Rediscovering Church - Part 4

Series: Rediscovering Church

February 13, 2022
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes


Today we bring our little mini-series called Rediscovering Church to a close. With all that’s gone on the last few years it was a good time to revisit the basics of what church is about. We learned that church is about belonging, belonging to a family. We learned that church is about gathering, gathering together in person. We learned church is about growing, nit just in numbers but in a variety of ways.

This last one is the biggie. What I’d like for us to rediscover today is that…

Church is about loving.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that there is absolutely no connection between today’s message and the fact that Valentine’s day is tomorrow. I am rarely if ever clever enough to schedule my sermon series like that. Also, even if I did I would never preach a message like “Make Jesus Your Valentine” or anything like that. Just so you know, I’m not a hater. There’s nothing wrong with having a day devoted to romantic love, but you’ll see it doesn’t hold a candle to what we’re looking at this morning.

Back to church being about loving. Most of us would probably say, “No brainer.” Of course church is about loving one another just as much as marriage is about loving your partner. No doubt if I polled ya’ll asking if you thought church was about loving each other you’d all say unanimously, “Yes, of course!” But I’m guessing we might not be aware just how cosmically important that basic element of church is.

To understand that, let’s go to John’s gospel where he records an encounter between Jesus and the disciples that happened in the shadow of the cross. Judas had just left the group to betray Jesus, so he huddled in tight with the remaining eleven men and told them what they needed to know most as he prepared to suffer and die.

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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.”  John 13:33–35 (ESV)

Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment, to love one another. That’s odd at first glance. The command to love one another had been given to the Israelites over a thousand years prior. It was part of the Law.

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.  Leviticus 19:18 (ESV)

This commandment on its own is revolutionary. In a world and culture that was more about survival of the fittest God commanded his people to be different, and one way they stood out was to love their neighbor as themselves. This is the seed form of the golden rule, which, according to Jesus, sums up all the Law and Prophets…

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

By the time of Jesus there was a teaching that went like this: “Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto you.” But the Law given though Moses and the Rule given by Jesus turn that on its ear. God’s people actively seek out the good of others, not just mind their own business.

So how is what Jesus said to the disciples a new commandment? Look at his words again…

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.  John 13:34 (ESV)

Note these six weighty words: “just as I have loved you.” Jesus commands them to love one another just as he had loved them. One scholar writes “…the newness isn’t so much a matter of never having heard words like this before. It’s a matter of the mode of this love, the depth and type of this love: love one another in the same way that I have loved you.”

How had he loved them? While he was with them, he loved them by serving them (washing their feet, for example). He was the Son of God, yet he put them before himself (sense of the OT commandment).  But it’s more than that. What is looming over Jesus at that moment? The cross. Jesus was about to exhibit the greatest love ever shown in the history of the universe. He will offer himself as a sacrifice on their behalf so that they can know God and become part of his forever family. Jesus both declared and demonstrated this sobering truth…

13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13 (ESV)

And this ties in closely to what Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning a husband’s love for his wife…

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  Ephesians 5:25 (ESV)

Husbands aren’t to just love their wives (provide for and take care of them, treat them kindly), they are to love them the way Jesus loved his church. He suffered and died for the church. Jesus is the ultimate

example of love for us to emulate. Maybe this is about Valentine’s Day after all! 

Ah, so now, we see how Jesus’ command to love is new. It’s not just love your neighbor, it’s love them to the point of giving your very life on their behalf, it’s putting them first so much so that you are willing to let go of anything or sacrifice whatever it takes. This is radical and revolutionary in its own right. I don’t know about you, but it makes me wonder if I truly do understand what it means for church (the people of God gathered locally) to be about loving.

I can honestly say I have loved and do love you all, but I can not honestly say I have loved you like Jesus loved his disciples and ultimately the church universal. I want to. I’m so thankful God accepts that.

This is especially convicting in light of what’s happened in the church among Christians over the last few years.

I am leaving my church family because we have to wear masks. I am leaving my church family because we don’t have to wear masks.

I am leaving my church family because my pastor didn’t publicly support my candidate for President. I’m leaving because he supported the other candidate.

I am leaving because our church didn’t speak out against injustice. I’m leaving because they did.

But rarely is it ever, I’m not coming back because my pastor denies the divinity of Jesus, or the Trinity, or the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, or any other non-negotiables of our faith.

I mentioned this at our last family meeting, but it’s very appropriate to do it again right here. There’s a chapter in the NT, a text written by Paul, that’s been read at countless weddings. It’s called the love chapter, and for the most part it’s seen as applying to marriage relationships. But in truth, it’s specifically about relationships between Christians in the local church…

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13 (ESV)

Let’s be honest. Living out love like this is heavy and hard. Woe is me but for the infinite love and undying mercy of Christ, the one who is gentle and lowly in heart. We could never do it on our own. It only comes as we grow and mature in Christ, as we, over time, yield more and more to the Spirit. It’s no coincidence the first fruit of the Spirit is love in Galatians 5:22…

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV)

This is enough for one message, but there’s more we need to see before we end this sermon and the series. Back to what Jesus told the disciples in John 13…

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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.”  John 13:33–35 (ESV)

”Love each other like I’ve loved you,” Jesus says. “It will be the mark, the defining factor identifying you as my disciples.” According to Jesus, the founder of our faith, the mark of a Christian is not how much Scripture he’s memorized, not how much he tithes, not now often he attends church, not how separated from the world he is, not how well he performs at doing the right do’s and not doing the right dont’s. It’s how much he exhibits love towards his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now this is perhaps the most profound aspect of what Jesus says: the command to love one another does not stay confined within the fellowship. It has implications outside our fold. NT Wright writes…

[Loving one another as Jesus loves us] is to be the badge that the Christian community wears before the watching world. As we read verse 35 we are bound to cringe with shame at the way in which professing Christians have treated each other down the years. We have turned the gospel into a weapon of our own various cultures. We have hit each other over the head with it, burnt each other at the stake with it. We have defined the ‘one another’ so tightly that it means only ‘love the people who reinforce your own sense of who you are’.

Okay, so the apostle John wrote about Jesus’ words on loving each other in his gospel. Without any doubt, it is those very words that the  apostle John has in mind when he writes to churches he oversaw…

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:1–6 (ESV)

What did Jesus command? We know he commanded us to love one another as he loved us. Look how closely that connects with John here as we read on in verse 7…

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.  1 John 2:7–11 (ESV)

John mirrors the teaching of Jesus by saying very directly that you cannot claim to be his disciple if you harbor anything but love for your brothers and sisters in the family of God. 

Here’s another connection which cements our understanding that church is about loving isn’t just important, it’s SUPREMELY important. Look at what Jesus prays to Father concerning his disciples in John 17…

11 … Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  John 17:11b–26 (ESV)

Tim Keller writes…

[Jesus says to his disciples] I’m going to die, He says I’m going to leave. He’s clearly talking about His death and what most commentators have rightly inferred is this. Jesus is saying, when I was here on Earth, everyone could see my love. Everyone could see my life. And everyone could say, ‘wow, this is the Son of God.’ But I’m about to leave, the incarnate Christ is about to leave and the only way people are going to know my supernatural reality is in the quality of love amongst Christian believers… But later on in the very same discourse in chapter 17, here’s what He’s gonna say. He’s gonna say, ‘Father, make them one in love so the world will know you sent Me.’ So what He’s actually saying is the way people will know, the way the world will know that I was really here, the way the world would know that I’m a supernatural reality, is by the quality of the love that you show one another… If you grasp the glory of the cross, the mark of the Christian is you love one another, and only as you love one another will anyone ever see the glory of the cross or the glory of Jesus Christ! … if the world is turning away from Christianity, first, we should look at ourselves.

You should know by now not to be impressed when I tell you this, but I am trying to read through the Bible this year. It’s been a while. So I chose a plan that has me jumping around the OT and NT a bit, so I don’t get bogged down. It’s going pretty well so far. In one of my readings this past week I came across something that — in light of preparing for today’s message — blew me away. It is something I’ve never noticed before. In Matthew’s gospel the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age, what the signs will be...

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. Matthew 24:3–9 (ESV)

We really get into this aspect of the end times. Yes, we’ll know the end is near when wars and famine and the persecution of Christians escalates. Yes, things will get really bad out there as Jesus’ return draws near. But Jesus mentions another indication, a sign that takes place not out there in the world, but in the church. Because his people are so severely persecuted…

10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  Matthew 24:10–13 (ESV)

Note especially v. 12…

12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  Matthew 24:12 (ESV)

Love among God’s people. Not only is its presence a sign of genuine faith, its absence is a sign the end is near.

Conclusion: This is a goo place to stop and bring this series to a close, and let’s do that by considering some action points. We’ve heard, now let’s act.

Church is about Belonging — we are family, even if we sometimes feel like we aren’t. For this to work right, those who are new to our family need to be patient as they find where they fit in. Fresh family, never assume that anyone is looking down on you or that you don’t belong. That feeling is often more us thus reality (I get that with imposter syndrome). Put yourself out there a bit (I’ve lost count over the years of those who left churches I’ve pastored because no one reached out to them yet they were invited to join groups and attend events).

And for those of us who’ve been belonging for a while, be sensitive to those who recently joined our family. Reach out, be aware.

Church is about gathering — physical presence is required… not in the sense of the Law but grace. There are things in the kingdom you cannot get unless you gather with your church family in person. 

For those who have stayed away for a while, begin thinking about and praying about when to return.

For those of here, think about those who drifted away. Lovingly and patiently reach out to them. Pray for them.

Church is about growing — 

  • Warmer through fellowship
  • Deeper through discipleship
  • Stronger through worship
  • Broader through ministry
  • Larger through evangelism

Pray about and think about how you individually are contributing to growth in those five areas. Then respond.

Church is about loving — think about and pray about the love you have for your brothers in the sisters in our local fellowship. Is it obvious? Does it need some work? Have you acted unloving towards a brother or sister in person or behind their back? Do something about it. Act in love. It’s the mark of a true believer.

And if you haven’t already, let me extend the greatest invitation the universe has ever known. I would like to invite you to become part of God’s forever family…

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

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