Jesus proclaimed, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(24) Paul wrote that the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (25)
How is the Christian religion doing according to this standard?
According to Barna research, there are intensifying beliefs around the world that modern religion is at the root of a vast number of societal ills. Included are concerns about those who refuse to serve people whose lifestyle conflicts with their beliefs, how religious people deal with social issues and government policies, and the use of religion to justify violence.(26)
Is this simply a public relations problem? Is there a supernatural devil at work undermining the results of public opinion polls?
For people who claim to be Jesus followers, here’s what Jesus said in Matthew 23:
- You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces;
- You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are;
- You hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness;
- You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel;
- You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence;
- You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean;
- You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
There’s more, but you get the point. It’s clear what religion without love looks like. How can Christians consciously build the capacity to love God with all our hearts and others as ourselves?(27)
The nature of our minds influences the nature of our lives, and what happens in our lives influences what happens in the world. The quality of our behavior is a manifestation of the quality of our thoughts. When our thoughts are centered on “me and mine,” we get caught in a world of selfishness, arrogance, legalistic thinking, and tribal behavior.
Peter wrote: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”(28)
Loving ourselves and others is not always easy. But Jesus showed the religious leaders in the New Testament that the source of love was not legalistic dogma. In this spirit, what if Christians more consciously practiced the 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 kind of love? The love that is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres kind of love. Imagine what differences we might see in our world.
24. John 13:35, NIV
25. Gal. 5:14, NIV
26. “Five Ways Christianity Is Increasingly Viewed as Extremist,” Barna (Barna Group, February 23, 2016), https://www.barna.com/research/five-ways-christianity-is-increasingly-viewed-as-extremist/.
27. Mark 12:30–31
28. 2 Peter 1:5–7, NIV