Ask friends and neighbors what they think of Christians, and brace yourself for the answer. One survey found that people describe Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, insensitive, and boring. Even more troubling, more than half said their negative views were based on personal experience. As the survey researcher summarized: “Many of those outside of Christianity reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”
Why have believers earned such a negative reputation? And how can we impact our world for Christ if our bad attitude is turning everyone away? Three of the letters in this month’s study—1, 2, and 3 John—were written to early Christians, most likely toward the end of the first century. Throughout these letters, John explains that when our lives reflect the love of God, the gospel will be clear to those around us.
Inside each of these letters are instructions on how to follow Jesus and live out our faith. But, over and over again, there is a recurring theme: As Christ’s followers, we are to be known for our love (1 John 4:7–8). In a book for Princeton University Press about the rise of Christianity, sociologist Robert Stark notes that many years before the existence of organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, Christians were known for aiding victims of epidemics. While most people would flee from the ill and dying, these believers would risk their own well-being to feed and care for the sick, even as the death toll rose.
Why did they reflect the love of Christ in such a dramatic way? In 1 John, we are reminded that Christians are able to love others because God first loved us (4:19). Our Father began this loving relationship and has pursued us with a powerful, all-encompassing love, a love we did not deserve.
As God’s children and recipients of His love, He expects us to show that same love to those around us (3:16). Christ’s love, perfected in us, reveals itself in the way we live. Is it any wonder then that those believers rushed to the side of the sick? As John urges, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (3:21).
Friends, let’s love others as Christ first loved us. Let’s be the people known for reflecting His great love, so rich and so undeserved.