There’s this t-shirt out there that says “They Will Know We Are Christians by our T-shirts.” Which is kinda funny, and kinda sad.
It seems lately that the first part of this phrase could go many different directions. Let’s try some:
They will know we are Christians by our…Facebook Updates
They will know we are Christians by our…Christian Quotes
They will know we are Christians by our…Vegan Diet
They will know we are Christians by our…Bumper Stickers
They will know we are Christians by our…Political Affiliation
They will know we are Christians by our…Calling Out Sin
They will know we are Christians by our…Allegiance to the Church
They will know we are Christians by our…Tithe-paying
They will know we are Christians by our…Dress-code
They will know we are Christians by our…Websites
They will know we are Christians by our…Serious Demeanor
They will know we are Christians by our…Conservative Stance
They will know we are Christians by our…Liberal Stance
They will know we are Christians by our…End Time Prophecy
They will know we are Christians by our…Jesus-Music
They will know we are Christians by our…Righteous Deeds…oh wait.
They will know we are Christians by our…Bickering and Fighting…I mean…
They will know we are Christians by our…Plastic Smiles…uh-oh…
They will know we are Christians by our…Condemning of Others…ouch…
They will know we are Christians by our…Having to Always be Right…
They will know we are Christians by our…Having a Proof Text to Win an Argument…
They will know we are Christians by … How much we Talk about Hell…
They will know we are Christians by our… Picketing Signs and Shoving Pamphlets at People
They will know we are Christians by our… (What would you add?)
Even though the last few were a bit facetious, unfortunately they ring way too true. What are Christians known for? As Mahatma Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
As we know (or should know), the phrase actually goes like this: “They Will Know we are Christians by our Love”. Ah! That’s it! Love. The phrase comes from a song, which is taken from the Bible verse John 13:34, 35 which says
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
What’s interesting to me is who Jesus is talking to. The context here is everything. The group Jesus is talking to are His disciples in the upper room. Many people have looked at this verse and this phrase and have said that the world will know we are His disciples if we love. And so Christians focus on loving the world, which is good! But loving the world and everyone in it is already a given if you’re a follower of Christ. The context is right in the passage itself: Jesus is referring to people who follow Him, loving other people who follow Him. Jesus says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” It’s already a given that we are to love the world and everyone in it. But it is an entirely different thing to love each other. Let me explain.
Right now in many churches and denominations we have so much fighting and dissention. In fact, it’s not just in religion, it’s in politics as well! Just recently after the election in the United States, there was talk of secession because certain voters in certain states felt that they could not belong to the United States of America because their political party looked like it had lost. In some churches and denominations right now there is huge infighting based on discussions regarding gender roles, worship style, homosexuality, unity, and the list could go on and on. That’s why we have over 35,000 denominations within the Christian faith today. Because we have never learned to disagree well. Dare I say, we’ve never learned to love.
The other interesting thing about the context of this verse is that Jesus has just washed the disciple’s feet at the last supper. This is a tradition we do in the Adventist church to show humility and love to one another, and to remind each other that the only One lifted up higher than any of us is Jesus Christ. That my opinion is not higher. My stance on a certain issue is not higher. But that we are all under Christ and therefore brothers and sisters. We are family.
And notice also that Jesus calls it a “new commandment.” It looks like He knew it would be a difficult thing to do. He needed to show us that this is not a small issue to Him. This is big enough to make it a commandment. It’s as if He knew we would get our focus on nit-picking others and pointing fingers and fighting to be right, and we would forget how to love.
On the sermon on the mount, Jesus also refers to this mindset when He says,
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” – Matthew 5:43-45
Once again, most people apply this to the “world” versus “followers of Christ”. But what if Jesus was also referring to those within the walls of Christendom? What if my “enemy” is the one who disagrees with me and is persecuting me because of our differences?
One more verse that is of interest to me comes from 1 John 4. The whole chapter is amazing, but check out these verses:
“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.”
– 1 John 4:7, 8, and 20
It’s so easy to love and commune with those who agree with us and think the same way we do. But what about those who don’t? It looks like God wants us to learn how to listen to others and extend grace to each other, especially those we don’t agree with. It appears from these passages that God desires us to love others, and especially each other. Especially those with whom we find it so difficult to like. Because in all reality, when the world sees a group of people who love and respect each other, even in the midst of disagreeing, there is something divine about that. Because it is not human. It has to come from a greater source. This will prove, not only that we are His disciples, but it will also prove that perhaps a God of Love actually exists.
I’ll be honest. This won’t be easy. But maybe that’s the point. I’ve been hurt by so many “Christians” within my own denomination, and I know you have, too. But Christ is telling me to love. He’s telling you to love. What if we actually took Jesus seriously and did it? To love each other (instead of competing to “be right”). To pray for each other (instead of praying against each other). To honor each other by “washing each other’s feet” (instead of gossiping about how aweful the other is). To pour out our life for each other (instead of our anger and malice). To not let bitterness control us (but instead let LOVE compel us). Oh God of LOVE, be the very pulse in our wrist, the watchword on our tongue, and the spring in our step. As the old song goes, “what the world [church] needs now, is Love, sweet Love!”
(in light of the discussion, we’ll end with that great tune)