How many of you know that love is a priority in the Christian life and that you should be striving to love all who you come in contact with? How many of you are doing it? Calvin Coolidge said, "People criticize me for harping on the obvious. Yet, if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves." For the Christian who wants to honor God, the most basic of all activities is love. Although most Christians would agree with this statement, as the frustrated Coolidge pointed out, most of us don't do the things we ought to do.
For the last four weeks Rich and I have been talking about the subject of love. I believe that it is something that we can't hear too much about. So, this morning I want us to look at Jesus' last words to his disciples the night before his death.
John 13:34-35 (NKJV) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Jesus spoke these words to His 11 disciples, Judas had already left. In these last words, Jesus gives the marks and virtues that should characterize all of His disciples.
The problem today is that many Christians are not disciples. One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous, but I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.
How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is simple - believe the gospel! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ.
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. At that moment they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ".
The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe - do you see any cost involved here? But now notice:
Luke 14:33 (NKJV) "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John in John 3:16? I don't see how. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples but not all are.
With the distinction between a Christian and a disciple in mind, let's look at what Jesus says in this text:
John 13:34 (NKJV) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Was the commandment to love one another new?
Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
God had always taught his children to love one another. The word "new" in the text in John is the Greek word kainos, which has the idea of: "freshness". "New" here seems to be in reference to motive and scope - "as I have loved you" instead of "as thyself."
John 13:35 (NKJV) "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
"By this" - our love! It is our love for one another that identifies us as Christ's disciples. Jesus tells us here that the identifying mark of a disciple is love.
Tertullian wrote, "The heathen are wont to exclaim with wonder, 'See how these Christians love one another and how they are ready to die for one another!'" Do the non-Christians say this of the Church today? Does our love mark us out as Christ's disciples?
LOVE-- is the greatest spiritual virtue. It is the sine qua non of the Christian life.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV) And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The greatest Christian virtue is love. Faith and hope are embodied in love. Love is the surpassing virtue, it is the most essential factor in the spiritual life. Life without love equals ZERO. Paul says that if we live life without love, we are nothing and produce nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Do you realize that in order to love God you must love your Christian brothers? Love cannot be horizontal if it is not first vertical.
1 John 4:20-21 (NKJV) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
Are you a liar? If you don't love your brother, you don't love God either.
Agape is a sacrificial love of choice. You must choose to love. It is expressed in meeting a need, doing a deed of kindness, caring for someone in a practical way. It is not the love of feelings, but action. Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 by the use of 15 verbs. Love is action, a series of actions. It is what you do, not feel. It is sacrificially meeting needs. The world's love is totally the love of impulse and emotional attraction. It knows very little about the love of the will. All that human love knows is response to a feeling.
Love is the single greatest virtue in the church. It is the mark of our discipleship. Rinehold Neibor, the German theologian, said, "The church reminded him of the ark, you couldn't stand the stink inside if it wasn't for the storm outside." Too often this is very true. The church too often lacks love.
The disciple of Jesus Christ, the person who loves, cares about others. The person who truly loves God cares for his fellow man.
We saw last week that the early church had problems with love. Paul told the Philippians that Timothy was the only one who really cared for them.
Philippians 2:20 (NKJV) For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state.
Paul said that Timothy would "sincerely care for your state." The word "sincerely" is the Greek word gnesios, it means: "legitimately or genuinely." Timothy had the heart of a true disciple, he cared about people.
The word Paul uses for "care" is the Greek word merimnao, it means: "to be anxious, worried or burdened in a serious way, to be troubled with care." This is a strong verb. Timothy has a genuine burden for the Philippians. We see this same word in noun form in:
2 Corinthians 11:28 (NKJV) besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
When you compare these two passages, you see that Timothy had the apostle's commitment to discipleship. The care of all the churches was shared by both men. Look with me at:
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Are Paul and Timothy in violation of this verse? No! This verb is used often in the gospel, "take no thought (merimnao) for your life." What is forbidden in the gospels and here in 4:6 is anxious care for one's self and one's own interest. Timothy and Paul's anxiety was for the spiritual welfare of others. This is a biblical anxiety.
1 Corinthians 12:25 (NKJV) that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
This states the Christian's responsibility for other believers using the identical verb. It is amazing how often we see this reversed. We find ourselves guilty of anxiety over our own interest to the exclusion of others' well being. We have actually turned the Scriptures around. We do what is forbidden and don't do what is commanded.
Believers, when we truly love others, we are living in obedience to God. This should be all the motivation that we need, but when we love others, it also is of great benefit to ourselves. Fulton Oursler, some years ago, told the following story that illustrates this point:
A uniformed chauffeur approached the desk of a clerk in a cemetery and said, 'The lady is too ill to walk. Would you mind coming with me?' Waiting in the car was a frail, elderly woman whose sunken eyes could not hide some deep, long-lasting hurt. 'I'm Mrs. So-and-so,' she said weakly. 'Every week for the last two years I have been sending you a five-dollar bill in the mail.' 'Oh yes-for the flowers!', the clerk remembered. 'Yes, to be laid on the grave of my loved one. I came today,' she confided softly, 'because the doctors have let me know I have only a few weeks left. I shall not be sorry to go. There's nothing to live for anyway, so I wanted to drive for one last look at the grave."'
The clerk blinked at her irresolutely. Then with a wry smile he spoke, 'You know, ma'am, I'm very sorry you kept sending the money for the flowers.' 'Sorry?' she asked. 'Yes,' he replied. 'The flowers last such a little while, and no one ever sees them.' "Do you realize what you're saying?' she asked. 'Oh, indeed I do. You see, I belong to a visiting society,' he said. 'I go to state hospitals and insane asylums where people dearly love flowers- and they can see them and smell them. Lady, there are living people in places like that.' The woman sat in silence for a moment, and then, without a word, she signaled the chauffeur to drive away.
Some months later, the clerk was astonished to receive another visit. Only this time he was doubly astonished, because the woman was driving the car. 'I take the flowers to the people at the hospitals myself,' she said with a friendly smile. 'You were right! It does make them happy; and it makes me happy, too. The doctors don't know what is making me well- but I do. I have somebody else to live for.'
Surely the number one reason both for mental and physical illness in our society today is the overwhelming preoccupation with self. When everyone is fighting for his own rights, no one can really succeed or be happy. In an age in which demanding one's rights is considered a virtue, we must read again and again that love is not self-seeking.
Paul was a true disciple of Jesus Christ, he cared for all believers, and because he cared for them, he prayed for them. Prayer is an act of love. I think that if we truly love people, we will spend time in prayer for them.
Paul had a passion for the spiritual development of his people. That was his great concern. We see this passion revealed in his prayer life. As Paul prays for the believers, he prays for their maturity. This is the very focus of his prayer life.
Ephesians 1:15-19 (NKJV) Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power
Paul is saying, "I want you to grow." He is praying for their spiritual development. Look at chapter 3:
Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV) For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
He prays for their spiritual health. Let's look also at:
Colossians 1:9-12 (NKJV) For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
Paul prays for their spiritual maturity. This was Paul's passion, the spiritual maturity of believers. Combining them, we noticed that the apostle prays that those addressed may abound in wisdom, knowledge, power, endurance, longsuffering, joy, gratitude and love. He prayed for their spiritual needs.
Paul didn't pray for generic church success and blessing. He ties his prayers directly to their spiritual needs. That was his passion and burden.
What is the content of your prayer life? Do you pray for the spiritual health of other believers? What is more important than a believer's spiritual health? A.W. Pink writes, "How different are the prayers of Scripture from those which we are accustomed to hear in religious gatherings!"
Behind each of our requests is a desire! We often pray only for physical or material needs - why? We believe that health and material thing will bring us happiness. This is not true. Our happiness comes from our relationship with God. So, Paul cut through all the superficial stuff and prayed for their real need-- spiritual growth.
Paul's great desire was that the churches would display the love of God. Paul wanted the churches to love, so he taught them the importance of love. But, Paul did more than just teach them, he prayed that they would grow in love.
Philippians 1:9 (NKJV) And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,
Paul says, "I pray." The Greek word for "pray" here is proseuchomai It is in the present tense, which gives us the idea of repeated action. Paul continually prayed for them. What did he pray for? He prayed that their love would abound. Love is always to be growing. Abound is the Greek word perisseuo. It means: "to overflow, to excel to the max." He prays that their love would abound "more and more." This means: "even to a greater degree."
They were loving, but Paul prays that they'll do it even more. We have to work at this. The second law of thermodynamics comes into effect even with love. It says that anything left to itself tends to digress. It is the law of entropy. It works in the spiritual dimension also.
I really believe that we all want for BBC what Paul wanted for the Philippians - that we would grow in love. But if we really want our church to be a loving church, it takes more than just talking about it - we need to pray for it! Paul didn't just teach believers that they needed to love, he prayed that God would empower them to love.
Prayer is our duty. Do you realize that?
Luke 18:1 (NKJV) Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Romans 12:12 (NKJV) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;
Prayer is our duty. Prayer is not something we don't understand, I think everybody knows that prayer is talking to God. We know what it is, we just don't do it. Why is it that we, as God's children, spend so little time in prayer with our heavenly Father? Why is there so much prayerlessness in American Christianity? I think we spend so little time in prayer, because we don't really believe that prayer actually works. Since we don't believe that it works, we spend our time doing other things.
Why is it that we don't believe that it works? Although we all know what prayer is, I think very few know what its purpose is. Probably, most folks would say that the purpose of prayer is to get God to do something. We view it as a kind of a spiritual nagging; like if we keep bugging God about something, He'll do it for us. Does that describe your view of prayer?
If that is your view of prayer, it is little wonder why you don't spend time praying. Just what is the purpose of prayer? Prayer is a declaration of our dependence upon God. Every time I pray, I am saying, "God I need you!" We ask God's forgiveness because we know we are dependent upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer because we know that what ever we are or have has come from Him. We petition Him because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God I can't do this, so I come to you acknowledging my need." Does your prayer life declare that you are dependent upon God for everything?
Abraham Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."
The Philippians already had love, but he's calling for a greater expression of it. He wants their love to abound. In Acts 16, Lydia showed them love and so did the jailer -- he washed their wounds and fed them. The Philippians had been sacrificially giving to Paul, which was an act of love. Paul wants them to increase in their love. Paul was never satisfied with anything short of perfection, he was always striving to live a more Christlike life and he encouraged his followers to do the same.
Fellow Bereans, if we want our church to be a loving one, we need to pray for each other. We need to pray for the spiritual growth of each other, that we would all grow in love.
Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV) 'Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'
Do you believe this? If you do, then let's make it a priority to pray for each others' spiritual growth. One of the ways in which we manifest our love for others is by praying for them.