Are you physically healthy? You might answer that question by how you feel. You don’t feel bad, so you assume that you are in fairly good health. But if you wanted a more objective answer, you might visit the doctor’s office and undergo some tests. They would check your temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. They might also check your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. There are many factors to consider in order to determine how healthy you are.
What about your spiritual health? How do you determine that? What would you say if your pastor asked you, “How is your relationship with God?” Once again, you could answer on the basis of your feelings. You feel close to God and therefore you believe that your relationship with God is strong.
Although it is desirable to feel close to God, our feelings aren’t always an accurate gauge of our spiritual health. So, how would you objectively answer the question? What test or standard would you use to determine your spiritual health? One very popular test is consistency in personal devotions. Love for God is calculated by what we do in private. Consequently, our relationship with God will be good or bad depending upon how often we read the Bible and pray. Another test, albeit not as popular, is consistency in attending public worship. They key factor is how often we attend Sunday services and perhaps the midweek prayer meeting.
There is nothing wrong with either of these tests of spiritual health. However, they shouldn’t be the only tests you take. What would you think if the doctor’s office only checked your blood pressure? You need a well-rounded check-up for an accurate measurement of your physical health. The same is true for your spiritual health. And a proper spiritual check-up will include the love exam. Love for Christ is rightly measured by our love for one another.
If we love Christ then we will keep his commandments, including his command that we love one another. Thus, our relationship with Christ is directly tied to how we treat each other. The Puritan Ralph Venning said that we should never talk of friendship with Christ unless we obey him, and “it is the will and command of the Lord Jesus Christ that we love one another” (The Puritans on Loving One Another, pg. 40). Venning also said to read over 1 John 4:20 “not superficially, but seriously.” We do not love God if we hate our brother.
Our relationship with God will suffer if we do not love one another. That is true regardless of how often we read our Bibles or attend public worship. Peter applies this principle to husbands: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).”
Love for one another is one means to gauge our walk with the Lord. So how is your relationship with the Lord? Are you walking in love?
How are you treating the people closest to you? Spouses, siblings, colleagues and church members will have a harder time loving one another because they spend so much time together. Loving people from afar is a walk in the park compared to loving people in your own family or community. That is why it is easy to believe the lie that the grass is greener on the other side, and to think that if I were just in a different relationship, family or church, then life would be so much better. But if we love Christ and are his friends, then we will work on loving one another, especially those who are closest to us.
And we can do this because of Christ’s love for us. He loved us so that we might love one another as he has loved us.
D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.