“How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity.” – Psalm 133:1
“Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” – Colossians 3:14
There are many ways in which believers can be unified. We can be unified in our identification as simply Christians and nothing else. We can also be unified in the Great Commision – teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. But the perfect bond of unity is love. The love of God through Christ Jesus and our love for one another is what truly binds us together. Jesus said in John chapter 13 and verse 35 that “this is how the world will know that you are my disciples: that you have love one for another.”
So the identifying mark of followers of Christ is love. “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Christ showed His love to and for us by dying on the cross for the sins of the world, taking our place. “Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we must also love one another” (1 John 4:11). And “we must not love in word or in speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). It’s easy to say the words, but the action of love takes a lot more work and effort. And the effort that Christians show in loving one another demonstrates our love to God. People who do not know God are the exact opposite. “The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (1 John 3:14-15). So, Christians are readily distinguishable by the way we treat one another.
You’re probably familiar with the love test of 1 Corinthians chapter 13. That’s the book of love: “Love is patient; love is kind. Love does not envy; is not boastful; is not conceited; does not act improperly; is not selfish; is not provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (vs. 4-8). The test to see whether you are truly loving is to replace your name wherever you see the word love in that passage. So, I would read: Ms. Turner is patient; Ms. Turner is kind; Ms. Turner does not envy, etc. Then when you’re done you examine which of those you need to work at to genuinely be more loving. Some may need to work on patience more, while others might have to work to no longer find joy in sin and wrongdoing or to stop keeping records of other people’s wrongs. It’s a helpful way to determine what attributes of love you have.
Christians know exactly what it means to be loving. We don’t delight in unrighteousness. That’s what the world does. They laugh at, make jokes about, and mock sin. The Christian differentiates the sin from the sinner, and is therefore able to express love even to those caught up in sin. You can love the sinner and hate sin. Some people say it’s unloving or judgemental to call sin sin. Sin is sin and it’s wrong no matter who is involved in it. I can say that outbursts of anger, envy, and strife are against God’s will and still love the person caught up in those sins – or any other sin, for that matter. Loving does not mean being tolerant. God loved us while we were still sinners – so much that He sent His only Son to die in our stead. Yet, His very nature is the antithesis of sin. God is everything good, holy, and righteous. He does not tolerate sin. He loves the sinner – you and me. So we ought to also to be loving – loving enough to help bring people out of their lost state in their sins and into the fold of God.
1 Peter 4:18 tells us that “above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, since love covers a multitude of sins.” That is a direct correlation with the description of love keeping no record of wrongs in 1 Corinthians 13. When someone sins against us or hurts us or just sins and it has absolutely nothing to do with us but we find out about it, do we keep a tab of everything they’ve done? Do we go around gossiping and telling others about it? Or, do we seek to help correct that error and sin directly with that person? The Word tells us that if any among us “strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, he should know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). If we are loving, we don’t hold onto the wrongs of another person and throw them in their face every chance we get. But, being loving means that we consider ourselves that we might also fall into temptation, and we remember what Christ did for us. God doesn’t hold on to our sins; when we repent, He sweeps away our transgressions and remembers our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). We must strive to be like Jesus in His ultimate example of love.
Christians are patient with one another. We are kind. We are not selfish, and we do not become easily angered. We are not jealous or envious of one another. We don’t put one another down or look down upon other people. “Love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). We work to lift each other up and encourage one another. The world seeks to tear down the very esteem of a person, showing no regard for a person’s dignity. When people of the world are envious, jealous, conceited, and unkind, it somehow makes them feel better to demean and belittle others. Yet, Christians don’t mistreat our neighbors, and we are forgiving. We are not malicious, and we do not wish or seek to bring evil upon another person. People of the world do those things because they do not know God. But Christians are set apart from the world. That’s how the world knows who we are: we think, act, and respond differently than they do. It doesn’t make sense to them how we operate, “for to those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
When we disagree, we can do it in a loving manner. And we can lovingly work towards unity. As the Apostle Paul urged in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and verse 10, so do I – that we “all say the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction.” If we are not united in love, then we won’t be united in anything because love is the perfect bond of unity. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). “Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). “This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands” (1 John 5:2). “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2: 8-9).
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). That’s a way to show love. The opposite is hate, which is apathy – not caring or having any concern for another person’s well being. That’s the way the world behaves, not Christians. Christ has set the standard for us. He has given us the greatest commandment, that we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and secondly, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). When we treat people the way that we want to be treated, then we are truly showing love and united as one in that perfect bond of unity. May we endeavor to always be loving and one as the Lord wants us to be.