Love: It’s who I AM! (Week 1)

“The Life-Transforming Love of Jesus!”

1 John 4:19 & John 13:34-35

In preparation for my sabbatical (that is only 4 months away) I want to share with you some of my heart-felt desires for us. I have been praying for the church and three big foci keep standing out to me for now and into our future. Let me introduce them by asking three questions:

 

1) Are we a church focused on yoking with Jesus by studying the Bible to learn all that Jesus commanded us?

2) Are we a church focused on praying (communicating with God) as Jesus taught us and modeled for us?

3) Are we a church focused on loving others as God first loved us?

 

Today, right now, if we had a reputation in our community, I would want it to be found in one word: LOVE! To hear from our community, “We may not agree with them on some things or understand their faith in Jesus, but those Christians from FBC sure do love us well.” LOVE!

 

What the community sees is the tip of the iceberg of who we are! How we love others is a visible part of who we are as Jesus’ people. Invisible to most, including to one another, is our time with Jesus—our personal Bible study and prayer times. The good fruit of all that is invisible to our community is love! The Bible calls love a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the collective fruit shows our maturity in Jesus. It’s what we get when we connect with Jesus. Allow me to share a short illustration: Once upon a time, I was an athlete. No one saw how fast I sprinted in practice or how much I lifted in the weight room or how well I rested or practiced or kept my diet. In fact, if someone came bragging to me about how much they benched or squatted, but didn’t compete well, I was far from impressed! What matters to people are game day results, but every successful athlete will tell you it is what happens that is not visible that determines those results! For us, that is LOVE! If you tell people how much you read your Bible and how hard you pray, but you don’t love, they will not be moved![1]

 

We are called as disciples of Jesus, members of God’s household, to “love others as God first loved us.” In fact, the Apostle John, who is called the beloved of Jesus, teaches in 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.”[2]

 

We just celebrated Easter and we saw God’s eternal love exemplified for us in Jesus Christ. The night before His death, Jesus gave a new commandment to the Church, in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love [ἀγαπάω] one another, even as I have loved [ἀγαπάω] you, that you also love [ἀγαπάω] one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love [ἀγάπη] for one another.”[3]

 

The Greek word agape is a key focus of this text because we are to love one another with God’s heart, His eternal love, an unconditional love that we cannot produce on our own. We are to give to others that which we first received. Listen to one commentator reflect on John 13:34-35,

 

The point is surely clear: The mutually lived-out heart love of Christians for one another will be the single greatest missionary force in the world. It is important to notice that the power for disciples’ love for one another does not come from the disciples themselves; it comes from the preceding love of Christ for them, a love they already know and experience. So disciples are not being asked to “work up” a love they do not already have at work in them by Jesus’ presence with them and by his prior and continuing love for them. They are more simply asked to let this love (that they already have and are experiencing) enjoy its source (Jesus) and its goal (other people). In teaching settings, in order to catch the full force of the Greek, I have sometimes translated our verse this way: “Keep on loving one another out of the well of my love for you! Come on, keep on loving one another!”[4] (emphasis original)

 

Today, you are being given a wrist band that we want you to wear. If you brought some kids with you today and they are in children’s church they are getting a wrist band too. The kids’ wrist bands simply say “love” and our wrist bands say, “loving others as God first loves us”. We want you to make God’s love visible to our communities. You may have received your wrist band on the way in, if not you will receive it on the way out. Please put it on and wear it for the next 6 weeks as we go through this series. Please memorize it, then remember who you are!

 

While the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-21), it never says “love is God”. There is a big difference and one that begins and ends with Jesus. You don’t become loving focusing on love, but by focusing on the God who is love. Love is the outflow of your relationship with God.

 

How then do we become more loving if not by trying to be loving? Within this question is the key. You can’t become more loving by focusing on being loving. It doesn’t work. You have to set your eyes on becoming more like Jesus, who is love!

 

Disciples of Jesus are to be…

1) Jesus-yoked: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:29).We are committed to applying the Bible in relationship with Jesus and people, not as rules, but as people who are “full of grace and truth” like Jesus. Remember, we can be right and wrong at the same time! Right in what we believe and wrong in how we live it and communicate it. The great proof of our relationship with Jesus is how we are like Him!

 

2) Prayer-connected and Spirit-empowered: We are in an ongoing conversation with God, as a way of life. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without connection to God, we are powerless to love as Jesus loved us! We are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. With 1 & 2 in place, we can then do #3 truly and from the inside-out.

 

3) Loving others like Jesus: We are living out the Father’s Heart that we just spent 8 weeks focusing on in our “Belong” series based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is where our “7:1 Initiative” hits home. Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are investing in? Are we serving others well in our communities—where is your 1 place of service that you are giving yourself to others in the name of Jesus?

 

Is your love real love (from the Source) or “fish love” (for yourself)? Watch this video to understand the difference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMcHtSjtNBY

 

Counterfeit loves doesn’t work and it doesn’t last! We need the real thing and that can only happen through a relationship with Jesus Christ! How do we learn to be like Jesus?

 

Listen to this book excerpt that illustrates the answer to this question:

 

Many [people] are trapped in brokenness that may not have to do with moral failure, but they really need help in putting their relationship back together. What’s their hope? Their hope, like ours, is the gospel. If the gospel can’t heal the worst situations when people yield, repent and open themselves to the disciplining, restoring grace of God, then the gospel isn’t worth much. But we know the gospel is worth everything because Christ provided it through His death and resurrection. People can sincerely seek healing for brokenness; however, they’ll never find it if the Christian community around them isn’t committed to healing. And that’s one of the tragedies occurring in places where men and women have failed—the Christian community doesn’t have the will to offer healthy healing. Only when the Church commits itself to restorative ministry will men and women stop acting in self-righteousness and, with the tenderness of Galatians 6:1, start being committed to getting every broken player back on the field again to serve in the Kingdom. Then I think we’ll see a revival spirit break out as we begin to act as if we believe restoration is possible and desirable.[5]

 

In response to this quote, one of our elders wrote me, “That’s awesome. And radical love, like the one demonstrated by Jesus, is all that will work. Not the pseudo-love that we often show, which often has as much self-interest and reciprocity baked in as any semblance of real love. No sacrifice, really very little discomfort.”

 

What the elder was talking about is the difference between real love (that comes from God first and is on display for the world to see through Jesus) and the fish love you heard the rabbi speak about earlier. When we love others with a desire for them to love us more or to reciprocate the love, then we are not loving them, we are loving ourselves through them.

 

This sermon is just the beginning of a 6-week series called, “Love: It’s who I AM” and this is not just a 6-Sunday focus on love. To love as God first loved us as Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[6]

 

What flows in and through you and out of you throughout you days, your circumstances? If there is bad fruit, then get to the root of it—confess, repent, and ask Jesus to transform you from the inside out! You can’t change yourself and you can’t make yourself a loving person and your relationships will suffer if you are peddling a counterfeit version of love. In fact, the testimony of Jesus suffers when His Church deals in counterfeit love!

 

The only way we will become people who love others as God first loved us is to receive the love of the Father by grace, as a gift! Paul said in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[7] God’s love is a love you don’t clean up to receive and you can’t work to earn it. It’s grace and once received it will fundamentally change who you are! God’s love is a life-transforming love! We have been placed in this area and in this time to be a part of Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. The gospel transforms stories and we have the privilege to make that our focus.

 

How is our love for God and for one another in the church family attracting others to want to belong to the family of God? This is not a task to do. This is not an evangelistic strategy. This is not a church growth campaign. This is not a new class or method. This is who you are when you are in Christ.

 

Love: It’s who I AM! It’s who I AM in Christ Jesus. I am a new creation with a new nature. Behold the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thank you Jesus!

 

If I asked those closest to you to describe you in one word, what would that word be? Would it be ‘love’?  
 
 
Listen to it here.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] “The formidable Augustine of Hippo believed that all Christian reading of Scripture should be governed by the pursuit of virtue. In his case, he emphasized love (charity) above all else. As far as Augustine was concerned, reading Scripture should encourage the reader’s love for God and for his or her neighbor. ‘So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them’” (E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012], 189–190). In an article on evangelizing Muslims, after great effort to discuss theology and approaches, the Patrick O. Cate writes, “However, no matter what we do or how we look at it, the sine quo non of introducing Muslims to our Savior and Lord is love and prayer” (Patrick O. Cate, “Gospel Communication from Within” (International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol 11:2 April 1994), 97.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 4:19.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 13:34–35. Emily Hurst, one of our church’s worship leaders, commented on this passage and provided an excellent resource to understand the depth of its language, “This being Jesus’ final command gives it great weight, and the Greek here makes it even more powerful. “Agapate allelous”, Love, here, is the agape love. The unconditional love, the soul-level love with which God loves us. It’s fairly obviously Jesus didn’t command us to “eros” love here; but I believe many have interpreted this verse to be referencing “phileo” love or “storge” love. Especially the latter, which is defined as natural affection or obligation. Instead, Jesus called us to value one another highly, as precious and to place the well-being of others above ourselves. I found this resource that broke down the four kinds well: https://www.mcleanbible.org/sites/default/files/Multiply-Resources/Chap3/GreekWordsforLoveWS_Chapter3.pdf.”

[4] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2012), 796.

[5] H. B. London Jr., Neil B. Wiseman, and J. F. Dobson, Pastors at Greater Risk (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), Chapter 4.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 3:16.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ro 5:8.
 

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