May 4, 2011

The Mark of Discipleship

John 13:35 “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”

Love is the defining mark of a Christian, the outward symbol they bear so that all will know who they follow.
Throughout the ages men are always recognized by certain rites or characteristics to distinguish what teacher it is they follow. Jesus defined the acceptable characteristic His followers were to portray. Deep, selfless, divine love.
If He taught us the mark of discipleship in that verse He went even further in John 15:13 by describing who the closest most dedicated follower of His would be, “
Greater love has no man than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
To be a follower of Christ we must love. To be the most excellent follower we must lay down everything for others.

Love is the characteristic we are to pursue with everything as we learn to be disciples, but we must know what love looks like.

This word Jesus used is, in the Greek, “
agape” meaning: divine, self-sacrificing, active, loyal, and thoughtful love; love that is both voluntary and unconditional.
It is this love that God pours out on us. It is the love we receive in His presence, at His feet, in being cherished by the Father that designed us, the Savior that ransomed us, and the Spirit that comforts us.

Truly, this is a perfect mark of a disciple of Christ because this love cannot be obtained any other place but from Christ Himself. Because it is so far removed the naturally occurring love of humans (marked by selfishness and ambition) it obviously springs from God. God is the fountainhead of this sort of love; it cannot be obtained from any other source nor maintained by any other influence.

We see in 1 Corinthians 13 a true depiction of what this love looks like so we can be sure to recognize it and can take care to live it.

Love is patient. A disciple of Christ is forbearing. The love they carry endures long after any lesser virtue has departed. They can afford to be patient because they have far-reaching vision that sees beyond the present circumstance into the future potential of the loved one. They are willing to wait any length of time for maturity in the loved one to be formed, and they allow maturity to be worked in their own life while they wait.

Love is kind. Notice how kindness is linked to patience in 1 Corinthians 13:4. A disciple not only endures, but he maintains the disposition and actions of kindness while he endures. He does not passively wait, but actively encourages and serves despite any contrary action on the part of the loved one as he waits for maturity to be completed.

Love does not envy. A true disciple does not covet the affections of another. He has so forgotten himself in the process of loving that he doesn’t notice if the other person does not give back care in kind. Every ounce of attention is caught up in the concern for others that he has none left to use on himself.
Not that the disciple wants for affection; on the contrary, as he pours out every bit of love within himself he merely opens up room for God to pour back into him.
The disciple that loves finds himself satisfied with the love of the Lord and will never be discontent or lacking.

Love does not parade itself. A disciple doesn’t look for attention or gratitude for his love. He is willing to come under others to lift them up. He is consistent in his actions because there is no conflict of interest within his own heart.

Love is not puffed up. A disciple recognizes that all he has was given by God and he can take no credit for who he is or what he does. He has a true and realistic view of himself, and walks humbly because of it. He realizes that he has been forgiven much and so he loves much. A disciple takes no pride in his ability to love, but is like an ever-rushing stream, pouring out without pause and distributing without thought to himself.

Love does not behave rudely. A disciple never acts out of place or character. There is a wisdom and circumspectness that accompanies true love. If a disciple will give himself to the loving others he will find that his manners will become more appropriate; that the knowledge of how to act in certain situations is available; that his behavior becomes a comfort and delight to those around him. Why? It is because he is again thinking only of others. He notices when a word disturbs them or when an action embarrasses them. His attention is fixed on their face so that every emotion that flits across it is perceived and cherished and he is able to base his own actions accordingly. This is not to be confused with a fear of man, however. A fear of man has its roots in pride and is concerned with its own reputation. Love is partner to humility and is concerned only with the reputation of others.

Love does not seek its own. A disciple is not concerned with his own happiness and security, but also with that of others. This is the thing that causes a disciple to be an evangelist. This love is not content with be saved only, but then seeks to bring others to the same great salvation.
This is also the love that resists the work of evil in others and between relationships. Envy and self-seeking foster confusion and every evil work (James 3:16), but this self-forgetting love destroys both.

Love is not provoked. How easily we assume that with familiarity must also come irritation. It is the way of the world to treat those we are closest to with a level of contempt and carelessness. After all “they know us”…how well they know the true us. We expect those we love to excuse our bad days or our foolish moods as if it is our due.
Yet, the love of a disciple is one that so values the life and feelings of others that it allows itself no bad days. It nurtures no irritation; it will not act on aggravation. It extends infinite grace to other people and requires none in return. This love is merciful…and so, it will be shown the mercy of God.

Love thinks no evil. A disciple is not suspicious or mistrusting. He does not read into the actions of others nor expect wrong motives. Even if the other person behaves obviously wrongly the disciple still tends carefully to dreams of the who the loved one has the capacity to become. No, this love is not delusional, it observes flaws and sinfulness and judges correctly, but it has the incredible ability to separate the person from sin. This they have learned from Jesus Himself, the One that died to destroy the sin and save the sinner.
A disciple is vulnerable without fear. After all, if they have died to themselves already what do they have to fear.

Love…does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ is how the list goes on…and on…and on…because, you see, love never fails. There is no end to its practice, and the disciple will always be learning how to love more perfectly.

Love is the law of the Kingdom of God and so lack of love is lawlessness (rebellion). If the disciple ever stops loving, he will cease to be a disciple and cut himself off from being able to receive the love of God. All other qualities will become mere form and hypocrisy without love for God and love for others, and this is why love must continue. As Adam Clarke put it, “
[Love] is the means of preserving all other graces; indeed, properly speaking, it includes them all; and all receive their perfection from it.”

You, who desire to be disciples, love.
Pursue love. Learn it in prayer, observe it in the Word of God, and practice it in daily life. Let it change and transform you. Allow love to alter your very personality; allow nothing into your life that would be contrary to love. I pray as Paul did “…
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)


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