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 If God is LOVE, how can Fellowship Baptists make love tangible in the world so all flourish?

During his final meeting with his disciples in the upper room Jesus said: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love each other. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus commanded his disciples to love, but he didn’t stop there. Jesus modeled love by washing his disciples’ feet. Jesus’ actions backed up his words. We prove God’s love by serving!

Jesus gave us this new commandment on the first Maundy Thursday then he showed his followers how to put love into action. More than likely the first disciples didn’t immediately or automatically embrace this new calling. Can love be switched on by one command? Jesus’ imperative did, however, establish a goal! The direction we are called to move together is LOVE.

To the extent we live into this purpose, we show signs of godliness, we birth compassion, and we expand our capacity to love others.

CBF’s BIG IDEA is Forming Together. What does that mean? This mantra acknowledges Christian community is an important influence in the shaping and forming process. In community we learn how to be Jesus to each other and how God brings us together for the sake of the world. What is the nature of the faith (our understanding of God) we seek to form, and how do we love (faith in action) each other in Christian community?

After Jesus told his disciples he would soon leave them, he explained how his followers could keep his work alive. Arthur John Gossip writes: “What Christ asks of us is to be unselfish, generous with ourselves, using our lives for others, and not merely for personal interests and our own ends” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 692). When Christ-followers fail to embody this kind of active love in the world we neglect what is distinctive about being Christian. Jesus is the standard by which we are measured. Jesus’ words reveal a new, more challenging commandment. How are Jesus’ words novel, new, and sometimes difficult?

Jesus’ new commandment to love compels, even obliges, us toward Christlikeness, i.e. becoming like Jesus in thought, word, and deed. We know we must offer ourselves to others in sacrificial ways like Jesus did. Jesus modeled compassion, mercy, and forgiveness; he sacrificed for those he loved. Lip service is easy. Saying “Jesus is Lord” or “Wherever you lead I’ll go” is simple. The hard part is giving up our selfish, ego-centric ways. The hard part is letting go of our preconceived notions and comfortable assumptions. How can we move from declarations alone to words backed up by godly behaviors? We need spiritual practices like silence, prayer, meditation, and reading the Bible for formation to help shape us into Christlikeness that leads to action that then changes the world.

Christ highlighted distinguishing characteristics of true followers: Love expressed in kindness to all, unselfishness, and generous investment in others – By this all people will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another. The words are easy to say but difficult to demonstrate in everyday life. In his wisdom, Christ gave us Christian community in which to practice. We acknowledge some people are easier to love than others, and our congregations sometimes struggle with distributing grace, acceptance, hospitality, and compassion equally, but without capacity and willingness to show grace to all, how can we hope to achieve Jesus’ goal of loving each other with no exceptions? God-Love must be the mark. If we do not grow in our ability to love as God loves, how can we hope to be changed and transformed personally or in community?

John Carmody says it this way in How to Make It Through the Day: “If there is one task that life sets before us, one charge we must fulfill before we end our days, it is to love the whole world and labor for the whole world’s prospering, despite the finitude, evil, and death afflicting each of the world’s parts.” I heard someone say something similar recently but instead of using the word “prospering” he used the word flourishing. Think about all the evils in the world today. How many of them occur because of failure to understand the truth God desires everyone regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or otherwise, to flourish.

As we form together we expand our agape potential and learn better how to love as Jesus loves. In other words, we cultivate capacity to invest in helping all flourish. We remove walls that separate. We acknowledge doctrinal differences but do not allow them to block our love for each other as we seek to collaborate for God and for God’s larger kingdom goals.

Now is the time to consent to be shaped and formed in our common life together under God for the sake of all creation. God calls us to stir up love. Christ Followers and Congregations, invest your best energies to invigorate God’s love in the world. This type of love is contagious, energizing, and transformative – Good News indeed!