On paper I’m a British citizen and I’ve lived in the UK for most of my life. However, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked where I’m ‘really’ from. Although I’m Rwandan by heritage, my inability to speak the language (fluently), and the fact I’ve never been there, makes me feel like an outsider.
A while ago, I was listening to some students discuss something as I awaited their English translation. To their surprise, I understood a random word. However, it wasn’t because of my very basic Indonesian, it was due to my marginally better Kinyarwanda (and context). Understanding that one word in their conversation reminded me of all the other words I didn’t (but should) know. For whatever reason, that particular moment was the start of my identity crisis. Perhaps it’s because I envied the fact they could claim to be Indonesian through and through; whereas, I don’t feel like I belong.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
In the preceding verse, Jesus tells His disciples that the love they ought to have for one another should be equivalent to how He has loved them. Although ‘disciple’ is most commonly used to refer to the literal 12 disciples of Jesus when He was on Earth, it can also be used, more generally, to refer to ‘followers.’ In Matthew 28:19, He tells the literal (now 11) disciples to make disciples of all nations. Therefore, you and I are indeed disciples!
In this verse, He specifically invited them (and us) to agape love. Any other type of love would be shortchanging the receiver. I’ve already discussed the characteristics of love in “Darling, Don’t Acquiesce!”, but what’s interesting about this verse is the clear connection between love and belonging (see also John 13:1b).
Love is more than a principle or emotion; it ‘speaks.’
This verse could be paraphrased as “everyone will know that you belong to me if you love others as I have loved you.” In other words, agape is akin to a language: it communicates to the receiver that there is something unique about the love they are receiving. The definition of love given in Corinthians 13:4-7 is one of the most practical ways to share God because it describes the essence of His being. God is love. Agape allows people to see God through you.
The fact that Jesus confidently states that others will recognise that you are His disciple infers that nobody else has a love quite like agape love. Verbal communication notwithstanding, it is in fact your actions that do the talking. There’s a big difference between hearing that you’re loved, and experiencing said love. Disciples are one medium through which love is communicated, but what does a disciple look like? You! Matthew 28:19 is all-inclusive.
Anyone can speak the language of God.
Although, to some, speaking English fluently and growing up in England will never make me truly British. And to others, not speaking Kinyarwanda fluently, or growing up in Rwanda will never make me truly Rwandan. With God, simply speaking the language constitutes belonging because it’s impossible to achieve such a feat without Him. Agape love is difficult to master! Disciples of Christ are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). Although we don’t look the same, we should be united in our fluency of the most important language: love.
Irrespective of whether or not you’re a polyglot, you need to learn the language of God. Security in your earthly identity is great. However, I pray that you would make strides to be a disciple of Christ through and through.