So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.John 13:34-35
If you spend any time at all on social media, especially around an election cycle, you have likely heard this accusation:
The Christians who voted [fill in the blank] have lost their witness before the world.
Is this true? Do Christians lose their witness by their vote? To answer this question, we need to move away from social media and into God’s Word.
Jesus did say there was a way in which the world would know we are His disciples: our love for one another.
It is not the vote of Christians that costs them their witness, it’s the way they abuse, malign, and hate each other over votes cast.
When I was meditating on these verses, I wondered why Jesus told His disciples He was giving them a new commandment. In Leviticus 19:18, which was a long time before John 13:34-35, God tells His people they are to love their neighbors as they love themselves. This command to love has been around for quite some time.
In a commentary by Ligonier Ministries, the new part of this command is explained. Jesus says His disciples are to love each other, which is more specific than the idea of one’s neighbor, and He says they are to love each other as He has loved them, which is a much greater love than simply the love we have for ourselves.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we are supposed to love each other (the community of faith) as Jesus has loved us. This is how the world will know we belong to Him.
I’ve wondered why God didn’t make us all the same at the moment of salvation. It would be easier, wouldn’t it, if we all thought the same, held the same opinions, cared about the same issues to the same degree and in the same way, etc.?
There’s so much variety in the lived-experiences, opinions, and ideas of God’s people, and that means there’s a lot of opportunity for division. But, maybe this variety is also the greatest opportunity to grow in loving others as Jesus loved us?
Think about it, to love someone just like me, with all the same views and priorities, is really to love myself. It’s the fact someone isn’t just like me that creates the space to love them with the love of Jesus.
This is not to say we stop contending for truth or we should refrain from debating ideas. We aren’t looking for shallow relationships and a false sense of peace. What God has called us to is genuine love which involves knowing each other, hearing each other, and being real with each other.
If we sincerely love each other, the truth will matter to us greatly because we will want what is best for each other. To act as if all ideas are equal and any behavior acceptable regardless of what God says is to fail in love.
God’s Word tells us genuine love hates what is evil and holds tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9). How do we discern what is evil and what is good in order to hate justly and cling rightly? We must know the truth, we must love the truth, and we must contend for truth. Truth is the standard by which all other ideas must be measured.
But, Christians can be united in truth, united around God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while holding varying ideas of how to best live from truth in a complicated and fallen world.
When it comes to politics, we can feel passionately about one platform over another, or one candidate over another, or one policy over another. Our passion makes sense because laws and policies have real-world consequences.
It is important, though, we remember well-meaning people can agree a certain issue or principle is important and can agree on the ultimate desired outcome concerning the issue or principle and, yet, disagree on the best path to achieve the desired outcome or at least make a positive impact.
When we can discuss and debate our differences in the context of our unity in Christ, faithfulness to God’s Word, and love and relationship with each other, we can be like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). We can help each other refine our lives and choices, illuminate blind spots, and correct error.
Debating ideas and policies with faithful Christians is one thing; hating our brothers and sisters in Christ, defaming their character, insulting their intelligence, and even denying the veracity of their faith because they hold different thoughts about how to handle the problems of our world according to God’s Word or because they voted for a different candidate than we did is arrogant and sinful.
And let’s be honest…we will never win people to a better idea or a better way if we are bent on destroying them. We can take on bad ideas and faulty thinking in a manner that makes it easy for people to move toward better ideas and thinking, or we can handle ourselves in such a way we burn every bridge.
Whether we choose to vote right or left, third party, or not at all, our choice isn’t perfect. That should keep all of us humble. If we come to our decision out of a desire to be faithful to God’s Word and God’s way then we can cast our vote without fear, without pride, and without hatred.
When we allow earthly rulers and governments to divide us from each other, our loyalty to this world is greater than our loyalty to our true King and His Kingdom for He has told us to love each other as He has loved us, He has told us we are one body and He our head (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:3-6), and He has promised us He will never fail us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). He is the One we obey above all others.
If we say, I’m voting for such and such because I am standing against hate, but we have hatred in our hearts for those who voted differently, are we really standing against hate? No, we are united to hate.
If we say, I’m voting for such and such because I believe in the sanctity of all human life, but then we dehumanize those who voted differently than us, are we really standing against this type of injustice? No, we have united ourselves to it.
How does the world look at God’s people and see anything different than what they already know? How can they say, There is something special about those who follow Jesus. They love each other. They have a hope that is unshakeable regardless of what happens. They have a faith that makes me wonder if what they say is true (Hebrews 11:1). They have a light that makes me want to glorify God in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
It is our lack of love more than anything else that discredits our witness.
If loving each other as Jesus has loved us proves to the world we are His, then hating each other and mistreating each other in our personal relationships and across social media must prove the opposite: at best that we do not belong to Him and at worst that He is not who He says He is.
God is sovereign. If my fellow Christians support a policy or a candidate I think is wrong, I can continue in love with them, though I may try to persuade them, because my hope isn’t in a candidate, politics, policies, or in my ability to run my state or nation as I deem best; my hope is in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.
God is good. If He allows an election to go to a candidate I disagree with or even a candidate I feel has evil intentions and motivations, I can continue to trust Him to work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
It is because of God’s sovereignty and goodness that I can remain in love with all people. It is because of His love first poured out on me while I was His enemy that I can, in turn, pour out love on others without discrimination (Romans 5:7-10).
This doesn’t mean we do not have boundaries. Not everyone will return love in kind. Some people will pursue evil and injustice. We can have boundaries in place, and enforce those boundaries, and we can pursue justice without giving our hearts over to hatred, without returning evil for evil, and without seeking revenge.
God never said we would always live in the world we want, actually quite the opposite, Jesus warned we would have much trouble (John 16:33), but God has told us how to live in whatever world we have.
- Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Mark 12:29-30)
- Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)
- Love each other as I have loved you (John 13:34-35)
- Love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)
And God has told us what love looks like lived out (1 Corinthians 13:4-8):
- Love is patient and kind.
- Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
- Love does not demand its own way.
- Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
- Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
- Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Politics isn’t the exception to the rule. God didn’t tell us we are to live in and from His love except when it comes to elections. It is important to note Jesus never told us how to vote, but how to love. It is love, not votes, that are a matter of obedience for the Christian, and although love should inform how we vote, votes themselves do not negate God’s commands to love.
It is at these points of pressure in life, such as elections, where we reveal who we really are…or I should say whose we really are.
The truth of God’s Word and the purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can never be compromised, but do we recognize the differing thoughts and ideas among God’s people concerning how to best live from truth as a gift of God where we can practice the very love of Jesus before a watching world?
Do we desire our fellow Christians grow into our likeness and image or are we concerned about growing into the likeness and image of our Savior alongside our fellow Christians?
An election cycle is a unique opportunity to let our light shine because passions run high. We feel our immediate desires and hopes for the present and future are at stake, and we fear the real-world consequences for ourselves and others if things go differently than we want them to. In some ways, all this is true, choices have consequences, but the elections of mankind cannot thwart the purposes of God: not individually, not nationally, and not globally. Our hope isn’t that the next president or Supreme Court Justice can overcome the world, but that Jesus has (John 16:33).
If we really want to change the world for the better, if we really want to be a light in the darkness, if we really want to be a faithful witness of the Gospel, it is more important we love each other as Jesus has loved us than cast a certain vote.
When our desires and hopes for our country and world, no matter how good they may be in and of themselves, move us to disobey our true King and His Word, they have become idols. When we more closely align with a political party than the Kingdom of God, when we are more committed to those with a certain letter after their names than those covered by the same shed blood of Christ, we have forgotten whose we are.
It is time we remember and let our remembering lead to repentance and a commitment to live in this world as those who belong to another King, another Kingdom, and each other.