“Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” This is a quote often credited to Francis of Assisi.
The idea behind the quote is that we should be good people who do good things and that, when done well is our gospel proclamation. We should only use words as a last resort. Often this is translated as loving others. We should love others so well that our love and actions are our gospel proclamation.
So we have come to believe that Jesus calls us to love the people around us and to love them no matter what, so extravagantly that no words are needed. We have come to believe that Jesus’ mission for the church is love.
It is True, Christians Are Called to Love Others in Deed
Much of John’s letter entitled I John in our Bibles is about how we are to love others.
I John 4:19 – “We love because he first loved us.” Because He loved us, we love others.
I John 4:20 – “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
I John 4:21 – “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
John adds that love is only truly love when it is accompanied by actions:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers,” I John 3:16.
“But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (I John 3:17)
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18)
We also know that Jesus said that the second greatest command of all of the commands is that we should love our neighbor as we love our self (Matthew 22:39). Jesus went on to say that all of the other commands of Scripture in part are descriptions of what it means to love others.
Indeed, as followers of Christ we are to love in action. As Christians we should love as we are loved and that is extravagantly and sacrificially. His love is not earned, it is an act of grace – a gift. This is how we are to love others. If there is a need and you are able, meet it! Give. Do. Act.
Love is not our mission, love fuels our mission.
OK, I know you Piper heads are freaking a little here! “No,” you say, “worship is the fuel for mission!” I won’t argue that. Stick with me…
John 3:16 tells us that it was love that fueled the sending of the Son – “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” We also see this in I John 3:1, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God…” One more for good measure from John, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (I John 4:9). Love preceded the coming of Jesus.
Love fueled the Father’s mission to redeem and restore humanity through Jesus.
True love does more than meet surface needs. While it is true that we give to feed a hungry person or clothe one who is in need, our deepest needs involve the soul. Jesus, speaking to the disciples about their fear of man said, “4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” In other words, fear God. Fear the day of judgment that will come for your sin.
God did not simply meet our daily need for sustenance, though He could. He didn’t provide a meal and clothing, put a roof over our heads and call it done as an expression of love – though it may very well be loving. God meets our deepest need.
Jesus came to live the life of sinless perfection that we cannot. He died that death that we deserve because of sin. He bore the wrath of God toward sin that we deserve for sin. Then on the third day, Jesus was raised from death, defeating death and sin and Satan. When we trust in his work to bring about our forgiveness and bring us to our Father (faith) then through that faith we are forgiven. He becomes our substitute – His righteousness is credited to us as if it were our own and our sins are given to Him and nailed to the cross as if they were His. Through faith we are forgiven. Forgiven. As far as the east is from the west, our sins are cast from his eyes. They are no more. Not only are we found “Not Guilty!” but we are found “INNOCENT!” Innocent, as if we had never sinned.
Because of this, when we stand before Him who is able to not only kill the flesh but judge the soul and cast into hell, we have nothing to fear – we are innocent. We have nothing to fear – our penalty has been paid. THIS is our greatest need!
God loves us too much to stop at a meal.
He loves us too much to provide us with a little cash or some clothes.
God’s love was made known to us through His Son, Jesus. And the Son’s love for us was made known, ultimately, not through healings and feedings, but through the cross. His mission was not to love us, it was to redeem us, to see us restored to our Father!
And if we love people then we will be moved by that love to do the same!
We will be moved by love to see them redeemed and restored - to tell them about Jesus. In fact, I would say that if we stop short of actually telling them the Good News (gospel) of redemption from sin and restoration to a right relationship with our Father, then we have not truly loved.
This is the ultimate fulfillment of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves!
As Christians, we love Jesus. We are thankful for the Gospel and all that He did to save us.
As Christians we are awed by His gracious gift. It is often too difficult even for us to believe that we are forgiven and free from sin! We are made sons and daughters of the most high King in Christ.
We know that our deepest and most serious need is met by God’s gift of His Son.
Our eternal standing is secured, we are His. We look forward to the day when we see Him face to face. We long for the day that we are fully restored to all that He intended us to be. We can’t wait to see the new Kingdom where there is no more sin and suffering, no pain or death, where He will be our God and we will be His people.
This is not only our greatest need.
This is the greatest need of everyone around us – redemption and restoration.
I am not saying, “Stop doing good deeds.” I am not saying stop meeting the needs of the people around you. I am saying that truly loving others doesn’t stop with those deeds. Truly loving others means that we share with them the same of hope of the gospel that we have.
The mission isn’t go love.
The mission is, out of your love, go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Feed the poor! Clothe the naked! Care for the widow and orphan! House the homeless! Dig wells for water! Build orphanages!
Love your neighbor as yourself.
And don’t stop until you have proclaimed the good news of the gospel.
That is truly loving.
And honestly, if our mission falls short of the name of Jesus, then it really isn’t Christian at all.