Nothing Without This
October 11, 2020 | Randy Smith
Nothing Without This
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
We have been coving a lot of topical messages during the COVID season. Today, I would like to present the solution to everything—love.
Before I begin this sermon, I wish to ask you a question. "What is love?" How would you define this popular concept? If I gave you a slip of paper with two words that said, "Love is ... " how would you complete the sentence? There is no doubt that love is one of the most popular thoughts, but ironically, it's one of the most difficult to define.
In seeking an answer, I found a website that offered 613 definitions for love. Here is just a sampling:
- "Love is a fire that reigns in the heart."
- "Love is like swallowing hot chocolate before it has cooled off. It takes you by surprise at first, but keeps you warm for a long time."
- "Love is a journey not a destination."
- "Love is a precious gift that you receive, and you need to give it with caution!"
- "When love comes so strong there is no right or wrong. Your love is your love."
- "Love is too strong a word to say it too early, but it has too beautiful a meaning to say it too late."
- "The first sign of love is the last of wisdom."
- "Love is my religion!"
Amidst such contradiction and mysticism, you might walk away even more confused!
Since all humans believe that love exists, why can't we reach unanimity on a collective definition? Is it because we have not experienced true love ourselves? Is it because we have misunderstood the concept of love? Is it because we (as the country song declares) look for love in all the wrong places?
The Bible emphatically declares, "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8). Since God is our Creator and the embodiment of love, shouldn't we logically begin by looking to Him, not only for the definition, but also for the reception of love we crave and should seek to give? And if love is such an important concept both to us and God, isn't also logical to believe that He would reveal all that is necessary to know about love to those whom He has created in His image?
In a crucial sermon this morning, I would like to present to you the biblical response regarding the definition and expression of love. Together, from God's perspective, we'll examine the what, how and why behind the greatest commandment to love one another, especially as it pertains to loving those within the body of Christ.
1. The "What" Behind The Command
Let's begin with the first point, the "what" behind the command.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to clearly realize God's command. Three times in the span of two verses (34 and 35), the Apostle John makes it abundantly clear that we are to "love one another." This is not a suggestion, nor it is simply wise advice. It is a command!
Also, Jesus identifies the commandment to love as one which> is "new." The beginning of verse 34 states, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another." Confusion has often surrounded the newness of the command, because elsewhere in John's letters regarding the love command we read: "Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginningÉ On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you" (1 Jn. 2:7-8a; c.f. 3:11; 2 Jn. 1:6). So, is the requirement to love one another a new or old commandment? The answer is "yes."
Let me explain. From the dawn of revelation, the command to love God and love one another has been clearly stated in Scripture (Dt. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). There was nothing new in this command. The priority of love for God and love for others was made known from the beginning. Jesus Himself stated that love for God and love for one another were the two greatest commandments and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law (Mt. 22:36-40; c.f. Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14). The love command is as old as creation.
Yet this commandment is also new. How? Let's move to the second point.
2. The "How" Behind The Command
The newness of the command comes in the extent or degree of how we love one another. In verse 34 Jesus calls us to "Love one another even as I have loved you." In other words, we are to love one another with the same love we have received from Christ.
A pastor from old stated the new commandment like this: "Love was now to be explained with new clearness, enforced by new motives and obligations, illustrated by a new example, and obeyed in a new manner" (Scott, Quoted in Pink, John, 749). Once again, with the coming of Christ came a newer and higher standard to be obeyed – Christ-centered living. The new commandment is more than only loving others as we love ourselves. The measure of love must now parallel the love Christ has for us.
I was thinking of the many ways people choose to define or express love. Maybe we should compare these common ways with the love demonstrated by Christ. Some believe love is needing another individual. Yet Christ existed perfectly content from all eternity without us. He doesn't love us because He needs us. Some believe love is a special feeling. Yet Christ's love is not transitory like feelings. Rather it is determined and consistent without degrees of variation. Some people believe love is physical attraction. Yet Christ loves us for who we are, not how we look. Spiritually speaking we are very unattractive. Some believe love is only an expression of words. Yet the love of Christ demonstrated on the cross speaks far louder than verbal communication. Along these lines, by way of summary, A.W. Pink said, "Christ had displayed a love superior to the faults of its objects, a love which never varied, a love which deemed no sacrifice too great" (Pink, John, pg. 748).
Simply put, our model of love is not the world, but rather Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 4:11). Looking backward in John's Gospel, we see how Christ washed the disciple's feet (Jn. 13:1-11) and then exhorted us to follow His example (Jn. 13:15). Looking forward, in chapter 15 Jesus will say, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:12-13). How can we forget the love He displayed for us at Calvary? We also are to follow His example by dying to self for the betterment of others.
Well, this new commandment may be simply stated, but we would all agree it is not simply followed! Before exasperation sets in regarding this lofty commandment, let me see if I can provide some words of comfort and assistance.
First of all, we must realize that we will never arrive. None of us, this side of eternity will ever completely love one another as Christ loves us, just as no husband will ever master Ephesians 5:25 by loving his wife as Christ loves the church. Though we make every ambition to strive for this high standard, we should realize how miserably short we fall. Such an understanding should lead to profound humility, which then facilitates greater dependence on His grace. Grace for what? Grace that is needed not only for forgiveness, but also empowerment to be more successful in the future. We are desperate for grace to love one another as Christ loves us.
This is why is the Christian standard so high? Because we will only succeed if God's supernatural power is working through us. God has structured it so that we will be fully dependent on His grace. Where sin reigns, grace abounds all the more. And when Christ raises the bar in the New Covenant, He provides the Holy Spirit. And that power, in the Person of the Holy Spirit is reigning in the life of every believer. As we yield to the Spirit, He bears fruit in our life enabling us to obey and hence fulfill the commandment to love one another, because as you know, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). Displaying this love then becomes no longer a duty or a chore, but rather the natural overflow of God's love already in our heart vertically given, flowing back to God and horizontally from us to others.
So, first of all, in order to love one another as Christ loves us we must be dependent on and submissive to the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Second, we must have experienced the love of Christ for ourselves. And in order to understand His love, we must continually see the magnitude of our sin against the backdrop of God's holiness. Only then will we see His patient, unconditional, undeserving, sacrificial, endless and forgiving love. And once we have a profound encounter with Christ's love in our own life, we will not only understand this love, but also desire to express it to others, especially to His children (Gal. 6:10).
How can I love that sister who has stabbed me in the back? By realizing Christ's love despite my stabbing Him in the back. How can I love that brother with bad breath and dirty clothes? By realizing Christ's love despite my filthy sins. How can I love that sister who is spiritually immature? By realizing Christ's love despite my immaturity. How can I love that brother who is so demanding? By realizing Christ's love despite my demands.
In Matthew 5:46 Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?"
And let's remember, Jesus did not extend His love to me only to be kept to myself for a personal blessing. That's not Christianity, that's selfishness! Someone once said regarding this agape love, "Love in your heart isn't put there to stay. Love isn't love till you give it away"
God shows us His love and then empowers us to extend His love to others. But how does it practically look? In other words, how do we love others in the church the way Christ loves us? Generally, we must understand what Christ has done on our behalf and then emulate His example (1 Jn. 2:6). We should treat others as Christ treats us. We should do to others what Jesus Himself would do were He still physically present. Specifically speaking, we must love without partiality. Jesus went out of His way to love the sinners and rejected of His day. We too must love others regardless of their social status, attractiveness, age, gender, ethnicity, spiritual maturity and personal interests. We must love in deeds and not only in words and emotions (1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Thes. 1:3; 1 Jn. 3:18). Love is a verb and Jesus demonstrated His love by actions. We too must love others through visitation, physical and financial assistance, hospitality and encouragement. We must love eternally. John 13:1 says Jesus loved His own faithfully until the end. We too must demonstrate love that is unconditional, ongoing and strong through the winds of adversity.
Augustine said, "What does (this love) look like? It has hands to help others, feet to hasten the poor and needy, eyes to see misery and want, ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like" (Swindoll, Illustrations, pg. 360).
Maybe the Apostle Paul put it best, "Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Cor. 16:14).
3. The "Why" Behind The Command
We have examined the "what" and the "how" behind the love command, let's move to the third and final point, the "why" behind the command. What is the higher goal for our love? In verse 35 Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Many Christians are similar to the cleaning store I once read about. As a result of poor planning, Dennis, from Katy, Texas, needed some same-day dry cleaning before he left on a trip. He remembered one store with a huge sign, 'One-Hour Dry Cleaners,' on the other side of town, so he drove out of his way to drop off a suit. After filling out the tag, he told the clerk, "I need this in an hour." She said, "I can't get this back to you until Thursday." "I thought you did dry cleaning in an hour?" replied Dennis. "No," she replied, "That's just the name of the store."
We are not to be Christians in name only. According to verse 35, our distinguishing mark is not church affiliation or a fish sticker on our rear bumper or Christian lingo or ministry. It's not even Sound doctrine! Verse 35 clearly says that our badge of Christian discipleship is love. And when such love for one other is put on display, a watching world should recognize us as Christ's disciples. Don't miss the condition in verse 35. If and only if we have this love for one another, will all men know that we are Christ's disciples. Love is our jersey, our tattoo, our banner, our colors, which identifies us as belonging to God's team.
Regarding the early church and the new commandment, Alexander Maclauren in Expositions of Holy Scripture said, "[In the early church] Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant sat down at one table, and felt themselves all one in Christ Jesus. They were ready to break all other bonds, and yield to the uniting forces that streamed out from His Cross. There never had been anything like it. No wonder that the world began to babble about sorcery, and conspiracies, and complicity in unnamable vices. It was only that disciples were obeying the new commandment, and a new thing had come into the world – a community held together by love and not by geographical accidents or linguistic affinities or the iron fetters of the conquerorÉ The new commandment made a new thing, and the world wondered" (Maclauren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, pg. 227-228).
Leon Morris, in his book, Reflection on the Gospel of John, remarked, "Tertullian, who lived towards the end of the second century, said that the heathen said of believers, 'Behold, how these Christians love one another!' Minucius Felix reports the comment of a heathen called Caecilius: 'They love one another almost before they know one another'. The heathen, of course, were prejudiced against the Christians. They did not like them at all and were ready to spread any slander about them. They ridiculed and opposed them. They put them in jail and executed them. But they were compelled to pay their grudging tribute to Christian love. It was undeniable. Such references ought to make modern Christians think hard. There are not many places in our busy, materialistic world where we believers so live as to compel the heathen to bear their testimony to the love we have for one another. On the contrary, they often accuse us of bickering among ourselves, of hardness, of indulging in petty criticisms of one another, of backbiting, of intolerance ... Modern Christians should give serious thought to the importance of love for one another" (Morris, Reflections, p. 485-486).
Imagine with me for one moment a church where everybody loved one another as Christ loves them. Visualize with me: No backbiting, no bickering, no complaining, no petty complaints, no gossip, no rudeness; only gentleness, selflessness, service, acceptance, kindness, patience, and humility. How such a church would be a refuge for those who get abused by a persecuting and vicious world! How such a church would demonstrate to unbelievers the power of love as the solution to child abuse, abortion, divorce, crime, depression, racism, drug and human trafficking, pornography, and terrorism! How such a church would adorn the gospel to people who are desperately seeking to find radical, genuine and faithful love! Yet based on the way some "Christians" act, I'm not surprised that the world both mocks and ignores our faith. Oh, how a loving church would glorify God by reflecting His love so profoundly displayed in our lives!
Francis Schaeffer once wrote, "We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus' claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of oneness of true Christians. Now that is frightening. Should we not feel some emotion at this point" (Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World, Christianity Today, v. 34, n. 1)?