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By this shall all men know that you are my disciples:  Because you love one another.  --Jesus Christ

Unfortunately, this article will probably not teach you anything.  But hopefully it will offer some food for thought, as it has to me in just preparing to write it.

I have recently considered the implications of the quotation from Jesus that appears above, and I have asked myself a difficult question:

Was Jesus instructing us to do something to prove that we are his disciples, or was he describing something which naturally flows from being one of his disciples?  And if it is the latter, then what is it that makes us one of his disciples?

The subject of love came up in the first place because I have been forced recently to accept that I often am NOT very loving.  There may be room for some further consideration of exactly what it means to be loving; for certainly there are times when even the most loving person (e.g. Christ himself) needs to say some rather harsh things.  However, I think I have well and truly used up whatever space might be available for me to say harsh words in love.  I know that in my own heart there are angry feelings which just don't sit well with wanting the best for others.

So obviously my first reaction was to work on changing my behaviour and hopefully even my feelings.  It helps, for example, to think about the good qualities in people about whom I might be being too critical.  I can work on refraining from expressing certain feelings.  I can even just avoid situations where I might be tempted to show impatience.

That approach supports the first interpretation (above) of what Jesus meant when he said that people would know I am a Christian by the way I love other Christians.  But something about that approach (trying to change my behaviour to prove I'm a Christian) just did not ring true.  I see a world full of people, many (if not most) of whom are also trying to "get along" with others, if not genuinely love at least their closest friends and relatives.  This would include many professing Christians who are trying to maintain good relationships with other professing Christians.  Is there a clear black and white line between the ones who have discovered and illustrated this great quality (thus making them disciples of Jesus whether they like it or not) and those who lack the same quality?  If there is, I haven't been able to find it.  We all seem to have lost the way… at least at times.

But then there is the second approach.  Is love something that just naturally flows from being a disciple of Christ?  There is an interesting observation I have made about something Jesus said about the last days.  He said there would be very little faith in the last days, and he also said that the "love of many would wax cold".  This seems to imply a link between faith and love… and it seems most likely that it is the lack of faith that is causing this lack of love (in me as well as others).

As I said at the start, however, an assumption that love just happens when we have become disciples of Jesus naturally leads to a second question, and that is: How, then, does one become a disciple of Jesus?  Or as I have expressed it in the paragraph above:  How does one have or retrieve faith?

And it seems (even as I am writing this) that there may be an answer that I did not have when I started writing this article.  There may be an answer in something that was very clear to me in the early days of my faith in Jesus.  I saw everything he was saying as good news.  He had come to set me free from the stresses of financial worries.  He had come to free me from the self-righteousness of religion.  He had come to give me purpose and abundant life.  All I had to do was to accept the wonderful things that he was saying.

There is a passage in the Bible where we are urged to get back to our "first love".  Like a couple who have fallen hopelessly in love, in those early days of our encounter with Jesus it was easy; it was natural; love just happened.  Surely that must be what God is wanting for me and for anyone else who has found themselves being picky and irritable about little things.  A return to our first love.

Somewhere along the line I stopped being a disciple of Jesus and just became a religious leader, trying very hard to practice something that I just did not have the ability to practice.  And so the supernatural love of God stopped flowing naturally through me.  As my faith blurred, so my love began to "wax cold".

I don't need to force myself to love by bottling up complaints, by counting to ten, by reciting mantras.  What I need is to just go back to the first truths of my relationship with God through Jesus.  His love for me.  His liberating truth. His forgiveness.  And His promises of eternal (and abundant) life.  True, that may involve some kind of deliberate focusing of my attention; but the emphasis will be on what God has already done for me.  As the song says, "He brought me out of the miry clay.  He set my feet on the rock to stay.  He puts a song in my soul today… a song of praise.  Hallelujah!"

So I started writing this article thinking that I had no answers.  I could go back and rewrite it now that I have found the answer, or I could just let others experience what I have experienced while writing this, by thinking through the issues with me.  "Food for thought" I called it, and those same thoughts have led to such a simple answer.

Thank God for his wonderful love.  "For herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and gave his Son to be the full payment for our sins."

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