By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
No one exists in isolation. Everyone has some relationship with someone. In this case, relationship doesn’t necessarily mean friendship. A “relationship” might last only a few seconds, such as with the cashier at the grocery store. We may not know each other’s names, nor anything about the other person. But there is a relationship, in the sense that we are standing proximity to another one of God’s creatures.
As I’m typing this message, I am sitting at my desk. I can’t be in a relationship with the desk, because the desk is an inanimate object. It is not alive. It is not made in the image and likeness of God. Actually, it is disposable. I’ve had it for many years, and I hope to have it for many more, but each day it depreciates in value and one day it will be discarded and replaced. However, one could say that “in relation to the desk,” I am sitting behind it.
With a human being, we are both in relation, and in relationship. In “relation” refers to the relative position we have to someone else. I am in front of them. “Relationship” refers to our relative behavior. I am ignoring her, or I’m being rude to him, or I am saying an encouraging word, or I am being helpful.
Let’s think about why we create children, for those of us who have them. If someone really hates life, there would be no reason to bring a child into a life that one hates. I would think that everyone who has a child ostensibly likes at least some aspects of life, and one of the reasons to bring a child into the world is to share in the life that one enjoys. We want a child to experience love, we want to create memories with that child, and ultimately, we want that child to find success in something, and all of that happens in relationship with others.
God brings us into the world for the same purpose. To experience love. And love requires the presence of another person, either for that person to extend love to us, or for us to extend love to them, or for it to be mutual. God brings us into the world in order to experience His love, for us to love Him, and for us to love others and to be loved by them. Love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand. We can’t love God but hate our neighbor. I suppose we can love our neighbor while hating God. But having love for our neighbor hopefully guides us to love of God.
On days where I’m having trouble loving God, showing love for my neighbor helps me love God. Let me give a concrete example. If I’m frustrated with God and decide not to pray, if I pray with a neighbor (as I often do in my ministry), it helps to get me back in sync with God. On the other hand, when I am having a hard time loving my neighbor, when I express love for God, either in prayer or in worship, it is difficult to then go “hate on the neighbor.” For me they go hand in hand.
We need one another to fulfill our purpose. We need one another to get to the kingdom of God. There are some people who are so self-absorbed, that they do not look out for their neighbor. There is another category of people who will not let the neighbor help them. It might be pride, a low sense of self-esteem, or something else, that leads them to rebuff any attempts by a neighbor to love them. Not only do we have to love our neighbor. We are supposed to allow the neighbor to love us. We can’t demand that a neighbor love us. But if I ask 100 people if I can help them, and no one has any way for me to help them, it’s like I’m not being provided an opportunity to show love for them. We have to learn both how to give and how to receive love—to love our neighbor and to be loved by our neighbor.
The ultimate purpose of life is salvation, to enter into the Kingdom of God. The ultimate goal of a marriage, then, is mutual salvation, for the couple to lead each other to the Kingdom of God. And that is really our purpose in relationship to rest of society—to do things that help lead others to the Kingdom of God, and for others to do the same for us. We are supposed to care about one another’s salvation. I’m supposed to care for your salvation, and you are supposed to care for my salvation. That’s really a profound thought and a sacred responsibility. Can you imagine if you stood at the awesome judgment seat of Christ and He asked you, “Have you ever cared about the salvation of another person?” We might say “I’ve cared for people,” or “I’ve cared for the physical well-being of other people,” i.e. I have given food to strangers, I cooked for my family, etc. But do we actually care about the SALVATION of other people, not just their well-being?
In John 13:35, Jesus says very simply, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our relationship with one another is what reflects our relationship with God and is what will draw others into a relationship with God. By loving others, whether deliberate or unintentional, we show God to others, and in showing God to others, we ARE concerned about their salvation.
Lord, thank You for the people who are in my life, the ones I am close to, and even the strangers I will encounter today. Bless every relationship I will have today, from the most deep and intimate one to the one that will last mere seconds. Help me to show Your love, and You, in each of these today. Help me to remember that part of my purpose in being alive is to love others, and also to love You. May I always be mindful of my ultimate purpose, to be worthy of Your heavenly Kingdom. Forgive my shortcomings, guide my heart and my mind, and lead me to salvation. Give me the humility to be led to salvation by You and by others. Help me to love others better, and help me to let others love me. Amen.
Remember your purpose to love others today. The ultimate purpose is salvation, and loving others, loving your neighbor, and showing God’s love to our neighbors is a critical step on the path to salvation.