What Is the Key to Real Christianity?
TODAY, more people claim to belong to Christianity than to any other religious group. But the beliefs of these self-styled Christians are contradictory, they have no unity, and sometimes they even kill one another. Clearly, many are not real Christians. Jesus said that in our day, many would say to him, “Lord, Lord,” in other words, claim to be Christians, yet he would say to them: “I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21, 23) Surely, none of us would want to be among these! So how can we tell if we are real Christians?
The fact is, many things are needed to be a real Christian. The real Christian has to have a strong faith because “without faith it is impossible to please [God] well.” (Hebrews 11:6) That strong faith has to be accompanied by right acts. The disciple James warned that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) Moreover, a Christian has to recognize the authority of “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47) But the key to real Christianity is something apart from these things.
What is the key? The apostle Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a sounding piece of brass or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophesying and am acquainted with all the sacred secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all the faith so as to transplant mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body, that I may boast, but do not have love, I am not profited at all.”—1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
So love is the key to real Christianity. Faith, works, and right association are vital, indispensable. But without love, their value is not realized. Why is that?
Basically, because of the kind of God we worship. The apostle John described Jehovah, the God of true Christianity, in these words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Jehovah God has many other qualities, such as power, justice, and wisdom, but since he is preeminently a God of love, what kind of people would he want his worshipers to be? Surely, individuals who imitate him and cultivate love.—Matthew 5:44, 45; 22:37-39.
A Right Motive
Yes, love causes Christians to be like the God they worship. It means that their motives are similar to God’s motives. What motive above all moved Jehovah God to send Jesus to earth to give us the opportunity to gain eternal life? Love. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) What, then, should be our motive in doing God’s will. Once again, love. “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments.”—1 John 5:3.
Is it possible to serve God with a wrong motive? Yes. Paul mentioned some in his day who were serving out of envy and rivalry. (Philippians 1:15-17) That could happen to us. This world is very competitive, and that spirit could affect us. We may be proud to think that we are a better speaker or able to place more literature than others. We may compare our privileges of service with those enjoyed by someone else and become self-important—or envious. An elder may be jealous of his position of authority, even to the point of hindering a younger man with ability from making progress. A desire for personal gain may move us to cultivate the friendship of wealthier Christians while ignoring poorer ones.
These things can happen because we are imperfect. However, if—like Jehovah—we make love our main motivation, we will fight such tendencies. Selfishness, a desire to glorify ourselves, or presumptuous pride can crowd out love, so that we are “not profited at all.”—Proverbs 11:2; 1 Corinthians 13:3.
Love in a Selfish World
Jesus said that his followers would be “no part of the world.” (John 17:14) How can we avoid being swamped by the influence of the world around us? Love will help. For example, today men are “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:4) John warned us not to be like that. He said: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.”—1 John 2:15, 16.
Yet, it is not easy to turn our backs on “the desire of the flesh” and “the desire of the eyes.” These things are loved precisely because they are so appealing to our flesh. Moreover, there are far more and varied pleasures available today than there were in John’s day, so if the desire of the eyes was a problem then, it is especially so now.
Interestingly, many of the modern pleasures that the world offers are not wrong in themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a big house, a nice car, a television set, or a stereo unit. Neither does it break any Biblical law to take long, interesting trips and have exciting vacations. What is the point of John’s warning, then? For one thing, if such things become too important to us, they develop within us a spirit of selfishness, materialism, and pride. And the effort of earning the money to get them could hinder us in our service to Jehovah. Even enjoying such things takes time, and while a reasonable amount of relaxation brings refreshment, our time is limited, in view of our obligation to study the Bible, meet with fellow Christians for worship, and preach the good news of the Kingdom.—Psalm 1:1-3; Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20; Hebrews 10:24, 25.
In this materialistic age, it takes determination to ‘put God’s Kingdom first’ and resist ‘using this world to the full.’ (Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 7:31) A strong faith will help. But especially, a genuine love for Jehovah and for our neighbors will strengthen us to resist the lures that, while not wrong in themselves, may prevent us from ‘thoroughly accomplishing our ministry.’ (2 Timothy 4:5) Without such love, our ministry could easily deteriorate into a mere token effort.
Love in the Congregation
Jesus highlighted the importance of love when he said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) Why would elders spend so much time shepherding and helping fellow Christians if they did not love them? Why would the congregation put up with the weaknesses of their fellows—including the elders—if not because of love? Love moves Christians to help one another in a physical way when they hear that others are in need. (Acts 2:44, 45) During times of persecution, Christians protect one another and even die for one another. Why? Because of love.—John 15:13.
Sometimes the greatest proofs of love come in little things. An elder, already under pressure from a heavy work load, may be approached by a fellow Christian who again brings up a complaint that seems quite unimportant to the elder. Should the elder get angry? Instead of allowing this to become a cause for division, he deals patiently and kindly with his brother. They discuss the matter together, and it also strengthens their friendship. (Matthew 5:23, 24; 18:15-17) Instead of each one insisting on his rights, all should try to cultivate the bigheartedness that Jesus recommended, being ready to forgive their brothers “seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21, 22) Thus, Christians try hard to clothe themselves with love, “for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:14.
Intensifying Our Love for One Another
Yes, love is the right motive for serving Jehovah. Love will strengthen us to keep separate from the world, and love will ensure that the congregation remains truly Christian. While not detracting from efficiency, it will help those in authority not to become so efficiency-minded that they forget kindness and mildness in dealing with others. Love helps all of us to “be obedient to those who are taking the lead . . . and be submissive.”—Hebrews 13:17.
The apostle Peter urged us to have “intense love” for one another because “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) How can we do this? Man was created in the image of God and thus has a natural capacity to love. But the type of love we are speaking of here needs something extra. In fact, it is the main fruit of God’s spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Hence, to cultivate love, we have to expose ourselves to God’s spirit. How? By studying the Bible, which was inspired by Jehovah’s spirit. (2 Timothy 3:16) By praying for Jehovah’s spirit to build up our love for Jehovah and for our brothers. And by associating with the Christian congregation, where the spirit flows freely.
We also need to examine ourselves so as to detect any unloving acts or thoughts. Remember, love is a quality of the heart, and “the heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate.” (Jeremiah 17:9) Despite all the help Jehovah gives, we will sometimes act in a loveless way. We may speak with unnecessary sharpness to a fellow Christian, or we may bristle and take offense at something that is said. Hence, we do well to echo David’s prayer: “Search through me, O God, and know my heart. Examine me, and know my disquieting thoughts, and see whether there is in me any painful way, and lead me in the way of time indefinite.”—Psalm 139:23, 24.
As the Bible says, “love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) If we practice loving one another, we will never be found wanting in times of testing. The love that exists among God’s people contributes greatly to the spiritual paradise that exists today. Only those who love one another intensely from the heart will find pleasure in living in the new world. Hence, imitate Jehovah in expressing such love and thus strengthen the bond of unity. Cultivate love, and possess the key to real Christianity.