You Are My Disciples, If You Have Love for One Another

Dark trees lining a path leading to bright light, captioned with the words of Paul from 1 Corinthians 12:31, "I show a most excellent way to you." As Jesus said, "You Are My Disciples, If You Have Love for One Another"
The most excellent way that Paul is introducing here is love. As we read in 1 Corinthians 13, if we don’t have love, we have nothing. Original image by Joe from Pixabay

Jesus gave a very clear sign by which the world would identify His disciples: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In “The Antidote to the Love of Money: The Love of God Poured Out in Our Hearts,” we saw that the first-century disciples lived out this sign. The most obvious way they did this was by having all things in common so that they had an equality of goods. But what about us? As the question goes, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Let’s take a further look at this Christian way of life called love.

The Love of God: Matthew 24:45-51

The faithful and wise servant

In speaking a parable about His return, Jesus said,

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. Most certainly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has. But if that evil servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with the drunkards, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn’t expect it, and in an hour when he doesn’t know it, and will cut him in pieces, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.

Matthew 24:45-51

As Jesus said, we don’t know when He will return. But we should always be acting in love. And, as I’ll list toward the end of this article, our world is right now facing many dangers that could destroy the way of life that we know. If that happens and Jesus has still not returned, have we so exercised the love of God in our hearts that, even under highly stressful conditions, we’ll shine out God’s love to that hurting world?

I want to make clear that I’m not trying to lay guilt on anyone. Guilt condemns, and it’s a fear-inducing tool that some people use to manipulate others. Jesus Christ paid for all of our sins, sins both of omission and commission, past, present, and future. Believers have no reason to ever feel guilt. Everyone in Jesus Christ has no condemnation (Romans 8:1). All I’m trying to do is “show a most excellent way to you.” Paul used that in 1 Corinthians 12:31 to describe what he was about to teach in 1 Corinthians 13, the ”Love Chapter.” And, while I’m mentioning that chapter, I’ll point two things that Paul emphasized in it: 1) Love is the greatest of all gifts (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 13), and, 2) Seemingly sacrificial acts are worthless if someone does them for the wrong motives (e.g. self-aggrandizement) instead of love.

The Love of God: 1 Timothy 6:11-19

Laying Up in Store for Themselves a Good Foundation

Just after warning about the love of money in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (see “The Love of Money Is a Root of All Kinds of Evil”), Paul writes to Timothy, “But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). In other words, flee the love of money, the determination to be rich, and all its associated evils (see 1 Timothy 6:9-10).

Paul details for Timothy, and us, the opposite course to the love of money. He equates pursuing that course against temptation as “the good contest” (ton kalon agōna) “of the faith.” There’s no way of knowing from the Greek alone whether the translation should be “faith” or “the faith.” Since faith is God’s gift of belief to us, “the good contest of the faith” makes the most sense. The word translated “contest” (a better translation here than “struggle”) makes this one of Paul’s allusions to Olympic-type games. The “good contest of the faith” is the competition all believers are involved in of turning from the snares of the world (e.g., the love of money) and staying focused on the “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness” Paul spells out in verse 11.

In doing this, we “lay hold of”—experience the realization of—eternal life. Paul isn’t saying that eternal life must be struggled for. All believers have eternal life as God’s gift, but we go through times when we’re not living up to all that having eternal life means.

Now, let’s jump down to verses 17-19:

Charge those who are rich in this present world that they not be haughty, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Earlier, Paul warned against the love of money as expressed in those who want to be rich. Now, he enjoins Timothy to urge those who are already rich to not put their hopes on uncertain riches but in God who richly gives “everything for enjoyment,” as the Greek of verse 17 literally says. Instead of tight-fistedly holding on to their wealth, they should distribute it.

They should be “willing to communicate.” This isn’t about talking. The word “communicate” here is a translation of koinōnikos. It is a related word to the words koinonia and koinos in Acts 2 and 4 (see “The Antidote to the Love of Money: The Love of God Poured Out in Our Hearts”). It means a willingness to share one’s possessions.

What Paul says next is often debated because many see it as a bad mixed metaphor and unlike Paul. We don’t normally lay foundations up in store. But I believe that Paul knew exactly what he was saying. By communicating their earthly treasures into the common store of the assembly, they were laying something up in their spiritual storehouse. And that something is what Paul calls a good (kalos—beautiful, free from defects) foundation. This foundation is not the foundation of their faith, which foundation is always Christ. It is the foundation upon which they stand to “lay hold of eternal life,” which we have just seen above means to experience the realization of their eternal life.

In other words, holding on to riches gets in the way of fully experiencing the life God wants us to live. Yes, by God’s grace, a rich man can enter into the kingdom of God. But it’s only in the act of loving others by liberally letting go of his riches for their sakes that he will fully experience the life liberated from the shackles of this world that Jesus Christ has purchased for him. So, letting go of his riches in communicating into the common storehouse is the way of laying up something into his own storehouse. That something is the foundation by which he fully perceives his eternal life. Trusting in riches shackles us to this world. By trusting in Christ enough to let them go, we can fully experience the freedom He has given us.

Come Now, You Rich, Weep and Howl

Too many, almost all, rich people feel that they must hold on to and control their riches. Others can’t be trusted with them. Even when Bill Gates gives billions from his right hand into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in his left hand, he’s still in control. He uses those riches as he wants and, quite likely, to manipulate and gain influence.

James pulled no punches in condemning the selfishness of the wealthy of his day:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming on you. Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be for a testimony against you, and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up your treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of those who reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Armies. You have lived delicately on the earth, and taken your pleasure. You have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the righteous one. He doesn’t resist you.

James 5:1-6

He understood that those who heaped up riches to themselves at the expense of others heaped up judgment to themselves. In general, the rich today behave the same way (see “The Love of Money: A Hallmark of Our Times”). But it’s hard to imagine such behavior among those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. John writes, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him?” (1 John 3:17).

The Love of Money’s Opposite Is a Dirty Word Today

In previous articles, we looked at how capitalism encourages the love of money, and we saw some of the serious economic inequity caused by, and the threat to democracy posed by, twenty-first century capitalism. We also examined Scriptures that speak of how the first-century believers lived by having all things in common.

You might have noticed that when the disciples “had all things in common,” what they were practicing could hardly be called anything else than communism. I hope my use of that word isn’t shocking to you. Unfortunately, many people consider communism to be a dirty word, an obscenity. They associate it with bleak dystopias of freezing gulags and bearded people sitting in dark corners of cafés discussing the revolution and how to make Molotov cocktails. They consider it a threat to the United States and to democracy. Yet, as we’ve already seen, it is capitalism that is bringing down the United States and threatens democracy. While capitalism thrives on the love of money and all of its resultant sin, communism, at least in its primitive form, is an expression of the love for others.

It is a Scripturally-founded fact that communism is the only economic system voluntarily adopted by the Christian assembly. The way the early Christians lived plainly fits the essential nature of communism—having all things in common. Centuries later, other definitions were added to the description of communism, such as worker control of the means of production. But primitive, grassroots communism is merely people bringing what they have so it can be held in common and distributed to others according to their need.

Public Enemy Number One

Beginning with the Russian Revolution in 1917, and reaching a feverish pitch after World War 2, the United States has considered Communism, with a capital C, to be its number one enemy. The reasons are complex, but one of the major reasons has some legitimacy. What was called Communism, controlled by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, was a totalitarian dictatorship that oppressed its people and killed millions. It can even be argued that the Soviet Union was never really communist, but merely had state-run capitalism (see, for example, “USSR strayed from communism, say Economics professors”). The same thing can be said for China. North Korea is a mash-up of several things that might be boiled down to a totalitarian gangster state with some elements of capitalism and Stalinism.

What happened in the U.S. may, in part, have been similar to the fear that occurred in Great Britain during and after the French Revolution. The people at the top didn’t want anything like that happening in their country. In any case, leaders in the United States didn’t want a bloody revolution. And rightly so! In reality, a revolution was not so likely at the time, but much more likely today—only it would probably start with fascists.

The bad example of the Soviet Union, the rise of communist China, and the Korean War, coupled with a concerted effort by corporate America to undo the socialism of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, stoked a “Red Scare” and a propaganda campaign that virtually had people looking for communists under their beds. The result felt to this day is that communism became loosely synonymous with sedition and was perceived as a way of life that threatened “truth, justice, and the American way.”

The Natural, Communal Way of Love

Even many Christians, especially politically conservative Christians, insist on reversing the Bible’s view on economies and labeling communism as inherently evil. Yet, besides what we’ve seen in Acts, isn’t this the way we run our families? Do Mommy and Daddy come home with food and charge their kids for a meal? Do the parents demand the going Uber fee for driving their children to school? Do they charge their diabetic or asthmatic children the highest prices they can get away with for insulin or inhalers? Can you imagine Mom and Dad threatening eviction if their little kids don’t pay them rent? No. Parents will sometimes ask their teens to make token payments to teach them a lesson in budgeting and finances. But families aren’t run as capitalist economies. Families are run communistically. Those in need—the children—are provided and cared for by those who are able to do so—the parents.

And how do most primitive societies handle their economies? Everything that everyone hunts, gathers, grows, or makes is brought together and distributed amongst all. Yes, sometimes there’s inequality in some societies where the leaders get more. But, in most cases, all, including those unable to work, get a share.

Grassroots communism with a small c is the most natural and oldest economic system. It puts the welfare of all ahead of the love of money. So, the prejudice against communism is unfortunate. It should, instead, be directed toward totalitarian governments of whatever economic stripe they may be. Therefore, I want to emphasize that I’m in no way advocating the abolition of private property, wage labor, or markets. To abolish these things implies force, and that implies an oppressive, authoritarian tyranny that would be far removed from the love we see the saints expressing in Scripture. The community of goods among early Christians was participated in voluntarily from the heart out of love.

But I speak of this to point out that capitalism by nature encourages selfishness, the opposite of love. The natural course of capitalism is that the wealth created by the workers is claimed as the wealth of the owners, who then give a pittance of that wealth back to the workers as wages. The aim of the owners is to make as much profit as possible. The way to do that includes paying the workers as little as possible and charging for their goods or services as much as possible. This creates a natural tension between the workers and the owners, even the owners the workers aren’t employed by, since the workers are also consumers. Capitalism is dog eat dog, swimming with the sharks, survival of the fittest. It is anything but loving and caring for others. It is the highest expression of the love of money. It is what the Bible warns believers against. Yet, it is what many Christians seem to equate with Christianity. And that’s what concerns me.

I believe that this information about capitalism and grassroots communism is important because, 1) Christians should be careful to not find themselves supporting ideas that are on the side of the love of money instead of the love of other people, 2) if and when we find ourselves and everyone around us living under more primitive conditions, we should remember the example of the early Christians.

You Are My Disciples, If You Have Love for One Another

Right now, the world is merrily dancing along on the edge of a cliff. One slip, and we’re done for. Just off the top of my head, here are some of the appalling problems that threaten our way of life and even our very existence:

  • An out-of-control economic recession plunging the world into a depression with resultant poverty, homelessness, and famine.
  • Civil war within the United States, which will undoubtedly have worldwide ramifications.
  • The backfiring of the United States’ policy of weakening Russia by fighting it to the last Ukrainian, resulting in a world war—either conventional or nuclear. A nuclear war, because of its result of a nuclear winter, would bring us close to the extinction of all human life.
  • The outbreak of hostilities between the United States and China over Taiwan and/or China’s claim over the South China Sea. This, again, could lead to nuclear war.
  • Climate change leading to famine, increased natural disasters, the destruction of coastal areas and island nations, salt incursion into ground water, water shortages, increased problems with pests, increased disease epidemics/pandemics, economic stress, and eventual mass human death.
  • Several causes, such as animal movements due to deforestation and human migration due to climate change and war, may cause new pandemics, potentially much worse than COVID-19.

Each one of these things is a serious cause for concern. And, I should point out, every one of these things has the love of money as a root cause. But the possibility for disaster is greatly increased by the fact that there are multiple possible causes. And this list isn’t complete. Yes, God is in charge, but that doesn’t mean that He won’t bring these things upon this world.

Let’s take a look at some math. This isn’t accurate to the real world. I’m doing this to show how quickly odds go up when there are multiple possibilities. If we take the six problems above and assume them to have the same odds of happening (which isn’t true), and assume each of them to just be one problem (in reality, each point involves numerous sub-problems), and assume them to have no possible connection to each other, we can do this.

Let’s assume each of them has a 2% chance of happening. We’ll convert 2% to its equivalent of 0.02. To find the odds of any one of these things happening, we must first find the odds of each one of them not happening. That’s easy. It’s 100% – 2% or 1 – 0.02 = 0.98. Now, we multiply these individual probabilities by each other: 0.98 x 0.98 x 0.98 x 0.98 x 0.98 x 0.98 = 0.89. We now find the possibility of one of these things happening by this: 1 – 0.89 = 0.11 or 11%. So, having 6 possibilities upped the chances of a catastrophe happening from 2% (if there were just one possibility) to 11% for 1 of the 6 possibilities happening.

In reality, while it would be very hard to plug in accurate numbers, the odds are probably much higher than 11%. That’s because some of these things are already happening, and they can have connections to each other (for example, war can bring about migration, which can bring about disease, which can bring about economic collapse, etc.).

The Love of God: Romans 12:9-21

Let Love Be Without Hypocrisy

So, if disaster strikes, what will those who claim the name of Christ do? Will they wail as those who mourn over fallen Babylon? (see Revelation 18). Will they raise up a strong-arm politician to lead them, riot in the streets, price-gouge their goods, evict their tenants, walk on the other side of the street from their neighbors in need, tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, shoot at those who come near their houses? Events of the past few years indicate that some will do these very things. But I look for better things from you, brethren.

Is there anything we can do to prevent a disaster? We can pray that God will have mercy on our world. But I want you to ask yourself, Am I doing all I can to show God’s love to all around me right now? Am I doing what I can to help the helpless, ease the pain of the hurting, and lighten the burden of the downtrodden? Am I doing what I can to pour the peace of God’s Spirit dwelling in me on the kindling of anger and anxiety in the world so that, with God’s mercy, it doesn’t ignite? And, doing these things, are you “ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear: having a good conscience; that, while you are spoken against as evildoers, they may be disappointed who curse your good manner of life in Christ”? (1 Peter 3:15b-16)

As I said earlier, I am not in any way trying to make you feel any sort of guilt. Jesus took our guilt away completely. I am simply, out of love, hoping to help you organize your thoughts using the example of those who have gone on before us.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate one to another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

Now, brothers, I entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build up, and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver, or gold, or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands served my necessities, and those who were with me. In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “

Acts 20:32-35

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