I'm surprised that any of you are back today after last week's message. Rich was kind of hard on you. Do you think that Rich was off base when he said, "I think that love is the missing ingredient here at Berean Bible Church. I see in this church a relative lack of love"? I tend to agree with Rich. I think that our church does lack love. Now, we all need to understand that "lacking love" is a very serious charge. To understand the seriousness of this charge, let's look again at the emphasis that God puts on Love.
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.
Nothing can underscore the seriousness of a lack of love more than these words. This is what life is all about. We are set here to learn to love, and to live without learning to love is to have wasted our time, no matter how impressive our achievements in other ways may be.
Write down five zero's and then add them up. What do you get? Zero! Life minus love equals zero. The loveless person produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing. Now, you can't get much stronger than that.
The word Paul uses here for "love" is the Greek word 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.
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 have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness; and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is, and this is what Paul is talking about.
Now Paul has already told the Corinthians that all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit, made a part of the Body of Christ, all of them, without exception.
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
As Jesus put it, we are "in him" by that process. Then, all believers have been indwelt by the Spirit;"Made to drink of one Spirit." Through that process, our Lord's words, "I in you," have been fulfilled. Because of that, we all have the capacity to act in love. We all have the capacity to love, but do we all love? No! Why? Because love is a product of a Spirit controlled life. Galatians 5:22 says, "The fruit, or product, of the Spirit is love..." The fruit of the Spirit, like all of spiritual life, comes only from living a Spirit controlled life or walking in the Spirit.
Galatians 5:14-16 (NKJV) For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Apart from the control of God's Spirit, we cannot love. I can't love my neighbor no matter how hard I try. How then can we love? The key is in the saying "the law is fulfilled," in verse 14.
Romans 8:4 (NKJV) that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
"The righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,"- the word "fulfilled" here is the same Greek word as is used in Galatians 5:14 - pleroo. What is it that the law requires? It requires love.
Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
In Romans 8:4 in the phrase "Might be fulfilled in us,"the verb is in the passive voice. It does not say, "That we might fulfill the law", but "That the law might be fulfilled in us." Agape love is divine love, God is its source and God loves through us as we walk in fellowship with him. So, our obligation is to stay in fellowship with him. As we walk in fellowship with God, He loves through us.
John 15:4-5 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
So, as we walk in fellowship with our Lord, He loves through us. So, if we at BBC are not loving, it is because we are not walking in fellowship with God. All we have to do is to live in fellowship with God, and we'll live in love. I'm sure that you are all aware that it is not as simple as it sounds.
Last week Rich gave us five ways to become a loving church. I want to focus on number four, which was, "Let's help one another in the pursuit of love." To support this, Rich used Hebrews 10:24.
Hebrews 10:24 (NKJV) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
In the tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews, the Lord gives us a divine prescription for spiritual victory. Here it is: "Let us consider one another."
The word "consider" is from the Greek word, katanoeo. Katanoeo is a compound word composed of kata which means: "down" and noeo which means: "to exercise the mind." It has the idea of thoroughly and carefully noticing someone or some thing. A good English equivalent would be, "to contemplate." Paul put it this way in Philippians:
Philippians 2:4 (NKJV) Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
This is a strong and emphatic exhortation: consider others, contemplate others. This is a theme that we see all through the Scriptures. As we look at these "one another" verses, ask yourself if you are doing these things.
John 15:12 (NKJV) "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive [Greek: proslambano: to take to oneself] one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Romans 15:14 (NKJV) Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish [Greek: noutheteo: to put in mind, to caution or reprove gently, warn] one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NKJV) Therefore comfort [Greek: parakaleo: call near, invite, invoke , beseech, call for, exhort, entreat, pray] one another with these words.
Ephesians 4:2 (NKJV) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,
Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 5:21 (NKJV) submitting [Greek: hupotasso: to subordinate; be under obedience]to one another in the fear of God.
How can we fulfill any of these commands to receive, love, comfort, and forgive if we don't consider one another? If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't know what others need, then how can we fulfill these exhortations? WE CAN'T!
Do you realize that individually you and I are personally responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of each other? Do you understand that? This exhortation to consider is not given to the church elders - it is given to all believers. We all are to consider one another. We are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of one another. The spirit of rugged individualism so prevalent in America is wholly incompatible with the church of Jesus Christ. American believers think that they have discharged their responsibility to the Lord because they are individually living in holiness, but they are wrong: we are not only to look out for our own lives, but we are to consider others. Christianity is others oriented! But most of us care only about meeting our own needs; we ignore the many instructions in the Bible about our responsibility to others.
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing [Greek: noutheteo] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NKJV) Therefore comfort each other and edify [Greek: oikodomeo: to be a house-builder, to construct] one another, just as you also are doing.
Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve [Greek: douleuo: to be a slave to] one another.
The kingdom of God is not designed for believers to exist in isolation from each other: we are interdependent. We need each other if we are truly going to be what God has called us to be. Each believer has unique abilities and insights that are invaluable for ministering to the body of Christ. Christianity is to be lived out in community, and God has created us to be dependent both on Him and on one another. God said in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for a man to be alone." That principle does not only apply to the marriage relationship; none of us has the spiritual wherewithal to go it alone in our Christian lives. Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." As we share our lives with each other, we sharpen and encourage one another.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NKJV) Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.
We need each other because that is how the Lord created us. We are to teach, to serve, and to bear the burdens of one another.
Notice the purpose of our considering one another:
Hebrews 10:24 (NKJV) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
The words "stir up" are from the Greek word paroxusmos, which is a strong word implying: "a real effort to prod each other into love and good works." This word appears only one other time in Scripture:
Acts 15:37-40 (NKJV) "Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention [paroxusmos] became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God."
Paroxusmos usually means irritation or exasperation. It is unusual to have it used in a good sense, and the choice of the unusual word makes the exhortation more striking. We stir up one another a lot by irritating and exasperating one another. But we do not usually stir up each other to love and good works; we provoke to anger, jealousy, and envy. When is the last time that you were provoked to love and good works by another believer? Can you answer that? Or when is the last time that you provoked another believer to love and good works?
How are we to provoke one another to love and good works? He tells us in verse 25 through a negative statement and a positive statement.
Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
On the negative side, we should not forsake our assembling together. We can't help each other much if we don't see each other. On the positive side, when we come together, we are to exhort one another. The Greek word for "exhort" is parakaleo, which means: "to encourage, to comfort, beg, or beseech." It is the same word used for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It speaks of coming alongside to help. When we get together, we are to encourage one another, build one another up. Peter and James express it this way:
James 5:16 (NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
1 Peter 4:9-10 (NKJV) Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister [Greek: diakoneo: to be an attendant, wait upon menially or as a host, friend or teacher, serve] it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
Do confession, intercessory prayer, hospitality, and service happen on Sunday morning when we gather? Very little if any. We come in, listen to a message and leave. There are a handful of people who seek to minister to others on Sunday morning, but most believers just sit and learn.
What does Hebrews 10:25 mean when it says we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together? I use to understand this to primarily mean Sunday morning. The problem is I don't see this stuff happening on Sunday when we are here. I have exhorted you on numerous occasions to do this, but I don't see it happening to any extent. After much frustration and prayer, I have come to the conclusion that the assembling called for here is not primarily Sunday morning, because these things just can't happen when we meet on Sunday. The teaching on Sunday morning is very important, and we cannot abandon it, but this verse doesn't say we are to assemble to be taught. It says we are to assemble to exhort one another. This can only effectively be done in the context of small groups where we can really get to know one another and help one another to live as God would have us to through provoking one another to love and good works, and by confessing our faults to one another and praying for one another.
The familiar lecture format of Sunday school and Sunday morning services are totally ineffective for exhortation. We must gather together on Sunday morning to be taught God's Word by those who God has gifted to teach, but we need more; we need to have time when we can gather to share what we have learned, to question each other on the progress or failure that we are experiencing, to pray for one another. I am convinced that this needs to happen in small groups. I believe that this missing element is the cause of our shallow and loveless Christianity.
Even when we do come together outside of Sunday morning, we often just talk about surface stuff. We don't question each other about our sins or victories. If someone ever should question a person about a sinful practice in his life, he gets very defensive and hostile. Our Christianity is very shallow; the writings of the early Methodists contrasts with our shallowness.
In The Rules of the Band Societies (an early Methodist meeting which consisted of no more than twelve, and no less than two) drawn up on December 25, 1738, the following statements give us insight into their group's transparency:
The design of our meeting is to obey that command of God, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed."
To this end, we intend,-
1. To meet once a week, at the least.
2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.
Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion offers;
1. What known sin have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptation have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
How would you like to be involved in a group like that? To tell you the truth, I have mixed emotions. I would love to be involved in that kind of a group, because that is what true Christianity is all about. But on the other hand, it scares me, this is serious stuff, this is not playing church. In a cell group, it should be commonplace for the cell leader to ask each person present, "What is the state of your life concerning this or that issue?" This is the type of assembly that I believe the author of Hebrews is talking about rather than the teaching time of our Sunday morning meetings.
Before we can build one another up , there must be an understanding of each other's spiritual needs. Small cell groups provide a context where this can happen. Cell groups are based on the scriptural concept of community. The essence of community is a sense of belonging. There is a powerful Christian camaraderie established when people belong to each other in a cell group (Acts 2:42-46). There's no real community in the traditional church structure, and those who create community must do so in spite of the organization's schedule. The early church recognized that there cannot be total participation by every member when the gatherings are large and impersonal, so they moved from house to house in small groups.
Let me share with you an incident that Ralph Neighbor recounts in his book, Where Do We Go >From Here?. The incident took place at a cell group meeting:
The pastor asked 'Does anyone have a special problem that we might pray for?' The hostess said, 'I do. I've had a rash all over my body for months. Fever blisters are on my lips. You can see the rash on my arms and neck. My whole body is like that. I've seen dermatologists who have given me creams and pills, but nothing makes any difference. I'd like you to pray for me.'
She moved her chair to the center of the room . We all gathered around her. What would happen now? Would we politely pray for her healing and move on to the next prayer request?
The pastor said, 'I sense in my heart the Lord is telling me your problem is the result of great anger. Perhaps it's something you wish to share with us.'
My theology differs from Mr. Neighbor's: we disagree on how he came to that conclusion. If the lady had great anger, it should have been evident to a sensitive person. According to James, sickness could be a result of sin; when the sin is dealt with, healing results:
James 5:14-15 (NKJV) "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven."
She was silent for a few moments, and began to weep softly, 'Yes, that could be. I am so angry at my husband! He promises us he'll be home for dinner, but night after night we eat without him. I put his food in the fridge, and usually I'm asleep before he comes home to eat it. He's broken his promises to me over and over, and I feel I am a widow as I raise our children.'
One of the men cleared his throat and spoke to the husband: 'You know, I nearly lost my family doing the same thing you are doing now. In fact, my wife had packed her things to leave me. I felt I was the best husband and father possible because I worked day and night to give them nice things. The Holy Spirit had to deal severely with me. I came to realize that the very thing I was working for was about to go up in smoke. If it did, what would my past or future work be worth? It was then that Paul's writings to Timothy and Titus began to show me I would never be God's man until I managed my own household well. I had one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. Our marriage and our home have radically changed since the day I put my family after God and ahead of my workaholic lifestyle.'
Several others then shared. Scriptures were quoted. The Spirit of God had taken control. The husband fell to his knees and wept, his face buried in his wife's lap. He prayed first - a personal prayer of confession and repentance. The group prayed along with him. The man who had shared his own personal experience laid his hand on his friend as he prayed for him. Then our prayer time moved to his dear wife. And we all prayed for her.
That's not the end of the story. The following Sunday morning, I was sitting on the front row in the church auditorium, looking over my sermon notes. I could see this group talking in the parking lot area. A few minutes later, they stood in a circle around me. Our cell group hostess drew back the flowing sleeves of her dress and said, 'Ralph, look! No rash! No rash anywhere on my body!' Then, with deep love in her eyes, she said, 'My husband wants to say something to you.' He said, 'Ralph, I've cut back my workday to eight hours. I took the kids to the zoo yesterday. We have a new home. I'll never be the same. God did a deep work in my heart in our cell group.'
The Spirit of God worked through that small group rather than through the ministry of one man. I have taught many times, often in frustration, that we are to minister to one another. This kind of ministry can really only happen in small groups.
Believers, we are to assemble together for the purpose of provoking one another to love and good works. The supportive love of Christians for one another is a powerful factor in maintaining our spiritual vigor. If we would follow this prescription, we would be able to live loving lives to the glory of God:.
The Church is a body, an organism, rather than an organization. Each individual's victorious Christian life depends on the other members of the body caring for him and holding him accountable. When we begin to consider one another, then God will show us what Christianity is all about.
When I was a youth pastor, I had the closest and best fellowship I have ever known. I believe that that was because the youth workers lived out Heb. 10:24. We spent a lot of time together - we shared our hurts and our joys - we had close fellowship. And we also labored together for a common goal - teen ministry. The results were that our spiritual lives were vibrant, and because of this, we had a very successful ministry.
I think that these elements are what are needed at BBC. We need to get to know each other in community so we can learn to love each other. And we also need to be involved in ministry.
Please be praying about your involvement in a cell group. I would like to see many groups started where believers can come together in true fellowship. If we become a loving church by God's grace, we will see many people come to Christ. Everybody wants to be a part of a loving community.