A New Commandment

We are living in desperate times.  Families are crumbling, high school children are having children at an alarming rate, drug abuse is subtly distorting the minds and values of our culture, people are more isolated . . .indifferent to those around them.  Immoral behavior is celebrated and championed and brought into our home through the media on a daily basis.  People are worshiping things and are saddled with enormous debt.  We know it’s true . . .some of us are living these things.

But my intention is not to moan about society but to instead ask an important question: “Why is the church having so little impact on this society?”

Some suggest that the church just needs to modernize.  We need to learn from those who market products in the world.  We need to find what people want . . . and then give it to them.  And so the church scrambles to be more like the world it is trying to save.

In this wonderful passage of Scripture, Jesus suggests that the key to impacting our world is someplace else.  He suggests that the key to impacting the world is for Christians to love each other.

Our text tells us that Judas has just left the Last Supper.  Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man Glorified.”  Jesus realizes that the departure of Judas is going to put into motion the events that will reveal the Son and the Father in their glory.  Through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus we are going to see God’s love, justice, mercy and grace in a brighter light than it has ever been seen before.  God will be glorified through the events that are about to take place.

Then Jesus tells His band of followers that He is going away.  They are soon going to be on their own.  All the training was leading up to these days.  They were going to be set free to fly.

With this in mind Jesus gives them an important principle . . . a new commandment . . .something that would help them in their work.  He says, “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.“(15:34)

Let’s examine the command and seek some practical way to begin to obey it.

The Command Examined

We notice that this is not something optional.  This is no elective in the classroom of faith.  It is a requirement.  Jesus is not suggesting that things would go better if we loved each other . . .He is commanding us to love one another.

We Are to Love One Another

The command tells us to love one another. Jesus has told us to love our enemies.  He has told us to have compassion for the lost.  But now his focus is the body of Christ.  He is saying we should love other Christians.

The Bible uses several pictures of what the church is supposed to be.

  • We are to be a family.

James Boice writes

We are made members of this spiritual family through God’s choice and not our own.  One important consequence of this is that we have no choice as to who will be our spiritual brothers and sisters.  The relationships simply exist, and we must be brotherly to other believers whether we want to be or not. [Two Cities, p. 258,259].

In a family we can be honest with each other.  We can share our struggles.  We can go to each other in our time of greatest need.  Most of us would do whatever we had to do to help a family member.

Contrast this with the church as it has come to be.  In our own church we have a prayer time and we lift up the needs of individuals.  We believe and have seen the power of prayer.  But, when was the last time someone said, “I am really struggling . . . .would you pray for me.”?  If you were overwhelmed by medical bills would you feel comfortable coming to the church family to ask for help?  Probably not.  Why?  Because that sense of family is lacking.  We are afraid that if we shared our personal struggles it would soon become the fodder for gossip on the street.  Why do we feel that way?  Because it has happened to us.

The world needs to see the church working as a family.

  • We are to be a Fellowship. 

The Bible uses the word koinonia to describe this.  Again, I turn to Boice,

With us a fellowship usually means only a loose collection of friends or, even worse, just a good time.  The Greek word has as its base the stronger idea of sharing something or having something in common.  Thus, the common Greek of the New Testament period is called Koine Greek.  People who held property together or shared ina business were called koinonoi, meaning “partners.” Spiritually koinonia refers to those who share a common experience of the gospel. . . .  It points to a community in which Christians actually share their thoughts and lives with each other. [Boice p.259]

  • We are One Body

When the Bible talks about us being a body it is pointing to the fact of our interdependence.  We are to work together . . . .we need to work together.  There are many parts of the body, we have different functions, different preferences, different perspectives . . . but we are one body.  It doesn’t matter what the denominational label is over the door.  It doesn’t matter what style of worship is practiced.  We are one body.

Jesus was so concerned for the way the church people related to each other that He made it a primary part of His prayer in the garden.  He prayed that the disciples would be united.  Then He prayed that the church that was to come would be “one”.  He wanted us to get along.  In fact, He tells us that this will be the thing that will show the world the reality of the gospel message.

We are to Love As He Loved

Note the standard of love . . . as I have loved you.  Another unique characteristic.  Jesus is not advocating some syrupy sentimentality.  He is calling for a love of substance.  Look at the way He loved us…

  • Jesus was no respecter of Persons . . . He loved without prejudice.

Romans 15:7 tells us to “accept one another just as Christ has accepted us.” Jesus modeled that behavior.  He chose men who were from all walks of life: a rebel, a fisherman, a tax-collector, a hot-head, a doubter.  He did not see people in terms of externals.  He saw what they were on the inside.

We are called to remember that God is the One who determines who is saved – – not us.  People are not members of the body of Christ because they meet our external criteria, agree with our theology, or share our preferences and experiences.  People are a part of the body of Christ when they stop trying to earn their way to Heaven and rest on the work of Christ on their behalf.  They are believers when they believe and trust Him alone for salvation and guidance in life.  We are not invited to add other criteria.  At the moment of belief these people become our brothers and sisters in the family of God.  We are to love them.

George Whitefield and Charles Wesley were constantly at odds over their theology.  Whitefield believed that God alone was responsible for our salvation.  There was nothing man could do to bring it to pass.  He affirmed God’s absolute Sovereignty over every aspect of life.  Wesley agreed that God made our salvation possible in a way we could never do . . .However, Wesley contended that the salvation of the individual rested on the choice of man.  It was a sometimes strong disagreement (as it continues today).

Whitefield was one day asked by a partisan, “Do you think that we, when we get to heaven, shall see John Wesley there?”  “No” said George Whitefield, “I do not think we shall.”  The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Mr. Whitefield added, “I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have s a place so near the throne of God, and that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him. ” [Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament Vol. VI p. 508]

Whitefield understood the words of Jesus.  He knew that regardless of their disagreements on theology, they were brothers in Christ and he loved Charles Wesley.  We are called to do likewise.  We must not let denominational, theological, socio-economic, race or gender labels get in the way of our love for fellow members of God’s family.  Galatians 3:28 tells us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nore female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,.” The church is to be the one place where rich and poor, male and female, black and white can sit together without distinction.

  • Jesus loved through Humble Service

Previously in this same evening Jesus had washed the disciples feet.  He said, “Not that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” This might not seem like a big deal but Jesus is telling us to do something that goes against the way we normally live.  He is telling us to be more concerned about what we can give and do for one another than what we can get.

Even in the church we tend to cater to those people who can provide something for us: leadership, financial support, a good standing in the community.  The other people are welcome . . . but not with great enthusiasm.  The problem with this mentality is that when we get what we want from somebody then we have no more use for them.  This is not love.

Jesus tells us that love is not about how we can benefit from another . . . it’s about how we can benefit them.  We serve each other out of our love for Christ not out of love for ourselves!

  • Jesus had a love that was Gracious and Patient

In Ephesians 4:32 we are told, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” These are powerful words.

We are to be kind to one another.  We are to show courtesy and respect to each other.  Is it not true that we are often kinder to people we don’t know than to our own family?  It is also true in the church.  We need a dose of kindness.  We need to talk respectfully towards each other.  We need to open more doors, pull out more chairs, carry more books, shake more hands.  We need to show kindness and respect to each other.

We are to be compassionate or as the King James says, “tender-hearted”.  We are to be sensitive to each other.  We must learn to see people, not just faces.  We must be willing to share in the joys and the sorrows of each other.

We are to be forgiving.  Maybe this is the toughest.  Yet, all we are asked to do is to give people the chance to start over after they have made a mistake.  We all have people who have wounded us deeply.  We don’t want to forgive . . . . We WON’T forgive.  But in those times we are told to ask: “Have I not done worse to the Savior and been forgiven?”  We are to extend to others what we want from others . . . another chance.

  • Jesus had a love that was active and tangible

James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well: keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” The love of the Christian is to go beyond words . . . it must reveal itself in actions.

I think Jesus would have . . . .

-Prayed with someone who was sick . . . and stayed with them through the lonely night

-Brought a meal to someone who was too busy or sick to cook

-opened His wallet

-Mowed a lawn

-gave of His time

-given a hug

And so should we.

Phil Waters asked a penetrating question last week . . . “What would MORE look like in your life?”  What would being MORE LOVING look like in your life?

Love is the Magnet that Attracts the Lost

Notice that when we love each other in this way we will become a magnet to the world.  When people see this kind of uncommon love exemplified in the Church they are naturally curious.  They begin to wonder if the gospel could be true.  They begin to believe that Christ DOES bring transformation.

On the flip side, when we fail to show love we invalidate the message (people don’t believe there is real transformation in Christ) and we make the idea of Christian Community very unappealing (why would I want more stress and conflict in my life?)

The Command Applied

If the truth were known . . . deep down the Spirit is calling us to be more loving.  We want to be more loving.  We would like to be able to be honest, to shed a tear, to give ourselves to each other.  But we don’t know how to begin.  Let me make some suggestions.

  • We must remember that it is a love only the Spirit can produce. 

We must make becoming a loving person an urgent matter of prayer. Only God can change our selfish hearts.

We are by nature users and we must seek for God’s Spirit to make us givers.

We are by nature indifferent we must ask God to make us caring.

We naturally measure people by how they compare to us, we must ask God to help us see people through His eyes.

  • We must be Honest

First, with God. We must confess the feelings of bitterness, jealousy, hatred, and competition.  We must admit when we are using people instead of loving them.  We must ask God to deliver us from the desire to glory in the struggles of another.

2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If MY PEOPLE which are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Notice repentance is to come from HIS PEOPLE.  God’s people must be honest and sorry for their sin before we will ever be used to impact the world.

We must also be honest with ourselves. We have to stop justifying our unloving actions . . .

-When we are slandering another or gossiping

-When we are making fun of another’s failures

-When we turn away from one in need

-When we are tearing down the church . . . .or the leaders of the church

-When we tear down others to make ourselves look better

-When we are making fun of the people of God during our Sunday dinner

In these cases we must stop saying we are righteous.  We must stop excusing our behavior with the words, “O we don’t mean anything by it”. We must stop pretending to be noble.  We must stop making excuses and face reality . . . . . WE ARE SINNING!

  • We must eliminate the harmful “buts” of our life. I’m not talking about cosmetic surgery here.  I’m referring to those statements that sound loving and noble but end ripping someone apart . . .

-they are nice people BUT….

-They do a good work, BUT . . .

-He’s a good Pastor, BUT . . .

-I like them, BUT . . .

-It’s a solid Church, BUT . . .

We must become sensitive to these pious sounding statements of division.  When we find ourselves saying BUT…. it should remind us that we ought not to continue the sentence if we want to obey the Lord.

We must determine to only build up.  Let’s say the good things and then stop talking!  Instead of saying, “I probably shouldn’t say this BUT . . .” let’s not say it!

Don’t you long for the time when we could be honest and genuine with each other?  Doesn’t the idea of a truly caring community of faith appeal to you?  Don’t you wish “people would start being more loving”?  What will YOU do to move the church in that direction?  Is there a relationship that needs restoring?  A hurt that needs confessing? An encouraging word that needs to be expressed?  It’s got to begin somewhere.  Why not with you?

We must keep in mind that what the world needs most of all is not new government leaders, or educational reform, or more legislative initiatives.  The world is not desperate for more prisons or fewer bombs.  It is not dying for lack of better programs or slicker church services.  What the world needs most is to be able to SEE THE DIFFERENCE CHRIST CAN MAKE.  They need to see Christ’s transformation demonstrated in the people of God.

In other words, what the world needs most is for God’s people to hear these words of the Savior and obey them.  No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts”.

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