Without Love, We Have Nothing: Love as the Bedrock of Discipleship

by Laurel Bunker

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

 

In Greek Mythology, there is a very famous love story involving two characters—Echo and Narcissus.

The story is told of a “talkative nymph” who “yet a chatterbox, had no other use of speech than she has now, that she could repeat only the last words out of many.” She falls in love with Narcissus, who she catches sight of when he is “chasing frightened deer into his nets.” Eventually, after “burning with a closer flame,” Echo’s presence is revealed to Narcissus, who, after a comic, yet tragic scene, rejects her love. Echo wastes away until she “remains a voice” and “is heard by all.” This is the explanation of the aural effect which was named after her.

Then, Narcissus, “tired from both his enthusiasm for hunting and from the heat,” rests by a spring, and whilst drinking, “a new thirst grows inside him” and he is “captivated by the image of the beauty he has seen” and falls deeply in love with “all the things for which he himself is admired.” He then wastes away with love for himself, echoing the manner in which Echo did earlier on. A while later, his body is gone, and in its place is a narcissus flower.

Whether we find this story amusing, romantic, or all together tragic, the tale of Echo and Narcissus does teach us something about the problem of misplaced love, a love driven by self-satisfaction and infatuation rather than mutual respect, honor, and service of another. When relationships of any kind become mired in self, intimacy becomes tedious and unhealthy. The result is brokenness which is dangerous as it shackle us, stunting our spiritual and personal growth.

There must be something more—something enduring and beyond ourselves that compels us to love in the selfless manner in which Christ loves us and calls us to love others. Physicality is only temporary, but life in the spirit is eternal. How we live for eternity right now and how we treat one another makes a difference.

The kind of love that Jesus calls us to offer the world takes several critical things into account:

  1. Our identity in Christ is secure.

The Lord must be our holy preoccupation. We must learn of His beauty and have His standard be that to which we aspire, not a false sense of identity as dictated by our culture, our familial relationships, or experiences. We have exposed the lies of the devil that have caused us to live in brokenness, outside of a proper relationship with God and outside of relationship with others.

We have done the work of recognizing how our sinful nature and desires rob us of true intimacy with the Father and others and have repented of our sin and surrendered our lives to Christ, allowing Him to rule and reign in our hearts. We have become new. Second Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.”

  1. We daily remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.

We receive His love for us joyfully and share the good news of His love with others with no expectations or strings attached. This comes from an overflowing heart, not an underwhelmed, disconnected one.

  1. We live in His presence.

We do this by maintaining relationship with the Lord in prayer, in the reading of the word, in meditating on His exceedingly great and precious promises and living out what we have come to know through and by the power of His Holy Spirit.

In order to ensure that love is applied rightly in all of our relationships, both personal and spiritual, we must:

Understand love’s origin:

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (1 John 4:7-8, 16)

Receive love’s sacrifice:

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9)

Offer love’s gift:

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us… And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the Day of Judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. (1 John 4:11-12, 17)

We are at our best when we are in proper alignment with God. When the reflection that we fall in love with is not our own, but His. Only then is He properly reflected in us.

And this reflection will be pure and clear and will be translated into our discipling relationships with others. Without intimacy, even scripture becomes legalism. We consider loving our neighbor as something we are obligated to do rather than something we are compelled to do because we ourselves have experienced the transformative love of God and because we have experienced this freedom.

 

Laurel Bunker is dean of campus ministries and campus pastor at Bethel University. Laurel’s mission is to radically impact the lives of individuals through empowered teaching and preaching and through mentoring others to be influencers of culture through Christ-centered leadership development.