Little Children, Love One Another

I was sitting in my office today getting ready to write my blog post for this week when I heard the woman filling in for our office manager ask, “Who was the last disciple to die?” My ears perked up because not only did I know the answer but I also have a lot of information that I was ready to share on the subject. The last of the twelve to die was John. Not only is John the author of my favorite Gospel but I have done more research on him than any of the other disciples. So I leaped out of my seat to go show off my “vast” knowledge of the subject. How are people supposed to know how smart I am if I don’t constantly remind them? (I’m joking…for the most part)

One of the questions that I was asked was, “what year did John die.” I said that I was pretty sure that it was around 100 AD. I decided to look it up just to confirm what I was saying, and I stumbled across http://www.biblepath.com/john1.html. The last paragraph of their biography on John blew me away.

There is a church tradition, which says, that when John was evidently an old man in Ephesus, he had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At these meetings, he was accustomed to say no more than, “Little children, love one another!” After a time, the disciples wearied at always hearing the same words, asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command,” was his reply. “And if this alone be done, it is enough!”

I immediately went to everyone else in the office and said, “You have to listen to this!” What John says literally gave me chills. “Little children, love one another… It is the Lord’s command and if this alone be done, it is enough!”

In this statement, John is summing up a couple of verses he wrote in his Gospel. Jesus was alone with His disciples at the Last Supper, this would be the last time that Jesus would share a meal with the twelve before the crucifixion. Jesus tells the Apostles in 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What makes this a new commandment? Do you remember when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:36? He replies in verses 37-40 with, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and 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.” Jesus is adding a slight amendment to the second one. He has taken it above “love others as we have loved ourselves,” and made it “Love others as I have loved you.” Why is that so different?

Jesus’ love goes immeasurably above and beyond any love that we can offer, even to ourselves. Jesus loves us with a perfect love. His love is sacrificial, even to the point of death. His love is unconditional. His love is undeserved. His love is always forgiving. His love is impartial. He loved the least and the lost. He loved the unlovable. That is the type of love that we have been commanded to share. That’s how the world will know that we are His followers.

Do you love people this way? The answer is probably yes and no. We all love the people who are easy to love. We love our significant others, our families, and our friends. How about those that aren’t quite as easy to love? How about that co-worker who is always making life more difficult? What about that friend you once had that betrayed you? What about those people that have deeply hurt or offended you? How about that family member who you wish wasn’t part of your family? These people are not on the outside of that commandment.

We must love all people, no exceptions. I’m not saying, nor did Jesus, that we have to like everybody. There’s no way in the world that you’re going to like everyone you come across, but that doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from loving them. Honestly, I’m confident that there are times when Christ doesn’t like me a whole lot. Times when I have fallen into sin or am blatantly ignoring what He is telling me to do but that doesn’t change His love for me one bit. Sometimes I need tough love, but it’s love nonetheless. Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, said “God will never love you any more than he does right now. But he also will never love you any less than he does right now.” Not only is that true but that is how we are to love others as well.
The love that Christ has called us to is a dangerous one. When you love all people unconditionally, you will get hurt. Don’t forget that one of Jesus’ friends sold Him out to be murdered. We are to love people not until it hurts, but even when it hurts. We are not defined as Christ followers by how much people love us, but by how much we love others.

As he was getting closer to the end of his life, the cry of John’s heart was “Little children, love one another!” That needs to be the cry of our hearts as well. Everybody is searching for love, why would we withhold it from them? Can you imagine what the world would look like if all of Christ’s followers loved others as He has loved us? The world would never be the same. It may not seem like it would have a huge impact, but as John said, “And if this alone be done, it is enough!” My friends, Christ’s love is enough.

From Miserable to Missionary

I find the book of John fascinating. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible and my favorite Gospel. It is significantly different than the other Gospels, and that was by design. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic is a fancy word that more or less means “the same.” They were all written between the mid-50s to the mid-60s AD, whereas John was written somewhere around 90 AD. The dates are well-researched speculation by scholars who get paid to know these types of things. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give nearly identical accounts of the life of Jesus with only a few stories that don’t appear in the other Synoptic Gospels. John, knowing this, wanted to shed some light on many of the other things that happened during his time with Jesus. Because of that, John’s Gospel is unique.

One of the stories that only appears in John is the account of Jesus with a Samaritan woman in chapter 4. Jesus and His disciples were traveling back home to Galilee from Jerusalem after Passover. The Passover is one of three pilgrim festivals that required all the Jewish men to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The trip was roughly a 15-day journey each way for Jesus and His disciples. The quickest way for them to travel to and from Jerusalem was to go through the part of Israel known as Samaria. However, Samaria is a place that the most faithful Jews would avoid at all cost. In fact, many people would bypass this area by adding a couple of days onto their journey by going around it.

Why in the world did the Jews hate the Samaritans? This goes all the way back to a decision that the King of Assyria made when he conquered Israel. In 2 Kings 17: 24-31, it explains how he brought in people from other civilizations to live in Samaria. What ended up happening was that the Jews who lived in Samaria intermarried with the foreigners. This is a major no-no for the Jews. God tells them many times throughout the Old Testament to not intermarry with other people (Ex 34:16, Deut 7:3, Josh 23:12, etc.). Over time, the Samaritans became a mixed race. They were so looked down upon by the Jews that many of them considered the Samaritans to be in a perpetual state of uncleanness. Thus it would make a Jew unclean before God to even step foot in their land.

A good, faithful Jew would know better than to walk through Samaria and would never do something audacious like drink from their wells. However, that’s precisely where we find Jesus. It’s about noon, and Jesus is alone at the well. He presumably has sent His disciples into the nearby town called Sychar to buy some lunch. As He is relaxing at the well, here comes a woman to draw water. Something isn’t right about this situation. Why would she be going to the well during the hottest part of the day when everyone else would go in the cool of the morning?

We find out during their conversation in verses 16-18 is that she is a woman who has a bit of a past. Jesus tells her to go get her husband to which she replies “I have no husband.” Jesus knows this and says, “You’re right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” We don’t know for sure what happened to her previous five marriages, but it’s safe to assume that most ended in divorce. Divorce wasn’t necessarily uncommon in that time, but it was viewed differently. It would bring great shame on a woman if she was divorced and the fact that it happened multiple times to her means that it would have made her a social outcast. Not only that, but she is now living with a man who isn’t her husband. This was majorly looked down upon in those days.

We can now see why she was coming to the well at the worst possible time. She didn’t want to see or be seen by anybody which I’m sure that’s how she lived most of her life. She was an outcast to a people who were considered outcasts to the Jews. Take a second to imagine her life. I’m sure it’s not quite what she dreamed of as a little girl.

Jesus was defying every social norm by being at the well that day. He had willingly gone into Samaria and drank some of their water. Now He is talking to a Samaritan woman, which would never be acceptable for a Jewish man. Not only that but He’s talking to a woman of ill repute who wasn’t even accepted by her own people. He is risking His entire reputation by being there, and many of the Jews would now consider him to be “unclean.” Jesus didn’t care. He was there to offer hope and love to this woman whose life was devoid of both.

In verse 10, Jesus offers the woman “living water.” She doesn’t understand what He is saying and thinks that He can give her a drink of water and she will never be thirsty again. Things become clear to her when she says, “I know that Messiah is coming… When he comes, he will tell us all things.” At this point, Jesus decides to no longer speak in metaphor but tells her “I, the one speaking to you, is he.” Jesus plainly states to her that He is the Christ.

It’s what happens afterward that has always amazed me. The woman leaves the well and goes into town and tells the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” She goes to the very people that she had been avoiding to tell them of her encounter with Jesus. Verse 30 tells us that the people then left town and see Jesus for themselves. I find that verse 39 is one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.”

The very same woman who was an outcast changed this entire town. She went from pariah to preacher, from reviled to revivalist, and from miserable to missionary. Her whole life turned around after she encountered Jesus. She was no longer afraid and ashamed but instead, she became bold and excited. She had to share the good news that she had found the Messiah. She shed off her old self and ran into town a new woman. She no longer cared about who she was and only cared about who He is.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is precisely what this Samaritan woman was experiencing. She embraced the freedom, love, and hope that Jesus offered her that day, and she had but one desire, to tell everybody. That is how we should be as well. If we have had that encounter with Jesus, we should be chomping at the bit to tell everybody about Him. This woman shows us that there is no one who is not qualified to share the Gospel because it is God who does the qualifying. Don’t let your past hold you back. You’re not that person anymore! That part of you is dead. It died with Christ on the cross, and you have been resurrected with Him into a new life. A life that is built on the foundation of the freedom, love, and hope that is offered to you by the Messiah.

We need to embrace our new life and run to tell everybody about our savior. This woman changed an entire town and who knows how far it went after that. What I do know is that Samaria was never the same because of one woman’s testimony. Your testimony has the same power. Forget who you were, embrace who God has made you, and run to tell everybody about His love.

Prayer Changes Everything

I walked into my kitchen on Sunday night and looked at the shelf where I keep the coffee mugs. My fiancée, Ali, has begun to move things into the house so that the transition of her moving in once we’re married will be smooth. Between the two of us, we own roughly 483 coffee mugs for some reason. One mug, in particular, caught my eye. My mom got me this one for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I’ve drunk out of it many times, but for some reason, it was like I was reading the words on it for the first time. It says, “Prayer changes everything.” I was stopped in my tracks for a few moments pondering those words. How had I never noticed that before? I knew that it was no accident that the Holy Spirit drew my eyes to that phrase.

Do we believe that prayer changes everything? The correct answer is yes but do we genuinely believe that deep down? I think that the best way to figure that out is to examine our own prayer life. I’ve heard it said, “The quickest way to humble a Christian is to ask them about their prayer life.” I will readily admit that my prayer life isn’t where it should be. I don’t know if we can ever have a perfect prayer life, but that is no excuse not to give it all that we have.

On the other side of that coffee mug is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There is a lot to unpack in those three verses. I don’t want to get bogged down in an exegetical dissertation, but I just want to focus on the “pray without ceasing” part.

Have you ever prayed without ceasing? How does that even look? I went to a conference when I was a freshman in college, and the speaker there used this verse and challenged all of us to try our best to “pray without ceasing.” I was struggling with living out the Christian life at this point and wanted to grab onto anything that I could to try to rectify that so I was all in on this challenge. The speaker said that if there is any moment that you’re alone, pray.

The college that I initially went to placed the dorms annoyingly far away from the academic buildings, which meant that I had several long walks to and from class each day. I usually would listen to music when I walked to class, but now I was replacing it with prayer. I also started praying when I was showering, using the restroom, doing nothing in my room, walking to and from the dining hall, and virtually any other time that I was alone. The results were life-changing. It reshaped how I viewed God. I had viewed Him mostly as the all-powerful king of the world, which He is, but that was being morphed into me seeing Him as a friend. Being in near constant communion with the Almighty brought me closer to Him than I had ever been. It took our relationship to a deepness that I had yet to experience.

I don’t believe that I am the only one to experience that. When I think of all my spiritual heroes that I have had throughout my life, they typically have something in common. They have a living and active prayer life. There is no excuse for a Christian not to have a vibrant prayer life. The only thing that is holding us back is us simply not doing it. God wants us to be continually going to Him in prayer. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It is God’s will that we pray without ceasing. I have learned over the years that if it’s God’s will, then we should try to be in tune with it. If our perfect Father is offering a deeper relationship with Him, why would we ever reject Him?

Our main go-to excuse is that we don’t have enough time to pray. Listen to what Martin Luther has to say on the subject. First, imagine how busy Luther was at the height of the Reformation, he was changing the church and the world. Luther had gained a reputation for his devotion to prayer. He would spend the first 4 hours of his day doing nothing but praying. Let that one sink in for a minute. How many days would we have to add together to get to 4 hours of prayer? Someone came up to him one day and asked him, “With all that you have going on, how can you find that much time to pray?” That is a logical question considering that Luther would devote about a fourth of his day to his morning prayer. It’s Luther’s response that will always stop me in my tracks. He looked at his inquirer and responded, “With all that I have going on, how can I not find that time to pray?” I know this story by heart, and even still, it moves me. Are you busier than someone who reshaped and changed Christianity? I’m going to venture that you are not. Am I saying that we all need to spend our first 4 hours of the day praying? No, although I’m not saying that you can’t. My big takeaway from that story is that we need to prioritize prayer.

Ali is the most important person in my life. Because of that, we spend a significant time talking to each other every day. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have nearly as close or as strong of a relationship as we do. We take the time to talk about our day and how it’s going. We also like to say how much we love and appreciate each other. That is the type of communication that God desires. He genuinely cares about you and wants to hear everything about your day. He wants us to be intimate with Him and spend time telling Him how much we love and appreciate Him.

God also wants us to ask Him for our desires. Now, there is a disclaimer in scripture that tells us that asking with the wrong motives will lead to God not fulfilling those requests (James 4:3). However, there are plenty of encouraging verses telling us that God will answer those prayers. Look at what Jesus tells us in Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you.” Matthew 21:22 reads, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith.” The apostle John writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him”(1 John 5:14-15). God will answer your prayers if you are asking with the right motives.

Why do we have a God that is so willing to fulfill our requests? Daniel answers that question for us, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Daniel 9:18). God wants to pour out His blessings on us because He is a kind and loving father. We should continually be going to Him with a pure heart and asking for the things we need because He is the God who provides.

My challenge to you is to spend this week praying without ceasing. Any moment that you get alone spend time with your creator. Turn off the radio as your driving to and from work, pray to Him while you’re brushing your teeth, talk to your savior while your cooking dinner, etc. Also, set aside some time to pray every morning. There are no magic words that you need to say, nor is there a script that you have to follow. Tell God what is on your heart. Tell Him how you’re honestly feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask Him for your desires. He wants to bless and provide for you because He is merciful. He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). God is inviting you to a deeper and richer relationship with Him. Will you accept that offer? The choice is yours.