John 13:35 – By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus is here indicating that love is to be the identifying mark of the believer. We are commanded to love, not love if . . . our love is to be not conditioned upon the response of the object of our love.
While all churches would claim that they practice unconditional love, this is not the case. Too often, for one reason or another, love is conditioned on rule keeping, service to the church or some other qualification. When any conditions are placed on love, it is not the love described by Jesus.
Conditional love must be avoided because it sends the message that you have no value unless you are complying with the demands. People who come to this type of church may be loved for a while, but that investment of love better pay off in the desired response or it will not continue.
James speaks about this type of value judgment in James 2:1-8. In this passage James identifies this behavior as sin and a violation of the second great command to love your neighbor as yourself. James pulls no punches. In verse 4 he says, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” The root of this type of value judgment is evil.
The verb form of agape (selfless love) is used as a command 9 times in the New Testament. In only two verses was there a qualification on the love. In Ephesians 5:25, husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Later on in verse 33, Paul commands every husband to love his wife as he loves himself. There are no further qualifications. And even these qualifications are not dependent upon how the object of love behaves. In all 9 commands to love, there is no out clause; there is no situation where it is appropriate to withhold love.
James tells us that to assess the value of a person based on their use to the church or their ability to keep rules is a sin. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We all have equal value before the Cross.
To practice unconditional love, we must acknowledge our dependence upon God and our own need for grace. Once we realize how much we have been forgiven, then it should be easy to forgive and accept others. Can we follow Paul’s advice in Romans 12:9 and practice “love without hypocrisy?”
A world starved for real love is longing for us to get this right.