“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34–35 NASB
The commandment to love yourself doesn’t appear in scripture. That you love yourself is assumed in “love your neighbor as yourself,” but it doesn’t require a command because it comes naturally to every human being. What does not come naturally is loving others, hence the command to love one another. It must be commanded because it does not happen naturally.
What falls somewhere between those two is loving others who are like you. This is not as natural as loving yourself, but it is certainly easier than loving others who are different. Loving those who are like you is easy because you naturally see yourself as lovable; and if someone else is like you, he must be somewhat lovable too. This may not be your conscience thought process, but it is what happens.
A friend of a friend of mine recently moved from the Denver area to Casper, WY and was asked how he liked his new location. He answered, “It’s great. Everyone looks like me and thinks like me.” It is easy to love people who remind you of yourself.
It’s easy to love people who are like you, and it’s easy to not love people who are different. What follows from this is that it is easy to accept people who are like you and easy to not accept people who are different. What is dangerous about this, though, is that we make ourselves the standard by which we measure other people. If they are like us, we accept them. If they are different, we easily reject them.
This kind of behavior might be forgivable on an elementary school playground, but the church is called to a much higher caliber of virtue than that of schoolyard clicks. Jesus tells his disciples that all men will know that they are his disciples because of the love they have for one another. These words must have only been for the 11 men (Judas had just left) sitting before Jesus that night because no man can recognize Christians as Christ’s disciples today based upon the love they have for one another. The world of the Protestant church has devolved into a massive playground, divided up into hundreds of clicks that refuse to associate with one another and instead stand around pointing fingers at the faults they see in everyone else.
We divide and judge each other over the age of the earth, the use of various Bible translations, the details of the time leading up to Christ’s return, the ordination of women, the structure of a church service, preaching style, our understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, church polity, whether we use the same terminology when discussing doctrine, the way we pray, the use of this or that confession or no confession at all. The list continues, but I think you get my point. It’s easy to love and accept people who are like us, and it’s easy to not love and accept people who are different.
Unfortunately, this falls well short of the biblical expectation. Christians are to love (and accept) one another . . . regardless of their differences. Charles Spurgeon understood this. His words are a slap in the face and an encouraging exhortation for those of us who judge others based upon how similar they are to us.
“Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6).
If Spurgeon is right, then there is something desperately wrong with the church today. If Spurgeon cannot help himself but to love the man who loves Jesus Christ (regardless of their differences on non-essential doctrines), if he cannot cease loving all those who love Jesus anymore than he can cease loving Jesus himself, then to cease loving those who love Jesus is to cease loving Jesus himself.
Here is the slap in the face . . . if we have ceased to love those who love Jesus, then Spurgeon says we have ceased to love Jesus. If that stings a little, good. It’s supposed to sting.
Here is the encouragement . . . it is possible to love and accept people who are different and at the same time not accept their non-essential beliefs. Presbyterians and baptists can love an accept one another without accepting the other’s view of baptism. Those who speak in tongues and cessationists can love and accept one another without adopting the other’s view of the gifts. It’s not easy. It doesn’t come naturally, but we aren’t little kids in the schoolyard who make fun of each other because of our differences. Christ has redeemed us to be more than that.
It’s time we change the standard by which we measure others in the church. We must abandon the standard of self. If someone is like you, great. If someone is different, so what? The standard we must use when extending love and acceptance to another person is the standard of Christ. If Christ loves and accepts the person, then we must do the same . . . no exceptions.