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)
Just before Jesus laid down His life for our sins, He gave His disciples a new commandment. He told them that they were to love one another. On the surface, this may not seem like a new commandment at all. It may seem to be nothing more than a special case of the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. But when we look at it closer, we see that the commandment to love our brothers and sisters in Christ is different. It is so radically different than loving our neighbors, that the presence or absence of brotherly love helps the whole world distinguish between the children of God and the children of the devil (John 13:35). It even helps us, the redeemed of God, know for sure we are saved (1 John 3:14).
As with the commandments that we should love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves, the commandment that we should love our brethren is something we do just because we are Christians. The truth of this fact is plainly stated in Scripture: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1). The fact that we love our siblings in Christ is an axiom of truth that cannot be broken. Everyone who loves God the Father also loves everyone begotten of Him.
Loving our brethren, therefore, is as natural to Christians as loving God is. It is not something that we do by being obedient to the Scriptures. Nor is it something we do by disciplining ourselves to do all that God requires. The kind of love we have for our brethren—the kind that satisfies the requirements of the new commandment—cannot be manufactured by man or by human effort. We love one another because we all have been born of the same God. Our love for one another helps define who we are in Christ. Our love for our brethren is built into our spiritual DNA, and it will never change.
The contrast between what we feel for our brothers and sisters in Christ and what the world feels for them could not be greater. We love them instinctively, and they hate them instinctively. And it is for the same reasons. We love our brothers and sisters in Christ because Jesus is in them, and we love Jesus. The world hates our brothers and sisters in Christ because Jesus is in them, and they hate Jesus. Of this contrast, the Scripture says:
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 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 3:13–15)
The living out of our innate love for the brethren is the basis of our ministry as diverse members of the singular body of Christ. God’s call to us is not to create or develop a love for our brethren, because He has made loving our brethren a part of who we are in Christ. His call is to exercise the love we already possess. We are to exercise our love fervently (1 Peter 4:8), with straightforward motives (Rom. 12:9), and with compassion, tenderness, and courtesy (1 Peter 3:8–9).
Instead of walking in the flesh and being self-centered, we are to let our love motivate us to serve one another (Gal. 5:13). When we exercise our inherent love for one another, it binds us together and encourages our hearts (Col. 2:2). When we speak the truth to one another out of sincere love, looking steadfastly at Christ, it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
This is where spiritual gifts fit in. God gives us spiritual gifts to manifest (i.e., “to make known, to make plain, to reveal, to bring to the light, to disclose”) His presence in us and to make tangible the brotherly love He put in us (1 Cor. 12:4–11). Once God gives us spiritual gifts, He will never take them away, and they remain our possession forever (Rom. 11:29). Our spiritual gifts become part of our spiritual DNA.
But God does not give the same gifts to everyone. He distributes spiritual gifts among His children as seems best to Him (1 Cor. 12:11, 18). His gifts make people specialists in different areas of ministry. They fit some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be pastors, some to be teachers, and some to be evangelists (Eph. 4:11). Spiritual gifts also include such things as giving, leading, mercy, faith, wisdom, knowledge, discernment and administration (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:8–10; 12:28). And there are other gifts.
Though not all gifts and roles within the body of Christ are equally visible, they are all important (1 Cor. 12:4–6, 15–17). They are all given to us for our common good (1 Cor. 12:7). They allow each one of us to provide the specific support to the body of Christ that God knows is necessary for us to grow and be healthy.
Since it is God who decides how spiritual gifts are distributed among us, it is important that we accept our own gifts and use them passionately without looking at the gifts and roles of others with envy or disdain (1 Cor. 12:18–25). We should also avoid trying to serve the body with gifts we do not possess. And we must not attempt to force others into roles and responsibilities for which they are not equipped by God. In everything, we should love one another fervently and serve one another as good stewards of the specific gifts that God has given us. As it is written:
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7–11)
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (338). New York: United Bible Societies. ↑