As the second century of Christianity began to unfold, it had spread throughout the Roman Empire – particularly to some of the great cities such as Rome, and Carthage in North Africa.
At that time, Christians came under suspicion from their neighbours and government officials because they were so different, having given up the behaviour of their previous non-Christian lifestyle.
Wild rumours sprang up. What did Christians teach? What happened in their meetings together?
One thing that was loud and clear were the words recorded by Tertullian, a church leader of that time, who said that many of the attacks against Christians were made out of jealousy.
Why did he say this? It was because the Christians of that day displayed a character of life that their non-Christian neighbours simply did not have.
This is what Tertullian said: “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See how they love one another… how they are ready even to die for one another”.
See how they love one another! How good it would be if, as people looked at us who claim to follow Jesus, that they could echo those words.
Yet, it is not really surprising for these things to be said about the first Christians when, after all, they were simply being faithful to the call that Jesus had left with them.
In an extraordinary scene in John’s gospel, chapter 13, Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. They are shocked! How could their master lower himself to such a basic act of service?
Yet this footwashing episode powerfully illustrates what Jesus is about to do on the cross. Jesus’ sacrificial death cleans, and it washes away the sin of those who trust him.
In 13:12-15 Jesus says, “Do you understand what I’ve done for you?... Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”.
A little further on in John 13:34-35 Jesus then says to his stunned disciples, “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”.
How did Jesus love? Jesus walked in love. Jesus’ whole life, everything about him, was love. Jesus modelled sacrificial, life-giving love.
What will walking in love look like?
The call of the New Testament is that because we know Jesus, how he loved us, how he served us, our response can be nothing but sacrificial, life-giving love. Loving as Jesus loved. Serving as Jesus served. Walking as Jesus walked.
And here’s the thing: as we think about the spiritually lost world around us, in John 13 Jesus declares that as we love one another, it will show everyone that we are his disciples.
And that is the point. As the world looks on and sees Christian brothers and sisters brought together from different backgrounds, different vocations and different interests, what they should see are people who, with God’s help, are seeking to love as Jesus loved.
This means actively thinking how we can lovingly use our time, our treasure, our talents to practically love and serve one another. It means not holding grudges, quickly getting over misunderstandings, not letting differences of opinion drive a wedge in our fellowship, and avoiding resentment, quarrels and rivalry? It also means not letting anger give way to hate, quickly saying sorry, putting our desires on hold and reshaping our thinking, our values and our priorities.
If we are doing these things it will mean we are reflecting the love, the sacrificial love, that Jesus has shown us. We will be a light shining for a world living in darkness.
The more we know Jesus – the more we are gripped by his grace, his steadfast kindness, his goodness, his mercy and his faithfulness – the more we’ll want to live this out with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will also want to boldly declare this love to a world living in darkness, desperately needing to come into the light of Jesus.
Imagine the impact we could make in our street, workplace and communities as we live in a way that is faithful to Jesus’ call: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.
We could be just like those early Christians, whose lifestyle was so different because they had given up the way they lived before knowing Jesus. We will reflect a character of life that non-Christian neighbours simply do not have, which will lead our opponents to say, “See how they love one another”.