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When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said that it was to love God and to love others. (Matthew 22:37-40) Obviously he thought this was even more important than forsaking all, more important than having a religious experience (i.e. being "born again"), more important than being baptised, maybe even more important than believing in God (although it's a bit hard to love God with all your heart if you don't believe in him!) Nevertheless, love was definitely the top priority as far as Jesus was concerned.

Problems arise when we get into the specifics of exactly what it means to love God with all of our heart, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. However, it seems to me that a right understanding of that first commandment will just naturally lead to a fulfilment of the other commands as well.

We have verses like 1 John 3:17-18 which tell us that we can't say that we love our neighbour if we have more than our neighbour and yet we refuse to share what we have with him/her. That is just one example of how real love will cause us to fulfil the rest of the "law", or the teachings of Jesus about selling what we have and giving it to the poor.

There is another passage along this line, which has been brought to my attention recently. It is the command that Jesus gives in his sermon on the mount, with regard to love and hate. He says, in Matthew 5:21-24, that we have heard that it is wrong to kill someone, but he teaches that it is wrong to even be angry with someone without a cause. He is talking about hate here, which is the opposite of love. He goes on to talk about arguments between "brothers" (fellow Christians) and he not only equates it with hate, but in the context, he is equating it with murder. Maybe Jesus just likes to shock people. Or maybe he really is serious when he says that such hate and such divisions are every bit as abhorrent to God as is murder.

Jesus says, in the above passage, that in cases where there are disagreements between his followers, reconciliation must be our absolute "top priority". He even suggests that it should come before making an offering to God. That's pretty extreme stuff. In other words, God doesn't even want to hear our prayers if we are not willing to make reconciliation the first priority in our lives.

Once again, we have a picture of how true love will have practical results that are in keeping with the rest of the teachings of Jesus. If we truly love God and our neighbour, then we will not pretend that differences do not exist. We will not only go to those that we have something against, but, according to this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, we will go to those who have something against us, and do everything that we can to be reconciled to them. It will take priority over eating, witnessing, sleeping, and even praying.

So when I hear Christians talking about love, and yet I see them living in isolation from other Christians because they cannot be bothered with making the effort to seek reconciliation, I have to seriously question just how genuine their so-called love is.

1 John 4:20 says, "How can you say that you love God, whom you have not seen, if you cannot love your brother whom you have seen?"

God has given us a very simple measuring stick for weighing up the authenticity of anyone's talk about love. It's so simple that the non-Christian world can see it quite clearly. They say, "Until the churches can get their act together, we're not interested." Admittedly, one of the reasons that people can't get their act together may be because one or both parties is simply not Christian and not interested in love. If they have some other lesser goal which is their first priority, such as building their own empire, then reconciliation will not be all that important to them.

We have gone to some of these people and tried to be reconciled with them. I don't mean that we have gone demanding that they leave their empire and join ours. I mean that we have gone prepared to actually join their organisation if necessary, in order to build the kingdom of heaven. But we have been snubbed, ignored, rejected. We don't feel that we can do much more.

Consequently, we have had to walk away from them disappointed. Quite frankly, we are angry with such people. But understand that we have a "cause" for being angry with them. You cannot force such people to be reconciled, but you have to conclude at the end of the day that they are not Christian because they are not loving and they are not loving because true love... the kind that would seek reconciliation with their brothers and sisters... is not very high on their priorities if, indeed, it exists on their list at all.

The Bible says that the world will know that we are Christians by our love. Once again, love appears to be the top priority for identifying whatever it is that God is looking for in people, whatever it is that identifies us as followers of Jesus. It originates from his love for us; but it quickly spreads from us to others. If that is not happening, then we almost certainly are not Christians.

We may be very religious. We may faithfully distribute tracts on the streets, as members of our community do each day. We may preach wonderful sermons and write inspiring books about love, as so many do within the organised churches. We may have emotional experiences and beautiful smiles. But we are not Christian and we are not truly loving, if we are not willing to stop all of that long enough to seek reconciliation with others who profess to be Christians. (John 13:35)

If, on the other hand, we have sought to be reconciled with them, and we have found that they totally reject our efforts, then we ought to be prepared to call a spade and spade and at least recognise inwardly that those who are opposed to reconciliation are almost certainly not Christians.

Confusion results if we try to reach out and put our arms around everyone while the cameras are rolling, claiming that we are all one in Jesus, but as soon as the cameras are turned off, we all go our separate ways and secretly stab one another in the back. It is far more honest (and loving) to call a spade and spade and speak right into the microphone with the truth about the hypocrisy and hate that is behind all of the divisions. At the very least, we may need to tactfully question the morality of the plastics smiles and hugs-for-the-camera approach.

But, of course, we could and would only do that if genuine love was our first priority. If love is just a convenient gimmick to promote whatever it is that we are really concerned about, then the shallow imitations will continue.

"Speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15)

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