“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
My father played basketball at his high school in Indiana, during his time there he was on a team that won the mid-state championship. It was a small school and so the experience wasn’t all that unlike the plot of the movie Hoosiers. This is perhaps why that movie is one of my family’s favorites.
When my Dad’s team returned from the championship game the entire school had shown up to congratulate them. Several of the players spoke to the student body on behalf of the team. When my dad spoke up he told this story:
A certain saint asked God to show him the difference between heaven and hell. So God sent an angel to take him, first to hell. There he saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, “Why are you not eating?” And he showed the saint his hand. A long fork about 4ft long was strapped to their hands such that each time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. “What a pity” said the saint. Then the angel took him to heaven. There he was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with a four-foot fork strapped to their arms. But unlike in hell, the people here were happy and laughing. “What!” said the saint to one of them, “How come you are happy in this condition?” “You see,” said the man in heaven, “Here we feed one another.”
My dad told this story and then explained that the team wasn’t selfish; they fed one another and that’s why they won the championship. The funny thing is that at this point in his life my dad didn’t know Jesus from Buddha, yet he grasped a simple truth about human nature and Christianity; selfishness is common but generosity is the key to success in community.
I’ve had the honor these past four years of being the class sponsor of Asbury University’s class of 2011 and I don’t use the word ‘honor’ lightly. I really consider it to be one of the greatest outpourings of God’s grace on my life. The responsibility included being involved with the class’s activities during their freshman year at school and later returning for their major events over the next three years. This past weekend they had their senior retreat and commencement. I and my partner, Tiff Hassler, were in attendance and I had one of the best weekends in recent memory.
I’m not sure how to describe why I enjoy the culture at Asbury so much, but I think that the closest phrase I can use to explain it is ‘a Culture of Giving.’ And when I say giving, I don’t mean money or anything material, though those things aren’t excluded. I mean a whole attitude of giving to the other people – in conversation, in competition, in creativity and in every other kind of interaction. This is what I think Jesus meant when he told us to love one another.
Late one evening on the retreat I just sat watching groups playing cards and boardgames and time and time again I saw this form of social grace extended in the way people just showed love to each other in common interaction.
I know that I often feel like the most selfish person in the world, so don’t think that I’m trying to claim any sort of perfection in this realm, but I do know this: when everyone decides that the other person is more important than themselves, something amazing happens in a community. So often even in the churches and in Christian families people are looking out for what they want, looking out for their own needs and desires, but we claim to love our neighbors as ourselves. Have you ever considered what that means? What it really looks like to care as much about the people around you as you do for your own good? We say that all the time, even secular humanists call it ‘the golden rule,’ but what does it really look like in practice?
It looks like a whole culture of giving. It looks like Acts 2:44 where all the believers were together and they had everything in common. It starts in conversations where everyone is genuinely engaged in listening as much as they are in talking. It starts in misunderstandings and moments of frustration and says ‘I will show them the same grace that Christ has shown me.’ It starts in times where I don’t get my way and it says ‘that’s ok, it wasn’t about me anyway.’
What if we turned John 13:35 into a question: “Will everyone know that you are my disciples by this?” And we asked it about our behavior when we’re interacting with a friend or colleague, meeting a brother-in-Christ for that first time or dealing with a fellow church member who really gets on your nerves – “Will everyone know that I am your disciple by this?” Or when you’re talking to your siblings, parents, children or spouse. “…by this?” Jesus says that it is by our treatment of other Christians that the world will know that we are His. That’s because the pull of heaven is irresistible: when people see it in others they have a longing in their heart to live in a culture of that kind of generosity. It is something that both convicted and encouraged me. As long as we choose to sit and complain about our forks while we starve to death – that’s Hell. But when we feed each other – that’s real Christian community. That’s Heaven.
So my fellow Christ followers, are we feeding each other? By this does everyone know that we are His disciples?