Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” On the one hand brethren claim that a person is unloving if he points out false doctrine of another, especially if he specifies who is teaching it. On the other hand, we have those who protest that they are showing love when they use the most slashing, vituperous language possible, justifying it by citing examples of Jesus who did not hesitate to call the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, and Paul who called Elymas a child of the devil and enemy of all righteousness (Acts 13:10).

We are not attempting to pass judgment on whether one person loves another, for we recognize that a person who sees a parent spanking a child (especially if that person is the child) might well conclude that it is not being done in love. I never remember whipping one of my children that I did not feel that I loved them so much that I would rather be taking the whipping than giving it.

What we are suggesting is that those of us who have this great love for those whom we must chastise verbally for whatever they have done wrong, strive to do it in such a way that they, and others who know of it, get the feeling that we love them, without us having to protest so vehemently that we really do. Although the following illustration may not help us do that, it may be helpful in other ways. Almost half a century ago when my son had disobeyed me the second time in just a few days, I said, “Son, I love you very much, but you have disobeyed me again. Disobedience must be punished, but I am going to let you punish me this time. Take my belt and hit me with it three times.” He protested, “No, daddy, please.” I said, “Yes, son. It must be done, for God wants us to know that justice demands that wrongs must be paid for.” He hit me once and started crying. I said, “Twice more.” He hit me the second time and threw the belt across the room with a scream, and running to me, put his arms around my neck and said, “Please, daddy, I will never do it (the act of disobedience) again.” I think he never did. I relate the incident to emphasize the fact that even harsh rebuke can be done in such a fashion that the one receiving it gets the impression that it is done in love.

Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples.” My emphasis today is not that we always need to go to a brother and tell him that we intend to rebuke him for some publicly stated false doctrine. No scripture, including Matthew 18:15-17 so indicates. My point is that when we do the rebuking, we should try to do it in such a fashion that both the man and all that know of it get the impression that we have a special love for him. Is this the impression you get when you read your own criticism of some brother’s actions or words? I confess that my practice in this regard has not always been as good as my intentions.

There are at least four great things for which the child of God, and the whole family of God should be known. First, there is the love we have and show one for another. Second, there is missionary and evangelistic zeal resulting from our love for sinners and for God’s Truth. Do your neighbors and friends know that you have this great desire for their salvation? If so, how do they know?  Third, we should be known for our sacrificial giving. God so loved that He gave. Does the world think of members of the Lord’s church as the most liberal givers in the world? Fourth, we should be known as a praying people who really believe in prayer and its value. In the book of Acts, there are probably at least 30 times when it is emphasized that the disciples were involved in prayer. Do your friends know that you really believe in prayer? Do you pray with them when you visit them? If so, do you pray about anything worthwhile, or do you just say something like, “Thank you for everything. Bless everybody. In Jesus’ name?”

Is it your judgment that the world would pay more attention to the doctrine we preach if they could know by our practice that we really believe it? If it is, why not make a special effort to improve in at least the four areas just mentioned, especially in showing love for brethren in such a way that the world may more readily see it evidenced? One of the best times to do that is when it is clear that you strongly differ with a brother even to the point of needing to rebuke him.

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