DISCIPLESHIP & LOVE
This is our last week in our short series on discipleship, and today we’re going to look at the one thing that Paul says stands head and shoulders above everything else. Without it, discipleship doesn’t work. Without it, salvation doesn’t even work. What is it? Love.
Holy God — our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer — guide us this morning by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 5:13-15
But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent — not to exaggerate it — to all of you. This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs…
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
“They’ll Know We Are Christians” — Peter Scholtes (YouTube video for in-home worship: https://youtu.be/k6k_mwNqFdQ)
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord And we pray that our unity will one day be restored And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love We will work with each other, we will work side by side We will work with each other, we will work side by side And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand And together we will spread the news that God is in our land. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
J.K. Rowling has made millions because of a story about a young boy named Harry who survived the Dark Lord Voldemort’s bids to kill him. It seems that each release of a new Harry Potter book broke a record for volumes sold, a record usually held by the previous book in the series. The popularity of these books is astounding, and, I hope, a testament to Rowling’s key thematic element: love.
Tales of love span the ages, and the reason is not hard to grasp. Love stands at the very core of what is good and true. We eagerly yearn to love and to be loved. We need it to survive, to live, to understand why we exist in the first place.
So, when Harry Potter asks in the first book of the series why Voldemort could not kill him — why the Dark Lord couldn’t even touch him — the wise, headmaster at Harry’s school answers with just one word: love. Love saved Harry from death when his mother sacrificed herself for him. Indeed, when Harry stands face to face with Voldemort in their final duel at the very end of the series, Harry defeats that epitome of evil with the same powerful love that saved him as a child.
Parallels between Rowling’s story and Jesus’ sacrificial trip to the cross abound, but the most significant one lies in the key component of both stories: love. As Harry mirrored his mother’s love, so we must mirror Christ’s love. In 2 Corinthians, Paul focuses especially upon the forgiveness that flows out of Christ’s love. It’s a love, he says, that should wholly control us (5:14).
Our mirroring of Christ’s love is seen as even more than a compulsion; it is an inevitable consequence of recognizing God’s love and thus his forgiveness of our sins. Our seeing and experiencing of this love and forgiveness demands imitation. In fact, Paul explains that this imitation, this mirroring of God’s love, is the very purpose of Christ’s death (5:15). Christ died to make us like him in his love.
Therefore, as his disciples, Paul calls us to mirror Jesus’ love and forgiveness (2:6-9). Such forgiveness within the church is done not only because it is necessary to reintegrate a fallen member into the community, like we see here in Paul’s letter, but also because the absence of such forgiveness — and thus the absence of love — allows sin and evil to enter into our hearts and our fellowship (2:6-7, 11). Bitterness might be a good word for this failure to forgive and to love.
This leads us to a very practical point: love, including especially its expression in forgiveness, staves off sin and evil. If righteousness is obedience to Jesus, and if such obedience is the key to discipleship, then love is the core of discipleship. And, since love manifests itself in forgiveness, we cannot mirror Christ’s forgiveness if we do not mirror his love.
A friend of mine reminded me this week of something St. Francis of Assisi once said on this point. “No one is to be called an enemy,” Francis taught, echoing Jesus in Matthew 5. “All are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.” To be a disciple, to love, isn’t really a duty. It’s an opportunity for freedom — freedom from our own hate, freedom from our own bitterness, freedom from our own selfish inwardness that leads us to desire vengeance and retribution more than the salvation of the other. But, it’s also an opportunity for us to be free to be exactly who God made us to be: people who love fully, wholly, sacrificially, and always like Jesus. In short, let’s forgive so that we can love.
Questions for Reflection
- In his Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:43-48), Jesus explains that his disciples should love their enemies and not just their friends. Even the sinners do that, he says. Why do you think loving our enemies is such a key component of Christian discipleship? In what ways would that go against what our culture usually thinks about enemies and other antagonistic relationships?
- Central to Christian love and our love for our enemies is forgiveness. Have you ever found it difficult to forgive someone? Can you describe that feeling? How did you end up forgiving that person after all? If you still haven’t forgiven that person, should you try to do so this week?
Holy God, help us to be your disciples who through your power and grace proclaim your truth with boldness, perform your justice with compassion, and love all of our neighbors and strangers with faithfulness and sacrifice. We ask this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.