It’s hard to believe this is the final week of our series “Who Are You, And What Are You Doing Here?”. For these eight weeks we’ve been diving into this question of who and what is the church, and what are we called to be and do.
Now, for the dramatic conclusion, as they say in tvland.
Our covenant states, “We covenant to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate the graces of sympathy of heart and of courtesy of speech; to be slow to take offence and quick to forgive, mindful of the rules of our Saviour that we are to do so without delay.”
Above all else, put on love, says Paul. Of all the things we are called to excel at for our Lord, love is the one he placed above all the others. Love, says Paul will bind the others together. Love will help you remain in covenant, motivate you to obey, give, to make disciples, to worship, to share the good news and pursue the King and his Kingdom.
Love will make all the other things make sense. If we don’t have love the rest will never work out as God is planning. So Jesus, in his final instructions to his disciples tells them to love.
1. Love is a command.
John 15:12 says “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Not, love is nice. Maybe you should try it some time. You have to. It’s not an optional add on like a sunroof and leather interior. It’s not just A command, it’s THE command, and it’s HIS command.
Matthew records for us this interaction (22:34-40):
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
Everything else God’s people are called to do, depend on love. It was always, even in the Old Covenant the priority in terms of application- and the two commandments go together. It’s not multiple choice. Loving God and loving each other cannot be separated; “he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:21)
Now, someone may throw out an objection here. I know I see something already which makes me ponder… If love is demanded, is it authentic love. Kallistos Ware wrote, “God will not force us to love him, for love is no longer love if it is not free”. So, Jesus’ command here has to be handled with some care. Miroslav Volf suggests “If the commandment to love God and neighbor were the heart of the Christian faith, it would be a religion of law not a religion of love. The heart of our faith is the reality of *God’s* love: God as love, God’s creative and redeeming love.”
Which brings us to our next point:
2. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Our love is a response. Yes, we are commanded to love, but that love must not flow from obligation, but from experience. God does not tell us to love and not clarify for us. The command to love is not held in isolation from the understanding that God has demonstrated his love for us. We have to keep this command to love one another within the context of John 13-17. John records this long interaction between Jesus and the disciples which follows this theme of loving, serving, being unified, and finding strength in being one with the Father and Son through the Spirit (the paraclete as he is called in the section- the one “called to the side”, the advocate). The command to love each other is rooted in Jesus’ call to “remain in me”.
Here at Centre Street we have this motto: “God’s love experienced and shared” We emblazened that on the facade front and centre on the pipes. You don’t plaster anything on the pipes of the organ if you aren’t serious about it, if it doesn’t matter A LOT. Just ask Gerald. We have to learn how to love by seeing it in action. Our love for others is rooted in God’s love to us. We need love in order to show love.
Paul writes, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12-14)
Act that way BECAUSE you are chosen and loved. Forgive because you have been forgiven. Be united to others because you have been united with Christ Jesus. Treat others as Jesus has treated you. Give what you have been given.
3. Love as He loved.
He changes it up- don’t just love one another, but love, as I have loved you. (He says this twice, in John 13 & 15). How does Jesus love? Self-giving, self-emptying, sacrificially. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus goes all out. He fought our battle for us. He did for us what we could not do. Why? What could possibly compel the King of the universe to empty himself, to take on the form of a slave and take on our battle against death? To fight for those in rebellion against him? To fight for his enemies? It’s delightfully subversive and mind-blowing.
What but the highest possible love would lead anyone to ever do something so outrageous?
Love should cost you something, or it isn’t love. Loving as Jesus loved will require sacrifice. Love is not just a sentimental, warm fuzzy, gushy feeling. It’s a conscious decision to share yourself with others, to give of yourself for the sake of another. Loving God and loving neighbour isn’t easy. It may mean doing something completely absurd, something irrational, something out of your comfort zone. Some days you may not want to love your brother or sister in Christ. But set aside your own self-serving agenda and give yourself to someone else.
Ever do something totally stupid to show someone you cared? Sometimes even God does things which seem completely absurd. He showed up in a bush that was on fire, but not consumed and then he sent an 80 year old guy with a stutter to set the King of Egypt straight. He told Gideon to send most of his army of 32 000 home and take on an army of thousands with 300 men. He told Ezekial to eat food he cooked over manure. He picked fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors and told them to change the world. He touched lepers. He stooped to wash feet. Jews were instructed that they could not force their slaves to wash feet (Midrash Mekilta on Ex. 21:2). And if that wasn’t enough, He allowed his incarnated Word to be hung on history’s most gruesome torture device, naked and alone to die. And then, he walked out of a tomb.
But that’s what Jesus is getting at. That’s the love we should have for one another- the kind of love that says I don’t care if I’m the king of the universe- I’ll sleep in a trough. I’ll accept the shame people try to heap on me for the company I keep. I’ll wash your feet. I’ll listen to their false accusations. I’ll take a flogging. I’ll pick up this wooden beam and carry up a hill so these guys can nail me to it. I’ll hang there and die. And I’ll do it so that death will die. I will do it so you can live as I live.
4. Love is an identifying mark
Jesus tells us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Not your doctrine, or your programs, our your beautiful buildings, or your podcast. Without love, nothing else matters. As Paul puts it, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Prophesy, miracles, everything takes a back seat to love. Yeah, if you want to show you’re a disciple- love.
This may sound harsh and controversial, but it is biblical- if you don’t love, think twice before you call yourself a Christian; “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar” (1 John 4:20). If we are going to call ourselves Christians, we have to have love. A loveless church is an oxymoron; like jumbo shrimp, bureaucratic efficiency, vegetarian meatballs, or airline food
In Conclusion, will we be cymbals and gongs?
Or are we truly prepared to take on the cost of really one another?
It’s a tough road, but if this or any congregation wants to be a faithful witness of our Lord to our community, we have set aside the bitterness, the grudges. We have to stop tearing others down, and start speaking with love. We have to be brave enough to take a stand against graceless bickering, self-righteous judgement and legalistic adherence to a man-made system of rules and protocols, and stick God’s first and greatest command first and foremost- to love God, and secondly to love my neighbour as myself. Yes, we should pursue excellence in everything, but if we can’t manage it in love, then we fail. We have to make the first thing first. Then, and ONLY then, can we be who we are called to be, and do what we have been called to do.
So, who are you? Who is Centre Street Baptist Church? And what are we doing here? We are called to be a community of God’s people, bound in covenantal relationship under Christ our King. We are called to be those who love the Lord, and love our neighbours, because He has shown us how to love.
Will we simply become gongs and cymbals or will we covenant together to say yes to God and be like stars shining in the world?