What distinguishes Christians from other people? Is it our knowledge, our moral lives, or the depth of our commitment? As admirable as these are, there are many people of other faiths who know and study their holy writings, live moral lives, and exhibit a high degree of commitment to their faith. What separates Christians from other people is their love.
“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,” (Ephesians 1:15)
It isn’t just faith in the Lord Jesus that Paul acknowledges as a reason for his giving thanks—it is also their love for all the saints, which was not just an offshoot of their faith, but rather, evidence of it.
Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) The one thing that truly distinguishes Christians from others is the genuineness of their love for each other, something not found in the unregenerate heart. Those who are not born again are certainly capable of loving their families: their children, their parents, their spouses. But it is completely foreign to them to love and be concerned about strangers. Yet this is, indeed, what Christians do.
The book of I John explains it like this:
“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment…
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (I John 3:10-4:16)
So what, specifically, is love? I Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter” of the Bible, tell us:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)
Love for others, is, indeed, more than anything else, the distinguishing characteristic of the new birth. It is the one thing that distinguishes us from the rest of humanity, as well as the one thing that perplexes them. It is not logical to the human mind to love someone who cannot benefit me; it is not logical to give of my money, time, and energies to a person totally unrelated to me. Yet the very fact that such behavior is foreign to the natural human heart points to the greatness and goodness of God, and brings Him glory.
Help me to love others, as You have loved me, and thereby bring You glory. Amen.