Sunday, December 4, 2016

Convincing the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, John 16:5-11

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me.”  So Jesus is the way to God, He is he truth of God, and He provides life from God to those who believe in Him.  This is the gospel in a nutshell.  You either believe the truth as presented in Christ, or you don’t believe the truth, and what you are believing is a lie.  That’s the choice that we have; believe the truth, or believe the lie of the devil.  

Now to those who have believed that Jesus is the truth, and have accepted that all that He said and taught is the truth, they have received life as a gift from God.  God recognizes their faith in His Son, and bestows upon them His grace, whereby their sins are forgiven, and they receive the life of God; spiritual life, eternal life, abundant life.  

The disciples represent the first of those who believed in Christ.  They believed in Him, that His words were the truth of God, the very words of life.  Peter said in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”   So they became saved as a result of their belief.  They received spiritual life. And so as we have studied  the Upper Room Discourse over the last few weeks we have learned that Jesus has been talking to them in the last hours before His death about that life and what it will look like, and what will be the experience of it.  

Jesus in these 4 chapters has talked about the fruit of the spiritual life, which we learned is to be like Him.  He has talked about the works of spiritual life which He said is to love one another.  He has talked about the persecution they could expect in this spiritual life.  He has talked about the reward of the spiritual life. And interwoven throughout this entire discourse, Jesus has talked about the source of spiritual life, which is the Holy Spirit.

And what I would like to do to start our discussion of the Holy Spirit today is to read all the things that Jesus has to say about the Spirit of God.  Because as John records it, it is interspersed over 3 chapters and sometimes we can lose sight of all that Jesus was saying because we don’t read this discourse in sequence.  Some of these we have studied, some we haven’t.  But I think as we look at these statements sequentially we can begin to tie all of this together this week and next week into one comprehensive doctrine concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is a sequence in Jesus’s statements that build one upon another, which is evident as you look at them together. So Jesus starts in chapter 14:16, saying: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”  

Then in John 14:26 Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

Then in John 15:26 He says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” 

And now in John 16:7 we read, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

And the last statement Jesus makes is in John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”  

I believe the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is one of the most important doctrines in the gospel, and yet it is often the most misunderstood doctrine in the church today.  I wish I had time to go line by line of each of those references, but we don’t have that luxury this morning.  However, you can go to our website and look back over my sermons on each of those texts and put them all together if you like.  But one thing that I must point out and that is that Jesus says in vs.14 the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus Christ.  That in and of itself disqualifies a lot of stuff that is represented out there as the work of the Holy Spirit.  If it does not glorify Christ, then it isn’t of  the Spirit, and it is not of God.  There are deceitful spirits working in the church as well, so we are told to test the spirits.  We know the Spirit of Truth because the Holy Spirit does not glorify Himself, but He glorifies Christ.

Spurgeon said it this way; “To begin, then, the HOLY SPIRIT IS OUR LORD'S GLORIFIER. I want you to keep this truth in your mind, and never to forget it; that which does not glorify Christ is not of the Holy Spirit, and that which is of the Holy Spirit invariably glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Now notice that Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit with two different titles which help us to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He calls Him the Helper, which in the Greek is “parakletos”.  “Parakletos” means to come alongside.  That is what is meant by Helper.  He comes alongside us to help us, to guide us and teach us.  And the second title Jesus uses is the Spirit of Truth.  I really like that title in particular.  Because it teaches us the nature of ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He helps us not by some feeling, or through some experience, but by revelation or explanation of the truth.  He does that in two ways; first He authored the scriptures.  2Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”  And in 2Peter 1:21, it says, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  So the Spirit of Truth is the author of the scriptures.  And in the New Testament, that was through the apostles, whom Jesus tells in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  That revelation of Christ through the Spirit was written down for us in the New Testament.  And I believe that revelation in that sense has been completed. I don’t think the Bible teaches that revelation is ongoing.  However, the Spirit does reveal the truth of revelation. Which is the second work of the Spirit of Truth.

So secondly, the Spirit of Truth works by revealing to us the truth as contained in scriptures.  He illuminates our minds and hearts so we can see the truth of God.  He shows us and guides us through the scriptures.  John 16:13 says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth… and John 16:15 says, “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Notice that the Spirit takes the words of Christ and discloses it to us.  That is the premier work of the Spirit.  To help us understand the scriptures. 

Now as we continue in this week’s text Jesus gives us a further elaboration on the nature of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has just finished telling the disciples of the hostility of the world towards them.  And yet their response to that hostility, even in the face of persecution is that they will show the love of God towards the enmity of the world, and thus reflect Christ to the world.  He tells them that the way they will be able to do this in the face of hostility will be through the power of the Holy Spirit.  In 15:26, Jesus says the Spirit will testify of Me, and you will testify also.  That is how we love the world.

Now in vs.7, He says it is to their advantage that He goes away, because then He will send the Holy Spirit to them to come alongside of them, to help them. That is such an understatement it’s easy to just pass right by it.  But Jesus did not come to earth for His advantage, but He came for our advantage.  He suffered and died for our advantage.  Such a great principle.  So in like manner He is dying, He will leave earth for our advantage, so that He might send the Spirit of Truth to lead us and guide us, wherever we are, however many of us there are, no matter what age we live in.  It’s to our advantage to receive the Spirit, because then He will be in us, and be with us forever.

Now as we come to vs.8, it is a common misinterpretation to look at those verses without the context of vs.7.  The common mistake is to take those verses to mean  the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the world. But that is not what the context tells us.  Looking at vs.7 more carefully, we see that Jesus doesn’t say He is sending the Holy Spirit to the world, but that He is sending the Spirit of Truth to the disciples.  And the disciples are sent to the world.  Vs.7, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Now that’s an important distinction.  Because some have erroneously interpreted vs.8-11 as something that is only true about unbelievers.  As if to say that conviction of sin is not something that pertains to Christians.  But that is not actually what is being talked about here.  What Jesus is talking about, is that the Spirit of Truth will come to the disciples, and through the disciples He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. 

I want to spend the rest of our time explaining this testimony of the church to the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment as enabled by the Holy Spirit.  But first, let’s consider the word which is translated as convict, or concerning, depending on your translation.  The Greek word is “elegchō”.  And there are several different ways this word has been translated.  In some other places in the Bible it is translated as rebuke, or reprimand, or expose, or reprove, and of course, convict.  Some commentators seem to think that it would be better interpreted as convince.  The distinction then being to convict is to bring a charge of guilt, whereas to convince is to persuade someone of the truth of a certain matter.  I believe convince is more in keeping with what Jesus is teaching here.  He isn’t charging the disciples to convict the world, though that may happen as a result of their preaching the gospel.  But He is telling the disciples that through the Spirit of Truth they will convince the world of the truth, so as to enable them to fulfill their ministry, which is to go into the world and make disciples.  

The Bible does say in 2Tim.2:25 that God grants repentance to the sinner.  But that is not necessarily the primary thing Jesus is talking about here as we will see.  He is talking about the disciples testimony to convince the world in regards to the truth of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit will give conviction through the disciples words as to the truth of what they are preaching.

So the Spirit of Truth works through the disciples to produce three things in the world.  First, He convinces the world of sin.  Note that Jesus does not say, “of sins.”  The point He is making is not enumerating individual, particular sins.  He is talking about sin in general.   And John records Jesus’s explanation of that sin in vs.9, “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.”  

The Lord is saying that the sin is that they do not believe in Him.  In other words the essence of sin is not what we do. The essence of sin is what we believe. And when we do not believe in the Lord Jesus that is the root of all sin.  For example; when Eve sinned it was not just that she ate of the forbidden fruit.  It was that she chose to believe the serpent rather than God.  That was the root sin, the eating of the fruit was just an extension of that.  The sin took place in her heart as she turned from belief in God to believing in the word of the serpent.

For instance, immorality is sin, but sin is the root of immorality. The reason men do the various acts of evil, whether it be adultery, murder, thievery, burglary, et cetera is ultimately because they do not believe.  They sin in the heart by rejecting the truth and believing the lie.  And as Jesus is the truth personified, they consequently reject God.  They do not believe what He has said concerning life, and have chosen to believe something else.

That’s why in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you lusted in your heart you were guilty of adultery.  If you hated, you were guilty of murder.  Sin finds it’s root in the heart.  In belief or unbelief.  In truth or the lie.  All of the outward expressions of sin such as addiction or adultery or murder are simply symptoms of the heart’s condition. The person who is the sinner before God is the person who has not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is why our actions cannot be separated from our belief.  It is not simply enough to say you believe but your life evidences your faith in the lie of the world.  Our actions will reflect what we believe.  Our faith is expressed by our actions.  Thus James could say, “faith without works is dead.” 

When the disciples, or by extension, when the church preaches the truth of Christ, then the world’s unbelief is exposed.  Their sin of unbelief is exposed.  But also that is the means of convincing them of the truth of Christ.  1Cor, 1:21, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”  So we preach the truth of God, either from a pulpit, or from a backyard fence, or from the water cooler at work.  We preach the truth of God either by words or deeds and ultimately by both.  And that is how we show the world the love of God as well by convincing the world of their sin.  Love requires that we expose sin, not condone it. Because until the world is convinced of their sin, they have no recognition of their need for a Savior.

The second aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is that He convinces the world concerning righteousness.  And once again, we can run in all different directions on this unless we consider the explanation of Jesus in vs.10, “and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.”  So the Spirit is not convincing the world of their righteousness or the lack of it, but rather, He convinces the world of the righteousness of Christ.  

Now what is it about our Lord’s going to the Father that convinces the world of righteousness? Why does it convince the world of righteousness  if the Lord Jesus goes to the Father?

I suggest it is because we preach the risen Christ. The resurrection of Christ establishes Christ’s righteousness.  The resurrection is unique among all world philosophies and religions.  It is a major tenet of our faith.  Because the fact that Christ is risen proves the righteousness of Christ.  Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost quotes David and says, “You will not allow your Holy One to see decay.”  God declared the holiness of Christ before the hordes of hell and the hosts of heaven, and He declares through us the holiness of Christ as we tell the world that Christ is risen from the grave and now sits at the right hand of the Father.  We declare the gospel to be true because Jesus was declared righteous by God in that He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  And as we show the righteousness of Christ, then we show the standard of righteousness of God.  And that standard of righteousness convinces the world of sin, because it shows what counts as righteousness in God’s eyes.

As we preach the gospel, implicit in it is the fact that our salvation is dependent not upon our righteousness, but upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Titus 3:4-7, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The third ministry of the Spirit of Truth is He will convince the world of judgment.  Now the common application there is that He will convince the world of the judgment to come upon sinners.  Though Jesus had much to say about hell and the judgment to come, He isn’t talking about the judgment of sinners in hell in this passage per se.  But He says in vs.11, “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

Jesus is speaking of the judgment of sin as He looks forward to the cross.  The hold that Satan has upon the world will be broken, because Jesus will take the sin of the world upon Himself as our substitute, and He will break the power of sin, and thus judge Satan.  In 2Timothy 2:24 Paul speaks of preaching to the world and says, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”  Notice the snare of the devil holds captive those who are lost. And that snare is ignorance of the truth, or a lie substituted for the truth.

John said in 1 John 3:8 that  “the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” He destroys the lie by showing us the truth. So how Christ defeats Satan is by setting free those who Satan has kept captive, and transferring them to the kingdom of God.  Colossians 1:13, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”  And in Colossians 2:15, Paul declares that the judgment of the ruler of this world(Satan) has been made public at Christ’s resurrection. “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”

So the Holy Spirit convinces the world of sin, righteousness and judgment through Christ’s transformed people. The world cannot receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We receive the ministry of Holy Spirit, and we are the instruments by which the world is to be brought to the knowledge of sin, righteousness and judgment. And that is to be done through the walk of the Christian, through the witness of the Christian, through the prayers of the Christian, and through the worship of the Christian.  We are the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world through our testimony, our preaching, and through our life.

This is an important principle that Jesus is teaching not only to the disciples but to us today as well.  And that is this, that God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the wise.  He has chosen the branches of the vine to be fruitful.  He has chosen to use us to make His gospel known.  He has chosen us to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that the works of Christ will be done through us.  

I’ve said it many times before.  When God does a work on the earth, He usually choses to do it through a man. Can God work without man’s participation?  Of course.  But we have been chosen to be co-laborors with Christ.  He has given His Spirit to live in us that we might participate in the Kingdom expansion.  

Examples in the scriptures abound.  For instance, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch had been to Jerusalem to worship.  He had acquired somehow a scroll of the book of Isaiah.  He was providentially reading at chapter 53.  But God plucked Philip up and dropped him in the middle of the desert at just the right time to bring the man to the knowledge of the truth, and the eunuch was saved.  

Could he not have been brought to faith by the word of God alone? Of course. God didn’t need Phillip, but God has in this age generally speaking, determined that individuals come to faith in Christ through the true church of Christ, through the witness, through the walk, through the worship, through the words of believers, so Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit whom I will send to you will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.”

Another example is Cornelius.  He was a good man in the eyes of the Jews.  He was seeking to know the truth, to know God.  And God appeared to Peter in a dream and told him to go to speak with Cornelius. Even on the road to Damascus, God used Ananias to teach and disciple Paul. So right at this very moment he is using me as I hope he uses you throughout this week to be an instrument in the communication of the message of God.

God wants to use you to be His representative here on earth.  But He doesn’t give us a job to do without equipping us to do it.  And so He has given us a Helper, the Spirit of Truth to be in us, and to be with us forever.  We are the conduit, but He is the power of God working in us and through us, as we are  being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  I pray that starting today you will testify to the world through the agency of the Holy Spirit, convincing them of sin, and righteousness, and judgment.  Convincing them of the truth of God that leads to life.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Loving your enemies, John 15:18-16:4

Christians have been the object of persecution by many nations and many regimes for centuries. In the years following Christ’s death, Nero the Roman Emperor declared Christians to be the enemy of Rome and began an empire wide persecution that if not for the grace of God would have eradicated Christianity.  In the nineteenth century  the Ottomans massacred about two-and-a-half million Christians. In the twentieth century, it’s estimated that the Soviets killed half a million Christians; and the Germans under Hitler, another quarter of a million. In the last 66 years in China, it is possible that those numbers have been exceeded.  One source said that in 2014 alone, 17,800 Christians were persecuted by the communist regime.  Christians have been persecuted by the hundreds of thousands all over the planet, from Africa to Spain, from Mexico to Iran, from Japan to India, from Germany to Russia, from France to the Middle East. This is what I would call organized persecution, that is state supported persecution. That kind of persecution was certainly included in this warning from Christ.

There is another, more common means of persecution though that also would have been in His thoughts.  This kind does not usually make headlines except in well publicised cases like that of the bakers in Colorado.  But it is persecution on a personal  level brought about by families, work places, and local people that react to you on some level of antagonism due to your religious beliefs. Jesus warns His disciples and by extension is warning us, that as we are reflections of Him, we can expect that kind of hatred and persecution because they persecuted and hated Him.  The more we are like Christ, the more we will find ourselves hated.  That’s really ironic, isn’t it?  Because you would think that the more you are like Christ, the more the world would like you.  But that is not what Jesus is teaching. He is saying that the more you act like Him, the more you teach what He taught, the more the world will hate you. 

And the reason is because Christianity purports to be the truth.  That’s why it’s hated.  That is what Christianity is, by the way.  It is believing in the truth as explained and proclaimed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is believing in absolute truth, and thus it brings hatred from every facet of society that feels threatened by the truth.  That is why Satan is so opposed to Christianity.  Because he is the father of lies, and there is no truth in him.  He has organized the world system so that it keeps mankind captive to his lies.  He hates the truth because as Jesus said the truth will make you free.  Truth frees mankind from the snare and trap of the devil’s lies. So the devil hates the truth, thus he hates Christians who are a living testimony to the truth.

And likewise the world hates Christianity, because it exposes their belief system as a lie.  And the world hates to be told that it’s way is a lie.  That everything they are working for, everything they believe in and hold dear is a lie.  No one wants to hear that.  

When I was actively involved in the antiques business, before I became a pastor, I quite often gave appraisals to people.  For a while I did it in conjunction with appearing on the Antiques Roadshow.  And as a result, people would often contact me for an appraisal of something they had acquired or inherited.  When my appraisal agreed with or exceeded their expectations, then things were good.  The people were happy, gratified to learn how much their item was worth. But when I had to tell someone that their item was fake, and consequently it was worthless, then they could get very angry at me.  They would become defensive, and that would sometimes escalate to anger and even hatred.  The reason that had that reaction was usually because they had invested so much in the item.  They had bought it at an auction or flea market believing they were getting a great deal and it was really worth a lot of money.  So when I threw cold water on their dream, which by this point they are so invested in, their response is to be angry, which often resulted in acting hateful towards me.  

The same situation occurs in the world concerning religion.  Some people inherit their religion.  It’s passed on from parent to child, from generation to generation.  So they are quite invested in their religion, and to have it challenged, and have their ancestor’s faith challenged is quite upsetting to them.  Others come to their religious beliefs by buying into a plausible sales job by a church that perhaps is a cult. They may have worked at it very hard, and sacrificed a lot for what they perceive to be true. Others have come to their religion or anti-religion because of research and study or  science.  Regardless of how they come by their religious views, when confronted with orthodox Christianity that purports to be the only truth by which you can be saved, the world not only hates the message, but also it hates the messenger.

So in these last hours before His death, Christ speaks to this fact of Christianity to prepare His disciples for what will occur after He has left them.  He wants to prepare them for the reality of continuing His ministry and the animosity that will be towards them. He doesn’t want them to be dismayed at the persecution that is coming, resulting in falling away from the faith. In chapter 16 vs.1 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.”  That means to fall away, or be tripped up in your Christian walk.

Now just to remind you of the context, Jesus and the disciples have left the Upper Room and are walking in the darkness to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus has told them He is leaving them soon.  Judas has deserted them to betray Him to the authorities.  And in these final moments Jesus is reminding them of certain essential things as His last instructions to them.  He first reminded them of the importance of their relationship with God, which they should secure by abiding in Him, which really is another way of saying they were to love Him, to draw close to Him.  Secondly He reminds them of the importance of their relationship to each other, which is buttressed by His command to love one another.  That is the way in which they show their love for God.  And now thirdly, He reminds them of their hostile relationship with the world. That relationship will be one in which they are hated by the world.  But not so clearly stated is the underlying principle that though the world hates them, they are to love the world.  Not to love the system of the world, or the lusts of the world, or the things of the world, but to love the people of the world who are antagonistic towards them.  They are to love their enemies.  And the way that they will do that is to be witnesses to the world.   

Now let’s look specifically at why the world will hate us.  Look at vs.18,"If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also." (John 15:18-20 RSV)

Here Jesus helps us understand the hostility of the world. First, there is nothing personal about this type of reaction. He says, "It happened to me, too." Jesus experienced hatred and rejection, and yet He was perfect.  So one way to diffuse that type of hostility is not to take it personally.  Yet I will concede that it can be hard to detach yourself from hatred or rejection or even persecution.  I confess that I often find myself faced with rejection or even hatred based on things that I have preached as the pastor of the Beach Fellowship.  I could avoid certain subjects that I know are controversial, but I can’t do that in good conscience and be true to the scriptures and what I believe is my responsibility.  I do try my best not to offend people.  But some people are eventually offended.  And some of those people leave the church.  And some of those, not all of them, thank God, end up becoming hostile and even hateful towards me.  I can easily in those circumstances get a persecution complex.  I can end up feeling like their rejection is of me personally.  So I have to remind myself that they are not rejecting me, but they are rejecting Christ’s gospel.  They are really rejecting Christ as presented in the gospel and redefining His doctrine to suit their agenda.  So first, don’t take it personally.  Realize that they hated Christ as well. 

Secondly, Jesus says persecution comes because you are now a different person than you were. "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." You are different, and the world does not like anything different. The unrelenting pressure of society around us is to conform to the world’s system. And because we do not conform to the world but rather we conform to Christ, we stand in opposition to the world.  And that attracts hostility. 

There is a you tube video making the rounds about a waiting room situation in which a bell is rung every few minutes.  The people waiting who are part of the experiment are told to rise when the bell rings.  Then new people are added to the room, one by one.  As they sit down, and the bell rings, everyone stands up and they stay seated, looking around quizzically  at what is going on.  But by the third time, the new person usually joins those standing.  More and more people come in, and all follow the same example.  Then the reverse happens, and everyone is called out one by one until there is one last person in the room.  That person still stands when the bell rings.  

I guess that experiment is an example of the herd mentality that is indicative of the human race. Everyone wants to fit in.  Those that don’t  are pushed out by the herd.  In the animal kingdom, we even see the herd sometimes attack and kill a member that doesn’t fit in.  So because of our new birth, our new life in Christ, we are no longer of the world.  And also implicit in that statement is the understanding that we don’t act like the world, we don’t think like the world, we don’t have the same desires as the world.  John expands upon this principle  in  1John 2:15 which says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

Peter also speaks of this principle. In the fourth chapter of his first letter he makes that distinction between the life of a Christian and the life of the world saying; "For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  We don’t fit in with the world, and so the world hates us. If we’re genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we differ with the world. Jesus said He chose us out of the world. We are plucked out of the world system and given new life, new motivations, new desires. We are put on a different course. We are interested in knowing God, we are interested in spiritual things.  We are interested in spiritual life. 

As a result, Jesus declares, persecution is to be expected as a part of the Christian life: "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  As we follow Christ, we can expect to follow in the sufferings of Christ.  In fact, that is the hallmark of our relationship to Christ.   Philippians 3:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Paul goes on to say elsewhere that our suffering with Him is a prerequisite for our glorification with Him. Romans 8:17, “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”  

As an example to us the saints of old counted it a privilege to suffer with Christ. You will remember the apostles being beaten and jailed for preaching the gospel of Christ and it said in Acts 5:41, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  

And suffer they did. Are you familiar with the end of the apostle’s lives? Do you know that all but the Apostle John were martyred in death? And John had to spend his life in exile on the Isle of Patmos. Steven was stoned to death. James, the brother of John, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. Phillip suffered martyrdom in Phrygia being scourged, imprisoned and crucified. Matthew was slain with a halberd in Nadabah. James the Less (Jesus’s half brother) was beaten and stoned at the age of ninety-four and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club. Matthias was stoned and beheaded at Jerusalem. Andrew was crucified at Edessa on a cross with the two ends fixed transversely in the ground. Mark was dragged to death in Alexandria. Peter, according to Jerome, was crucified at Rome under Nero with his head down thinking himself unworthy to be crucified as master. Jude was crucified at Edessa. Bartholomew was crucified in India. Thomas was thrust through with a spear in India. And Simon the Zealot was crucified in Britain. Paul was reported by Ignatius and others to have been martyred by decapitation near the end of Nero’s reign. This is what tradition tell us. But in any case, most of the apostles and those that followed them gave their lives for the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t know the extent to which we may be called upon to suffer for Christ.  But I know that God has a special place for those that suffer for His name sake.  And He has a special grace that He gives according to the measure of the suffering.  I believe that.  One need only to look at the martyrdom of Steven to know that.  God gives a special grace in that time.

A further point Jesus makes concerning persecution is, it is marked by criticism. "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.” My interpretation is at odds with most commentators at this point, but in keeping with the context of the passage, I believe the idea of the Greek word “tēreō” indicates to observe critically.  In a negative context Jesus relates “keeping” in the next verse (21) as something that is included in the phrase “all these things” as because they do not know the Father.  If they do not know God, then they will not keep His word as we would normally think of the word “keep”.  So then we must interpret the word translated as “keep,” which literally means “to observe,” as better interpreted  “to observe critically", because it results in something Jesus says is characteristic of those that do not know God.  So with that context, we can deduce that the persecution of the world will include a critical watching of every word that we utter, in order to find fault, to find something by which they can condemn us.  And we know that they did the same thing to Jesus in His ministry.  They were continually watching Him to see if they could find something for which to find fault.  And finally, at His trial, having failed to find something, they twisted His words, or made up things which they attributed to Him so that they might find reason to kill Him.  

So then Jesus explains, their criticism stems from a deeper antagonism towards God. It’s because they hate God.  ”But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both Me and my Father. It is to fulfill the word that is written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause.'" (John 15:21-25)

Jesus identifies the basic cause of this deep-rooted hatred as godlessness. It is because "they do not know Him who sent me." Any attempt to subvert the truth of God for a lie results in a religion that at it’s root hates God.  No matter how noble or plausible it may seem on the surface, if it does not agree with the revealed truth of God, then it is antagonistic towards God.  In fact, Paul says in Romans that they hate God.  Romans 1:21, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” Paul follows by giving a list of characteristics of the ungodly, in which he lists in vs 30 that they are “haters of God.”  That is the root of their antagonism towards Christians.

Now Jesus is speaking specifically of the Jews of His generation, and He says that they are inexcusable because they had heard his words and saw his works. What that means is that when someone is exposed to the truth and still rejects it his condemnation is double. They rejected his words and thus manifested their hatred of His Father. They ignored his works, the works predicted of the Messiah, and so compounded their condemnation. But, Jesus says it was all a fulfillment of prophecy. God knew it would happen. They fulfilled the prophetical word of David in Psalms 69  that said, "They hated me without a cause.” 

Notice vs. 24, Jesus said, “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.”  Now I want to explain that verse, because it can be misunderstood.  It is not saying  that some people don’t have sin because they have not seen the works of Christ.  The word translated sin there literally means “guilt.”  There is a special guilt for those that physically witnessed Christ’s works on Earth and still rejected Him.  Guilt is specific to a specific sin, is it not?  I am not guilty of murder because I haven’t murdered someone.  I am guilty of sin in a  generic sense.  But I am not guilty of that specific sin.  And that is what Jesus is referring to.  He is speaking of the specific sin of rejecting Him as the Messiah by the leaders of the Jews.  They have a greater condemnation.  And I believe the Bible teaches that there are degrees of hell.  For to whom much is given, much shall be required. (Luke 12:48)

Thus I believe that those of this generation that reject the truth of God’s word are subject to a greater judgment, because they have the full revealed truth of God in scripture.  Our modern society has unequaled access to the scriptures which so many people in the past could never have imagined.  We have had more exposure to the truth through preaching and teaching than ever possible in past history.  And so Jesus is stressing the principle that there will be a special judgment which correlates to one’s exposure to the truth and yet still reject it.

In the last section, Jesus tells the disciples and by extension tells us what our response is to be to the hatred of the world.  It is not an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had this to say about how to respond to your enemies.  

Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So in light of that teaching, what Christ is saying to the disciples is that they are to return love for hate.  The kindness of God leads to repentance. We are to return a blessing for cursing.  And we do that by being a witness to the truth.  "But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about Me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them." (John 15:26 - 16:4)

There are four important things to consider here: First, by what means should we respond? "The Spirit is coming," Jesus promises. For us, of course, He has already come. For these men when he comes, Jesus says, "He will testify  about Me.”  As you consider the words and the works of Christ, the Spirit of God will bear witness to you of it’s truth and that truth will give you boldness and power. And as you speak the truth of God, the Spirit of Truth will work through it to bring about conviction and repentance in their hearts.

And in his next point He says, "You also are witnesses because you have been with Me from the beginning." Clearly he is referring to the apostles here, but it also applies to us. How do you witness? You tell someone about what has happened to you, that is all. You testify to what God has done for you, what He means to you, how He has given you a new life.  The testimony of a transformed life is the most effective effective witness.  And our testimony to a hostile world is evidence of our love for our enemies.  That we care enough about them to warn them of their rejection of God, and the impending judgment to come.  

We cannot say we love our families, or love our neighbors, or that we love our enemies, if we are silent on the most important issue of their lives.  If I had discovered a cure for cancer, and kept it to myself, I would be the opposite of a loving person.  My refusal to share the antidote with people who are dying from cancer would show me to be a heartless, hateful person.  So it is with our salvation.  We must share it with those who are dying without it.  Love for our fellow man compels us to share the good news of the gospel.  

But the consequence of that love means your witness will result in increased persecution. "They will cast you out of the synagogues. They will kill you and think they are offering service to God." This was especially true of the first century Christians.  Being cast out of the synagogue was specific to the Jews.  But the world's persecution can effect modern Christians in much the same way.  Because the synagogue was the center of Jewish culture.  It was the center of community.  And today it is possible that persecution can sometimes mean being excommunicated or exiled from community.   Being a Christian can make you a social outcast.  It can separate you from family.  It can cause divisions in a man’s own household. 

And the final point Jesus makes is: “But these things I have spoken to you so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them."  You are forewarned. Do not be surprised when the world hates you.  Again, Peter continues that idea in 1 Peter 4:12: "Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which is coming upon you.”  Persecution is part of the process, it is what Jesus said would happen. Let us forget once and for all of this idea of living comfortably in this world,  being liked by everybody and having no problems and no hardships.  But rather understand as Paul told Timothy that "They that live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution," (2 Timothy 3:12). There is a war going on, but victory is certain."  The way we win this war is to change our enemies into friends.  And we do that by telling the truth in love.  We love the world enough to tell them the truth, and when they know the truth, the truth will make them free.  That’s how we win.  Not by retaliation.  But through our witness, we testify to the truth of God. And through our witness, we prove our love for our enemies.  Even as Christ suffered and died on the cross as evidence of His love for the world, even while they were hating Him, so as His disciples we must suffer the hatred of the world for the sake of winning them to Christ.  That is love.  And that is what we are commanded to do.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Love one another, John 15: 12-17

The most desired ambition of the popular culture is that of love.  Love is the theme of more songs, more books, more poetry, more art and more movies than any other theme.  And I believe this is so because it is the most essential need of the human condition.  It is as fundamental to life as food and water, if not more so. God declared at creation that it was not good for man to be alone.  It is an essential component of the human psyche.  Everyone wants to know love.

However, human nature is not satisfied with unrequited love.  Neither does this need find fulfillment in undesired love.  In other words, one doesn’t find satisfaction in being loved by someone whom you don’t love in return.  What satisfies this great human need is reciprocal love.  Love of relationship, where each one loves the other, and they receive love in return.  

This is the human condition because God created us for love.  He created us for Himself.  He loves us, and desires that we should love Him in return.  The relationship that God wants to have with us is pictured in the scriptures by the love of a husband and wife.  We just recently studied that principle in Ephesians chapter 5, in which Paul talks of marriage between a husband and wife, but says he is speaking of the relationship of Christ and the church.  The church was designed to be the bride of Christ. 

In the mystery of God, it pleased God to procure a people for Himself from the nations of the earth to be the bride of Christ.  In that purpose He appeared unto Abraham, and called him out of the Ur of the Chaldees, and told him to go to the land that He would show him.  Whereupon, after many generations, God raised up from Abraham’s offspring a nation, a chosen people, for whom He would be their God, and they would be His people.  God established a theocracy, based on His law, given through the prophets.  

But this was only Act One of God’s great plan.  In the first Act, the nation of Israel was not much different than the kingdom’s of antiquity that ruled through a feudal system of serfdom.  Serfdom was a system of bondage in which the people were given a plot of land to tend and produce crops and herds, of which a percentage went to the King, and in return the King provided services and protections for the people.  Jesus  often uses the analogy of stewardship which is a form of serfdom as an illustration of that relationship with God.

However, the birth of Christ ushered in Act Two.  And in this act man’s relationship with God was changed from that of servanthood, or serfdom, to that of an intimate relationship.  Believers in Christ were no longer servants, but bond slaves, set free by redemption, but cleaving to their master out of love.  And as a result of that commitment, God actually makes us part of His family, sons and daughters of God.  And because we are His family, we are elevated to a position of heirs, heirs of God and co heirs of Christ.   So that Peter might proclaim in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 

Paul presents the same principle in Titus 2:14, saying, “Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”

Now this relationship is the subject of Christ’s teaching in this chapter.  He illustrated this relationship in vs.1 by the analogy of He being the vine, and we being the branches.  His lesson that He taught in that picture was that we should abide in Him, and He in us.  That relationship is the key to the full Christian life.  The principle of “abide in Me and I in you” is the fundamental relationship out of which everything else flows, even as the life of the branch and it’s fruitfulness flows from it’s abiding in the vine.

In this chapter John describes  three things that will happen when this principle of Christ abiding in us and we in Him begins to work in our lives. The first result is described in the opening verses which we looked at last week, which is the fruitfulness that abiding produces. We begin to grow more Christlike. We display the "fruits of the Spirit” which are the characteristics of Christ.  

We look now at a brief paragraph in which our Lord describes the change that will happen in our relationships with each other within the community of faith as a result of abiding in Him. Then, in the last section of Chapter 15, Jesus states the relationship that we will have with a hostile world.

There are three points which Jesus makes in speaking of our relationship with others.  The first is the mandate to love, then the motive of love, and finally the manifestation of love.  Let’s consider first the mandate to love.  Jesus says in vs 12, ““This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

It’s noteworthy that we are commanded to love.  I believe that is because though the need for love is intrinsic, it’s not something that we do as we should. I’m sure we all think we are loving people, but I would suggest that the majority of the time we base our love for others on how much we like them.  Our idea of love is based on a feeling of attraction towards someone, and that perspective limits love to only those we like.  And we like certain people more than others, perhaps because we are like them, or we are attracted to them, or we think we can benefit from our relationship with them in some way. 

But the command of Christ is quite different than the typical concept of love.  The Lord puts it as a command because real love, according to God’s standard of love, is a decision to act for the benefit of someone else no matter how you feel about him or her. Love is based on a commitment, not a feeling or an attraction.  Love is a decision, thus it can be commanded.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus extrapolated that principle of deciding to love out to it’s furthest possibility. He  declared that we should even love our enemies.   Matthew 5:43, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  If we are to be like God, then we must love like God loves.

That’s the example that Jesus gave to us, even while we were enemies of God, He died for us on the cross.  Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  So then in like manner should we love those that are unlovable, that are unattractive, that are not like us, even those that are opposed to us.  

Notice that Jesus has given only one commandment, that you love one another.  In  Matthew 22:36 Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” All 612 commandments found their root in those two commandments.  And now in this statement, Jesus is saying those two have now become one for those that have believed in Christ.  

John explains how that consolidation is possible in  1John 4:20, in which he said, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  So we understand that our love for God is evidenced by our love for one another.

So that is the mandate, the commandment, that we love one another. Next let’s look at the motive for love.  Jesus doesn’t just give us a command which we must do grudgingly, but He gives us a motive, that we might be compelled to love, and do it cheerfully.  That we might be enabled to obey this command. And that motive is found in the words, “as I have loved you.” 

That raises the question, how did Jesus love His disciples? The answer is found in vs.9. “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you.” So we love one another as Christ loved us, and as the Father loved Christ.  In other words, love flows out of a heart that is conscious of being loved.  As John said in  1John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.”  

Think about vs.9 for a moment.  As the Father loved Jesus, so Jesus loves us. That’s amazing.  Jesus was sinless.  Jesus was perfect.  Jesus was one with the Father and had been with the Father from eternity past.  And yet that kind of love is the same kind of love that Christ had for us.  That love Christ had for us compelled Him to suffer to a degree far beyond what we can imagine, as the holy, righteous God humbled himself to become our servant, to shed his blood on a cross, that we might be reconciled to God, that our dirty sins might be put upon His back, so that His righteousness might be transferred to us.  That is how God can love us as He loves Jesus, because we are righteous and holy in His sight, even as Jesus is. 

That love is our motivation.  It constrains us, controls us, compels us to do what is pleasing to Him.   2 Cor. 5:14 says, “For the love of Christ constrains us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”  When we really come to understand the love of God for us, then we should have no problem loving one another as He has loved us.

It’s like a young man that falls in love with a girl.  He is madly in love her, and he knows that she loves him with all her heart as well.  In that kind of relationship, there is nothing that he wouldn’t do for her.  I knew a young man once who ran 30 miles one way to see his girlfriend.  He didn’t think it was a big deal.  Great distances sometimes separate young people who are in love.  Yet it doesn’t affect their love for one another.  But as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Love flows naturally out of a heart that knows love.

Not only does Jesus give us a mandate  to love and a motive to love, but He also tells us how love will manifest itself. How does love, God's kind of love, manifest itself when it is worked out in life?  The kind of love Jesus is talking about is manifested in deeds.

He states three ways in which true love will be manifested: First, love is sacrificial.  Vs.13,  "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."   Even though Jesus will die for His friends, He is not necessarily talking about dying for someone, like the kind of ultimate sacrifice one might make on a battlefield. You can only do that once and then you can’t do it again.  Rather, He is describing a lifestyle, a process. There are varying degrees of "laying down your life." It simply means to give of yourself, to take part of your life and to give it on behalf of someone else. It is not putting yourself first, or your needs first, but being willing to lay down your prerogatives, your rights, even your self preservation  for the sake of someone else. That is the first way love appears. Love will be manifested by sacrificial, self-denying service.

The second manifestation of love is found in what Jesus says in vs14, "You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." 

This is the new relationship that I was speaking of in my introduction. Jesus is lifting these disciples up from the level of mere slaves, who must obey because it is to their best interests to do so, to another, more intimate, level.  The level of friends who want to obey because they have been brought into an intimate relationship with God.  

James said in James 2:23, that “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.”  Abraham believed God.  And God called him his friend.  That’s an amazing testimony.  To be called the friend of God.  The intimate of God.  Enoch was another man that we can assume was a friend of God.  The Bible says that he walked with God, and God took him to be with Him.  We have that same tremendous opportunity; to be the friends of God.  

Once again, I can’t help but think of a young couple in love.  They have no problem spending hours talking to one another.  It’s amazing to see a young couple in love and how much they speak to one another, and then on the other hand see a couple who have been married for 20 years, and how little they speak to one another.  That reminds me of another adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  That’s not in the Bible however.  And that isn’t something we should aspire to.  That’s a love that has grown cold.

But we should be so in love with Christ that we talk to Him without having to be coerced.  We should desire to spend time alone with God.  Jesus said He has made known to us all that He heard from His Father.  And Jesus had perfect communion with His Father.  So from Christ’s perspective, He has communicated perfectly to us.  We need to reciprocate.  We need simply to start spending time alone with God, and when we do that, our lives will manifest  love for one another.  We will love what God loves, and hate what God hates. Because we are intimate friends of God.  And because we are intimate friends of God we will do what He commands us to do.  If I ask a stranger to take me somewhere, or go out of his way for me, or give me something that I need, I can’t expect much of a response.  But when I ask a friend, I can expect that my friend will do what I ask, because of our relationship.  So God expects us to do what He commands, because of our intimate relationship with Him.

Then the third manifestation of love follows in vs.16 "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 so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." First note that the love of God towards us is deliberate.  He chose to love us, even though we were sinners.  He deliberately sought us when we were in rebellion to Him.  God’s love, and by extension our love, is not based on attraction, but on a decision.

Secondly, Jesus is saying to these men, "Wherever you are, remember that I put you there." That is what He meant by appointed you.  It means strategically placed you.  And He is saying this to us, too. "I strategically placed you right in the midst of those difficult people you have to work with, so that amidst the difficulty, the pressure and the pain you might become an example of Christ;  gracious, loving, patient, merciful. So that you might bear fruit, that you might bear the image of Christ.

Furthermore, when you are bearing fruit, bearing the image of Christ, then whatever you ask in my name the Father will give it to you.  Personally, I think that this promise is related to the promise of loving your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  When you pray in Jesus’  name then you are praying according to His will, according to His purpose, His ministry.  Jesus prayed for those that nailed Him to the cross.  When we pray for people according to the will of God, God will provide it.  

There’s an old story in mythology about a knight who encountered a hideous dragon in the forest. And disregarding the ugliness of the monster, this bold young knight walked up to it and kissed it three times whereupon it became a beautiful maiden. And, of course, they lived happily ever after. MacLaren who told the story comments, “Christ kisses his enemies making them his friends. And if he had never died for his enemies, he would never have possessed his friends.” Or as John puts it, “We love Him, because He first loved us.”

In vs.17, Jesus restates the commandment again.  ““This I command you, that you love one another.”  The fact that He said it twice emphasizes the absolute necessity that we take it to heart. The longer I am in the ministry, the more I am convinced that this is the way to victory in the Christian life. This is the way to effective evangelism.  This is the way to overcome addictions of every sort.  We must show the world the love of God by loving one another. We must love sacrificially, deliberately, without concern for what we can get out of it, without consideration of how much we like someone.  We must love even those who hate us, or hateful to us, forgiving them as God has forgiven us.  Giving love sacrificially even though it means that we give up things that are important to us in order to love them. 

And we do this by starting with knowing the love of God for us. The more we know the love of God for us, the more we will want to love one another.  The more we know the love of God, the more we  will want to obey God. And to love one another is the way to obey Him.  And to obey Him is to love Him.  

God said in Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”  When a couple become one flesh, then they have one mind, one heart, one purpose.  They are united.  They abide in one another.  Love then comes naturally.  As the body of Christ we are all united in Christ as the church.  Love should come naturally.  And as we love our neighbor, Jesus said we should love them as we love ourselves.  So that our love for our neighbor comes naturally because we naturally love ourselves.  We are commanded to love one another.  But to do so, we must come to know the love of God for us. And God has chosen to exhibit that through His people loving people.  That knowledge of God’s love is almost too much to comprehend.  But when we consider how much He loves us we find joy and fulfillment and it over flows in love to those around us.  

So as we leave here today, I would remind each of you to love one another as Christ loved the church.  And I would like to read from Romans 8:28, which is a great summary of the love of God towards us, that you might be motivated to go forward from here and love one another.
Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written,
“FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;  WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”