It is no accident that Christ said, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He did not say they will know you by your politics, your simple living, or your dress. None of these things are primary, outward distinguishing marks of Christians. Neither do we look alike, eat alike, or speak alike. But there is something that marks Christians outwardly. What is the distinguishing mark of the Christian community? It is gospel love—unfettered, abounding, sacrificial, giving love.
Why is love above all the distinguishing mark of our community? Because God is love. More specifically, our God is love. We know love beyond all others on earth. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). We are recipients of unfathomable, demonstrable, efficacious, otherworldly love. So, love is what marks the Christian body. Love is what we do, because love is what we received, and love is who we are. Gospel grace leads to gospel love that manifests itself in gospel community.
Consider the example of Philemon. Clearly, Philemon was a man of holiness. He knew the Lord and had been gripped by gospel grace. Reportable and commendable love flows from his life. Paul says, “I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (v. 5). Even as far away as Rome, Paul had heard of Philemon’s love for the brothers in Colossae. Maybe he heard the report from Epaphras, whom the church of Colossae had sent to Rome, or maybe from Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave. Regardless of who delivered the report, Philemon is an example that gospel grace leads to noticeable gospel love.
Philemon is a mature Christian, and we have much to learn from Paul’s commendation of his life in the gospel community. “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (v. 7), Paul says. Here is a disciple who manifests love in the gospel community. I love to find Christians who excel in refreshing others, and I want to grow as a refresher of others. What a gift it is to be a refreshment to those around us.
Refreshment implies that there has been depletion. People need refreshment because they have lost something or because something is lacking. They’re tired. They’re weary. There is need of rest. We all have this need, and the gospel community provides for it. Christ chooses to work through us by His gospel grace to give refreshment or rest to one another’s souls as we extend gospel love to one another. And we all need it. Every person who walks through the doors of the church needs gospel refreshment.
The church is a little oasis in this desert of a world. Like Noah’s dove going out from the ark, you can fly all over this world, and you will find nowhere to rest except in the gospel community. It is a momentary way station, a rest stop along the highway of life. It is a place where you encounter Christ’s love manifested through his people, a community changed and affected by gospel grace.
The church has often been called a hospital for sinners. The Great Physician is the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, we are the patients, but we are also the nurses. We have been called upon to assist the Great Physician by binding wounds, dispensing the means that will restore health, extending mercy, and encouraging life.
Be refreshing to your fellow congregants. Manifest gospel love in your community. Let it grow in you. How can you be a refreshment? There are so many ways. Write and mail anonymous encouraging notes to people in the congregation. Follow the Apostle Paul’s example—don’t be hesitant to pass out encouragement. We can never encourage others too much. Write condolence cards when someone in the church loses a loved one. Oh, how we need refreshment then. On Sunday mornings, seek to have good gospel conversations. Stick around. Talk to one another about the sermon. Speak about Christ and all his benefits. No conversations are more refreshing than these.
Be intentional—Philemon was clearly living an intentional life of love. Walk into the church building thinking about three or four people to whom you plan to speak that morning. Provide encouragement, help, or friendship. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Seek out the visitor, the friendless, someone you don’t know and refresh them. Enter into intentional conversations with others. Walk into your church with not just a desire to be served but to serve. Gospel love is other-centered.
Refresh others throughout the week. Invite families over for dinner. Aim to exercise the gift of hospitality at least once a month. This is one of the greatest ways we can refresh one another in gospel love. Make a meal for someone. Offer to watch a young couple’s children. Let people know you are praying for them and actually pray for them. Visit a shut-in. Take a widow out for lunch. The ways we can refresh each other by loving one another are endless.
Recipients of gospel grace are filled with gospel love that manifests itself in gospel community. This is part and parcel of our holiness in Christ. It is something we should all want to grow in individually and collectively. We have been gripped by gospel grace, so let us manifest the gospel love that flows from such a life.
This article first appeared at TableTalk Magazine‘s website and is posted here with permission of the author.