This is the second part of the “To Be Known By Love” series. If you’d like catch up, you can read Part One here.
Love. As we learned last week, the core value and characteristic of any person who calls themselves a disciple of Jesus is love. For without love, we would resemble a clanging cymbal and our words, even if they are laced with the truth of the gospel, would fall on deaf ears. After all, thanks in large part to social media, if society is good at one thing it is sniffing out a hypocrite.
So we must be guarded, as Christians, in how we use our words and how those words are reflected in our actions. We can’t preach Christ on Sunday and live like heathens the rest of the week. We can’t say we love Jesus in secret but not love others in public. We can’t show love in public but not love Jesus in secret. In essence, we must practice what we preach.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” - Paul
But what happens now? We’ve set the standard that all christians have a duty to love our neighbors and to love God. This is the commandment, not an option, that Jesus gave us. So now that we have this knowledge, what do we do with it? What’s next?
There’s a crucial step between obtaining knowledge (knowing you need to do something) and action (doing the thing). And that step is becoming self aware.
For most people, job performance evaluations are no fun. At a previous job as a sales person, I was subjected to reviews as part of my job performance. Once a quarter I’d sit down with my managers and they would look at how many leads I received, compare that to how many leads led to contacts, and then how many of those contacts eventually turned into sales. And if I struggled at any one point, my managers would require an action plan on how I’d improve in that area over the next quarter. It was an exhaustive and, to be quite honest, infuriating process.
It’s not easy to look at yourself and ask the tough question, “Where am I struggling? Where can I improve?” But Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:5(a), is telling us to do exactly that. He’s urging us to examine our hearts to see if sin is lurking. And by doing this “self check” you’ll know if you are in the faith and if you passed the test (5b).
Paul gives a similar command to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12-16, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."
Paul is telling Timothy that to lead his church (effectively evangelize) he must not only be an example in his speech and conduct, but he must also keep an eye on himself. That he must be self aware of anything (sin) that may disrupt his ability to live as an example. Jesus’ taught this message as well.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
How can you deny something that you do not know is there? Take, as an example, Jesus’ analogy of pointing out the speck in your neighbor’s eye when you have a plank in your own. Before you can judge a person’s life (in love) you must first be able to see the giant 2 x 6 (sin) in your own life. There, again, is that crucial step of self awareness that must come before action.
If we want to be known for our love, we must evaluate our hearts to see if love dwells there. To do this, you may have to seek out people you trust (a spouse, best friend, Pastor, and of course the Holy Spirit) and ask, “Am I a loving person?” Their answer may surprise you, because how you see yourself may be completely different than how others see you. You may think you’re kind, but in reality people fear bringing any issue to you because of your judgemental spirit. You may see yourself as easy going or fun loving, when people around you would say you’re grumpy and hard to deal with. [this is something I constantly fight against]
And the truth hurts. This will be an exhaustive and, to be quite honest, infuriating process. There will be hard moments where you’ll reject their feedback because, “That simply can’t be true.” There will be even more difficult moments when you’ll receive conflicting feedback. Here you’ll need to seek the Holy Spirit and wise council to determine which is true.
Finally, this will take time. Change doesn’t happen over night and we should constantly be self evaluating our actions and heart motives to see if they line up with the characteristic traits of a Christian as determined by the Word of God. We should never stop growing in our faith or accept our sinful characteristic traits as just “who we are”. We should press on, move forward, and keep our hearts open for opportunities to mature.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2