“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Matthew 5:46.
In this verse, Jesus describes “tax-collector” love. What is “tax-collector” love? It’s love that is natural. It’s love that loves its own kind. It’s natural for mothers to love their own babies. It’s natural for the English to love the English (though, it’s also natural for us not to show it!). It’s natural for West Ham fans to love other West Ham fans. It’s natural for Hindus to love Hindus. It’s natural for tax collectors to love tax-collectors. This “tax-collector” love can be sincere and sacrificial. “Tax-collector” love can be willing to put itself out for fellow tax-collectors, when it sees them in need. “Tax-collector” love can be produced by team-building exercises, and by socialising together. It’s built up over time, as you experience the highs and lows of life together. There’s nothing wrong with “tax-collector” love.
But, in this verse, Jesus wants Christians to show a love that is higher than “tax-collector” love. In the context, Jesus call us to love our enemies (v.44). But this raises the question: is the love we have for one another as Christians just another version of “tax collector” love? Is it any different to the way members of the local chess club could start to care for each other, if they tried? I think it’s important to recognise the real danger that believers’ love for one another can, at times, be nothing more than “tax collector” love. It can be based merely on going to shared meetings, singing the same songs, and socialising lots. So, how do we stop our love being merely “tax-collector” love? The puritan, John Owen, answered that question like this in a catechism that he wrote: we need to be committed to the true worship of God. He points out that the real origin of Christian love isn’t natural but supernatural (or “evangelical”, as he calls it). It comes from our adoption by the same Father, our union with Jesus our elder Brother, and our indwelling by the same Holy Spirit. John Owen says:
“that love which is not built on these principles and foundations [of worshipping the Triune God] is not evangelical, whatever other ground it may have, or occasion it may pretend unto” (p.462, vol 15, Works).
Isn’t that a challenge? What ground is our love for each other built on? Let’s aim to show Ilford a love that is worlds apart from “tax collector” love. How? Well, it won’t be by drumming it up from inside ourselves. It won’t come from simply concentrating on each other, and learning about each other. It won’t come from team building exercises. No, the source of “evangelical” love is God himself. So, let’s give our all to worshipping him. Turn up on Sunday ready to engage with him. Sing your heart out to him. Adore Christ’s grace to you. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. The way to love our brothers and sisters with something higher than “tax collector” love is to give ourselves to God.