“ … love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12b
They all thought Tom was crazy to take Jack on as a trainee sales assistant. The firm wasn’t doing that well anyway and to employ someone else seemed foolish. What made it worse was the rumour that Jack had recently been on probation after spending Saturday nights stealing and torching expensive cars. Not the ideal history for a young would-be assistant selling new cars at the top end of the market.
Tom called a meeting of his staff. “I know you’re not happy that Jack’s starting here tomorrow” he said “but I’m asking you to trust me. His school record is nothing to boast about and all he’s got on his c.v. are convictions for car theft. But his Probation Officer says he’s learned his lesson, he’s keen and he certainly knows most of what there is to know about these cars. I want to give him a chance. I want one of you to volunteer to take him under your wing, to support and encourage him”
Silence: disapproval, doubt and suspicion hung like brooding clouds over their heads. “I will”. Mike looked up at Tom then round at his colleagues who were now confused as well as disapproving and resentful. Mike – shy, reticent Mike, baby-sitting a known tearaway?
Tom and Mike exchanged a nod of understanding. As they left Mike spoke, “I never asked you why you took me on when you knew I’d got caught fiddling accounts and expenses”. “Same reason you’re going to look out for Jack” said Tom, “I gambled away one business but someone gave me another chance. I guess we pass it on”.
Loving one another as Jesus loves us is not an easy option. The sort of love Jesus shows is tough, passionate, persistent. His love takes risks in calling and trusting people to follow and obey him. His love makes him so very vulnerable to rejection, hurt, betrayal and cruelty from those unable or unprepared to receive such a powerful force in their lives.
The sort of love Jesus shows is uncompromising and yet eternally patient and tender. The sort of love Jesus gives so generously and freely costs him everything. In the end it even costs him his life in excruciating agony of body and mind.
When Jesus chooses and appoints his friends to continue his work he commands them to show the same sort of love that he does – nothing less will do if it is to further the cause of the Kingdom.
Barnabas seeks to obey this command with courage and humility. When he sees Gentiles in Antioch believing the Gospel he sees them and their situation as Jesus would see them: not “strangers” presenting a problem to the Jews but children of God in whom heaven rejoices as they are born into new life. When he encounters Paul he sees him as Jesus would: not with fear and suspicion but as an appointed apostle with his own unique gifts which will surely bear fruit.
Barnabas shows us what it might be like to live out this command of Jesus; to risk loving without limits and to encourage and support others with practical help, standing alongside them in times of need.
Is it possible to love to order? We don’t have a switch inside us that turns on a stream of goodwill to all.
We probably meet people daily whom we find difficult, rude or aggressive. Our automatic emotional reactions are often too quick to be suppressed and replaced by a loving smile through gritted teeth and would that be loving anyway?
Loving as Jesus loves is not having an emotional feeling which results in good deeds. Loving as Jesus loves is a way of being, a way of viewing life and people around us with God at its centre. He is the reference point to which we turn for guidance and strength. Faced with the problem of how to be loving at any given time, if we can learn to think first “how has Jesus shown love in a similar situation and to a similar person?” we will find an example to follow and a source of grace and strength to be that loving. That is the great promise of friendship which Jesus offers us – a friendship which guides us and encourages us to do what love commands.
1. Jesus commands his disciples to love one another as he has
2. The love Jesus shows is costly; it takes risks and stands alongside
people of whom society is afraid, disapproving or rejecting.
3. Barnabas obeys this command of Jesus in his welcoming of Gentiles,
in his support and encouragement of Paul and in his courageous
return to help the persecuted Christians in Jerusalem.
4. Chosen and appointed by God to do his work, we can find in Jesus
guidance and encouragement to fulfil the command to love and to bear
fruit for God’s kingdom.
Our Heavenly Father promises to hear the prayers of those who have faith in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we pray for the church and for the world let us also pray that, like Barnabas, we will be a source of strength and encouragement to those we meet in our daily lives.
Let us pray for God’s church throughout the world that she will welcome all who turn to her and enfold in love and prayer those who suffer for their faith that they might be freed to worship God without fear.
Let us pray for the healing of the nations in a world bruised and torn apart by war, oppression and injustice. We pray especially for all those who seek to bring peace and reconciliation where there is conflict and hatred that they may bear fruit and hasten the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
Let us pray for people on the fringes of our own communities; those isolated by poverty, mental illness or because of their colour or religion. May God’s all embracing love reach out to them through his appointed people so that we are brought into fellowship with them, our brothers and sisters.
Let us pray for ourselves and for each other that we will find strength and encouragement in our fellowship to grow in faith and, like Barnabas, to follow the example of love that Jesus has given us.
Heavenly Father, you have called us to serve you; give us the grace and strength to respond to your call and fill us with your love, the love that knows no limits. We offer these prayers to you in the name of your Son, our friend and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.