The Mark of a Disciple

Text: John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another, by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Discipleship is crucial in our day. True it is that the NOW generation is caught up in the fantasy of individualism. Young people pride themselves in doing their own thing. It would seem as if we live in the day of many teachers, but few pupils. Yet, it is a fantasy. A cartoon I saw not so long ago illustrates this point. It pictures a long haired, ribboned, tattered fellow sitting with his guitar by the side of the road. He had a sign around his neck, “I’m doing my own thing.” The photographer who took this picture used a wide-angle lens, for as far as you could see in the distance, the road was lined with fellows, dressed exactly as the one in the foreground, each bearing a sign proclaiming, “I’m doing my own thing.” It is not a question whether we are disciples, rather it is a question, whose disciples are we!

You young people are surrounded with a cacophony of confusion, many masters want you to sit at their feet. On the one hand you have the worshippers of Satan who blatantly mock all things that are holy and gladly follow the devil. You have the Jesus movement which is even more deadly, for they appear to give recognition to Christ, but deny Him as Savior and Lord. In between you have every form of belief and morality. Yet, in the midst of this confusion, we hear the clarion call of the Word of God, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” In truth, the mark of a disciple must be easily distinguished and it is observed by the way you young people love each other.

Christ tells us in our text that his disciples are those who learn to love. Before we can appreciate this in any detail, we should remind ourselves just what a disciple is. Undoubtedly, we think immediately of the disciples of Christ, they were 12 in number and sat at the feet of Christ for some 3 years. They asked Christ questions and He taught them many truths. From this, as well as from the word used in our text, we may conclude that a disciple is a pupil, a learner, one who has not graduated from school, but is in the process of learning. Bearing this in mind we can distinguish 6 elements: a teacher, a pupil, subject material, and determination, that is the influence which this knowledge has upon the life of the pupil.

In our text Christ tells us emphatically, “Ye are my disciples.” This indicates that Christ Himself is the teacher. No wonder, for He is the exalted Christ, who having gone through death and hell is now at the right hand of God. He has received of the Father all knowledge and truth not only, but also the Holy Spirit by Whom He is able to make all things known to us. Who are pupils? Not all men, for by nature not one of us will sit at His feet. Rather, all the children of God who are regenerated and possess the gift of faith. As born from above, we have the necessary interest in the things of heaven. The material which Christ teaches is the truth. This applies to the creation, science, history, and all things which God has made and done. The key to interpreting all this knowledge is the Word of God. In the center of all truth stands the infallible Scriptures. The class room wherein this knowledge is communicated is in the narrowest sense, the house of God. True it is that at such a time that a Christian school teacher presents the truth of Christ in the class room or parents in the homes, Christ is communicating this knowledge by the Holy Spirit. Yet, the preaching of the Word is unique and distinct. Through the preaching and sacraments, Christ communicates His grace. By the grace of God we are enabled to assimilate this instruction. Faith is worked in us by the preaching of the Word and by faith we believe that which is true. In this way we are influenced in our lives, we believe and live according to His will.

Now, Christ tells us that as far as the material which He gives us as disciples is concerned, it may be summarized in this, Christ teaches us to love! “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” We may well ask, why is it that the command to love constitutes the heart of Christ’s instruction to His disciples? Two things have to be considered in answer. First, when Christ teaches us to love He brings us to the chief end of our existence viz. to glorify God. The love of God is always first and precedes love for one another. This is made plain for us in Matt. 22:37-40. Without God’s love in us and our love to God in return, there can be no true love for one another. Divine love provides us with the necessary strength to love one another. In doing this we fulfill the purpose of our creation; we praise God. The second reason is that love makes it so easy for us to learn. Notice carefully, Christ does not simply teach us the academic subject of love, He teaches us to love. He actually provides us with the power to love. When this is present, we eagerly learn what Christ teaches us. We have a slight reflection of this when we go to school. It is easier for us to learn if we love the teacher and the subject. Then we have the necessary initiative and drive to work hard. How true this is for the disciples of Jesus, when Christ teaches us to love Himself and through Himself to love God, we eagerly learn and assimilate the truth. Our relationship is one of love and that makes all the difference.

What is love? It is obvious that we have to answer this question by being faithful disciples of Christ and pause at His feet. What does our Master say? The import of this approach is forced upon us by the barrage of those around us who would teach us a wrong idea of love. The world of unbelievers have an idea of love, but it is wrong. Their love-ins fly under the banner of love. They have in mind a passionate embrace whereby they commit fornication; this they call love. The social activists unfurl their banners, “Make love not war,” and mean that we should care for the poor of the world, remove discrimination, enhance peace by social justice, but pay no attention to the heart of man which is sinful. Social justice without salvation from sin is not justice, it is simply a refined form of sin. The Jesus movement has its slogans, “SMILE, Jesus loves you,” or, “If you love Jesus, honk your horn.” All this superficial talk of love is a perversion, for a love of Jesus apart from the atonement is a denial of God Himself.

Love is rooted in God. According to I John 4:8, God is love. Since it is the will of God that His love be communicated to us, He accomplishes this through Jesus Christ. Christ died on the cross in order that He might take away the wrath of God against our sins and merit for us the love of God. Through the blood of Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s work in the gospel, our sins are taken away and we are brought into fellowship with God. He sheds His love abroad in our hearts. It is this love that we share with one another. Christ tells us that His commandment is that we love one another and this love for one another marks us as His disciples. Notice carefully that this love which we must have for each other is not a different love from the love God has for us, rather it is the same love which God gives to us which we in turn share with one another.

How do we know this? Listen, “A new commandment I give unto you that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another,” The amazing phrase is this, “as I have loved you.” We are to love one another in the way that Christ loved us! This involves 4 things. First Christ loves those who in themselves are not worthy objects of love. By nature, we hate, we sin, we break God’s holy law. Yet, Christ loves us! This also applies to our love for one another. We certainly are not such nice people, not even in our youth, we sin so frequently, we hurt each other, we are not desirable in ourselves. Secondly, Christ loves us in such a way that He makes us pleasing to God. Even though we are unworthy in ourselves, Christ’s love is sanctifying, through His love He removes sin and cleanses us from evil. This must also characterize our love for one another, by loving one another, we must seek to make each other more holy in God’s sight. Thirdly, Christ expresses this love through giving, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This Christ has done for us as an act of perfect love. So too in our love for each other, we must give of ourselves for one another. True Christian love is giving not only of one’s possessions, but of one’s self. Finally, the love of Christ is persistent, we do not deserve it, sometimes we respond gratefully, sometimes we take it for granted, yet He continues to love us. Through riches and poverty, war and peace, through life and death Christ gently and lovingly leads us along unto our final glory. This too must be true of our love one for another. In all conditions and in all events, we are to love each other. We must persist in that love even when it is not received, even when we encounter enemies.

Christ presents this to us in the context of a commandment, “A new commandment give I unto you.” This is a commandment not in the sense that Christ sits over us with a long whip forcing us to obey, rather, it is a commandment as the sphere of life. Just as fish need the water for life and birds need the air to survive, so we need love in order to abide in the covenant friendship with God. It is a new commandment, not as if it had never been known before, but in the Old Testament it was a commandment of letter, it led Israel to long for deliverance, but now it is written upon the portals of our heart, so that in the newness of spirit it is a way of liberty and freedom.

We should next observe that a disciple of Christ does not only learn to love, but he practices this love which he has learned. This is done in two ways, first we have to help one another in dealing with our sins. Love demands this of us. Secondly, love causes us to help one another do that which is good.

Concerning our sins, we should briefly notice that in order to deal with each other’s sins, we have to first of all deal with our own sins. This is necessary if we are to be qualified. “Thou will behold the mote that is in thy brother’s eye and not consider the beam in thy own eye, thou hypocrite,” Matt. 7:3. We must first remove the beam out of our own eye in order that we can see clearly to remove the sliver in our brother’s eye. It stands to reason. We must learn that love demands the repentance of sin for ourselves first of all. We have sin and sin is a breach of love. We can never walk in sin and say that we did that in love to God. Love is expressed in obedience of God’s law. When we sin, it acts as a barrier between God and us, we try to cover up and God seems so far away. Only when we get on our knees and plead with God for forgiveness and earnestly endeavor to flee from all sin, can we experience the removal of that barrier and fellowship in the love of God. If we are to love one another truly, we must flee from sin and thus be in a position to express this love to one another.

Having done this, we must next realize that we must not lead one another into sin. If we truly love one another, we will desire that sin be removed from one another. We realize that as sin is a barrier between God and us so it is a barrier between God and our brother and sister who sin. We desire that they also walk in righteousness and truth. This causes us to feel the horror of being responsible for leading someone into sin. Love will do its utmost to avoid such a thing.

And yet, isn’t this what we do so often as young people. What about those times you sneak to the movies and share the fun of subterfuge with a younger brother or sister? You can’t truly love each other in the family circle and be a bad example to each other. What about the times you sneered at the gal or fellow who studies diligently and gets good grades in school? You know what such mockery amounts to, you are challenging him to waste his time as you are and isn’t that leading into sin? What about your dress, tight pants, short skirts, and hot-pants. You can’t wear that kind of clothes and claim that your Master Jesus Christ instructs you to wear them. If you wear them you have sat at the feet of the unbelieving world. They have a morality that advocates free-love and this includes the styles of clothes which they make popular. By wearing them you are identified with them and may lead others into sin. Sexy clothes produce lustful thoughts and deeds soon follow. You cannot love each other and do such things. Similarly for long hair, it isn’t that long hair makes a worse Christian no more than short hair makes a better one, rather, it has to do with identification. Look among yourselves as young people, see the follows with long hair, they are not telling us that they gladly sit at Jesus’ feet, rather they sit at the feet of the world with its hippie movement, Jesus freaks, peace movement which taken together is anti-christian. A disciple must bear a mark. That mark is love; not as the world loves, but as Christ loves us. In all our appearance we must divorce ourselves from the world and reveal the love of Christ.

What do you do when you know another young person has done wrong? Do you show love to him? Then you won’t joke about it and think sin is funny. Neither will you whisper about it and make him the butt of your gossip. Love demands that you talk to him or her and point out his or her sin and call them to repent. Our love must be sanctifying! Do you do that? This is the mark of a disciple of Christ.

Still more, a disciple of Christ promotes good in the lives of those around him. To do this we must be good pupils and listen intently to our Master. How can we promote good if we do not know what is good. We must be ardent students of the Scriptures, be steeped in the doctrines of the Word of God and enthusiastic about the great truths of redemption and grace. We won’t say, I hate doctrinal sermons; we will love them for they form the basis of our morality. We will grow in the conviction of the truth and thus be able to conform our lives and those of others to the will of God revealed in the Bible.

How? Begin at home: obey your parents, respect them, show them love by doing what they require of you and appreciate their efforts to guide you in the right way. Encourage each other in school, admire the best gifts and seek to create a truly Christian atmosphere in school. Use your spare time profitably, if you sit by the TV and radio, filling your soul with rock music and jazz and muse upon the comedy programs that present life as a playground instead of a battleground, you are not revealing love to God and will not be able to love each other. Engage in physical exercise; it’s important for a healthy body influences a healthy mind. Read good books, enjoy Christian music, keep abreast of our times in the light of God’s Word, develop your skills at music and different hobbies, all this reaps fruit unto godliness. Let your whole life be a witness in word and deed.

Finally, a disciple of Christ will not only practice the love he has learned, he will be distinguished by it. Our life is an open book for all to see. This is a reason for our concern to love one another, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples.”

True it is that by loving one another, we glorify God. It is in this way that God is acknowledged as the God of all praise and His purpose is furthered. Besides this, we also enrich our own lives as well as each other’s when we love each other. Christian marriage is a good example. Here however, Christ emphasizes that all men must know that we love each other and through this love they will know that we are Christ’s disciples. Why? Three reasons, first, by our loving each other the wicked will be without excuse. As we love each other in Christ, we will criticize the workers of iniquity and they will hate us for this. We must not avoid this, rather expect it. They will increase in their sin and if they hurt us, God’s vengeance will fall upon them and their cup of iniquity will become full. Secondly, there may be some young people that we may lead to Christ. Our life must be a testimony of the love of Christ to that end, to provoke true jealousy so that they will seek our company and reject that of the world and its folly. Finally, by loving each other we will also be joined closer together within the Christian church. I know that there is an element among our young people who try to walk as close to the world as possible, you see them here at this convention as well. Don’t be attracted to them, make them feel that if they walk close to the world in their ways, they are not popular here at this convention. Encourage each other in fighting off the influence of sin and maintain the truth and morals of the Word of God. This will attract you to each other and nothing binds Christian young people more closely than when they flee from sin and walk in the will of God.

The mark of a disciple is that he loves others. Make this a time of examination, are you truly a disciple? Does it show in your life? This convention is dedicated to helping you answer it personally. My prayer is that you may be able to say with conviction, I am a disciple of Christ, I know it, His love in me shows in my love for others.

May God be praised for this!

Originally Published in:

Vol. 31 No. 6 October 1971