prove his point. If you love your brother, you won’t murder him. (!) You won’t steal his wife, nor his possessions. Love fulfills the law. If we love each other God as teaches us, we won’t need detailed instructions on how to live our lives.
Our love for each other should continue to grow. 1 Thess. 3:12 “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you”. In this epistle, Paul praises the Thessalonians for their love, but he urges them to continue to increase in that virtue. The word “abound” in this passage means to be over and above. It is also translated as “exceed” and “enough and to spare.” So, our love should not be just barely enough to get by, but should be overflowing toward each other. We should continue to increase in how we show our love to each other. Again, love is action; it is doing for each other. Also notice from the context of this verse that Paul’s next visit combined with their growing love for each other would establish their hearts. Continually growing love of the brethren was as important as an apostolic visit to their continued spiritual health.
Twice Jesus told His apostles to love each other as He had loved them. First was in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Given that His second admonition to love in chapter 15 is clearly linked to the crucifixion, I believe that this particular command was looking back on how He had loved them during His earthly life. Earlier that evening He had humbled Himself to wash their feet. Throughout their association, He had chosen them, taught them, live with them, and was patient with them. Essentially, He put their needs above His wants. That is what He is teaching them to do now. Put each other’s needs above the wants of self. Also, note that love is to be the defining characteristic of Jesus’s disciples. All will know that we are His if we love each other. That, however, logically means that all will know that we aren’t His if we don’t love each other. A church might sing without instrumental music, organize itself according to the NT pattern, and only use its monies as taught in the NT but if they don’t love each other, they aren’t a “sound” congregation. According to Him, not me.
The second time Jesus instructed His apostles to love as He did was in John 15:12-13 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Despite the past tense, this is clearly looking forward to the cross as Jesus mentions dying for others. (Incidentally, God regularly spoke of future events in the past tense in the OT to emphasize how certain His promises were. Jesus doing this here might be yet another indication of His deity.) He died for us. We are to love as He did. We are to love our brethren more than our own lives. They are to be first in everything.
Finally, we cannot please God unless we love one another. 1 John 3:23 “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” The context here is that we are pleasing to God and can ask Him for whatever we need because we keep His commandments. Then the commandment is listed as believing in the Son and loving one another. Wait, did the Holy Spirit through John just put loving one another on a par with believing in the name of Jesus? Yes, He did. Can I be a Christian if I don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God? No, I can’t. Can I be a Christian if I don’t love my brethren? According to this passage, no, I can’t. Then there’s 1 John 4:7-8 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If I am born of God and know God, I love. If I don’t love I don’t know God. I can’t please Him if I don’t love. Again, in 1 John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” John has just stated that God’s love led Him to sending His Son to die for us and to be a propitiation of our sins. If He loved us that much, surely we can love each other. And if I can’t love my brother, aren’t I casting aspersions on God’s judgement? If I judge Brother So-and-So to be unlovable, and I know that God has loved him so completely, then I’m setting my judgement up against God’s, aren’t I? “God made a mistake in loving that jerk!” I might want to be careful in acting in a way that posits that idea. Finally, there is 1 John 4:12 “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” God abides in us only if we love each other. If we want God to be with us, we must love our brethren. Also notice that God’s love for us is only perfected, or completed when we love each other. God loved us, which caused us to love Him, and then taught us to love each other. So, it is God’s love which leads us to love each other, and the work of God’s love isn’t finished until we do love each other.
Don’t leave God’s work unfinished. Love one another.