WALK IN LOVE
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
If the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments and they have to do with love, then loving God and loving the neighbor must feature prominently in the end times, and indeed they do.
It is noteworthy that the subject of loving God was highlighted by the Lord Jesus in the letter to the church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation. Here, although the church in Ephesus was described as one which exercised hard work and perseverance and was able to detect false apostles, yet she was faulted for forsaking her first love. This first love was presumably her first love for God Himself. She was told to repent and to do the things she did at first; otherwise her witness and testimony would be removed. For the church to please the Master, activities and diligence alone will not suffice if love for Him were lost or diminished. This is particularly relevant as she encounters suffering and challenges in the end times.
The Apostle Peter was asked by the Lord Jesus three times whether he loved the master before he was commissioned to take care of the people of God. This contrasted with Peter denying the master three times earlier. The motivation for Christian service must be love for God if it is to endure, for service and witness are an outflow of a love relationship with the Master. Its absence will mean that “service” will not be acceptable to God and there will be no eternal fruit in His kingdom.
The Apostle John reminds us in 1 John:
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
(1 John 4:8)
“This is love: not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
(1 John 4:10)
“We love because he first loved us.”
(1 John 4:19)
Here is a reminder that the cross is a declaration of divine love towards us; it is the love of both the Father and the Son. The Father gave up His Son to death at a great cost. The Son, in obedience to the Father, freely surrendered His life in His love for us. We, the recipients of such a wondrous love, ought to respond with astonishment, wonder, gratitude and love in return. Indeed, we love because He first loved us, and this love must be such that it is able to carry us through the challenges, suffering and testing that will come upon us in the last days.
The book of Daniel made reference to the end times. In Daniel 12, we read:
“… There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Compare these verses with Revelation 20 and we notice the same reference to the book of life.
“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
A time of distress in the end times calls for perseverance, faithfulness and courage on the part of God’s people. Only a genuine and abiding love for God will enable God’s people to triumph in the face of such opposition.
“Grateful love is the true spring of real obedience to Christ. Men will never take up the cross and confess Jesus before the world, and live to Him, until they feel they are indebted to Him for pardon, peace and hope. The ungodly are what they are, because they have no sense of sin, and no consciousness of being under any obligation to Christ. The godly are what they are, because they love Him who first loved them, and washed them from sin in His own blood. Christ has healed them, and therefore they follow Christ.”
(Russell, Day by Day with J.C. Ryle, p 28)
In the same vein, the Apostle John in 1 John wrote:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
(1 John 4:20-21)
The Lord Jesus Himself, before His crucifixion and ascension, communicated the following to His disciples:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The Lord commanded believers to love one another; it is not one of many options – it is a command which needs to be obeyed. We have seen in the earlier publication on the book of Revelation that unbelievers will turn to the gospel not because of the judgment of God alone but also because of the powerful testimony of the believers in their love and sacrifice. They will be astounded by the loving response of believers toward them even though they were the ones who persecuted the believers and they will be equally impressed by the love of the believers among themselves. This is something they long for and do not see among their own kind. Truly, this love demonstrated towards others and among themselves will convince the unbelievers that these peculiar people are indeed disciples of the Lord Jesus.
“By nature we are inclined to love only ourselves. Nature does not allow us blithely to overlook our own interests and look to those of others, still less spontaneously to relinquish our rights and pass them on to others. But Scripture, in guiding us to this position, reminds us that whatever we receive from the Lord is given on condition that we use it for the good of the whole Church. The right use of our gifts is warmly and generously to share them with others. The simple truth upon which we need to learn and act is that all the talents we possess are divine deposits, entrusted to us for the sole purpose of benefiting others. Scripture goes even further when it compares these gifts with different members of the body (1 Corinthian 12:12). No member exists for its own benefit, but for fellow-members. Whatever the believer can do, he must do for his brethren, not looking to his own interests in any way, except to do his utmost for the building up of the whole Church. So let this be our way of showing goodwill and kindness, as we realize that in everything which God has given us we are his stewards and must give account of our stewardship. Further, the only right way is the way of love, as we put our neighbor’s advantage above our own.”
(John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion III, viii)
John Calvin clearly articulated the meaning of loving our brethren and the stewardship entrusted to believers to build up the body of Christ, the Church. Loving our neighbor would involve looking to the interests of others and caring for their welfare. The Church then becomes a wonderful testimony of God’s love in action among brethren and an attractive witness to those around them. The love of the Church is also God’s provision of protection and comfort for God’s people as they encounter persecution, the loss of property, loved ones and the loss of the means of livelihood. Loving one another not just in words but in deeds upholds the brethren and gives praise and honor to the Lord God.
There is an aspect of loving our brethren and our neighbor which may not be so appreciated:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”
Our love for the Lord Jesus must be supreme to the point that love for others, even our family, pales in comparison. There is a deep tension that may arise between loving God and loving our brethren and family in faithful ministry to God, and this may cause us much pain and agony. It is, however, an unvarying constant in the ministry of faithful servants of God, especially when facing the end times in the last days.