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Welcome to everyone today and those who will watch a listen later this week. Today is the conclusion of our 8 week series called, “Christian – It’s Not What You Think.” And, if you have just stepped in for the first time, you’ll be glad to know we are reviewing the entire series for the first few minutes and then we will get down to the one, final thought I want us all to contemplate and, hopefully, implement both individually and as the body of Christ-followers known as Creekside Community Church.
We started this series by acknowledging that Christianity and Christians have a bit of a branding problem. If you pay attention to what the cultures and world around you think, you’d have to admit the reputation of Christians is pretty bad. So many terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity that most of the world has written it off as a desired way of life. This is so true that Christians have become known as “judgmental, homophobic, moralists who think we’re the only ones going to heaven, and secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell!” That’s what the world around you, the culture around you and probably some of your neighbors or even YOU think of Christians. And unfortunately that shoe fits…a lot!
The second week we listen to famous author, Anne Rice, summarize the Christianity she had rejected, rejoined, and then quit again, by calling it “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and hostile.” That was a good week, because it allowed some of you to stop and say, “Hey, someone else thinks the same thing about Christians as I do. Someone else understands.” Anne went on to tell us that though she was giving up being called a Christian, she was holding onto her personal relationship and followership of Jesus, saying HE was really the center of it all and she could trust and hold onto HIM without having to grab onto the baggage of the “group.” And most of us agree with her.
Part of the problem with the branding of Christians and Christianity is terminology, though. The word Christian only appears 3 times in the Bible, and is never used by Jesus or any of his followers to describe themselves. Christian was a label put on Jesus’ followers by those who didn’t like them. But over time, the Church, Christianity at large, adopted the terminology without clarifying any definition for it – the Bible certainly didn’t define it. Consequently, to this day, a person can call them self a Christian and do or believe anything they want. And that’s why we find people who call themselves Christians on every side of social, moral, political and religious issues. You can believe just about anything and still be a “Christian” according to our culture.
But then we discovered the key to this whole mix up, and the impetus for not wanting to be known anymore as mere Christians. We discovered what Jesus called his followers, and what, consequently, his followers called themselves and each other. And that word is “disciple.” Unlike the word “Christian,” disciple can be defined and is defined in a very narrow way. A disciple is a pupil, a student, a learner, who is actively following and imitating their master, seeking to emulate the master in everything. Well, Jesus was obviously the Master, so all they had to do was follow what Jesus taught and did. Pretty easy, right? Wrong? Hard! Difficult! Challenging! But they tried it anyway. And Jesus boiled down all that he wanted them to know and do and be in this one statement,
“By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus was not concerned with all the depth of his disciple’s knowledge. He wanted them to be known because of their love. And he hammered that over and over again to them and everyone else who would listen. Religious leaders came to him and tried to trick him into denying the usefulness of the 10 commandments of such, but Jesus wasn’t fooled. He knew the key. He simply told them this,
Matthew Mateo 馬 太 福 音 22:37-40
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is equally important:
But, we only asked for one!
I can’t give you just one, these two are tied together.
39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
And before they could interrupt, before they could ask another dumb question, Jesus finished it off with words that would ring through the Apostle Paul 25 years later and from the Apostle John some 30-40 years later:
40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Do you know what that means? It means that all of their laws – 613 in all, the 10 Commandments – don’t steal, don’t lie, obey your parents; all the New Testament teachings – do your work for the Lord, husbands love your wives, care for the poor, the orphaned and the widowed; all of these fall on these two commandments to LOVE. And last week we learned to begin thinking about a filter through which all of our activities should flow through. And we put that filter in a form of a question “What does love require of me?” What does loving God require me to do in this situation? What does loving my neighbor as myself require of me in this situation? It goes beyond the Law and beyond my beliefs and lands flat on the feet of love. And Jesus kind of chastises these religious leaders over and over again throughout his ministry and basically says to them, and to us, “Don’t you dare use my Father’s Words to hurt, disenfranchise, or condemn anyone. Don’t be looking for loopholes to get away with NOT loving others. You just LOVE them.” What does love require of me?
So today I want us to tie this all together in a somewhat controversial (surprise, surprise) but solidly biblical way. There are several issues at work here. First, is the issue of legalism on the part of the religious leaders. We’ve also seen that in modern time, right? They thought their calling was to make people behave to the letter of the Law or laws. They thought they should regulate the behavior of everyone and they told everyone that God loved them the more they behaved. There is a point to behaving, but this was not God’s point of giving the Law of the 10 commandments. The Law and commandments were given to protect God’s people from the natural consequences of selfish living.
Fast forward about 250 years past Jesus’ resurrection and church history tells us there were lots and lots of discussion about what everyone should believe. There were still behavioral expectations, of course, but the focus became who did or didn’t believe correctly. And I think that mentality followed us into the 21st century. This was a big shift from behave to believe. But, as you know, believing doesn’t really change anything without action, behavior, to back it up. This was actually more like a huge, theological pendulum. What Jesus was aiming for was behavior that came out of a belief that He had given us the key to godly behavior; a belief in Jesus command to “love” that was so strong the world would be changed.
Notice Jesus never said, “A new command I give you, believe correctly. By this will all men know you are my disciples: if you believe correctly.” Jesus did not come to the earth to make some theological point, he came to make an eternal difference. Christians are often content to believe correctly, to learn more and more and more ABOUT God and which theologian is right. That’s why so many Christians like to make lots of points about issues and such. But as disciples of Jesus, we should never be content until we have made a difference. And Jesus said we WOULD make a difference when we loved like he loved us.
There are two kinds of people that have made a lasting impact on your life: those who hurt you and those who loved you – those who hurt you deeply, and those who loved you profoundly. Why is this important to consider today? Well, there are many people who know all the right religious answers. There are plenty of people who believe all the right theology. But these same people have behaved in ways that have hurt people deeply. Then there are those who have loved you deeply. They have been there for you in thick or thin. They could be a parent, a close relative or friend. They may even have been a stranger. And you may have never known exactly what they believed about most things. All you know is that they loved you deeply, and their love permanently impacted your life. In counseling these are two key areas to giving someone back their life. If we can’t get down to the source of our hurt, we often cannot help someone open themselves up to love. So much hurt and pain in the world, and far too much of it caused by those who would call themselves Christians.
So what does this have to do with us today? I think the question “what does love requires of me” asks us to consider three steps. The first step is this “Don’t do anything that will hurt you.” You already know this, but God created you and loves you with everything He is. So, if you do things that hurt you, you are hurting your heavenly Father that loves you. Just like my children, your children, cannot hurt themselves without us hurting, so it is with God. When you hurt you, you hurt the people that love you. When you hurt you, you hurt those depending on you. Do you know what love requires of you? That you take care of you so that you can care for the ones depending on you. Do you hear that moms and dads? Do you hear that children? Adult children?
When you hurt you, then you will inevitably break this next step – love requires that I “Don’t do anything that hurts others.” It starts like Jesus told the Pharisees, never use God’s Words, Christianity, theology, as an excuse to hurt someone. There is never an excuse to do that. It’s a practical as don’t lie to people. Don’t gossip, pressure people, deceive or tempt others. Look out for other’s best interest and trust God to honor you and take care of you. Now I know that real love confronts wrong or unhealthy actions. And sometimes love does have an edge. But God’s love is a scalpel, not a knife. Confession and confrontation in love hurts, but it doesn’t stab and gouge. They are expressions of love. And, while love can be threatening and uncomfortable, love will never, never, never be self-serving. Love may wound in order to heal, but love never destroys. Don’t do things that will hurt others.
This last one ties right in with the other two – “Don’t be mastered by anything.” God is your Master. You are a disciple of God the Son, Jesus, so nothing else should be allowed to control you. God knows that if you are mastered by something, you will find it hard to love SOME ONE, you may even find it impossible to truly, transparently love someone. Allow the Holy Spirit within you to rule your appetites, don’t let your appetites rule you. I know that when a group of people think about this the first thought is moral purity. The kids are in here so I won’t say the three letter word – s.e.x. But Jesus was actually more concerned about money becoming people’s master. He talked about that more than almost every other subject. When we let material things master us we are owned by the things we own.
When something owns you it has your attention, it gets your time and passion. And we all know this one. I know this one. We have all be ruled by something other than God in the past. But as disciples of Jesus – pupils, followers, imitators of him, love requires that we NOT be mastered by anything other than God. And, just as a way of personal transparency, let me just say I struggle with this as much or more than anyone else. I fight the need to be in control and be master of things in my life, too. But let’s not give up. Let’s not be discouraged by our failures or setbacks. This is so, so important.
Here’s the practical side of this one: no one should have to compete with your past. No one should have to compete with your alcohol, your gambling or your porn. No one should have to compete with your anger, your depression, or your material stuff. Your hobby should not be the thing that keeps you from loving your family they way you should. Your job should not keep you from loving God and giving Him the time He deserves. Don’t be mastered by anything other than God. And, if you are, you should know that there are loving, caring, and experienced people in this body of Christ, who have been there, done that and are willing to walk with you through the fight to overcome. And we won’t judge you. We won’t beat you down, because we’ve been there. We all struggle, too. But we will love you; we will challenge you. We will keep you as accountable as you will allow, because that’s what family does. That’s especially what God’s family does, because that’s what love requires of us.
Love is the leverage that will change your family. Love is the leverage that will restore you marriage. Love is the leverage that will save you from self-destructive behavior. And love is what will change the world. It happened 2000 years ago, and I believe it can happen again here in Katy, Texas, as a committed group of Jesus’ disciples leaves this place each week and goes out on mission to love every single person we meet – to love them like Jesus would. And then do you know what happens? People begin to notice that something different is going on. People will begin to wonder, “what’s do different about that group of people?” What’s so intriguing about those folks? Why am I drawn to them? How is it that I’m not condemned or feeling guilted into something? And the answer is simple – it’s love, real love, unselfish love, unhindered love – the love of Jesus through the disciples of Jesus reaching out to one another and to God’s lost people. That’s what love requires of you…and of me. Let’s bow our heads for a moment.
You may be here today and have no idea what we are talking about. You may have never even considered that there was a God who loved you, or people that would ever love you. But I’m here to tell you there is. God loved you so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to die for your sins and mine. And the simple truth is, if you believe in Him, if you will simply accept his forgiveness, you will be forgiven… forever… and you will be a part of his family. God will call you his child for all eternity. That is God’s gift of love to you.
You may be sensing the love of God for the first time…today. You may feel drawn to say, “I want to be a follower of Jesus. I do believe and I do accept his free gift of forgiveness.” Do you want to do that today? While everyone else is bowing their heads, will you look up at me to say, “I want to accept Jesus’ forgiveness.” Right now, just look up at me and I’ll know…more importantly, God will know. He knows your heart and is just waiting to forgive you.