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Worship Theme: Love That’s Different
- CW 469 Welcome Happy Morning
- CW 455 Alleluia! Jesus Lives
- CW 726 Love in Christ is strong and living
- CW 728 This Is My Will
- CW 731 Oh, How Good It Is
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Message: Love That’s Different
Pastor Jerome McWaters
Jesus tells us to be the light of the world. In its most basic sense this means that Christians should be different than the world. As different as light is from darkness, as different as night is from day, so should we be different from the world that is around us. Are you?
On the other side of the matter is the fact that culture is very good at pressuring Christians to conform. The world doesn't want us to be different. It wants us to see things its way and do things its way. Then they can say of us, “Look, those Christians really aren't so different from us after all.”
Are you the light of the world or are you dimmed to the same level as the world around you? When you set your goals for each new day, is being a light your primary objective? Your brightness will not rise above the ambient level if you do not intentionally turn it up. Here is a prayer for the start of your day: “Lord, fill me with courageous faith and committed discipleship to distinguish myself today as a Christian. Let me stand out as a light that shines forth n the darkness.”
Certainly, what we believe distinguishes us from the world. In a sea of humanistic drivel the message that Jesus Christ became man to live, die, and rise again, that by believing in Him we might be saved, is absolutely unique. When this message of love touches a person's heart it animates their lives so that their actions stand out too. It's what Jesus means when He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (John 13:34,35).
Love for others is hardly new. Even before Christ gave this command God’s people honored Him by showing love. What's new about it for New Testament Christians is that now we have the example of Christ Himself, who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom. He shows us what real love is, and how far it will go. It is unconditional love like Christ’s that distinguishes His disciples.
Listen to how the book of Acts describes the early church in Jerusalem. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:32,34,35).
We're also told that that early Christians were highly regarded by the people in spite of the persecution they were experiencing, and that “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (5:14). Those who joined knew they would become a target but they had to be a part of that loving community! Clearly, the love they had for each other distinguished Christians in 1st century Jerusalem.
Nearly two centuries later, the Christian community was still distinguishing itself by the love for one another Jesus had commanded. The church father Tertullian wrote: “It is mainly the deeds of love so noble that lead many to put a brand on us. ‘See,’ they say, ‘how they love one another...‘see how they are ready even to die for one another,’ for they themselves will rather put to death.”
Their love was modeled after Christ’s love. In 2 Corinthians Paul described the love of Christ this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9). And sure enough, those Christians sacrificed their hard-earned cash to meet each other’s needs.
In Ephesians he writes: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1). And sure enough, some of those Christians even gave their lives rather than to deny their Lord.
In Galatians Paul wrote: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). And sure enough, Christians gave of themselves to help each other through debilitating illness and horrible heartache.
To the Colossians he writes: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you…put on love!” (3:13,14). And sure enough, Christians swallowed their pride and let go of their anger; they forgot old hurts and lost the scorecard tallying about who was right.
The old commandment was: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The new commandment is, “As I have loved you, you also should love one another.” And that meant loving others more than yourself. It meant loving one's enemies and praying for those who persecute you. It meant embracing servanthood. “Yeah, but what about me and my needs?” is a question Jesus never asked.
St. Paul describes Christ-like love in his sublime yet simple, earnest but still eloquent great hymn of love from I Corinthians 13. Be honest as I read these words; how does your love measure up? “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (5-8)
Oh my. That's not a description of my love at all. I get a failing grade already after the first three words, “love is patient.” In fact, I fail on every single count. True love never fails but mine does so this passage cannot refer to me. But what a perfect description of the Savior’s love for us!
God’s love—no argument, is the grandest and greatest of all loves, and it’s the thing that ought to motivate our love for others. I think we all agree that's much easier said than done! Knowing Jesus command is one thing; doing it is another, and truth be told, we haven’t done it nearly like we should. We admit it, we confess it, we ask for forgiveness and we try to do better.
But if we think a bit about it, we might recognize that part of us isn't so convinced that we really need to love one another. We’ve been wronged, slighted, ignored, insulted. Must we love those who did it? We’re better, superior, a little higher up the morality chart, let’s say. Must we love those below us? I should love my family, but what about my nephew who’s into drugs and obnoxious music? I should love my neighbors, but I have trouble with that one who has trash all over their front yard and junk cars in the back. What about the co-worker who insulted you or the guy who thinks he’s a gal. The homeless man who won’t work or the immigrant who sneaks into America illegally? How about your neighbor who brags he’s an atheist, or the one who thinks your faith is just dumb. Jesus says, Love one another. I can find no exceptions to that in God's Word.
Perfect love moved Jesus to come into the world. Perfect love led Him to honor and obey His Father. Perfect love was why He ministered to the sick and dying and preached to the multitudes. With perfect love He made Himself a servant of all and humbled Himself to death—even death on a cross. even to the point of death on the cross. If you want to know what real love is, look there! If you want to learn how to put real love into action, look there!
I'm not talking about flowers and candy. I'm talking about the kind of love that rolls up its sleeves and goes to work like Paul described in His great Hymn of Love, 1 Corinthians 13. Forgive and forget what’s in the past. No more rear-view mirror, it’s all windshield. Understand and sympathize with those who struggle with poverty or sin. Feel compassion and concern for those who have fallen into temptation and error. Open your eyes, open your hearts, and open your wallets. You can’t show your love to all, but you can show your love to all you can, and you can love them all in Christ. No exceptions. Why? Because Christ did that for you and me.
Have you ever heard it said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care? That is especially true in a generation that is suspicious of organized, institutional religion, a generation that wants to see an authentic experience of faith before listening to a doctrinal dissertation on the faith. We want to make our Christian friendships and our Christian churches such remarkable models of Christ’s love that people just have to find out what makes us different. God help us be that model!
For “by this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”