Three Characteristics of Salvation, Part 3: Love
31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
- Actualization = Authenticity
- We don’t serve those we don’t see;
- We won’t serve those we won’t value
- When looking for God, don’t look past your brother/sister
- The Saved love others and Those who love others are Saved
This parable concludes our study on the three characteristics of Salvation as outlined by Jesus in three parables in Matthew 25. In this parable Jesus previews mankind’s appearance before God at The Judgment; at the end of the world. In this glimpse into the future, Jesus makes clear that the sole issue that will separate the saved from the unsaved is love of the brethren. Although they are all of irrefutable importance in the church, knowledge, fervor, piety, doctrinal rectitude, etc. would not be the defining characteristic; the defining characteristic will be love. Moreover, love in action would be the key: God’s love is channeled through and revealed by the saved to (even the least of) mankind in tangible ways.
In the parable the Son of man, Jesus, returns to Judge mankind as rightful King of the universe. Figuratively, mankind is separated into two groups: Sheep and Goats. The Sheep, we are told, are the ones who did the work of love in ministering to Jesus’ brethren and their reward is to join Him in heaven. In contrast, the Goats failed to do the work of love in ministering to Jesus’ brethren and are, consequently, banished to everlasting fire with the devil.
The first point we will examine is that Jesus makes it clear that a believer’s authenticity is determined by the actualization of his/her faith. In other words, it was not enough to merely acknowledge Jesus as God; rather, that belief must be evident in the believer’s conduct, specifically in how people in need are treated. In James it is explained as follows,
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. ~James 1:27
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. ~James 2:14-17
In other words, un-actualized, theoretical faith, faith that does not produce action is not faith at all. That kind of faith is not authentic. Genuine faith produces actions of love. This notion is further clarified by considering how much God loves all of mankind (John 3:16-17) and how much He is concerned with the well being of the weak, the underprivileged and the oppressed:
The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow. ~Psalm 146:9
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?… Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer… ~Isaiah 58:6-7, 9a
When this special concern that God has for the disadvantaged is combined with the fact that Jesus Christ lives in the believer…
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20
…it becomes clear that if Jesus lives in us then we MUST love our brother and share God’s special concern for the weak, the underprivileged and the oppressed. John makes the point even more succinctly:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. ~1 John 4:7-8, 11
Therefore, if our faith isn’t actualized in the work of love, then it is not authentic.
Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish doing the work of love, versus just doing a job. Simply being in a profession whose job it is to help people in need—e.g., nursing—does not automatically authenticate anyone as a Sheep. Instead Jesus was referring to acts of love motivated by the presence of God in a believer’s life.
The next two points arising from the parable are that we don’t serve those we don’t see and we don’t serve those we don’t value. Curiously, neither the Sheep nor the Goats saw Jesus in the people they loved/served or didn’t love/serve. But the Sheep did see the weak, the underprivileged and the oppressed; and they helped them. On the other hand, the Goats apparently never saw the disadvantaged; or worse they never cared enough to help those in need that they did see. We must therefore ask ourselves two questions:
- “Do I see those in need around me?”
- “Do I care enough to help the helpless that I do see?”.
The first question is one of worldview: when one looks out on the world what he/she see? Attending to the problems and distractions of daily life often consumes us. So we are unable to see the needs of others because we are so preoccupied with our own—we say, “I’m in too much pain to even think about anyone else’s troubles”; “I just lost my job and the mortgage is due, I’ve got my own problems”, “Can’t stop now, I’m late for Pilates”. However, Scripture encourages us to follow Jesus’ example (Philippians 2:5-11) instead. Jesus wasn’t too distracted to see our need for salvation; He wasn’t too busy to leave His throne and rescue us in our desolation.
The second question is about value and preference: Do I value my brethren enough to put their needs above mine? In this case the weak, the underprivileged and the oppressed are not hidden, but their worth is in question. The Goats’ answer to The LORD (vs. 44) suggests that if they had seen Him they certainly would have ministered to Him. In other words, the LORD was valuable enough for them to put their own needs and comforts aside. But their brethren were NOT valuable enough to put their own needs and comforts aside. Conversely, the Sheep—who had the same answer as the Goats—found enough value in their brethren to help them in their time of need. The Sheep were willing to help, to serve and to give to the disadvantaged, whether it was The LORD or not. When we fail to give the help we can to those we know are in need, it’s because they are not important enough to us: we don’t really love them.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another ~Romans 12:10
Jesus really wants us to understand that as we search for God, we should not look past (or over the heads of) our fellow man. Instead, our search for God, our relationship with God, if it is real, must lead us to loving our brethren. The evidence of true faith is service to others, especially the weakest among us.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; 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. ~John 13:34-35
Finally, Jesus reveals the third defining characteristic of salvation: The Saved love others and Those who love others are The Saved. Only those who actually, tangibly loved their brethren were saved. Love is neither theoretical nor abstract. The lover pays a price to love the loved. Jesus gave His life and thereby proved His love for us. He didn’t, and indeed couldn’t, just stay in Heaven and wish us into salvation; a price had to be paid. We too must be willing to pay any price to love our brethren; because each person has value and that value is the Blood of Christ, for that is the price He paid for each man, each woman.
- Can you forget yourself long enough to find someone in need and offer help?
- Is anyone you know not important enough for you to put aside some of your valuable time to help them?
- Do you see Jesus in the people around you?