Thursday, April 9, 2009

"They'll Know We Are Christians By Our...?"

My parents were on the fringe of the Jesus Movement in the early 70s.  As a result, I grew up singing such classics as Pass It On, I Wish We'd All Been Ready (got to love Larry Norman!), and the ever popular They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.  If you aren't familiar with the lyrics of that song, the verses talk about unity in the Spirit, working together, walking together, and the chorus wraps it all up with: 

And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, 
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.

One might be suspicious that such a touchy-feely kind of song was nothing more than a Christianized version of hippie free-love folksiness.  But the lyrics actually convey a very Biblical idea.  Jesus said "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).  Not only are we to love those within the body of Christ, but we are clearly commanded to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to put others' needs ahead of our own (Philippians 2:1-11)-- all so that Jesus Christ may be glorified.

Love is the calling card of the Christian--the identifying mark that distinguishes us in a world full of narcissism, egos, and hatred.  But not just any kind love, for everyone loves and knows how to love to some degree.  God calls us to a self-sacrificial love, a love that denies its own rights for the benefit of others, that pours itself out continually, that dies to self so that others may live.  This type of love can be painful and difficult, or at the very least, uncomfortable and inconvenient.

As I look back on my life, I wonder if other people ever thought, "Wow, look at how loving she is.   She must be a Christian."  I'm ashamed to admit that probably isn't the case.  Sure, I've always been a nice person.  I've always been generally kind and pleasant to others.  I've had my Christian wear, my Christian music, my squeaky clean language, and my PG-rated movie preferences.  Was I banking on those things to identify me as a believer in Jesus Christ?  Or was I hoping that my "Biblical worldview" and my well-formulated arguments for the veracity of the Bible would give me away?  Was I hoping people would know I was a Christian because of how I voted, the petitions I signed, and the letters to the editor I wrote?  Was I hoping that my faithful church attendance would tip people off to my beliefs?

Christians should look different from the world, but I wonder if too often we look different for the wrong reasons.  Instead of being known for our extreme love, we're known for our extreme political positions, our extreme responses to hot-button social issues, our extreme separatist sub-culture mentality.  To borrow from 1 Corinthians 13-- if we vote for a certain party, boycott the right company, protest the right issue, but have not love, we are nothing and we gain nothing.

I haven't mastered this concept yet.  Not by a long shot.  Loving my neighbor seems to be made up of many small choices and opportunities, every day, every week, every month.  Nothing flashy.  Not a big campaign or program.  It's much easier to sign an online petition that Christians are forwarding via e-mail and think I've furthered the cause of Christ in some way than it is to spend time with the snot-nosed, unsupervised neighbor kids who always seem to be knocking on the front door at inopportune times.   Sacrificial love is hard.  It seeks the best for others at the expense of self.  It doesn't try to get noticed, but extreme acts of love will be noticed.  

Lord, help me to love as Christ loved.  May they truly know that we are Christians by our love.


jaigner said...

There are other songs evangelical Christianity prefers.

- They'll know we are Christians by our fish decal

- They'll know we are Christians by our tracts

- They'll know we are Christians by our Disney boycotts

Or my favorite...

- They'll know we are Christians by our withdrawal from all things secular

E. A. Harvey said...

Ha, indeed! Thank you for all your comments, jaigner. I appreciate you stopping by and reading through my posts. Sounds like we are on the same page in many regards. I'll definitely check out your site.