By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
JOHN 13:35 NIV
The stories of the Bible are packed with potency! An expert in the law wanted to test Jesus in an attempt to trap him into saying something incriminating. Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?
I love the way Jesus boiled all the law and prophets down to two great commandments: loving God and loving your neighbor. He had a way of taking the complex and making it simple. We tend to do the opposite—just like the legal expert who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus went on to tell the parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It’s a great story about loving those who enter our sphere of influence with the love of God. There are many directions this story can take us. I think about race relations. I identify with the busy sched- ules of the religious characters. I wonder how the Samaritan knew how much money to give the hotel owner, and was that really the best place to leave the guy?
And I forget all about loving my neighbor. I just made this simple point of Jesus very complex. Jesus doesn’t tell us who our neighbor is, but how to neighbor. The who is…whoever needs you.
What if Jesus meant to love your actual neighbor?
Yes, the one whose furry friend leaves deposits in your yard. Yes, the one who is loud and thoughtless at times (she thinks the same about you, by the way). And the one who drives into your yard and leaves a rut. (Oh, wait, I was the one who did that!)
Loving your actual neighbor is messy and very personal. You can’t love your neighbor as yourself from a distance. It requires involvement, investment. I love the way The Message translates John 1:14, The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. Jesus modeled incarnational living for us. He lived in love, and he calls us to follow his example.
What if we all did that? How would love change our world?
For one thing, we wouldn’t need mass evangelism tactics or institutional church strategies. It’s not a marketing pitch. It’s just God’s love flowing through us. Many non-Christians already know a disciple of Jesus. If every disciple is committed to a simple lifestyle of love—love for God and love for their neighbor, the story of Jesus would become personal and real. Maybe folks would listen. Every- one longs to love and be loved.
Connecting as Jesus Did
If we define neighbor as those with whom we live, work, study and play, our sphere of influence would be manageable. In each of our neighborhoods, people would wake up with someone praying for them by name, loving them as Jesus loves them—and loving them enough to share the story of Jesus.
Could it be that simple? I’m convinced Jesus meant it to be.
It is not just the message of Jesus that leads to life. The methods of Jesus are also compelling. What do we see Jesus do? What did Jesus talk about? He found common points of interest and engaged people in conversations that mattered. We can do the same. With Jesus, anyone is welcome—the child, the know-it-all, the widow, the needy, the one with a past. His message and methods work together; they shouldn’t be separated.
Isn’t this what it means to be a disciple: to follow Jesus, to do his work in his way? A disciple reproduces and even multiplies his faith by living on mission every day. A disciple makes disciples who make disciples until the whole world knows.
It starts with loving God and loving your neighbor.
You are hard-wired for this. Loving isn’t something you need to go to school to do. It comes naturally. The Holy Spirit of Jesus, who lives within every believer, will prepare the way. Let the Spirit live and work through you.
The key characteristic of a disciple is not knowledge, but obe- dience. “Knowledge” puffs up but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1, RSV). Don’t equate discipleship with knowledge. Disciples imitate their leader.
In what ways are you practicing the methods of Jesus?