Blog

A Love Worth Dying For?

A Love Worth Dying For?

Part 2 of the Living Waters Series

A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

~

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

Dear brothers & sisters,

What is love, really? That is the question we have been wrestling with in the first three parts of our Living Waters Series.

First, we are commanded to love God. Wading through the deep waters of Jesus’ wisdom, we found that a genuine love for God will bring about obedience to His will. (And as simple as only the Truth can be, we discover God’s will through the teachings of His Son–the Word of God, John 1:1, 14 & Revelation 19:13.)

Second, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. For Part 2, we drank in a lot: from who our neighbor is to what Jesus intended this love to look like to what implications the second greatest commandment has on our own salvation!

And now we come to the new commandment, which reveals and requires a love that is not only selfless, but self-sacrificing, following after the example of one who accepted brutal execution for the sake of love.

The important question we should ask ourselves is what does this new commandment mean for us as followers of Christ today?

There are two parts to this teaching of Jesus: a) Jesus’ example, and b) the instruction to love each other.

During his last evening with his disciples, right in the middle of their last meal together, Jesus stripped down, wrapped a towel around his waist, and started washing the stinky, dirty feet of those who claimed him as Teacher and Lord, the very Son of God (John 13:1-17). Setting an example of love distinguished by selfless service, Jesus humbled himself to his own followers, and then tells them to do the same for each other (John 13:14-15).

So this is the kind of love that Jesus is talking about when he tells us to love one another as he has loved us. The kind of love where the greatest is servant of all (Mark 9:35). The kind of love where leadership is not lorded over others, but rather served under as a model (Matthew 20:25-26).

One would think that this new commandment would be easier to practice than the two greatest commandments because we have a clear example to follow, recorded in four historically reliable accounts: the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Jesus said (John 13:34). Yet it is strikingly obvious to anyone who has actually read the four gospels for themselves that the vast majority of professing Christians have a skewed impression of who Jesus was and what he was like. Too many of us who claim to believe seem to have some made-up person in our minds that we call Jesus. These fake Jesuses (i.e. false messiahs) always conform to our own notions about what is loving, what is respectable, and what we care about.

The question we should really be asking ourselves is how can we hope to practice this new commandment if we don’t even take the time to see for ourselves how Jesus loved? It’s written right there in the four gospels, if we’d only learn to read them without our own biases getting in the way!

Jesus said that our love for each other will be the definitive marker to the world that we are his disciples (John 13:35). Yet it’s obvious to the very people we are supposed to be witnessing to that us modern-day Christians are really no different than everyone else. Where do you see Christians living together, sharing all possessions in common, truly showing love to one another through selfless service 24/7, just like Jesus and his disciples in the gospels, and then the first Christians in the book of Acts (e.g. Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35)? This should be the norm for the Christian faith, and yet this lifestyle that Jesus patterned before us is all too rare, almost non-existent.

So does this mean that Jesus was wrong, that his disciples (i.e. Christians) don’t actually love each other the way that Jesus loved us? Or is it rather that today’s Christians aren’t actually Christians, disciples of Jesus after all?

The only people we are fooling are ourselves.

My commandment is this: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:12-13

We really can’t talk about Jesus’ love for us without looking to the ultimate sign of his self-sacrificial love on the cross. Whatever your theology about the cross is, one thing we can all agree on is that Jesus courageously embraced the logical extreme of his radical philosophy of selfless love unto death. (And an absolutely horrendous death at that.)

But, unlike what you’d probably hear at church, Jesus did not claim to do it all for us on the cross.

*insert record scratch and horrified screams*

Jesus did more than die for us: he calls on us to do the same.

Jesus said, “if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Maybe he meant this figuratively, but when we look to the history of the early church and all the countless martyrs who followed in the footsteps of their Lord & Savior, there are no comfortable questions or interpretations about what Jesus really meant.

Facing death for the sake of love, that is the Way of Jesus which will revolutionize the whole world if enough people come together and embrace true discipleship, pick-up-your-cross discipleship, self-sacrificing discipleship.

This is the ideal, but just a quick look around at the billions of professing Christians in the world today leaves us with a completely different picture of what discipleship under Jesus is like.

It is true that there are Christians in north Africa and across Asia who are being actively persecuted for their faith.* But what about those of us surrounded by first-world affluence and cultural tolerance in the West? Where is our cross? Where is our persecution?

Jesus promised that we as his disciples would face persecution (Matthew 10:22, 25, 24:9; John 15:18-21, 16:2).

(When was the last time you heard this promise in church?)

So was he lying or was he just wrong? Or maybe there’s something wrong with us?

Maybe we’ve stopped following in the footsteps of our Lord. Maybe we are no longer disciples of Jesus, but disciples of our own ideologies, our own pastors, our own countries (Matthew 24:24). We’re no longer loving one another the way that Jesus loved us. We’re no longer practicing any of his teachings in the way that he modeled them. We’ve started becoming more and more of this world, and like he said, they won’t persecute us if we’re of this world (John 15:18-21).

It’s time, brothers and sisters. It’s time for those of us who claim to believe in Jesus to start believing him when he tells us to do something and shows us how it’s done. We encourage you to open your Bibles up, first to the four gospels and then to the rest of the New Testament. Start reading, and let Jesus speak into your life. When he instructs his disciples, he is instructing you! Let him guide our steps, and let us no longer conform to the patterns of this world, but to the pattern of Jesus, his disciples, and the first Christians (Romans 12:2).


Stay tuned! Next week, we will be diving deeper into radical discipleship and the Way of selfless love that Jesus calls us to.

Love & Prayers,

Luke & Allie

Faith Worker Ministries


For more from the Living Waters Series, click here!

*Learn about the persecuted Church & how you can help: International Christian Concern, Voice of the Martyrs.

Have We Underestimated the Second Greatest Commandment?

Have We Underestimated the Second Greatest Commandment?

Part 2 of the Living Waters Series

Dear brothers & sisters,

Last week, we talked about the Greatest Commandment and how we, as Christians, are to show our love for God by obeying the teachings of His Son.

This Thirsty Thursday we will quench our thirst for Christ’s Living Waters by exploring what it means to practice the 2nd Greatest Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

These two greatest commandments (loving God & loving others) are naturally linked by the Law of Love that guides our lives as Christians. And naturally—just like with the 1st Greatest Commandment—we will find further direction on how to go about showing this neighbor-love in the teachings of Jesus.

We talked last week about how we often think that we have good ideas (even great ideas!) about how to show our love. When it comes to loving others, most of us think that being polite, friendly, and respectable (at least on the outside!) is all it takes. These simple behaviors can certainly be a great start… but again, we must recognize that our “goods” and “greats” often get in the way of God’s BEST! So let’s start unpacking this 2nd Greatest Commandment to discover how we can take our faith-journey to the next level!

Usually, one of the first questions that comes to our minds about the 2nd Greatest Commandment is: who, exactly, is our neighbor?

Fortunately, Jesus already answered that one in the famous parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). A Jewish man was beaten up and robbed, left for dead on the side of the road. Three others walked by: a priest, a Levite (both of them also Jews), and finally, a Samaritan (a people whowere well-known to be deeply despised by the Jews). While the others walked by, only the Samaritan felt compassion for the victim, and he thoroughly tended to his needs. Then Jesus turns our own question (“who is my neighbor?”) on its head, asking us this question: “Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves isn’t about who our neighbor is, but rather who *we* are to others! Are we acting as a loving neighbor to everyone we meet? Don’t worry about who they are to you, only think of who you could be to them!

And again, in Luke 6, Jesus challenges our ideas about who counts as our neighbors, and therefore, who we are called on to love.

Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43)… “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

This is not a popular message, probably because it is totally counter-intuitive to our natural (fallen) instincts. When someone hits us, we want to hit right back! But Jesus calls on us to rise above our fallen nature: instead of retaliating against our enemies, he teaches us to shame their hateful actions by “turning the other cheek”, a nonviolent protest that shows a merciful love to our enemies which Jesus himself exemplified on the cross. This is all part of what it means to love our neighbors as we love ourselves!

Now that we’ve begun to get a better understanding of who our neighbor is, we’ve also started to uncover examples of what this love should look like in action!

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus encourages us to take our love for others deeper. We are not called on to simply give a nice smile or offer words of comfort. He urges us to follow the example of the Samaritan man and offer practical help to those we come across. This means that we must be ready to give our time, skills, and resources (such as food, clothing, shelter, and money!) to those in need, no matter who they are. And this message of self-giving love is made even clearer in Luke 6 when Jesus encourages us to love our enemies! Do good, offer blessings and prayers, give freely, be merciful… even to our most bitter enemies. In these ways, we become a loving neighbor and fulfill the 2nd Greatest Commandment!

The passage about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 also gives us some ideas of how to show love to others. Again, we are encouraged to offer practical help (not just a smile and “God bless you”) to those in need. Things like food, water, shelter, clothing, and visits to the sick or imprisoned.

In fact, this is even suggested as a plan for salvation, straight from the mouth of the only one who has authority to grant eternal life! (This is also suggested by the context of the good Samaritan passage from Luke 10.) So not only do these acts of love help us fulfill the 2nd Greatest Commandment, but Jesus also seems to reveal a link between this neighbor-love and our salvation.

We don’t claim to fully understand what these implications mean, brothers and sisters, but we also cannot deny the clear connections that Jesus himself makes between our love for others and eternal life.

Which brings us to our last dip into Christ’s Living Waters for the week: a cross-reference between Luke 18 & 12 that reveals yet another example of both how to love our neighbors and, this mysterious link to salvation.

While instructing his disciples (i.e. the very first Christians, and even us too!), Jesus gave this radical teaching: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out—a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). And again, Jesus says this to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22 in response to his question about how to gain eternal life: “Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Both of these passages describe another example of how we can show love to our neighbors: by redistributing our wealth to those who are in great need! This teaching is especially relevant for those of us who live in first-world countries, as we can so easily accumulate a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources without even trying or realizing it. With so much of our treasure stored on earth, Jesus calls us to take a radical leap of faith, sell our possessions, and give the money to the poor (hint: there is more poverty in third-world countries than). This way, we will transfer our earthly treasures into heavenly treasures (like a transfer between checking and savings accounts!), which provides relief to those in need. And not only that, but it is also suggested as another path to salvation in Luke 18.

So to tie it all together, Jesus shows us—his disciples—the way to practice and fulfill the 2nd Greatest Commandment through many of his other teachings. He teaches us about who our neighbor is. (That’s everyone, even our enemies!) And he gives us numerous examples of how to put our neighbor-love into action. (Everything from prayer to charity, our time to material resources, and more!)

We learned last week that when we obey Jesus and all that he taught, we show our love to God, too! So this means that the Law of Love is perfectly intertwined in a beautifully balanced harmony. By genuinely loving our neighbors, we also love God; and by loving God, we will show love to our neighbors!

And what’s more, we’ve also begun to uncover a deeply perplexing (and truly inspiring!) connection between the 2nd Greatest Commandment and eternal life. We encourage you to keep exploring these remarkable connections, and share with us anything that you find in your studies! We will surely do the same with you, dear brothers and sisters.

So, we’ve covered a lot of ground today, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. But now we’re off to a great start, firmly grounded in the foundation of Jesus’ own teachings.

Can you think of other ways to show love for others besides the examples Jesus gave which we included here? Let us know in the comments below or by writing to us at thefaithworker@gmail.com.

Thanks for joining us this week! We’re looking forward to the next Thirsty Thursday from our Living Waters series. And in the meantime: may you follow the Lamb wherever he goes!

Love & Prayers,

Luke & Allie

Faith Worker Ministries

What Does God Deserve?

What Does God Deserve?

Part 1 of the Living Waters Series

Dear brothers & sisters,

Welcome to our first Thirsty Thursday, the weekly Living Waters series brought to you by Faith Worker Ministries!

None of Jesus’ teachings seem more appropriate to start with than what he called the Greatest Commandment. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus identified that of all God’s commandments in Judaism, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30).

Of course, common sense tells us that this is true! But what does it really mean to love God with our entire being? How, exactly, do we go about this loving God business?

The first thoughts that often come to mind when we ask these questions may be worship, prayer, church attendance, etc. These things can all be good—even great! But isn’t it true that so often our “goods” and “greats” get in the way of God’s BEST?? So, rather than continue to rely on our own common sense, let’s look to the *uncommon* wisdom of our Lord for further guidance! John 14 offers some excellent clarification on what it really means to love Jesus & God.

Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey my teachings… The person who has my teachings and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine, but the Fatherʼs who sent me” (John 14:15, 21, 23-24).

{More related verses here: John 15:10, 1 John 2:3, 1 John 5:3, and 2 John 1:6}

All throughout the Old Testament and into the New, we see God continuously trying to develop a loving relationship with His people. This relationship is two-sided: God provides, and we obey; we obey, and God provides!

So when God sends us His dearly loved Son, He tells us to listen up & start putting our faith into obedient practice of all that Jesus taught (Matthew 7:24-27). According to God, our obedience is evidence that we genuinely love Him!

In the rest of our Living Waters series, we will take a look at more of what Jesus has to say—his teachings, his words, which he calls on us to put into practice in John 14. With each new teaching that we apply to our personal faith-practice, we show God that we love Him, fulfilling His Greatest Commandment!

Until next week, may you seek to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

Love & Prayers,

Luke & Allie

Faith Worker Ministries

Introducing: Living Waters

Get ready, brothers & sisters! Thirsty Thursday is coming up fast, and we have prepared our first post from the Living Waters series to quench that thirst!

In this series, we will drink of Christ’s Living Waters together, exploring a new teaching of Jesus each week, discovering how we can apply these to our own lives. While this journey may be challenging at times, Jesus is calling us to a deeper faith, a higher love that is well worth the effort!

See you Thursday!

Love & Prayers,

Faith Worker Ministries

Secret Spirituality

Secret Spirituality

Jesus’ Way calls us to a life of secret spirituality. This humble discipline takes shallow glory away from us in the short-term to create a spiritual power-force of Love in the world that God Himself will glorify.

Secret spirituality is what we like to call a particular triad of Jesus’ teachings from Matthew 6 about charity, prayer, and fasting.

Charity

Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4, NLT)

Prayer

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues [churches] where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:5-8, NLT)

Fasting

“When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, NLT)

These three teachings about charity, prayer, and fasting are all connected by one simple principle: if you do these things in front of others, then the only reward you will receive is their shallow admiration; but if you do these things secretly, then God Himself will reward you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a reward from God is way better than being admired by other people! Still, there is that desire in me–as in all of us–to let everyone know that I am a nice person who gives to the poor, that I am a spiritual person who prays and fasts. That desire is very powerful, and while it can motivate people to do good, it’s apparently not the kind of motivation that what God wants us to have.

Jesus seems to be saying here that it is better to do the right thing not because other people will see us and think well of us. We should do the right thing simply for the sake that it is right, and trust that God will see our good deeds and reward us. (I’m also thinking of a cross-reference to the Golden Rule!)

Jesus asks us to let go of this temptation to only look spiritual, to merely seem pious. He wants us to forsake this image of being godly people because what we do when no one is looking is what really counts in God’s eyes!

This takes us to a whole new level of spirituality that goes beyond outward appearances. And that requires a lot of humility! Let’s pray together (in our private places of prayer!) that we can grow to this point in our spiritual practice where a reward from God (and not the shallow admiration of others!) is all we need to keep us inspired about such important disciplines as charity, prayer, and fasting.