God With Us Part 2 - Love
Series: Special Occasions
December 09, 2018
We’re doing something this Christmas season that’s been around for a long time and practiced by many churches. It’s called Advent and it started last Sunday with a message on the hope that Christmas brings.
If you weren’t with us last week or if Advent is unfamiliar to you, let me briefly explain our journey toward Christmas. The word advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and the season is marked by expectation, waiting, anticipation, and longing. Advent is not just an extension of Christmas—it is a season that links the past, present, and future. Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate His birth, and to be alert for His second coming.
Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s coming, while at the same time looks forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people. During Advent we wait for both—it’s an active, assured, and hopeful waiting. And each week, we focus on a different attribute of God represented in the coming of Jesus: hope, love, joy, and peace.
I’m going to read the words of Jesus to you from Luke chapter 6, and you tell me if you know what they are famously known as…
Luke 6:31 (ESV) — 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Do unto others as you’d want done unto you is the golden rule. That idea wasn’t unique to Jesus. In fact, a version of it was given by the Chinese philosopher Confucius 500 years or so earlier! He said…
"Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.”
At first, it appears they’re the same, but they aren’t.
Confucius wisely tells us not to treat others a way we wouldn’t like to be treated. So if I don’t like being talked down to, then, when I’m dealing with someone I make sure I don’t talk down to them since I don’t like it. I can follow this this rule with not much required of me. I mean, I could lock myself in my house and live this out completely.
But Jesus takes this idea and flips it from the negative to the positive. Instead of not doing to others what we wouldn’t want done to us, Jesus commands us to proactively treat others the way we’d want to be treated. So, if I like to be appreciated, then I must make sure I appreciate others. I can’t sit in my house and live this out. To actively live the Golden Rule I have to get out ‘da house and engage with folks!
The Golden Rule is a restatement or reframing of something else Jesus taught and preached, something most likely you are familiar with.
I preached a series on it way back called “The Nut and Bolt of the Christian life,” and I called it that because it had to do with the absolute basics of what life is all about like nuts and bolts are the basics of what constructing is all about.
There is a nut and bolt to this whole thing called the Christian life. There is a simple, uncomplicated truth for all those who desire to be right with God. You can take all of Christian living and pare it down to two simple pursuits, that, when lived out, take care of everything else.
Jesus gives us the nut and bolt in Mark 12. Jesus was teaching and standing in the crowd was a scribe, a lawyer. He was impressed by what he heard, so he stepped up and asked a question...
Mark 12:28 (ESV) — 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
This scribe didn’t ask this out of the blue. Rabbis had been wrestling over the issue for centuries.
They found 613 commandments in the Pentateuch (or as we know it, the first five books of the Bible), and those laws were divided into heavy and light categories, with the heavy laws being more binding than the light ones.
Added to this were interpretations of the law as it related to things not specifically mentioned. Scribes (like our inquirer here) added hundreds more if not thousands of little rules to help folks keep the letter of the law, down to how far – to the foot – you could walk on the Sabbath without working and how on the Sabbath you couldn’t spit on the ground and stir it…
They developed what was kind of like the tax code but it was for God’s law.
In the middle of this complicated and complex code keeping system they wondered, what is the simplest expression of the law? Can you pare it all down until just the nut and bolt of what God would have us do remains?
In other words, can we just simplify paying taxes to a straight 10%?
Rabbis had tried over the centuries, but none came close to the uncomplicated and straightforward answer our Savior did...
Mark 12:29–31 (ESV) — 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Wow. Jesus masterfully and seamlessly pulled together two OT texts to sum up all the law and prophets. All the complicated code of the law, all 613 commandments condensed into two statements. Note too how it jibes with the Ten Commandments.
The first, the NUT, is from Deut. 6:4-5...
Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
This is part of what is called the shema (which means “to hear’), something very familiar to the Jews, because they recited it morning and evening every day.
The second is from Leviticus 19...
Leviticus 19:18 (ESV) — 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
That’s the bolt. Love your neighbor as yourself.
The nut is vertical: it has to do with our relationship with God. The bolt is horizontal: it has to do with our relationship with others. Jesus says life can be summed up simply as “love God and love people.” Again, see how it connects with the Ten Commandments?
Which is more important? Loving God or loving people? It’s not one or the other, it’s both. They are two sides of the same coin. If you love God, you’ll love people. If you love people, then you must love God because it’s hard to love people.
Love God; love people. This sums up all the law and prophets; this, if lived out, pleases God.
Easy enough, right?
But what does he mean by love? Love is a very vague and loosely defined word for us modern, English speaking folk. It means everything from deep affection to warm attachment to a score of zero in tennis.
I LOVE my wife, but I also LOVE coffee. Does love mean the same thing in both examples? Let’s hope not.
You go back to the OT texts Jesus referred to and the Hebrew word for love there is ahavah. That word in the Hebrew language isn’t as squirrely as our word for love is, but it is pretty common, being used 250 times and meaning everything from God’s boundless affection for his people to a gluttonous man’s affection for his sinful appetites.
We know, or at least Bible scholars tell us, Jesus spoke and taught in Aramaic, a cousin language of Hebrew.
But the writers of the NT, didn’t write their gospels or letters in Hebrew or Aramaic. They wrote them in a language common to the civilized world at the time: Greek. Of course, they did that so the message could be read and understood by as many as possible.
The Greeks had a number of words for love involving varying nuances of meaning. Two, in particular, are of interest to us. There was a phileo kind of love which had to do more with affection towards a friend and there was agape kind of love (the most common word) which meant to have fond feelings toward someone or something in general.
No doubt you have heard sermons or read Bible lessons that go into great detail on what they mean in the Bible and how agape is exclusively God-like love. I am going to probably rock your world a little bit, though, by quoting one well-known Bible scholar:
“How often do preachers refer to the verb ἀγαπάω (agapaō, to love), contrast it with φιλέω (phileō, to love), and deduce that the text is saying something about a special kind of loving, for no other reason than that ἀγαπάω (agapaō) is used? All of this is linguistic nonsense.”
The reason he says that is because in the Greek language of NT times, they were very closely related words. They both are used in the NT and you can find some differences between them, but there are times they’re used interchangeably. In other words, Greek-speaking people wouldn’t have made the distinctions we’ve made.
But don’t let go of what you’ve learned about agape love yet. The average folks of NT times wouldn’t have made a big deal over them, but when we study the NT and how the writers used the word agape we discover they took a common word for love and actually made it into something special.
It’s almost as if they looked at Jesus and how he explained who God is and saw in him a kind of love there was no word for and they thought, “Let’s take agape and make it special. Let’s make it mean a kind of love there is no word for since we can’t just make one up.”
So agape isn’t special as a Greek word intrinsically, but it is Biblically because the NT writers made it so.
Go back to where Jesus said to love God and love people, the word agape is used there. For Jesus, the kind of love he’s talking about doesn’t have so much to do with feelings as it does with action.
It’s a choice you make to seek the well-being of people other than yourself and do something about it. It’s a walk as much or more as it is a talk. This is especially true of those who are in hard situations and can’t offer you anything in return.
That’s the kind of love God has for us.
Jesus even taught that the tell-all standard by which to gauge our authenticity as God lovers is how well we treat those who are the hardest to love…
Luke 6:35 (ESV) — 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
The very life and ministry of Jesus was loving and helping the least of the least, the down and out, the moral and political and religious outsiders, the ones who above all others could give nothing in return for Jesus healing them or feeding them or blessing them.
Jesus lived agape love out to the fullest when he didn’t retaliate against his enemies, but let them overcome him. As he was hanging on the cross they nailed him to he said…
Luke 23:34 (ESV) — 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Now you might be thinking, what does this have to do with me? Well, the Bible teaches that we all come into this world enemies of God…
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) — 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jesus expounded upon this when he said…
Mark 7:21–22 (ESV) — 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
What we do with our hands begins in our hearts. If we were all honest, we’d have to admit at the very least we’ve entertained these things. I know I have.
Paul the apostle, in his letter to the Romans, left no room for doubt when he wrote…
Romans 3:9–18 (ESV) — 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
We all are guilty of sin and even the smallest sins we commit are an act of war against a holy God who requires those in relationship with Him to be perfect as He is perfect. And we sure don’t have anything God wants or needs, anything to offer him in trade for showing us mercy. But thankfully God is holy and loving…
Romans 5:6–11 (ESV) — 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
The Apostle John, known as the apostle of love, wrote…
1 John 4:9 (ESV) — 9 In this the love [agape] of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
Jesus demonstrated agape love to the greatest degree, beyond what we could have ever imagined. Jesus fulfilled the golden rule in a way we would have never thought possible. Jesus loved God so much and us so much he headed straight to the cross and took our place on it, living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died.
The other side of the coin is that because God loved us like that, because Jesus (God With Us) loved us like that, we should love others.
1 John 4:11 (ESV) — 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:19 (ESV) — 19 We love because he first loved us.
John 13:34–35 (ESV) — 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Conclusion: As we close, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with advent, with Christmas?
You’re talking about what Jesus did on the cross, about him suffering and dying in our place. I get that, but Christmas is about his birth. It’s about baby Jesus and angels and peace on earth, goodwill to men and all that.
Just as loving God and loving people are two sides of the same coin, so are the cross and the manger. In order for Jesus to go to the cross and demonstrate love in the greatest way imaginable, he first had to be born in a manger.
If Christmas is about anything, it’s about LOVE.
John 3:16 (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
God loved. God gave.
If you believe, you receive.
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