Our relationship with God is the most important thing in our lives. How we stand in relationship with God determines whether or not we’re in His family and included as part of Christ’s church. It is not, however, the only important relationship.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
If we ignore the second commandment, then we’re not keeping the first one very well. Christ said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15), so if we’re truly in a good relationship with God, we also have to be cultivating good relationships with other people.
From Death To Life
In the Greek, “neighbor” refers to anyone in your sphere of influence. If you know about them or are near them, they are your neighbor. For now, though, let’s focus on loving people we meet within the church. Sometimes it seems like they are the ones we have the hardest time getting along with, perhaps because we expect so much more from them than from people “out there” in the world. We’re less inclined to cut them some slack for being human.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
If love is how people are supposed to identify Jesus’s followers, then I’m afraid there are far too may of us hiding our identities. I know many loving individuals who proclaim by their actions that they are true disciples, but loving churches seem few and far between.
Christian denominations are rife with division, disagreements, and fighting. It seems like there’s always someone with a new doctrine or a better way to run things, followed by arguments and people taking sides in a divided congregation. If we were all walking in the light, there would be love and not division (1 John 2:9-11). But we’re not always perfect, and it’s so easy to stumble right along with divisive people in an unloving reaction to their lack of love. We can’t control other people, but we are each responsible for how we respond to them, including those who really have done something wrong.
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another …. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:1-11, 14-15)
“We have passed from death to life because we love the brethren” — that’s how important love is. If we hate instead of love, we don’t get eternal life. Even brethren who have stumbled and fallen away from the faith still need and deserve our love, since they still come under the neighbor category or even “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).
We’ve talked about loving people because we have to, but there should also be people in our lives who we love because we want to — family and friends with whom we share common interests and who will be there for us as we go through life. We need other people, especially friends in the faith who will build us up and help us in our Christian walk. Jesus had 12 disciples who were closer than His other followers, as well as friends like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. When He sent people out to preach, He sent them in pairs (Luke 10:1). Paul also traveled with other believers, including Barnabus (Acts. 13:2), Silas (Acts 15:40) and Timothy (Acts 16:1-4).
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)
“All you need is God” is true to a certain extent, but it is also true that God is the one who tells us it’s not good to lack human companionship. He is the source of our strength and our life, and He can sustain us through times when we have no friends or believers to fellowship with, but He also supplies our need for people around us because He knows friends and brethren are good for us.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
I know people who say they don’t need friends because they have God, and people who stopped fellowshipping with brethren because no one agreed with their particular view of the sacred calendar. I am frightened for these people, because the God they say is all they need tells them in His Bible that they also need relationships with other believers.
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21)
One of the ways we demonstrate our love for God is by loving other people, and we can’t do that if we deliberately isolate ourselves. It’s one thing to have no one else around who shares your faith, and if that’s the case I pray and believe that God will supply your need for fellowship. But it’s another thing entirely to avoid other people, no matter how tempting it might be for some of us introverts or for those of us who have been hurt by past associations with church goers. But if we aren’t around other people, then how can we keep the commandment to love our brethren? If we isolate ourselves, how will we keep the second greatest commandment?