What might be the defining visible characteristic of one who follows Christ?
Interesting question, isn’t it? Many will automatically respond with faith, or having Jesus in your heart, or being faithful. But none of those, in itself, is a visible characteristic. All must be demonstrated by action.
Jesus and the writers of the New Testament recorded many characteristics of those who are today called Christians. It seems to me that the single, most emphasized, characteristic mentioned over and over is . . . love.
Think about it.
Jesus used an Old Testament passage to teach about our obligation to love God, as in Mark 12:30. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Jesus redefined the relationship among his followers when he said, in John 13:34-35, “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.”
Sometimes that is not a very easy thing to do, but it’s not a choice, it’s a command.
As hard as that might be, love, according to Jesus, goes beyond the family of faith. While noting the command to love God is the greatest, Jesus said the second greatest is “love your neighbor as yourself.”
That raises the bar. But that’s not where it stops.
“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
In each of these examples, the Greek word for love is agapao. This is not a love of brotherly affection or emotional connection. Rather, agapao or agape love seeks the best for its object. This love is not based on feelings, but a determined act of the will, a deliberate joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.
Isn’t this essentially what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
It seems to me that we might have forgotten that love is central to our Christian faith. Love for our God, love for our family of faith, love for those around us, and even love towards those we consider to be our enemies.
If Jesus said we are to love as he loved us, how then did he love? Looking at his interactions with others, we see that He willingly related with all kinds -- sinners, tax collectors, Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, Samaritans, fisherman, women, children -- with no regard for society’s view of the respectable. Jesus loved these people and treated them out of that love.
No matter how we might feel about politics, race, religion, or the many other divisions in today's world, we must look past the issues to the people involved. We must love them and we must demonstrate that love in ways they can see, understand, and to which they can respond. Anything less is a deliberate rejection of the lordship of the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only son . . .”