DISCIPLESHIP:
THE WORK OF LOVE

A Home for the Sick
Leprosy. A terrible disease that many of us today associate with plagues of Biblical times. What is less well known is that many people still suffer from the disease. Today it can be treated with medicines but the social stigma of the disease is still a problem, especially in rural areas. In the Hyderabad area of India, a real attempt to alleviate suffering has been undertaken by holding mobile clinics which enable food and medicines to be distributed on a regular basis. Many of these patients live on the streets and beg for food, some are able to do very menial tasks but all are dependent upon others for survival - there is no state welfare. Those who live in rural areas are often isolated from their communities and are left to fend for themselves. Some of these people are now cared for in shelters such as the Christadelphian Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre where they are provided with a home and treatment for their disease. These projects, both the mobile clinics and the residential centre, have been funded mainly by churches in Australia. The children of these patients need a home, for if they stay with their parents they will have no food, shelter or education, and moreover, they are likely to contract leprosy themselves.

Why would members of a church an ocean away feel compelled to build a home for adults suffering from a terrible skin disease and their children? The answer is that it is evidence of the work God has done in the life of the Christian. They believe, like many other Christians, that it is their responsibility to not only help and support their own families but also aid those who cannot help themselves. They understand that it is their duty to look out for the physical and spiritual well-being of those who are sick and poor. But why do they believe this? What does the Bible teach is the lifestyle that the intended follower of Christ should adopt?

One fieldworker testifies of his time in the Carribean:
“Sister Edna was in her mid-80s and she loved to have us come and pray with her, which we did once or twice a week. When she began to have a series of small strokes, we visited her a bit more, and then sat by her in the hospital, where she lived for the three days before she died. The last time she had her eyes open was when we asked if she wanted us to pray for her - we could tell she was mustering all the strength she had and she opened her eyes and tried to say ‘yes.’ … It’s hard to see how you affect others, or how the Spirit really moves from you to others. A big part of what I did was give the children in the community a safe place to come and play games on Friday nights. Also, reading the Bible with people who couldn’t read it for themselves, or giving an old man named Mr. Nicholson his one and only visitor of the week.”

The Principle of Love
When Jesus was asked to summarize all of the law and prophets he replied:

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

With this statement, Jesus teaches that the principle of love is at the heart of man’s relationship with both God and other men. It is the foundation upon which everything else, both beliefs and actions, are based. The Bible even goes as far as to say:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

This principle of love is at the center of God’s character, the center of His nature, and the center of His dealings with men. Evidence of this love abounds in the Bible’s descriptions of God’s character and interactions with people. It is because of His great love for men that God has continued to spare us despite our failings and has, in His greatest act of love, provided His son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for our sins so that we can have the hope of salvation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

When we understand that it is only through God’s great love for us in giving us His son that we have been spared, we realize why Jesus tells us that the most important thing we need to know about the law is that we must love God and love other people as ourselves. The love we have been shown by our Creator provokes us to return that love both to Him and all those around us.

It is not surprising then that Jesus, in the gospel of John, declares the identity of his disciples by stating,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, RSV)

With these few words Jesus establishes the basis for conduct within the community of believers. A disciple of Christ should be identifiable most notably by the quality of his love and treatment of other people. Without this type of love, Jesus warns that men will never see Christ as our Master. Therefore the acts of love that show us to be Christ’s must be at the very heart of any believer’s discipleship. We must strive to behave as generously as Christ if we are to show our faithfulness to him.

From Theory to Practice
But what does this commandment mean on a practical level? How do we really love both God and others as Christ has loved us? Perhaps the most literal commandment Jesus gives us in this regard is when he says “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14) The depth of meaning of those few simple words could take many pages to explain, but consider this, does Jesus mean simply dying or does he mean something more? It seems that he means something greater. Jesus’ love for us was not only shown when he died upon the cross. Jesus’ greatest act of self-sacrifice was the culmination of an entire life of service. Jesus gave up not just his “life” but he surrendered his will, his freedom, that we might live. So when Jesus asks his disciples to give up their lives for their friends, we must think of it in the context of being willing to give up the most important thing in our lives for the betterment of those we love. Being a disciple of Christ is not necessarily a simple or easy task and it is not just a one-time sacrifice. Rather, the disciple of Christ is marked by an entire life of self-sacrifice in order to help others.

But how do we show the love Christ has shown us to others? How do we sacrifice ourselves for both friends and strangers? The Apostle Paul gives us a very practical list of actions we must follow:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will… Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. (Romans 12:1-20)

The list of behaviors Paul instructs us to emulate is quite challenging. Perhaps this is because at the heart of all of these actions is the same spirit of self-sacrifice that Jesus showed us in his own life. If we are going to be recognizable by all men as disciples of Christ, we are going to need to be known by our generosity and care for others. And Christ doesn’t mean just to those we call our friends. He means everyone! Even the people we like the least or that we have the most reason to despise must be treated with kindness and gentleness. If someone is hungry, we need to feed them. If someone is mourning the loss of a loved one, we need to comfort them. If someone who has truly wronged us is hurting or in need, we need to care for them.

Why do we need to do these things? The simple answer is because Christ did them for us, even when we were, through our own behavior, his enemies. If we don’t imitate Christ’s treatment of us in our behavior towards others then we don’t show that we truly understand or have a sense of thankfulness for the love we ourselves have been shown.

Our Actions are the Deciding Factor
Ultimately, the way we act towards one another will be paramount in the final judgment we receive from our Lord when he returns. Matthew’s gospel details Jesus’ description of the day when we will finally meet him:

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-40, RSV)

But for the unrighteous the opposite judgment awaits them. Because they did not show love to others during their own lifetime by caring for the hungry and sick, Christ will not show love towards them. This prophecy begins to illustrate what Jesus means in John 13. A central part of living as a disciple of Christ is learning to love one’s brethren. If we do not spend our days seeking care for the needs of those around us, Christ will not recognize us as one of his own when he returns.

In sum, how does the life of the disciple exhibit itself? It involves many things, but one principle. That principle is love. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and out of an understanding of the great love we have been shown we must love our neighbors as ourselves. From that principle springs forth many actions and beliefs. If you love God, then you will believe the things that are set forth in the Word of God. If you love your brother, you will not cause him to stumble but will help and encourage him. You will cry when he cries, be happy when he is happy and be strong when he is weak. If you love God you will believe in the promises and follow in the path of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only through this type of life that we will be recognizable to other men as Jesus Christ’s disciples. This is why believers all over the world attempt to care for the needs of people they have not even met: why churches in Australia would build and staff a home for lepers in India, why women in Canada would start a “Save the Children” foundation to care for the needs of poor children in Eastern Europe. We must therefore ask ourselves, when people look at us who do they see? Do they see Christ, in the way we treat others?


SOME RESPONSES YOU MAY HAVE TO THE ABOVE ARTICLE

How does being a disciple of Jesus Christ influence my relationship with everyday society?

Is my relationship with God purely personal or is it important that I actively belong to a church?

What’s wrong with man as he is? Why does he need saving?
 

How does Christ’s death save me?
 

What exactly is this “Judgment Day” and how does it work?
 

Is there anything God requires me to do before serving Him in these practical ways?

Where can I find a group of people to worship with who have the same beliefs I do?