What Must Be the Defining Characteristic of Christians? #148
Hello friends and happy Memorial Day! Today is a holiday for many, so may it be a great day of thankfulness, remembrance and safety. Be wise out there!
Today’s Bible passages include Numbers 34, Psalms 78 (2nd half), Isaiah 26 and 1 John 4, which is our focus passage. I’m pretty sure that John 3:16 was the first Bible verse I ever memorized, but I think the first multi verse passage I ever memorized was 1 John 4:7-8, and the reason is Psalty. Now, you might not recognize that name, but Psalty is a blue book that talks. You can find some of his performances on Youtube. When I was in grade school, my school – a private Christian school called Briarwood in Birmingham, Alabama, did a performance of Kid’s Praise by Psalty. In that musical, Psalty is a crying music book that sort of influences a group of kids that finds him into singing his songs. Yeah, it’s pretty weird, but I have fond memories.
I tried, but failed, to be Psalty in the play, and ended up being some sort of bird-like creature that wore thermal underwear so that my legs would look chicken-like. That was pretty embarrassing, as I recall, but not scarring long term. One long term benefit of us doing Psalty is that I learned a lot of youthful but solid worship songs: Amen, Praise The Lord, Jesus, Name Above All Names, Behold What Manner of Love, Seek Ye First, Father I Adore You, and several more. When my kids were young, I taught them many of those songs, and still sing them in my heart (and in my car) from time to time. One of the best songs was 1 John 4:7, 8 (Beloved) which is exactly what you think it is – those verses set to kids music. I’ve remembered that passage for decades since then, and I suspect I’ll still remember it when I’m old and have Alzheimer’s.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:7-8
Our Bible question of the day is all about what the defining characteristic of Christians must be. Let’s read 1 John 4 and try to discover it.
Obviously you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out this mystery – the answer, of course, is love. Love must be the prime and defining characteristic of followers of Jesus. A person without love is a person without God, so says 1 John 4:8. God IS love, so says the same verse. Love comes from God, so says the previous passage. Love is central and crucial and utterly essential to the Christian walk. Consider this challenge and exhortation from Charles Spurgeon:
The spirit of love, kindness, self-sacrifice, holy charity,—this is of God. This is the distinguishing mark of the Christian dispensation, the distinguishing mark of the Christian, that he abounds in love; not in malice, anger, revenge, bitterness…I have known men, professing to be Christians, at enmity with their brothers. I have heard of a father and a son who have not spoken to one another for months. Did I hear of a mother and a daughter who would not speak to each other, and of sisters who had fallen out? This will not do; you must either give up your Christian profession or give up your hatred. The very attempt to combine enmity and Christianity is a sin against God: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “Seeing and Testifying,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 40 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 503–504.
How do people know us? Are we known as people of love? Consider your attitude, your bearing, the appearance of your face, the posts on your social media, your words with your spouse, your tweets, your texts, your actions and your phone calls. Do these demonstrate that we are people of love? I’ve seen many Christians do some awful things of late in their social media posts. Angry and vehement attacks. Slanderous accusations and jabs. Words that drip with anger and venom and outrage. Should these things come from the pen/keyboard of Christians? I don’t believe so. Perhaps you think that Democrats/Republicans/Liberals/Conservatives/Trump Supporters/Trump/Biden/Obama/Pro-Vaccinators/Anti-vaxxers/Karens/The 1%/The 99 %/Alabama fans/Auburn fans/Raiders fans/49rs fans/quarantine supporters/quarantine protestors/etc deserve your ire and hatred, and perhaps they’ve somehow earned it -who knows…but just because a certain group is wrong – even completely wrong, prideful, evil, arrogant or whatever – that doesn’t give Christians a license to hate them. Human hate and anger doesn’t bring change – it always makes things worse.
for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
In a sermon that Spurgeon preached once, he quoted that 17th century Scottish pastor Samuel Rutherford, who had exhorted a friend in a letter to ‘fasten their grips’ upon Jesus, and not let go. In that sermon, Spurgeon also urges believers to do the same – in love – for each other. Interestingly, in that message Spurgeon laments his lack of ability to shake a missionary’s hand, likely because of a bout of painful gout, so he suggests a metaphorical hand-shake…exactly like the kind of hand-shaking and hugs that we must do in the midst of the year of Coronavirus.
Let’s close with a snippet from that message:
“I pray you to fasten your grips” in a practical manner upon one another. Brethren, let us love one another, for love is of God. We are heartily joined together in one spirit: let us remain so. Let our love increase exceedingly, as we are pressed together by surrounding opposition. Let all those who are one in the common faith get together, and cheer each other. I will not venture upon shaking hands at this moment with Mr. Faithfull, the brother who labours in Marseilles, because example is very contagious, and he has told us that the sailors give him awful grips when they shake hands. A very little while ago, I could not even hold a pen, and I dare not run the risk of a sailor’s grip with this most excellent friend; but spiritually, if not corporeally, let us all give each other one of those sailor grips with our hearts, if not with our hands. Brethren, you are very, very dear to me, and you return that love. Be of like mind among yourselves. Are you out at elbows with one another? Are there even two women who cannot agree? Remember how our apostle said, “I beseech Euodias, and I beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” They were only two private members, but Paul could not let them fall out. Put an end to discord at once. “I pray you to fasten your grips.” Be not cold and distant towards your fellow-members, but let love reign supreme everywhere.
“ ’Tis a shameful sight,
When children of one family
Fall out, and chide, and fight.”
Get to know each other better. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Bear and forbear, feeling that you are not yourselves perfect. Let us live in hearty love, first to our adorable Lord, and then with all our fellow-servants, and so we shall become strong in the Lord, and the Lord will command His blessing to fall like the dew of Hermon where He sees brotherly love abounding. I speak not thus because you fail in this respect, but I speak the more freely because I trust you excel in it. Oh, that all churches were abodes of love! What do we see in many places? No contending earnestly for the faith, but much contending as to who shall be the greatest. I heard, the other day, of a church which has come to nothing, and one told me that the reason was that “everybody wanted to be boss.” You know what the word means; I think it is of American origin, and includes a good deal. Diotrephes is a dreadful mischief-maker. Let us not imitate him, but let us be ready to wash the saints’ feet.
“I pray you to fasten your grips” on all God’s chosen in every place; on all God’s Church throughout the whole world; let us pray for all the Lord’s people. Let us grip our brethren in America, who have sent so many gracious representatives among us. Let us do the same with the churches on the Continent, for whom our brother Faithfull has spoken. God bless France, and save her! Our evangelist, Mr. Harmer, has just touched the coast of Africa, and his presence makes us think of the Congo and the Cape. With both hands, and with all our hearts, we salute all the people of God throughout the world, rejoicing that we are one body in Christ Jesus. In this holy love, “I pray you to fasten your grips.” Amen.
C. H. Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting: Forty Addresses at Metropolitan Tabernacle and Other Prayer-Meetings (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 74–76.