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"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." Jesus
Having a strong, biblical foundation based on solid doctrine is essential in the life of all Christians. It keeps us humble to know, for example, that we have been saved by God's grace and that we did not choose Him, but that He chose us. It help us not despair in our daily battle against sin the wonderful doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. He will not let us go. He who has called us will never leave us nor forsake us. He who began a good work in us is able to complete it. Our salvation, from A-Z depends only in the work of Christ Jesus, and that is strong, comforting doctrine. The doctrine of the Sovereignty of God is what gives us hope when all seems to be falling apart, when there are many questions and a few answers. That He is ruling this world and that he knows the number of the hairs on my head, makes a whole world of a difference. The way we approach God in prayer, the way we live our lives, the way we respond to sin, the way we deal with the desires of our hearts, all we do depends on the doctrines on which we stand.
There is one doctrine, however, that we sometimes leave on the side. We know it is there and we pretend to know it well until differences arise and conflict comes our way, I am talking about the doctrine of love.
Maybe because it has been abused in so many Christian traditions in which love has been preached without a biblical backbone, with no doctrinal frame, we tend to minimize its importance. We know we must love, but in reality we care more about being zealous for truth than in laying down our lives for others.
We pass by the wounded and do nothing because we are too busy defending our doctrinal righteousness. Jesus, our model to follow, did both: He touched the unclean, and sat and ate with the sinners while preaching Truth, while preaching repentance of sins. Paul and Silas helped the sick and the widows while defending Truth.
The first Christians were persecuted for preaching the Truth without compromise, while at the same time they were known by the love amongst themselves. Tertullian (c. A.D. 200) wrote,
"It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. "See," they say, "how they love one another," for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. "How they are ready even to die for one another!" For they themselves will sooner put to death… . No tragedy causes trouble in our brotherhood, [and] the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives. (Apology 39)"
We should pay more attention and study with more zeal the doctrine of love; while praying earnestly that the Lord will lead us into repentance for the many times we have not shown true love for Him (and His Word) because of our lack of love for those around us. Our identity as Christians, the way we should be known even today, must be the way we deeply love and care for one another. It is not an option; just as it is not an option to believe in the importance of salvation by faith and not by works.
In the past few months I have been digging deep into this, searching the Scriptures and my heart. And it is not easy to find the balance needed to live this out. It is not easy because we love Truth, and because we want to defend it. It is not easy because we know that false teachers do destroy families, and churches, and lead many astray, and we do not want to compromise the Truth of God, we want to stand firm on the Word of God and reach out to those whom we see in danger. But Jesus (and his disciples) taught us that it is possible to do both. We can love our neighbors and our enemies without compromising the Truth of God. And it is possible to do so, because that is exactly what we have been commanded to do.
My husband and my children are witnesses of the struggle of my heart as I have been learning these lessons, as I seek answers to these questions. I love Jesus and I want to love my neighbors as well as my enemies. I want to be known as a Christian.
If you want to dig deeper into this doctrine I would suggest that you study in depth (get an expository commentary) 1st John, the Sermon of the Mount, and the epistle to the Galatians. Two other books that have helped me to understand all this (and have made me cry more than once) are: Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Ryken, and If You Bite and Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict by Alexander Strauch.
May God draw us to Him, so that we may be drawn to love those around us.