Have you ever become discouraged, disillusioned, or depressed over the current conditions of the church? Do you find yourself at times longing to see the power of God? Do you wonder at times why Christianity seems to be so powerless? Have you ever found yourself asking, "Where's the power?" I was asking myself these questions last week. This morning I'm going to share with you what conclusions I came up with.
Where's the Power?
Do you know who Donte Young is? Donte Young is the local man who was given a three-year prison term last month for killing his 2-year-old stepdaughter in 2000. In an agreement with prosecutors, Young pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for last summer's slaying of Imani Rodgers. In return, Young was sentenced to 10 years with all but three years suspended.
Four years before Imani was sexually molested and fatally beaten, Young was named in a case involving his 1-month-old biological daughter, Tykira Freeman. The 15-year-old mother of the child, who was charged with murdering the infant, testified in court that it was actually Young who killed the baby. Young, 17 at the time, was never charged with his daughter's death.
Tykira suffered "multiple skull fractures" and fractured ribs. She died from the brain injuries, according to her autopsy report. After the death of Tykira, Young fathered children by at least two other women in Portsmouth.
In September 1999, Young married Zenus Rodgers-Young, Imani's mother. Weeks before Imani's death a juvenile court judge had granted custody of the child to Young, a convicted drug trafficker.
Young told police that he beat Imani that morning for wetting the bed. Her injuries were so severe that she lay brain-dead in Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters until life support was terminated June 2.
Her injuries included head trauma, an extensive tear from her vagina to her rectum, contusions to the face and forehead, bruises to the upper arms and thighs and a bite mark to her left thigh, according to court records.
Three years! That's his sentence for sexually molesting and beating to death a two year old. Things like this make me ask, "Where's the power?" Where is the power of the church in our society? How are we having an influence on our world?
Think about the Exodus of Israel. Think about all the power they saw. They saw the ten plagues come upon Egypt. That must have been awesome! They saw the Egyptians willingly give them their wealth as they departed Egypt:
Exodus 12:36 (NKJV) And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
Soon after they left Egypt Pharaoh came after them:
Exodus 14:10 (NKJV) And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.
As they cried out to the LORD they were in effect saying, "Where's the power?" Or, "God why don't you help us against these Egyptians?"
Exodus 14:21-22 (NKJV) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
The Egyptians came after Israel through the Red Sea:
Exodus 14:27-28 (NKJV) And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained.
Now that's power! Don't you at times long to see something like that? Don't you at times long to see God move in power against the wicked people in our society? Are there times in your life when you would like to see the power that Elisha demonstrated?
2 Kings 2:23-24 (NKJV) Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" 24 So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
Now that's power! How many people do you think gave Elisha a hard time after that event?
We see this same power manifest during the New Testament times. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitude and when they killed him, he rose from the dead. That's power! And we see this miraculous power in the Apostles also:
Acts 3:1-8 (NKJV) Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; 3 who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. 4 And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, "Look at us." 5 So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." 7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them; walking, leaping, and praising God.
That's power! Wouldn't you love to be able to heal the sick like that? What kind of influence could Christianity have if we could still do that? They not only had the power to heal they had the power to deal with sin:
Acts 5:1-5 (NKJV) But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.
That's power! Peter confronted Ananias in his sin and he fell down dead. When you read things like that doesn't it make you at times ask, "Where's the power?"
Now, before you run off and join a charismatic church let me ask you a question. "What was the result of those amazing displays of power?" What was the result on Old Testament Israel of seeing the power of God? Did they all become faithful followers of the Lord? Not hardly. When ten of the spies came back from searching out the land with an evil report, they were all ready to give up on God and go back to Egypt:
Numbers 14:3-4 (NKJV) "Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" 4 So they said to one another, "Let us select a leader and return to Egypt."
Numbers 14:11 (NKJV) Then the LORD said to Moses: "How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?
All the miracles, all the power that they saw, and the result was unbelief, they wanted to go back to being slaves in Egypt. And in the New Testament things weren't much different. Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, feeds thousands of people and the response of the people was what?:
Matthew 27:22-23 (NKJV) Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!" 23 Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"
The miracles seemed to have no effect on the people of Israel or the people of the New Testament days yet today we often long for that kind of power. So, is the Church powerless today? No! The power of God is resident in us:
Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV) Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,
How is that power of God manifest in the New Covenant Church today? To answer that we must first understand "power". What comes to your mind when you think of the word "power"? When you think of power, you might also think of strength. You might think of a force of some kind, such as the power of nature in hurricanes or tornadoes or floods. You might think of the power of electricity. You may also think of explosive force, such as that which is unleashed in dynamite or nuclear weapons. You may also think of authority that comes from a certain position someone may hold. Or you may think of miraculous signs and wonders. And there may be other images that come to mind as well.
But let me ask you this, "Did love come to mind?" Although it may not have, it certainly should have. Power and love do go together. In fact, love is the most powerful force in the world! Love is the greatest power in the Universe. I believe that this is not only what the Scriptures teach, it is born out in the experience of people everywhere.
Love is powerful. We all seek to have it. We all need it. Love is perhaps the basic human need. You have often heard me say that the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 can be summed up this way, "Life minus love equals zero." The psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, declared that "Love cures people - both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it." And we are probably all familiar with the quote by the Roman statesman and philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who lived at the time of Christ. He said, "Better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all." And throughout history people have written about, sung about, and thought about love more than perhaps any other single human need. And I want to submit to you today that LOVE is the Churches power.
1 John 4:7-8 (NKJV) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
In this text we see that love is linked, inextricably linked with God. Our text says that love is of (or comes from) God. And it also says that God is love.
What does it mean when it says that love comes from God? Well, it simply means that God is the source of real love. True love is based in the very life of God Himself. In other words, there can be no real love without God being behind it. Love has its basis in God.
The word John uses here for "love" is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning; it was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love, a love naturally expressed by divinity but not so easily by humanity. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love.
But how do we know that God is love? It's one thing to say it, and it's quite another to see it. In the play, My Fair Lady, Eliza is being courted by Freddie, who writes to her daily of his love for her. Eliza's response to his notes is to cry out in frustration, "Words! Words! I'm so sick of words! Don't talk of stars burning above, if you're in love, show me! Don't talk of love lasting through time. Make me no undying vow Show me now!" We don't want to simply hear about love, we want to see love. And God showed us what real love is:
1 John 4:9-10 (NKJV) In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
If you want to see love demonstrated, look at Jesus. He is the evidence of God's love. He is the demonstration of God's love. Listen again to John's words in our text, "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."
God certainly has shown us what true love looks like. In Christ we see the depth of His love and compassion for us. Christ came because God loves us. Christ came because God is love. Christ came because God saw our need for love and did something about it.
Think of how difficult this was. Christ left His throne of glory knowing that He would have to offer the sacrifice of His life in order to save us from our sins. Christ humbled Himself for us being made in human form. Christ gave Himself daily for us as He walked the dusty roads of Palestine ministering to people. And finally Christ offered Himself up willingly as a sacrifice for our sins, enduring the shame and humiliation of the Cross and suffering its terrible pain.
John said that Christ became an atoning sacrifice for our sins. And John says that He did that so that we might live through him. He died for us. He died for our benefit. He died so that we could live. What greater love could ever be shown? How could anyone look at that sacrifice and not see the very love of God?
We should never be able to say to God, "Show me your love!" He has shown us. Look at the Cross. Do you not see there the love of God? Consider Jesus hanging there in agony and pain. Consider the crown of thorns pressed down upon His brow. Consider the stakes driven through His hands and feet. Consider the beating He had already endured, ripping flesh from bone, so much so that He was virtually unrecognizable. Consider what He suffered. He did it all for love. He did it all for you. That is the love of God demonstrated.
Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were his enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you act upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests.
1 John 4:11 (NKJV) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Because God has loved us, we have the capacity to love others. We all have the capacity to love, but do we all love? No! Why? Because love is a product of a life lived in dependence on God. Agape love is divine love, God is its source and God loves through us as we walk in fellowship with him. Our obligation is to stay in fellowship with him.
John 15:5 (NNAS) "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
It takes the indwelling power of God in one's life to display this kind of character in daily life. Apart from an intimate abiding relationship with Christ, we can't love.
I cannot understand Christians who think they can live a Christian life, a life of dependence, a life of love, without spending time reading their Bibles. It is impossible. Our memories do not retain and maintain what we need to know. We are built in such a way that we need refreshment and reminder - again and again.
Because God is love, those of us who claim to know God should live lives characterized by that love, because love is the Churches power.
1 John 4:11-12 (NKJV) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.
God desires for His love to be manifest in us. This text instructs us that since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. As we love one another, our lives are reflecting the very love of God. And this is how others will see God's love through us! You see, while God's demonstration of His love through the death of Jesus Christ is a bold fact of history, many people will never look at that historical fact until they see God's love manifested in our lives. Nietzsche said, "Show me that you are redeemed, and I will believe in your Redeemer." The world is looking at us for evidence that there is a God of love.
This is what John is getting at when he says in verse 12, "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us." People may not be able to see God, but they can and do see us. How's your love life? Is your life manifesting the love of God in word and deed? Even small acts of love can have a powerful effect. Love is powerful. Never underestimate the power of the smallest deed done in love.
One illustration of this is the true story of Teddy Stallard. By his own admission he was an unattractive, unmotivated little boy. He was difficult to like, especially for a schoolteacher who all daylong faced his deadpan, expressionless, unfocused stare. Although his fifth grade teacher said she loved all her students, Miss Thompson had to admit that deep down she wasn't being honest. She didn't like him, and she even received a certain perverse pleasure in marking his papers with red ink and writing the F's with a flair.
Her view of him was already distorted by her perspective, but she should have known better. As his teacher, she had his records and she knew more about him than she wanted to admit. His records read like this: First Grade Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but he has a poor home situation. Second Grade Teddy could do better. Mother is seriously ill. He receives little help at home. Third Grade Teddy is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year. Fourth Grade Teddy is very slow but well behaved. His father shows no interest.
At Christmas, her class all brought her presents in pretty wrappings and gathered around to watch her open them. She was surprised when she received a gift from Teddy. It was crudely wrapped in brown paper loosely held together with tape. When she opened it, out fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to giggle, but she had enough sense to put on the bracelet and apply some of the perfume on her wrist. She asked the class, "Doesn't it smell lovely?"
When school was over and the children had left, Teddy had lingered behind. He slowly came over to her desk and said softly, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I'm glad you liked my presents." When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her.
The next day when the children came to school, they were welcomed by a new teacher. Miss Thompson had become a new person. She was no longer just a teacher; she had become an agent of God. She now had a changed perspective. She was now a person committed to loving her children and doing things for them that would live on after her. Because of Miss Thompson's loving attention, by the end of that school year, Teddy showed dramatic improvement and had caught up with most of the students.
Miss Thompson did not hear from Teddy for a long time, after he left her class. Then one day she received a note that said: "Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my high school class. Love, Teddy Stallard."
Four years later, Miss Thompson received another note. It read: "Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I would be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard."
Finally, Miss Thompson received another note: "Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, MD. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard."
Miss Thompson went to that wedding. In Teddy's eyes, she deserved to sit where his mother would have sat; she had earned that right. She had done something for Teddy that he could never forget. By a small act of love and kindness, she had changed the course of his life. She had exercised the power of love. She had become an agent of God.
Believers, when we abide in Christ, He will manifest His love through us. The Love of Christ is a powerful force that will change our world. We will have a tremendous influence on our world when we truly love those around us. If you wonder why the 21st century American Church seems so powerless, it's because it is so loveless. Love is our power.
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."
It is our love for one another that bears powerful witness to the world that we are the disciples of Christ. It's not our doctrine that does that, it's our love.
Galatians 5:6 (NKJV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
It is our love that demonstrates to the world the reality of our faith.
The bottom line is this; without love we are powerless and totally ineffectual:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NKJV) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
If you have to ask, "Where's the power?" you must not be living a life of love. Even small acts of love can have a powerful effect. Love is powerful. Just think for a moment how attractive, how influential, how powerful a loving person is. Be that person! Think about how you long to be around people who truly love you. Love is power. If you really want to have a powerful effect on the world you live in, abide in Christ and walk in love.