So we are reading through 1 John in our Life group right now and the theme of loving people - and how badly we suck at this - is our focus.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:19-21
What I didn't realize is that the term "brother" refers to "fellow believers." I realize that this makes sense: how can you claim to have a close, solid, "loving" relationship with the Lord, yet take an issue or be unforgiving or cruel to a fellow believer? As Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did (or did NOT do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40)*. One commentary I read explained that like the spokes of a wheel, in which God would be the hub, believers who grow closer to the Father also grow closer to one another. Therefore, it is impossible to deepen your relationship with Him if you have issues with others. (This would explain why pastors ask you to pass on taking communion if you are in the midst of a conflict with a "brother," to go settle it first, forgive one another, and then partake of the bread and wine.)
Anyway, we got to talking about the difference between loving our "brothers" (and "sisters") and what Jesus calls the "second greatest commandment": loving your neighbour. I began to understand the reason why differentiating the two reasons to love was essential: loving your brother is about deepening our own relationship with God, and expanding the Church as the body of Christ. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 25:40. Because He calls the Church His "body," we are only sinning against Him if we exercise anger or cruelty (or whatever) toward another believer. However, loving your neighbour is about reflecting the heart of God to those in a fallen world who may not have ever experienced it before. This comes with The Great Commission. Many people who don't understand Christianity will wonder if we are "nice" or if we serve others because we "have to." Well, no. We are redeemed and saved and that's that. And while the Great Commission is a command straight from the lips of our Saviour, like all commands from the Lord, it is something we should feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to perform out of this "love" John talks about, not out of duty or hassle. Being a Christ follower is all about receiving the love and forgiveness, mercy and grace He gave us when we certainly didn't deserve it. It is also about overflowing with so much of these godly qualities that it should spill out and onto those around us who have yet to meet Him.
Now that I think I have a handle on that (phew!), our group is praying and brainstorming this week about how we start as a group to bless and serve others as the fruit of this study. Giving blood was one option that came up - and practical one that would surely bless many people - but two of us are pregnant, one is not a Canadian citizen yet, one can't give for health reasons, and that leaves half of our group. So it's not all that inclusive. Serving food to the poor is another option, but we need to figure out what exactly that would look like.
Have you got any creative ideas you've done in a group (or not) to bless your neighbours? Comment here! I'd love to hear them. I promise, I won't claim them as my own ideas. :)
*Italics and parentheses added