1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
There is a word that is often used by the non-believing word to describe Christians. It’s a word that we don’t like to hear, but if the truth be told, it’s a word that frankly, we deserve to have thrown at us occasionally.
That word is ‘hypocrite.’
Sometimes that may be an apt descriptive word for us.
I doubt that there are any Christians who have not been accused of hypocrisy at least once in their lifetime. Most of the time there’s more than a little ignorance behind the accusation, but if we’re honest we have to admit that there are times when the label of hypocrite is well deserved.
We certainly don’t intentionally seek to act or behave like that, but every now and then in a moment of weakness or stress, we do exactly the opposite of what we know we should do.
And as is the case with all sinners (Christians included), we immediately try to justify or rationalise our bad behaviour, and when it comes to saying things we shouldn’t say, the argument we use tends to sound a bit like this:
“Why does it matter? Why should I be concerned about what people think about me? I belong to Jesus, my sins are forgiven, God still loves me, and I'm still going to heaven. Okay, so I kind of hurt somebody's feelings. I did get a bit carried away. My mouth sort of ran ahead of me, but I can't help it if someone is extra super-sensitive, can I? I mean, is it really that big a deal?”
I think we all know it is, but let's see just how big a deal those actions are.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The context or setting of this conversation is the night of the Last Supper. It’s the last time that Jesus and his disciples will be together before His death, and Jesus is preparing His followers to continue the work which He has begun.
In the three short years of His public ministry, Jesus had caused quite a stir, and two thousand years later He is still doing so. The world had sat up and taken notice of Jesus. Some loved Him, and some hated Him, but they could not ignore Him.
And what Jesus was telling His disciples was that even though He would no longer be here physically, the world would continue to see Him in His followers.
Not only that - the world would know they’re His followers by the love they have for each other and for the world.
And that is why our treatment of others is such a big deal.
We are a reflection of the Jesus we belong to and follow.
If we are loving, we become a positive reflection of Jesus Christ, and if we're not loving, we become a negative reflection of Him.
Whether we like it or not, the non-believing world’s opinion of who God is and what He is like, is often shaped by the behaviour of Christians.
Our reflection of Jesus, however accurate or not it may be, forms people’s perception of Jesus.
Our actions may be what bring people a step closer to Jesus. Or, our actions may be what drive people away from Him.
And it all hinges on John 13:35. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We prove to the world that we are followers of Jesus by our love. A couple of weeks ago we looked in some detail at John 3:16, the verse which speaks so loudly of the unconditional and eternal love of God. Remember, love is not merely something which God does – love is what He is. Love defines His very nature and character, and if we are going to be serious in our commitment to Him, then that love must be shown in us too. And we are to love not just the lovable, but the unlovable too.
We prove that Jesus is love by reflecting His love in us and through us.
Firstly, we prove the love of Jesus by loving other believers.
I wonder how much damage I've done to Jesus’ reflection by my treatment of other Christians?
How many thousands of Churches during the past 2000 years have been damaged by the lack of love between its members? The Church is meant to be the one place where believers can come together and share their joys and burdens of life; a place where we are meant to be vulnerable and find love and care for each other which the world simply cannot give, but instead of finding healing and wholeness, they have found hurt and rejection.
How many have walked away from the Church because of what they see happening in the Church?
How many have walked away from the Christian faith because of all the denominational accusations?
We are to prove the love of Jesus by loving other believers.
We may not always agree on everything. We may not have the same ideas. In fact, we might be miles apart on some things.
But that is no excuse to not love one another.
I did a quick search of the so-called ‘one another’ commandments in the New Testament letters. There are at least 30 of them, most of them repeated:
Love one another.
Honour one another.
Live in harmony with one another.
Accept one another.
Greet one another.
Serve one another.
Bear with one another.
Be kind and compassionate to one another.
Submit to one another.
Forgive one another.
Encourage one another.
Spur one another on.
Offer hospitality to one another.
Show humility to one another.
Love one another.
There are many passages of Scripture in the New Testament which reinforces the command to love each other.
Just one of them is 1 John 4:7-11: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Jesus’ words in John 13 again: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our love is to define the life and work of the Church.
But it doesn’t end there. Remember that non-Christians will form their opinions of what God is like based on how well or how badly we behave and treat them.
If you have ever tried bringing someone who is not a Christian to Church you will know that dragging them in kicking and screaming or beating them over the head with a Bible rarely works.
We bring people into the Kingdom of God by loving them into the Kingdom.
So we also prove the love of Jesus by loving unbelievers.
And this is often very hard, because generally speaking, unbelievers don't live, act or think like they should.
But we cannot simply write them off and label them as people beyond help and beyond hope, because in case you’ve forgotten, there was a time when you were just like them.
There was a time when we didn't have Jesus in our lives, and how did we live then? Like unbelievers! Why? Because we were unbelievers!
So we prove the love of Jesus by loving unbelievers.
We don’t have to sanction their beliefs and their lifestyles.
We don't have to like their behaviour. We don't even have to like the way they dress. But we do have to love them; in the same way that Jesus loved you before you loved Him and believed in Him.
We can’t go around criticising the unbelieving world, because when we do we are flirting with hypocrisy, but what we can do is treat them with dignity and respect – with love.
Paul writes in Colossians 4:5-6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Love is a verb. Expressing love is more than just saying “I love you,” because anyone can say it.
The biggest challenge is to show our love, our love for each other within the Church, and our love for those who are not.
How do we show it?
How do we prove the love of Jesus to both believers and unbelievers?
I’d like to suggest three simple words which might help: Commit, Sacrifice and Involved.
Make a commitment to God that you are going to love the way He loves.
Make a commitment to yourself that you will always be conscious of your actions.
Make a commitment to yourself that starting today, you will always put Jesus’ reputation before your own. Ask the simple question we’ve all heard before: “What would Jesus do?”
Make a commitment today that you will, with God’s help, become an accurate reflection of who Jesus is and what He is like to everyone, believers and unbelievers alike.
Make a commitment to God that you will sacrifice your ways for His ways. This is all about dying to self and living for Him instead.
Make a commitment to yourself that if necessary you will sacrifice winning an argument for the sake of Jesus. A colleague of mine once told me of someone who stormed into his office one day and just let rip, saying all kinds of things which were patently untrue. But instead of fighting back as he wanted to, he said to me that he could sense the Spirit of God telling him to just bite his tongue and say nothing. So he smiled sweetly, and at the end just apologised. All the other person needed was an opportunity to let off a bit of steam, so by not fighting back, no harm was done.
Make a commitment to yourself that starting today, you will sacrifice what you want for the needs of others.
Make a commitment today that you will sacrifice your natural desire to always be right if it means that others can find the One who is both right and righteous.
Make a commitment to God that you will be actively involved in His plan to win the world.
Make a commitment to your Church. Get involved in the life and witness of this congregation. If you are only coming to Church for an hour a week, and are not involved in Christian ministry in one form or another, you are missing out on so much. And so is the Church.
Make a commitment today that you will involve yourself in the lives of those who don't yet know Jesus where you work, where you live, where you play, and in your home.
In ancient times, and even today in orthodox Jewish traditions, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is recited each time they meet in the synagogue. It is known as the ‘Shema’: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
The Jews knew these words off by heart. God loved them, and they were called to love Him in return.
In the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees in Matthew 22, we’re told that one of them asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
This was a Pharisee. He knew the Shema. He’d grown up with it, so there was no need to ask Jesus the question, other than to try and trap Him into saying something He shouldn’t.
So Jesus answered his question, but then took the whole subject of love to a much higher level: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The importance of Christians reflecting and passing on the love of God cannot be over-emphasised. If the Church is to be effective in its ministries and is to have any credibility in the world, we have to be filled with Christian love.
During the past three Sundays we have spent time trying to get some kind of understanding of just how much God loves us. You’ll remember Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesians 3: “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Last Sunday we were reminded of the wonderful gift of salvation which God in His mercy and grace offers to all people everywhere.
And today we have tried to answer the question: “How do I respond to all of this?”
If we have seen and experienced the immeasurable love of Christ, and have received the gift of salvation, clearly understanding that we cannot possibly repay God for what He has done (nor are expected to), what then is the next step?
The answer is one simple, but crucial word: Love.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
On Sunday we heard that the non-believing world’s opinion of who God is, and what He is like is based largely on the behaviour of Christians.
Do you agree with this statement? Is it fair? Why, or why not?
In which ways do you think the Church has been an effective witness of the love of God?
How have we failed?
Our natural reaction when we have been wronged by someone is to fight back, and to stand up for what we think is right, but as Christians we are called to live up to a whole new standard.
In Matthew 5 and Luke 6, Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek.”
Describe a time in your life when you have felt prompted by the Lord to do just that.
What differences did you notice in the reaction of the other person, and how do you think his or her life might have been affected?
What about you? In which ways was your Christian walk impacted?
Throughout the New Testament the Church is commanded to love, care for and support one another. Christian love is what makes the Church effective, but how about the enemies of God?
How do you feel about loving non-believers?
Share with your group a time before you became a Christian when you were loved unconditionally by someone in the Church.
What impact did this have on your life?