Monday, December 20, 2010

Like The Ones You Love

Today I want to talk about the church, and an area that I think many churches and Christians are failing at.  Today I want to talk about a very important, very direct command Jesus gave to His church:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:34-35 NKJV
What I first want to do is to do away with a common statement given in regard to loving one another.  We sometimes say "I have to love them, but I do not have to like them."  How loving is it to go to someone and say "I love you because God told me I have to, but I really do not like you."  If someone said that to you, would you feel that they loved you?  Of course you wouldn't.  I understand that sometimes personalities do not match, but the fact is that if there is an issue where you do not "like" a brother or sister in the Lord, you need to take that to God.  That person is your brother or sister in the Lord.  Sometimes our dislike for a brother or sister is based in some wrong they have done to us.  That is completely unjustifiable in Scripture.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. " Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV
Perhaps you want to argue that this verse just says forgive people their trespasses, not trespasses directly against you.
Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV
This also answers the question as to whether you should love someone who continues to sin against you.  The fact that your brother or sister in the Lord continues to sin against you time and time again is no excuse not to love that person. 

So what of someone who not only continues to sin against us, but never even apologizes for it.  What do we do about the brother who does not love us, are we still called to love them?  Well with Christ's command that we even love our enemies (and a brother in the Lord even at enmity with us is still not our enemy), we are even to love those brothers and sisters who act more like an enemy than anything else. If you are still not convinced, here is some Scripture.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:8-10 NKJV
Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God.  Jesus died for us while we were still sinners.  In that example, we must love our brothers and sisters in the Lord even if they continue to unapologetically sin against us. 

And that brings me to another point.  Our call to love one another is to do so in the example of Jesus. Jesus continues to forgive us our sins and so we must continue to forgive one another's sins.  Jesus loved us while we were yet unlovable and so we must love one another no matter how unlovable they may seem.  Now these are theological terms, so let me put this into more everyday language to make things clear. 
"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another." John 15:13-17 NKJV
Jesus calls us His friend.  He calls us his friend and tells us that so we can love one another.  And just like Jesus calls us his friends (who continue to sin against him, who were enemies of His and sinners when He died for us, who showed His love in that He died for us), how much more are we to consider us all friends of each other.  How many friends do you have that you do not like?  I think I made that point.  We are to not just love one another, but also like one another.  We are to consider each other to be friends.  That is the example and command of Christ.

So now that we know we are to like and love one another, we need to see what that means in our lives.  Our first example, of course, is Jesus.  Jesus loved us enough that he died for us.  We must love one another sacrificially as well. Our love must be an active love and not just a theological love.  What I mean is that for love to be real, that love must have actions. 
But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.  1 John 3:17-19 NKJV
Our love can not just be a love of words, but of action.  It is meaningless to tell someone that you love them when there are no actions to back it up.  Jesus did not tell us to say we love one another, but he told us to love one another. 

This passage also brings up the first way that we love another and that is in being generous with one another.  We must not hold back when we can help a struggling brother or sister.  What it comes down to is whether we love our treasures more than our brother or more accurately whether we love our treasures more than we love the Lord.  If we hold onto what we have while allowing our brother to suffer, we will be accountable to that before God. 

This love goes beyond just material support, but emotional as well.  We must bear one another's burdens.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2 NKJV
We must bear one another's burdens.  This goes beyond material help.  There should be no such thing as a friendless Christian as we are called to be friends.  But one other issue I need to address is that our love for each other is sometimes a tough love. 
But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner— not even to eat with such a person.  1 Corinthians 5:11 NKJV
I know this does not sound like you are being a friend.  We are basically called to abandon to the world someone who refuses to repent.  But the goal of this is ultimate restoration.  The is not so much abandoning someone, but getting out of the way so that God can deal with that person.  It is hard, but it is the loving thing to do.  I have written on this many times, but I think this is an area we fail in just as much if not more than the call to love one another.  We think we are loving a friend, but all we are doing is justifying their sin but accepting it in their lives.  This is also the example of Jesus.  Not the abandoning as Jesus will never leave us or forsake us and we are no abandoning someone so much as leaving them in the hands of God, but the example is in not accepting sin in the lives of the ones we love.  Jesus chastises us when we fail to repent on our own.  Jesus draws away from a brother or sister who does not abide in Him.  Jesus does the work of sanctification in our lives to cleanse us from the stain of sin.  In that same spirit, we must step back and allow that work to continue.  But we often fail.  We choose relationship over God and that friendship becomes your idol.  Truly loving someone sometimes means make hard and difficult choices. 

Can we say that we are friends with our brothers and sisters in the Lord?  Do we treat them as such?  Do we lift them up and encourage them?  Do we chastise and challenge when necessary?  Do we try to avoid people we are called to love?  Do we allow and even enable sin in their lives?  Do we not hold back when a brother or sister is in need?  Do we bear their burdens?  Do we treat them as a friend regardless of how they treat us?  Do we love them even if they seem unlovable?  That is our calling.  We are not called to be friends to those who are friends with us.  We are not called to love only those who love us back.  We are called to be friends with and love all of our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  We are called to do all of that so that the world sees our love for one another as a testimony to the power of God in our lives.  Remember the words of Christ "By this the world will know you are my disciples."  I wonder sometimes how important that is to us.  I see so much gossip, trash talking, anger, grudges, arguing, selfishness, putting people down, and worse and all for trivial reasons. 

Let me share a story before I close.  I was at a family gathering to celebrate Christmas and my wife's birthday and in the beginning of the evening, there was a football game.  My wife and I were the lone fans of the losing team and I have to admit I was wrongly upset when my team lost.  I should have just given it to the Lord, but I did not.  I was angry and I hurt my wife's feelings.   I did not show the love I was called to show and whole it does not excuse my actions, no one challenged me on my behavior.  We did find a private place to talk and dealt with my issue and had a nice evening.  Another person there must have told each and every person who came to visit about my wife cheering for that other team.  I must have heard the story about twenty times and while it was frustrating, I tried (and probably feebly so) to share that what he was doing was not in the example of Christ. What he was doing was not loving at all.  Of course you can bring up that trash-talking is part of the world of sports, but those of us in Christ are not part of the world.  We are called to higher standards and I daresay that if nonbelievers were there, they would have seen us just like the rest of the world.  Instead of loving Christians celebrating the birth of our Lord and celebrating the birthday of my wife, it became more about what team she was a fan of.  What kind of witness would that have been?  Non-christians would have seen Christians acting just as worldly as anyone else.  I failed, that other person failed, and our witness would have been void, all for a football game. 

Brothers and sisters, we must love one another. We must be friends with one another.  We must share the love of Christ with one another.  We must treat each other with the same love, grace, and care that Christ has shown us.  Everyday that we live and every time that we gather, it must be centered around our love of Christ and by extension our love for one another.  We just lift each other up, not tear each other down.  We must bear one another's burdens and not add to them.  We must not just tell someone we will "pray" for them as an excuse not the help them (not that prayer is bad, but that prayer needs to be a call to action and not an excuse for lack of action), but take out your wallet and check book and be that answer to prayer.  We must challenge each other in their sin before that sin hurts them (and it will eventually hurt them).  We must be friends, not just to those who are friends to us but to all who are in the Lord.  Our witness depends on our obedience.  I will close with how an early but loving church changed the world.
Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:41-47 NKJV

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