The Lord Jesus Christ gave a new commandment to His own (Jn 13.34; 15.12,17). John later recalls that he heard it "from the beginning" (1 Jn 3.11; 2 Jn v.5): "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" (1 Jn 3.23). It is a simple command in the sense that His words are plain and direct. It is less simple, however, to fulfil it. In John 13.34 and 15.12 the Lord added a qualifier: " as I have loved you". This love is divine in its origin and exemplified in the life of the Saviour.
The Lord set the example in the upper room by washing the disciples feet. This humble act of service was performed on them all without partiality. Not for John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved", a more lavish amount of care and attention; not for Judas, His betrayer, a cursory wipe with a damp towel. The Saviours love was without dissimulation. He went on to say, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one anothers feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13.14-15). It was only after completing this service that the Lord gave His command to love one another.
To obey this commandment is a:
Fellowship in the Assembly
As assembly is made up of individual believers. The quality of each believers fellowship with God and His Son will have a direct bearing on his or her fellowship with other believers. Like the spokes of a wheel, the closer one is to the "hub", the closer one is to others. If I am walking in fellowship with the Lord, I will manifest a love and care for others. I will be praying for them and seeking to assist them in many different ways. I will always be on the lookout for opportunities to do them good. I will be faithful in the activities of the assembly and be wholehearted in the work of God.
If, on the other hand, my relationship with the Lord is not what it should be, I can easily become one of those awkward and cantankerous individuals who are always out of sorts with everyone else. I may try to cover up my own failings by criticizing others, claiming that I alone am standing for truth, but the reality is very far different I have forgotten one simple cardinal truth: "Love one another". There is nothing new in this kind of troublesome behaviour amongst Gods people. Our Lord drew attention to it two thousand years ago (Mt 7.3-5). He called it hypocrisy.
Fellowship amongst Assemblies
Local assemblies are autonomous. Each must chart its own course before the Lord, and yet a happy situation can prevail where assemblies in a given locality have a deep spiritual bond with one another. This is expressed in mutual help and support, for example in times of conference or special gospel efforts. The evident power of the early church in evangelism was a direct result of their being united and of one accord.
There are problems, of course, with widely differing agendas being actively promoted. Some would "open the floodgates" to everything and advocate a break from the traditions of the past: others seek to "pull up the drawbridge" and retreat into a tightly regulated isolationism. What so often characterizes such positions is a disregard and ill-disguised contempt for the one for the other. Where local assemblies are at odds with one another, progress in the gospel is impeded.
Whilst we all have liberty in the things of God, we are never free to do what we like. We are always to consider others. All sorts of verbal gymnastics are employed to lessen the impact of the Saviours words but they remain an unavoidable and uncompromising challenge for us all, "Love one another". To do this we need not negotiate a middle path between two extremes. There is only one path and every attitude and action contrary to the Word of God is off it.
Fellowship outside Assemblies
How should I relate to Christians from other groups? As a general principle, our practical fellowship is governed by the extent to which we share the light of Gods Word. This exercises our minds and hearts, for in the daily round of life we often rub shoulders with other believers who do not meet with us nor share many of our convictions. Is it possible to love those with whom we disagree? Indeed, it is. A sincere and mutual respect has often opened the door to sharing the truth of God on a personal level and encouraging one another in a hostile world. We cannot do otherwise, for the Saviour said, "Love one another".
Love is not a fuzzy sentimentality that glosses over difficulties or compromises the truth. Nor is it blind to matters that require firm action. According to the Scriptures, adulterers must be excommunicated (1 Cor 5.13); those who would cause division must be avoided (Rom 16.17); heretics (faction-makers) must be rejected (Tit 3.10); false teachers must be refused (2 Jn v.10); those who would pervert the gospel must be withstood (Gal 2.5). There is a battle for truth today and we must take our stand. But our stand must do justice to the whole truth and not neglect what the Saviour so plainly taught.
To be continued.