The essence of being a disciple is moving toward Jesus and taking others with you. When all is said and done, it is really that simple. This is liberating. It allows for a variety of ways to do this, recognizing the unique wiring of many different people, their circumstances, contexts, and so forth. To be a disciple is to move toward Jesus and take others with you.
But this movement is motivated by something. The question is, “What?” Is the ultimate motive for moving toward Jesus and taking others with me the celebration of knowledge? Is it worship? Is it evangelism? Is it fellowship? Is moving toward Jesus and taking others with me so I may demonstrate my integrity or model some kind of ethic? What is it that ultimately moves me to move toward Jesus and bring others along?
In a word, it is love. Consider 1 John 4:19 as the primary expression of the disciple’s existence: We love, because he first loved us. Seven words in the English language; seven words that give shape to everything that we are. There is value in reflecting on each carefully chosen word in this verse.
We. The focus here is on disciples. John the Apostle has written this epistle with the idea that followers of Jesus understand something more about what drives us. These words of John are not just for anyone—they are for disciples, people moving toward Jesus and taking other with them. Therefore, all of us disciples need to lean in a bit and take hold of what is said.
Love. With this active verb we have our mission. It is noteworthy what is not written here. We do not find the words “teach” or “evangelize” or “serve” or “worship” or “give” and so forth. While all of those verbs are important, it appears they are not nearly as critical—at least in John’s eyes—as “love.” Indeed, love is the primary verb for our lives, and everything else—the other verbs mentioned, as well as many others that could be offered—flow from love. Rest assured, we are on mission. Active love is the evidence of some great thing in our lives, and is the expression of our commitment to being God’s follower. For those of us who are “doers,” this mission invites all kinds of possibilities.
Here we must pause and place a vertical line between the word “love” and the next word, “because.” This splits the verse into two parts, the first part being about evidence or fruit, and the second part being more about essence or foundation. This is a very important detail, particularly in a world that just wants to consider methods or evidence, and not what is moving behind the scenes, or the essence of a thing.
Because. This word direct us to understand that if “we love,” there is a reason for it. It is not random. It is not nostalgic emotions somehow getting the best of us. There is purpose, and the purpose is revealed in what follows.
He. With this simple pronoun we have a dramatic shift in our world view. Life is not about us, but about God, who the word “he” references. The reasons we may live on mission, loving those around us, are not found within ourselves, as if we can conjure up some measure of benevolence. The reasons we may live on mission are rooted in the person and work of God. Any pervading resource in our lives—chiefly, love—come not from within but from without. The reason is summed up on the simple word, “he.”
First. After all, “he” is the primary source for whatever love we might have. It flows from within him. First John 4:7 explains: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. The word “first” implies chief, primary, and source. It suggests first in person or idea or order. Any love that is found within us is there for the simple reason that God is love and it has come to us from him. Period.
Loved. Let us camp here for a moment. We have to ensure that we do not relegate “love” to the common understanding that pervades our society, which is, in effect, nothing. Love is sex, love is affection for bunnies, love is zeal for certain food or wine; there is “love for the game,” and so much more. Love is utterly meaningless because it has been given so much meaning. It is helpful, therefore, to consider one simple word rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, and this is the word hesed. It is first found in Genesis 19:19 when Lot is fleeing Sodom and he acknowledges that God, through his angels, has offered “great kindness in saving” his life. Embedded within the phrase “great kindness” is loyal, tender, unfailing love; mercy, kindness, goodness, steadfast love. This word appears all throughout the Old Testament as a statement regarding God’s unfailing loyal love, and it is picked up on by his people as the way they ought to relate to their neighbors (see 2 Samuel 9:1 as a perfect example). I like to define hesed with this simple device from the letters of the word: h: He, e: Extends, s: (to) Sinners, e: Everlasting, d: Devotion. He extends to sinners everlasting devotion. This is the essence of love. It is who God is. He is the source of it all.
Us. And it is ours to have in a very personal way. I am so thankful that John the Apostle included this simple word. It focuses God’s everlasting devotion. It is not random or esoteric or inaccessible. It is for us. This reality says something about our identity. We are loved. We sinners receive everlasting devotion from the Most High God. First John 4:10 makes it clear: 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. His love changes us, sets us aright with him, and makes us to be new creatures. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Now, why is all of this crucial? Because if we are really going to be moving toward Jesus and taking people with us, we have to remember why it matters. Making disciples matters not for our own sense of self-worth, but because we are sinful men and women redeemed by the One who extended to us his everlasting devotion, evidenced through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:8). Everything we do begins with who we are . . . and whose.