Love, the Evidence of Discipleship

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” —I John 3:18,19

LOVE IS UNSELFISHNESS, and is of God. In the character of the great Creator of the universe we have the superlative example of love. Love is demonstrated by doing things with the sole motive that others may be blessed and rejoice. Works of love are voluntary. One may be constrained by love to act on behalf of others, but not coerced. What one is compelled to do, is not done of love.

We could properly think of all the creative works of God as being an evidence of his love. Bringing this thought down to our own planet, it seems evident that the Creator did not need the human race to make him happy. True, it must be a joy to the Creator when his creatures are happy, and such a joy is the fruit of love.

When man transgressed divine law and came under condemnation to death, the Creator was under no obligation to provide redemption, but he did so, because he loved his human creatures even though they had disobeyed him. “God so loved the world,” we are told, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16

Jesus, constrained by love, willingly and gladly gave his life that Adam and his race might have an opportunity to live. And how graciously Jesus did this! In his day by day sacrificial ministry, Jesus displayed the qualities of love in all that he said and did. He was longsuffering and kind; he was not envious, rash, or boastful. He was not puffed up with pride. He always conducted himself properly, and never sought his own will. He was not easily provoked, and did not think evil. He did not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoiced in the truth. He was willing to bear all things, and because of his faith and hope in his Heavenly Father, he was able to endure all things.—I Cor. 13:4-7

Man was created in the image of God, and those to whom God reveals himself are constrained by the same principle of love that motivates him in all his activities.

Isaiah’s Vision

The Prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord, and because of the understanding he received from it, he desired to participate in what the Lord was doing. Isaiah wrote that in the vision, “I saw … the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” After other details had been revealed to Isaiah, he recognized that the Lord was calling him into service. He wrote concerning this, “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”—Isa.6:1,8

The Creator, our Heavenly Father, has also given us a vision. It is the vision of truth, the truth of his great plan of the ages. Through this vision our Heavenly Father is exalted in our minds and hearts, and we are filled with the desire to be like him. In the vision of truth we also recognize that our Heavenly Father is inviting us to cooperate with him in the outworking of his plans, and if we have been properly inspired by the vision, we, like Isaiah, will respond, “Here am I; send me.”

We will realize that this response is not by compulsion. We will place ourselves in the Lord’s hands, to be used by him according to the good purposes of his will, not because we are coerced, but because we are constrained by love. Our love will be for God, and because of this love for such a gracious God we will want to glorify his name. Our love will also be for our fellows despite the fact that they are now out of harmony with the Heavenly Father. While at present there is not much that we can do to bless the people, yet to the extent that it is possible we will be happy to announce to them the loving provision our Heavenly Father has made for their eventual blessing, spreading the news that this provision is through Jesus, the Redeemer, and his thousand-year kingdom soon to be established on earth.

Saul’s Vision

Saul of Tarsus was a sincere and ardent servant of the Word of the God of Israel, but his prejudices had prevented him from recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the great Messiah promised by Israel’s prophets. He sincerely believed that those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were deluded, and should be treated as heretics. So, he became active as a persecutor of the brethren. It was while he was on his way to Damascus on an errand of persecution that the Lord Jesus appeared to him in vision, and he was brought to a realization of the fact that he was wrong.

Later, testifying before King Agrippa, Saul, who was now the Apostle Paul, told of his experience on the Damascus road. He concluded, “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:12-19) After his experience on the Damascus road, Paul was instructed to go into the city, where he was told what he should do to serve the Lord.—Acts 9:6

A disciple in Damascus, named Ananias, was instructed to visit Paul. Ananias knew that this man had been an enemy of the church, so at first he hesitated. But then the Lord explained, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”—Acts. 9:10-16

No one would know better than Paul what the attitude of the religious leaders of Israel would be toward him when they learned that he had accepted Jesus as the foretold Messiah, and had become one of his servants. He knew that they would feel toward him exactly as he had felt toward all Jesus’ disciples, and that they would do everything possible against him, even to the taking of his life if they had a suitable opportunity. The Lord’s statement to Ananias, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake,” was a confirmation of this.

So far as his own experiences were concerned, this is what the ‘vision’ meant to Paul. There was now no escaping the fact that Jesus was the foretold Messiah. This would mean that a sincere man like Paul could no longer persecute the followers of Jesus as enemies of God. Another man might have concluded that he would no longer persecute Christians, and let it go at that. But Paul was not that kind of person. He was devoted to the service of his God, and now that the Lord had shown him the truth concerning Jesus there was only one thing he could do, and that was to be a faithful ambassador of Christ—to be as faithful in upholding the truth as he had formerly been in trying to stamp it out.

But the situation changed for Paul. While working with Israel’s religious rulers, he was popular among his countrymen. There was praise—not persecution—for his faithfulness. But this was no longer true when he became an ambassador of Christ. To espouse the cause of Christ meant that he would become an outstanding target of persecution. It would mean the loss of his prestige in Israel. It would mean, just as the Lord outlined to Ananias, that he would experience much suffering. Nevertheless, as Paul said to King Agrippa—even while enduring a part of the foretold suffering—he was not “disobedient to the heavenly vision.”

Years later Paul wrote concerning his sufferings as a disciple of Christ, and as an apostle. His outline of his experiences seems incredible! Yet he endured all this suffering, not because it would bring him any material gain, but because of his all-consuming love for his Heavenly Father, and for his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. We quote: “In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, In perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”—II Cor. 11:23-28

In outlining the many ways in which he had suffered as a Christian, Paul was not complaining, nor was he raising the question of whether or not the Lord was dealing with him. To the contrary, he was citing his experiences of weariness and suffering as an evidence that he was an approved servant of the Lord, and an apostle. He had been told that this would be his lot right in the beginning, while in the house of Judas, on the street called Straight, in Damascus. The Lord had revealed to him that he would be called upon to suffer much, and now he was reminding himself and his brethren that he had this witness of the Spirit—this evidence of the Lord’s dealing with him.

This made Paul’s suffering easier to bear, for it gave him the assurance that the Lord was with him to give him his grace to help in every time of need. Because of this Paul experienced the joy of the Lord, and from his prison home in Rome could write to the brethren at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4) Rejoicing in the Lord under such circumstances required great faith, and together with faith, an overwhelming portion of love which prompted the great apostle daily to give up his own preferences and joys, and to think only of knowing and doing the will of his God.

Sometimes we might wonder what our reaction would be if we were confronted by a firing squad to be shot to death—an experience which would end very quickly. However, this would not be as difficult as the continual enduring of persecution and suffering throughout a period of many years. It was love which enabled Paul to endure all things—to continue on in his course of faithfulness regardless of the results. (I Cor. 13:7) Long years after his vision on the Damascus road, Paul wrote a letter from prison in Rome indicating his determination to continue steadfastly in the course which had already resulted in so much suffering. We quote:

“What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 3:7-14

Paul had the true viewpoint of a faithful disciple of Christ. One not so filled and controlled by love might well, in his circumstances, have decided that it was not worthwhile to serve the Lord. After all, throughout the weary years which led to the Roman prison he had suffered much. Reading the account of his Christian life as recorded in the Book of Acts, and to the extent that we can fill in the details from his epistles, it would seem that there was very little of the time when he was not passing through severe difficulties of one sort or another, from many of which he could have withdrawn had he elected to do so. And this course of faithfulness had only brought him to prison in Rome, from which he was not sure that he would ever be released.

But Paul knew the meaning of his sufferings. He knew that his was the privilege of suffering and dying with Christ, whose followers he had once persecuted in the same way he was being persecuted. He knew that Jesus had suffered and died for the church and for the world because of his love. Jesus loved his Heavenly Father, and delighted to do the Heavenly Father’s will. He loved his brethren and gladly laid down his life for them. He loved the whole world of mankind; even his enemies. Love was the motive which prompted Jesus to lay down his life in sacrifice. And Paul, also motivated by love, was determined that he would continue right on in the same course of faithfulness that had led to his prison home, regardless of what it might mean in terms of additional suffering.

True, such a life of faithfulness has its spiritual compensations. Certain joys were set before Jesus which enabled him to endure the cross and to despise the shame. This was also true of Paul, and it is true of us. These joys of anticipation of being with the Lord in glory, and of sharing in his kingdom work of blessing all the families of the earth, are a great incentive and encouragement to every disciple of Christ. But they are not the motive which spurs us on to faithfulness in doing the Heavenly Father’s will. That motive must be love, if our service is to be acceptable to the Lord.

In worldly armies there are times when special badges of honor are given to those who go beyond the demands of duty in exposing themselves to danger in the service of their country. Paul and every true disciple of Christ are good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and if emptied of self and filled with the true Spirit of divine love, these should be willing to go beyond what might seem reasonable in order to extend blessings to those who may be in need. These are called the “more than conquerors.” (Rom. 8:37) This is the spirit we see exemplified in Paul’s life.

We think of the time when Paul and his companions, traveling by ship, arrived in Troas, where they remained for seven days. Then the ship, keeping to its schedule, sailed on to its next stop—Assos—which was about twenty miles distant. But Paul was not yet ready to leave the brethren. Although they had been with them for seven days, it appears that the next day was the first day of a new week, when the disciples in that congregation would be coming together for the breaking of bread. And, for some reason not revealed by the account, Paul felt it was imperative that he remain with them for this meeting, so he let the ship leave for Assos, taking his companions along.—Acts 20:6-14

It was at Troas on this occasion that Paul, when he met with the brethren for the breaking of bread, preached all night. It was here that the young man sitting in a window fell asleep while Paul was speaking. When he fell out of the window he was thought to be dead, but Paul restored him to life.

We cannot be sure why Paul considered his message that night to be so important to the brethren at Troas. Since the breaking of bread on the first day of the week was in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps Paul’s message concerned the subject of resurrection. Perhaps there were professed believers at Troas, even as at Corinth, who did not believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Hence a commemoration of this miracle most basic to the understanding of the divine plan would be an appropriate time to give such a discourse. And the raising of the young man from death would be a marvelous and convincing emphasis to his topic!

But whatever the reason, we have in this incident an example of Paul’s willingness to serve beyond what could easily be expected of him from the human standpoint, in order that a needed blessing might be extended to his brethren. This was done at great personal cost in time and energy to Paul. First let us remember that the meeting lasted all night, and that Paul was apparently the only speaker. Under such circumstances he had no opportunity for sleep or rest.

Nor was there an opportunity the following day, for with the breaking of day it was necessary for the already weary Paul to start the long walk to Assos in order to catch up with the ship on which he was traveling with his companions. How much easier it would have been for Paul to have continued on with the ship! But he was not looking for the easy way. He was seeking only to serve the brethren as he believed Jesus would have served them under similar circumstances. And he knew that Jesus had laid down his life for the brethren. It can be truly said of Paul that he loved in deed and in truth, not in word only, as our text admonishes.

There are, of course, many aspects of love. It is kind, it is patient, it is sympathetic. And one of its major characteristics is the spirit of sacrifice in the service of others. There are various ways in which we can serve, and the chiefest of these is along the lines of the truth. The people today need the hope of the kingdom more than they need anything else. Our brethren need the comfort of the Scriptures which we can give to them through fellowship and service.

Do we, like Paul and other faithful ones of the past, love in deed and in truth? Our text speaks of loving in word only. This is a mere profession of love. Professions, as a rule, are easy to make. The real test is in living up to our professions. The meeting of this test by Paul led him in a course of suffering to a Roman prison, and later to death. This was his concept of what it meant to be faithful to the heavenly vision which had been given to him on the Damascus road.

Our Vision

As we have noted, we also have been given a vision. It is the vision of ‘present truth’. In this vision it was revealed to us not only that Jesus is the true Messiah of promise, but, having suffered and died as the world’s Redeemer, he is now present to take his proper place as the new king of earth. His kingdom of blessing is truly ‘at hand’. What a glorious vision! What are we doing about it?

This vision of truth has revealed the great God of Creation, our Heavenly Father, as being indeed “high and lifted up,” even as Isaiah saw him. (Isa. 6:1) We see him by reason of his wisdom, his justice, his love, and his power. Together these reveal his glory, and we are glad to proclaim his glory by making known his glorious plan of the ages, as well as to show forth his virtues, so far as possible, in our daily lives.

John explains in our text that if we love in deed and in truth, laying down our lives as Jesus did, then we are ‘assuring our hearts’ before the Lord. This is a simple truth. As John explains, if we do not love our brother whom we can see, what assurance do we have that we love God whom we do not see?

And how can we show our love for our brethren apart from laying down our lives for them? And how can we love our Heavenly Father without telling the whole world, as we have opportunity, of his great and loving plan? Are we faithfully responding to the heavenly vision, as did our forerunner, Jesus, and as did his faithful followers of past ages such as the early disciples and apostles of the Lord? May each day our answer to this question be a resounding, Yes, we are endeavoring to be worthy of our calling by the heavenly vision!

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |