The Identifying Mark of Love
“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35.
1. Can it be said that love is eternal? Why?
“LOVE is eternal.” The wedding ring given by Abraham Lincoln to his bride bore that inscription. Just what construction they placed upon that phrase may be uncertain, but those words contain the element of truth. “God is love,” says 1 John 4:8, and God has always existed. “In number his years are beyond searching.” (Job 36:26) Thus Jehovah and the quality of love extend back into the infinite past. Further, throughout eternity love will exist, for God himself is without beginning and without end.—Ps. 90:1, 2; Rev. 10:6; Hab. 1:12.
2. Why is it possible for Christians to show love? For how long will faithful Christians be able to display it?
2 Man, created in God’s image, possesses the attribute of love. (Gen. 1:26) Of course, not all men manifest this quality in their daily dealings. Christians, however, are led by God’s spirit. They do show love, “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy spirit, which was given us.” (Rom. 5:5) In fact, Christians have the prospect of everlasting life and so they will, if forever faithful to God, be able to display true love eternally. But the love they evince makes them stand out right now in this loveless old world, identifying them as Christ’s followers.
3. (a) What quality identifies Christ’s disciples, and what evidence of it among early Christians did Tertullian give? (b) How have Jehovah’s witnesses committed themselves to showing brotherly love?
3 “By this all will know that you are my disciples,” said Jesus, “if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) Love permeated the attitudes and dealings of early Christians. So true was this that among the pagans primitive Christians were particularly known for their brotherly love. In his Apology, Tertullian cites the words of such worldlings: “‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they love one another . . . and how they are ready to die for each other.’” This same brotherly love is evident among true followers of Christ today; it serves to identify them. Before all the world, amid its turmoil and lack of love, at the Divine Will International Assembly in 1958, Jehovah’s witnesses by the thousands endorsed a Resolution that declared in part: “Figuratively speaking, we have beaten our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning shears and, although of so many nationalities, we will not lift up sword against one another because we are Christian brothers and members of the one family of God, neither will we learn to war against one another any more, but we will walk in God’s paths in peace, unity and brotherly love.” Their actions have been consistent with their firm resolve and have been in keeping with Paul’s admonition: “In brotherly love have tender affection for one another.” (Rom. 12:10) The love Jehovah’s witnesses have for one another identifies them as Christ’s followers. But how do they further compare with early Christians?
DISPLAYING BROTHERLY LOVE
4. Name one thing revealing that a bond of love has existed among Christians in ancient times and in our own day.
4 In ways large and small early Christians showed genuine love and concern for one another. For example, when Peter, Paul or John penned inspired letters to fellow believers, did they not send along their own Christian greetings? Yes, but what of others? Why, Christians in Rome, in Corinth, in Philippi and elsewhere had the divinely guided letter writers include their loving greetings to fellow servants of God in other parts of the world. (Rom. 16:21-23; 1 Cor. 16:19-21, 24; Phil. 4:21, 22; 1 Pet. 5:13; 3 John 14) All of this reveals that a bond of love existed among early Christians. But it was not unlike the binding ties between Jehovah’s witnesses today. How often have their Christian love and greetings been sent from one congregation to another, even bridging the oceans, circling the globe! Assuredly, as in ancient times, so, too, in our own day true Christians have intense love for one another.—1 Pet. 1:22.
5. (a) According to some, what were “love feasts”? Were they obligatory? (b) What opportunities for Christians to meet together in love exist in our day?
5 Early Christians sometimes held what were known as “love feasts.” (Jude 12) The Bible itself does not describe them. However, some say they were occasions when materially prosperous Christians held banquets to which their poor fellow believers were invited. Together the fatherless, the widows, the rich and the less fortunate shared a bountiful table in a spirit of brotherhood. These “love feasts” seemingly flourished even among apostate Christians until, because of associated abuses, they were abandoned entirely. Yet, among true early Christians in general, we may be certain that, whatever was their nature, these feasts were attended by the display of brotherly love. No, they were not obligatory. The Scriptures do not make them so and hence such “love feasts” have not been revived by true Christians today. But in our own time, at conventions of Jehovah’s witnesses, opportunities exist for spiritual brothers and sisters to meet together in love, to take literal meals together in assembly cafeterias and especially to share rich spiritual fare in common.—Mal. 3:10.
6. (a) Describe early Christian meetings. (b) What double benefit resulted from Christian associations?
6 Early Christians held congregational meetings and, when they assembled together, they encouraged one another. (Heb. 10:24, 25) Their association at these gatherings was pleasant and highly beneficial. Tertullian, who was converted about 190 C.E., wrote concerning Christians of his time: “We meet in gathering and congregation to approach God in prayer . . . We meet to read the books of God.” Surely early Christians recognized the value of association together at meetings as well as at other times. Why, what would have been the experience of Corinthian Christians, for example, had they associated socially with the many immoral inhabitants of their city? Of Corinth, The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “The traditions of licentiousness and sensuality associated with the worship of Aphrodite . . . increased the natural tendencies of a great city to wickedness and wanton luxury.” (11th edition, Volume 7, page 151) That was Corinth of Paul’s day. True Christians there who acted with wisdom surely took to heart his inspired words: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) They maintained Christian associations and this brought a double benefit. It served as a protection and also undoubtedly built up a warm family spirit, one of brotherly affection, among those early Christians.
7. (a) Why should Christians watch their associations today? What will good associations produce within the Christian congregation? (b) Offer suggestions that will be of benefit if applied when Christians associate socially.
7 Today the Christian witnesses of Jehovah meet together regularly in congregational assembly to consider the Holy Scriptures. They thereby aid and encourage one another. And, since they live in a world filled with immorality, they watch their associations. Whereas bad associations spoil useful habits, good associations will engender good habits. Such associations serve as a protection and they produce a warm family spirit within the Christian congregation of today. As Christians associate socially on occasion they should discuss things that are upbuilding. When visiting one another, why focus attention solely on a television set? Why not share experiences, play Bible games or have Bible quizzes? Perhaps married persons, young and old, and their children enjoy being together for a pleasant evening from time to time. Fine! What a wonderful opportunity for group study of God’s Word, perhaps in preparation for the weekly congregational study of The Watchtower! Enjoyable? Of course! And it will also serve to draw such persons closer together in Christian love. But, never let these gatherings deteriorate into regrettable occasions that dishonor God!—1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 5:3-5.
8. (a) What factor contributes toward brotherly love and the warm family spirit among Jehovah’s witnesses? (b) What incident involving Paul shows whether Christians have brotherly love or not?
8 Another factor contributes toward brotherly love and the warm family spirit among Christians. What is that? All of Jehovah’s servants pray to Him, the one true God. Wherever they are on earth, their thoughts and voices ascend to the one heavenly Father in prayer. No wonder they are unified! (Eph. 4:4-6) They pray in the same manner, through Christ, regarding matters approved by God. (John 14:6, 14) They therefore have the assurance that, “no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Modern-day Christians mention one another often in prayer, as did early Christians. (Col. 1:9; 2 Thess. 1:11; 2 Cor. 9:14; Phil. 1:3-5; Philem. 4; Rom. 1:9, 10) Not only did Paul mention fellow believers in his supplications, but he properly made the request: “Carry on prayer for us.” (Heb. 13:18; 2 Cor. 1:11; Rom. 15:30) Of course, as do Christians of modern times, first-century believers joined in prayer when they met together. For example, on one occasion when Paul met at Miletus with the older men of the congregation of Ephesus “he kneeled down with all of them and prayed.” Now take note of the deep love exhibited as the account continues: “Indeed, quite a bit of weeping broke out among them all, and they fell upon Paul’s neck and tenderly kissed him, because they were especially pained at the word he had spoken that they were going to behold his face no more.” Do Christians display brotherly love? Eloquently indeed this incident answers Yes! How intensely those Christian overseers showed their love of the faithful apostle Paul!—Acts 20:16-18, 36-38.
LOVE PREVAILS OVER SUFFERING
9. Among early Christians, what love came first? What assurance did they have?
9 Through love and prayer early Christians maintained unity and remained strong despite persecution and trial. Why, they even made the matter of love a subject of prayer to Jehovah. Note the words of Paul to the Philippians: “For God is my witness of how I am yearning for all of you in such tender affection as Christ Jesus has. And this is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.” (Phil. 1:8, 9) That love truly did abound among faithful Christians of the first century is unquestionable. However, did they care more for family and friends than for integrity and constancy in doing the will of God? Never! Above all else came their love of God. With it there was willingness to give up life itself in faithfulness, should circumstances demand such a sacrifice. No, it was not easy to witness the bloody or flaming deaths of beloved fellow Christians, or to face the same personally. But in all they suffered those early Christians had the assurance of the love of their brothers and especially of the all-important love of their faithful God, Jehovah.
10. How were Christians affected by the burning of Rome in 64 C.E.?
10 For the burning of Rome in 64 C.E. the populace in general held Nero responsible. He, in turn, attempted to fix blame upon the despised Christians. Says Tacitus in his Annals: “Nero proceeded with his usual artifice. He found a set of profligate and abandoned wretches, who were induced to confess themselves guilty, and on the evidence of such men a number of Christians were convicted, not indeed on clear evidence of their having set the city on fire, but rather on account of their sullen hatred of the whole human race. They were put to death with exquisite cruelty, and to their sufferings Nero added mockery and derision. Some were covered with the skins of wild beasts, and left to be devoured by dogs; others were nailed to the cross; numbers were burnt alive; and many, covered over with inflammable matter, were lighted up, when the day declined, to serve as torches during the night.”
11. What love could faithful Christians not lose? How did Paul express this? What of Christians today?
11 This is but one example of the terrible persecution experienced by first-century followers of Christ. Yet, suffer and die though they might, with their undaunted love for God, those faithful Christians could never lose God’s love for them. To them, as well as to their twentieth-century brothers and sisters in the Christian family, apply the words of Paul written to believers in Rome about eight years before the great conflagration: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38, 39) Today, too, Christians suffer. But, though they are objects of opposition in the home, though they languish in the prison of the enemy, though they endure hardship in some Siberian slave labor camp, though they are brutally treated by their persecutors, from around the earth comes to them the love of their fellow servants of Jehovah and, from the heavens, the unfailing love of God. Even death in faithfulness cannot separate them from God’s love. In the face of all this, what adversary can really prevail?—Matt. 10:28.
12. How do Christians regard one another? What was Tertullian’s testimony in this respect?
12 Not only when in the crucible of persecution do Christians show concern and love for one another. In their daily affairs, under any and all circumstances, they give evidence of mutual love, brotherly affection. Early Christians regarded one another as brothers and sisters. (Acts 9:17; 21:20; 1 Cor. 1:1; 16:12; Rom. 16:1; Jas. 2:15; Heb. 13:23) Commenting on the indignant attitude of unbelievers toward Christians in his day, Tertullian said: “Yes, their indignation at us for using among ourselves the name of ‘Brothers’ must really, I take it, come from nothing but the fact that among them every name of kinship so far as affection goes is false and feigned.” As in the early days of Christianity, so today true followers of Christ consider one another as brothers and sisters. They show respect for fellow Christians, old or young. (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) Among them barriers of nationality or race do not exist. Truly, they “have intense love for one another.”—1 Pet. 4:8.
HOW LOVE BUILDS UP
13. (a) How will the Christian husband show love? With what result? (b) What kind of a provider will a Christian husband be?
13 “Love builds up,” wrote Paul. (1 Cor. 8:1) Consider now how it does so. In the home, the Christian husband and head will show exemplary love, virtue and spirituality. If he displays love of righteousness, he will be virtuous. He will not be dishonest, thus setting a bad example for his wife and children. If he has true love of Jehovah and the righteous principles of God’s Word, he will be a man of spiritual bent. His views and decisions will be based upon Biblical commands and principles. An atmosphere of spirituality will literally envelop his household. A loving husband will be considerate of his wife. He will not make disparaging remarks about her, as some worldly men do concerning their wives even in public. Instead, the Christian husband will build up his wife. He will compliment her when she cooks a fine meal and on other occasions. He will be considerate of her physical limitations, will seek her welfare and will strive to keep her abreast with him spiritually. He will not be so busy preparing talks, engaging in the ministry, discharging theocratic duties and doing other things that he neglects his wife and children unlovingly. With unfailing love, he will be a good provider of things material and spiritual.—1 Tim. 5:8; Eph. 5:25-29.
14. How can a Christian see to the spiritual needs of his family? What effect will this have?
14 How can a Christian husband and father see to the spiritual needs of his wife and family? One way is by arranging and applying a reasonable, workable schedule for family study. What is more wonderful and upbuilding in the home than for a family to gather together regularly in the peace and quiet of their home to study God’s Word? This practice certainly is in harmony with Scriptural admonition. (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4) Family study of the Bible and Christian publications along with prayer will achieve a togetherness that will result in real happiness. Love will abound and true joy will prevail in such a family.
15. How can a Christian wife demonstrate her love?
15 The loving wife is devoted and loyal. If she is a true Christian, she will follow Paul’s counsel: “In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything. . . . the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Eph. 5:24, 33) A good wife’s diligence in performing household tasks is one way to demonstrate her love. Another is by cooperating with her husband in training the children. As parents work together in this, love will increase. It will permeate the household and the spiritual interests of the family will be well served.—Prov. 31:10-31.
16. In what ways can Christian children build up their parents? How can they demonstrate their love of God and respect for his Word?
16 But children can lovingly build up their parents, too. They can perform chores, as their parents direct. They can be helpful and thus show love. Then again, if they have the Bibles and Christian publications ready for the regular family study, think of the delight this will give their parents! Children can show how much they love Jehovah by their obedience to their parents. By it they show that they have love and respect for God and his Word. So, “children, be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.”—Col. 3:20.
17. (a) With respect to Christian meetings, what will love do? Why? (b) When at a congregation meeting how should we react if someone passes us without speaking?
17 Love also upbuilds in the congregation. It draws us to meetings and causes us to take part. Why? Because there we can sharpen up one another spiritually. Our presence encourages others. Our comments strengthen and edify them. (Prov. 27:17; Eccl. 4:9-12; Matt. 18:20) However, suppose, when we are at a congregation meeting, someone passes us without speaking. Will we quickly take offense, or will we display love? Perhaps this person has a weighty problem. He may be deep in thought. Now, really, what does he need? Not your coolness, surely, but your warmth, your love. Be loving and understanding. How much better this is than to think or speak ill of our brothers!—Col. 3:12, 13.
18. Must we have much in a material way to show hospitality? How may we upbuild others by being hospitable?
18 We can also show love by rendering material assistance if our brothers are in need. We can manifest love by being hospitable. Showing hospitality, though, does not necessarily require that we have much in the way of material things. Think of how much one who is suffering as a Christian would appreciate a little spiritual fellowship. We should not become involved in matters that are strictly personal. We can relate encouraging experiences and talk of God’s blessings now and of those to come. It takes no money to give of ourselves in this way. And yet, what is more precious than this—our love shown for our brother? Then, too, some are weak spiritually. By showing love we may be able to engender within their hearts a keener appreciation of their privileges. Perhaps we can study the Bible and Christian publications with them or train them in the ministry. So, be on the watch for opportunities to keep on showing brotherly love.—Heb. 13:1, 2.
KEEP ON SHOWING LOVE
19. Why stick with God’s organization? Whose attitude should we share?
19 Above all else, we should maintain loyal love for God. We should stick with the organization He is using. Never leave it, for, in fact, there is nowhere else to go. God’s truth is not found elsewhere. Let our attitude always be like that expressed by Peter at a time when many forsook Christ. The account tells us: “Owing to this many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him. Therefore Jesus said to the twelve: ‘You do not want to go also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered him: ‘Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:66-69) Be loyal, show love, and continue to build up a warm family spirit within the Christian organization. Those in a loving family delight to be together, to do things together. How fitting it is, then, that true Christians today lovingly work, pray and stay together as one happy family under God!
20. What will be needed in the difficult days ahead?
20 In the difficult days ahead as this world draws ever closer to its end, as Christians we must have hearts turned toward Jehovah and hearts wide open toward fellow Christians new and old. Paul told the Corinthians: “Our mouth has been opened to you, Corinthians, our heart has widened out. You are not cramped for room within us, but you are cramped for room in your own tender affections. So, as a recompense in return—I speak as to children—you, too, widen out.” (2 Cor. 6:11-13) Let all show true love with hearts widened out.
21. How valuable and lasting is love, according to the Shulammite girl?
21 Recall the beautiful and prophetic love story of the Shulammite girl and her shepherd lover recorded in the Song of Solomon. What words did Solomon put into this damsel’s mouth! They aptly apply to the love of the remnant of Christ’s anointed followers for him, but there is much in them for all Christians to value. What a magnificent appraisal of unfailing, loyal love we have in the Shulammite’s words: “Place me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; because love is as strong as death is, insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as Sheol is. Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah. Many waters themselves are not able to extinguish love, nor can rivers themselves wash it away. If a man would give all the valuable things of his house for love, persons would positively despise them.” (Cant. 8:6, 7) How truly valuable and lasting is love!
22. Each Christian owes what debt? Can it ever be paid in full? Why?
22 Each Christian owes his fellowman a debt, one that can never be paid in full. “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing,” said Paul, “except to love one another; for he that loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.” (Rom. 13:8) All your life you will owe others love. So, walk in ways of love, the quality that identifies true Christians. Remember, love will go on forever. As a Christian show true love now and it will be eternally yours to express in the marvelous new order promised by the loving God, Jehovah.