They’ll Know We Are Christians If….
The Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler
Based on John 13:31-35
As the song says, they will know we are Christians by our love, and an adage says that our actions speak louder than our words. Today’s text from John’s Gospel only supports that notion. Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
These words are spoken by Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room in what we know to be the last supper. In John’s Gospel, the writer spends chapters 13 to 17 describing the events of that one evening together. These events include the foot-washing, extended teachings of Jesus, conversations with Judas and Peter surrounding Judas’ betrayal, and Peter’s denial. This section then culminates with what we today call the High Priestly Prayer, which is most of chapter 17. It is very hard to pull just a couple of verses out of these chapters without keeping in mind everything that was said. Jesus here is getting his disciples ready for his imminent departure and what that will mean for them.
The notion of his departure is highlighted in today’s text in verse 33, where Jesus says: Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.”
Jesus knows, more than his disciples do, that his time with them is soon coming to an end, so you can be sure that the words that he speaks are important ones. Jesus takes this opportunity to give them a new commandment, that they love one another just as Jesus has loved them. Furthermore, he tells them that their love for one another will be what authenticates their witness to the world.
What is most notable about this statement is that Jesus is speaking these words to a group of people who will soon disappoint him deeply. Judas is about to depart to betray him to the authorities, and Peter will soon deny that he even knows Jesus. All of them will be absent at the crucifixion, and only Mary Magdalene and the other women will show up to care for his body on Easter morning. But even so, Jesus here is declaring his unconditional love for them and asking them to love each other in like manner. Again, Jesus stresses that this love is what will ring most authentic in the world and prove that they are followers.
Famed Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The measure of who we are is what we do.” His sentiment certainly does ring true with what Jesus is telling us here. How we treat one another is a certain indicator of the authenticity of our faith. Words without actions soon wear thin.
It has always impressed me that schools and medical clinics were often the first things built after a gathering place in our Moravian mission communities. In these recent days, as Ukrainian refugees are seeking a new home, Moravian congregations in Germany and the Czech Republic are truly showing God’s love as they welcome these refugees into their communities. They do so by offering housing, food, job/language training, access to education, and a supportive Christian community. It would be ashamed if the only thing they offered was an invitation to worship on Sunday morning. As it is, their acts of compassion are what validates their faith.
People can easily judge the genuine nature of our faith by how we treat each other and the world around us. If they see selfishness, our words will not mean very much. But if they sense our love and care for each other and them, then our words will mean so much more.
What is the evidence that proves your faith? How does your congregation show God’s love in your community?