There is an old Christian hymn called, "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love." As a child sitting among the pews, I remember singing this almost chant of a song on a number of occasions. Its really a beautiful concept when you think about it. To be so loving as a person and a group that it actually defines the way people know you. The song draws from the words of Jesus in John 13:35 which states: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV) If you've studied Jesus much, you'll quickly notice that love was a very important thing to Him. He encouraged people to do things like love their neighbor, love God, love one another. He even went so far as to tell people to love their enemies! Within this message He also sprinkled some love supporting attributes of not judging, forgiveness, compassion, and encouragement.
I have to admit, it makes me a bit sad for Jesus to have lived such a committed life to loving, so much so even in the act of dying He cried out in compassion for those torturing Him, that today His followers are known for being judging and hypocritical well before loving.
Sadly, the old hymn I sung so many times in my small church has become nothing more than a bold lie. If you were to ask the average person on the street what word they think of first to describe a "Christian" I'm certain the word "love" would not be the most popular. I'm afraid through the centuries the church has come to find Jesus's call to love to simply be too difficult. As a result, we have retreated to easier tasks of trying not to have a potty mouth or standing up for morality, or being conservative, or outspoken, or bold, or whatever else we can think of, but loving is simply too difficult. It's hard to love. Especially when someone disagrees with you, or wants to discredit you, or hates you. And rather than focus on the difficulty of following Christ due to the high calling for love, we focus on the difficulties that come with simply trying to be good. Being good is hard too, but not nearly as hard as being loving.
I have to pause now when someone asks me what I believe. Before I can respond by calling myself a Christian, I have to ask if people would describe loving as one of their first descriptors of me? After all, Jesus never said Christians would be known by their faith or by what they think, or their political party....simply by how they love. If I can't honestly describe myself first and foremost as loving, I certainly shouldn't discredit Christ by call myself a Christian.