John 13:34,35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
When Caroline and I first became believers, on a hippie commune on a farm near Cave Junction, Oregon, there was an outpouring of God’s Spirit in the area. A small Pentecostal church in Cave Junction opened their arms to this rag-tag bunch of hippies. One time we were all invited to a church picnic. During the picnic one of the elders and a lady in the church got into a loud and protracted fight about which of them was the more spiritual. We were shocked at the incongruity between their words and actions. Even as baby Christians we knew that this didn’t look like Jesus.
Love is the first and primary mark of discipleship. If we say that we are spiritually mature and don’t love other people, our spiritual growth is stunted. 1 John 4:7 says, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Since God is love, and if we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then the natural outcome is that we love other people. The mature Christian is not the one who does everything right, knows lots of Scripture by heart, attends every church meeting, or holds a position of influence in their church. Rather, the mature Christian is someone who sincerely and genuinely loves other people. We cannot claim to be spiritually mature, and not be filled with love for others.
How do we grow in love? First, we draw close to Christ, who is the source of love. ‘We spend time with Jesus to learn from Jesus how to be like Jesus’. Second, we practice loving others, discovering and delighting in how God has gifted us to bless others. Third, we pray that God’s Spirit will have His way in our lives and we allow God’s Holy Spirit to gradually transform us from the inside out so that we increasingly resemble our heavenly Father, who is love. Love is the surest outward evidence in our lives that we are Christ’s disciples.