One Powerful Lesson for the Church

On November 18, 1978, at the direction of charismatic cult leader Jim Jones, 909 members of the People’s Temple died, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning,” including over 200 murdered children.

Mel White, a Christian writer and filmmaker and adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, set out to investigate the causes of the Jim Jones’ Jonestown tragedy in the Guyana jungle, and pub­lished his findings in Deceived (1979).

In talking to defectors and survivors, he discovered that Jones’s victims had church backgrounds, but they did not find love there. Jean Mills, for exam­ple, a defector after seven years, said, “I was so turned off in every church I went to because nobody cared.”

And Grace Stoen, whose lawyer husband Tim became the second most powerful man in the People’s Temple, said, “I went to church until I was 18 years old .. . and nobody ever befriended me.” In the People’s Temple, however, according to Jean Mills, “everyone seemed so caring and loving. They hugged us and made us welcome … and they said they wanted us to come back.”

This discovery led Mel White in his last chapter (entitled “It Must Not Happen Again”) to list several resolutions, of which the first is, “I will do my best to help make my church a more loving community to our members and the strangers in our midst.”

Please make this one of your resolutions for 2019!

John 13 & The Distinguishing Mark of a Christian

In his booklet on John 13:34-35 entitled “The Mark of a Christian,” Francis Shaeffer called love ‘the final apologetic.’ The love of Christians for one another should be the distinguishing mark by which the world recognizes us as followers of Jesus. Such mutual interest in and concern for each other will arrest the attention of unbelievers. This recognition from the world will both honor the name of Jesus Christ and incline people to listen to the gospel message. We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of Christ’s love in us.

– Francis Shaeffer

The passage before traces two great movements of grace — ‘just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ The newness of the precept stems from Jesus requiring that his disciples love one another just as he loved them! Jesus’ constant, sacrificial and unconditional love must be the pattern for their attitude and relationships with one another. There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.

– George Sand 

Everything in the world can be endured except a life without love.

– Adapted from Johann von Goethe

One word frees us of the weight and pain of life – that word is love.

Sophocles

The gospel creates a new community where love rules every relationship. The gospel completely transforms our human relationships. The gospel energizes our friendships, our marriages, our relationships with parents and children, with our peers as well as those who are older and younger. Without the gospel, we will either “provoke” those to whom we feel superior or we will “envy” those to whom we feel inferior. But since the gospel has both humbled us and yet has assured us of our lovedness, we are now free from envy and pride, inferiority and superiority.

– Adapted from Tim Keller

Learning to love like Jesus – Who?

John 13:34a says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”

Who we are to love? One another. The love of Christians for one another should be the distinguishing mark by which the world recognizes us as followers of Jesus Christ. Love is one of the key terms in Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse which covers John 13–17. The word ‘love’ occurs thirty-one times in these five chapters as compared to only six times in John 1–12.

In striking historical confirmation of the words of Jesus recorded here in John 13, Tertullian, an early church pastor (about 200 A.D.) wrote: “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘Behold,’ they say, ‘how they love one another.’” (Apology XXXIX).

Jesus’ command simply calls all who profess loyalty to Him to “keep on loving one another.” This is truly the most important instruction that Jesus left his followers. What Jesus says here is not a suggestion. It is a command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Standing Before the Grave of the Apostle John in Turkey

The Apostle John was known in the ancient church for his concern for love. Jerome tells of John in his extreme old age saying, whenever he was carried into the assembly, “Little children, love one another.” When his disciples got tired of this, they asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command. If this alone be done, it is enough” (Jerome Commentary on Galatians at Gal 6:10).

In our day and age of sentimentality, it is vital to define what we mean by love? The word that Jesus uses here is ‘agape.’ In this context, it refers to sacrificially serving the interests and needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

C.S. Lewis in one of his last books examined the four Greek words for love. He concludes that they come down to one seminal distinction: the difference between what he calls “need love” and “gift love.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together, describes need love as human love and gift love as spiritual love. He says this:

“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake. Need love is always born of emptiness. It is basically inquisitive to the core. A need lover sees in every beloved object or person a value that he or she covets to possess. Need love moves out greedily to grasp and to grab for itself. If one were to diagram it, need love is always circular, reaching out to the beloved to transfer value back to itself. In a popular image, need love sucks the life out of another and into itself. Many times when we say to another, ‘I love you,’ what we are really meaning is, ‘I need you, I want you. You have a value that I very much desire to make my own.'”

Just yesterday I was listening to two of my favorite singer/songwriters – Carly Simon and James Taylor. Why is it that their marriage never worked? I so enjoy the music that they made and played together. However, if you listen to their lyrics, it provides us a clue into how we are all easily prone to focus on need love. “I needed the shelter of someone strong. There you were. I needed someone to understand my ups and downs. There you were.” Their relationship like most of our relationships was a ‘need love’ relationship rather than a ‘gift love’ relationship.

Now C.S. Lewis contends there is another reality which he calls gift love. Instead of being born of emptiness, this form of loving is born of fullness. The goal of gift love is to enrich and enhance the beloved. Gift love is like an arc, not a circle. It moves out to bless and to increase rather to acquire or to diminish. Gift love is more like a bountiful, artesian well that continues to overflow than a vacuum cleaner that sucks up everything with which it comes in contact. The love of Jesus Christ is gift love, not need love. This gift love describes the way Jesus loved. And the good news for all of us today is not only that we are loved by our Savior in this marvelous way, but also that that He empowers us to love others in this way. We love because he first loved us.

Learning to love like Jesus – How?

John 13:34 traces two great movements of grace — ‘just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ Jesus calls this his “new commandment.” What makes this commandment new? In a nutshell, “Just as  I have loved you”

“New” (kainen) implies freshness rather than simply “recent.” The word in the original Koine Greek is ‘kainos.’ It denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh. Another Greek word ‘neos’ denotes the new primarily in reference to time – recent.

The newness of Jesus’ precept stems from his calling his disciples to love one another just as he loved them! Jesus’ constant, sacrificial and unconditional love must be the pattern for their attitude and relationships with one another.

Words like this from our Savior’s lips caused Albert Einstein to say: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene… No man can read the Gospel without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. Jesus is the most merciful, self-giving, and loving person that you could ever meet and know.”

Why does Jesus raise the standard? He knows that we will never rise to fulfill our Lord’s mandate until we grasp how much we are loved by him. Thus, at the outset we are told what this text is about: It is about being loved by Jesus.

Jesus calls all of His disciples to love one another just as He loved them. Thus, a very pertinent question is how did our Savior love His disciples while on earth? How did Jesus love?

How does he love us?  Persistently. He had loved them without reservation and without limit (13:1 – He loved them to the end. His love is a persistent love. He doesn’t give up on us.

Sacrificiallylaying down one’s life (twice – vv.37&38) … He ‘laid down His life for us’ John 15:12-13 – My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Unconditionally – Naturally, we love those we find attractive. But who is Jesus loving here in this text?  Who are the ones that Jesus is loving in this passage? This original band failed him. They were fickle and cowardly in their devotion to their Lord. This should greatly encourage us because reminds us that there is hope for us.

Thus, how are we to love one another? Persistent, sacrificial and unconditional love for one another is the distinguishing trait of the Christian.

QUESTION: Where am I sacrificing time, talent, and treasure to care for the physical, moral and spiritual well being of others? Such self-sacrificing love shown by his followers would be the witness to the world of true discipleship.

The adapted quote below from Matthew Henry takes this command of Jesus out of the realm of mere sentimentality and speaks of this command in a challenging, practical, and helpful way.

  • He spoke kindly to them. Gentle answer…Patient and kind.
  • He concerned himself diligently for them, and for their welfare,
  • He instructed, counseled, and comforted them, 
  • He prayed with and for them…  
  • He vindicated them when they were accused… 
  • He publicly owned them to be dearer to him that his mother, or sister, or brothers. 
  • He reproved them for what was amiss…He truthed them in love. 
  • He compassionately bore with their failings. He doesn’t take into account a wrong suffered…  A helpful illustration of this comes from the movie Invictus: The captain rugby player for South African’s spring box marvels that Nelson Mandela could be imprisoned for 30 years in a small cell and come out ready to forgive those who put him there and not be embittered.
  • He believed the best about them, 
  • He passed by many an oversight. Love covers a multitude of sins.
  • BUT the special instance of love for us which he was now about to give was when He laid down his life for us on Calvary’s cross.

Friends, we must all honestly admit that we cannot love one another in the way and manner that Jesus loved us. BUT, His Holy Spirit comes to empower us to do that which is humanly impossible… to love one another persistently, sacrificially, and unconditionally by faith.

Too often, I find that something else fuels and energizes us in our efforts to love our Savior and His people. Look again at Peter in vv.36-38. Peter was initially fueled and energized by a fleshly self-reliance rather than the Lord’s love for him. Like Peter, we are all prone to talk big about loving the Lord and one another. You can almost hear Jesus’ loving rebuke of Peter: Will you really lay down your life for me? You who trembled to walk upon the water to me. You who when I spoke of my sufferings cried out ‘far be it from you Lord!’ At the end of the night, Peter had failed at love. Even still, he was not snatched from the grasp of His loving shepherd (John 10:28) and neither will you!

The burden of Jesus in John 13:34 is that you personally experience His love. If you do, you will extend His love to others. A community founded on the love of Christ has no other purpose for existence that to extend His love to others.

Learning to love like Jesus – Why?

Jesus says in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Why is it important that we learn to love like Jesus? The obvious reason is that the Lord commands it. But this text offers us two vital reasons why…

Fulfill our mission. Learning to love like Jesus helps us to fulfill our mission of reaching others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.Verse 35…“All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” The quality of fellowship in the body of Christ determines the effectiveness of our witness. Loving others well will show the world that we indeed are Christians – by our love.  Here is what Francis Schaeffer referred to as “the final apologetic.” The love of Christians for one another should be the distinguishing mark by which the world recognizes us as followers of Jesus. Such mutual interest in and concern for each other will arrest the attention of unbelievers. This recognition from the world will both honor the name of Jesus Christ and incline people to listen to our message.

We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of Christ’s love in us.

The second reason we are called to love like Jesus is to preserve our unity… Learning to love like Jesus serves as the antidote to every vice that disrupts our fellowship and life together. The original disciples quarreled repeated about which of them was the greatest. The devil fosters a spirit of envy, rivalry, distrust and self-reliance.

How important it is for all of us to recognize that the seeds of the failure to love Christ and others lie deeply embedded in our own hearts. Dark forces are afoot that would annihilate our love for Christ and others. Left to our natural selves we either provoke those to whom we feel superior or envy those to whom we feel inferior. We must repent of all the ways that we have failed to show the love of Christ.

One of the primary ways that the Evil One deceives us is by causing us to focus on that which is mysterious rather than focusing on our duty. For example in John 13, Peter is more concerned about where Jesus is going rather than taking stock regarding whether he is loving others like Jesus loved him.

Would you pray that your church would become more of a cruciform community that is marked primarily by how it loves rather than just a Christian community that is simply marked by what it does.

This new commandment is the whole gospel story. Love is cruciform, downward for us and outward through us. In the cross, divine love triumphs over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.

This is why the great hymn writer Isaac Watts beautifully wrote:

“Love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”

Love Stoops to Conquer – Worship Reflections for John 13

The foot washing episode of John 13 serves as “a rebuke to the disciples’ ambitious strife, far more powerful than words could have spoken: Such a rebuke that never again do we see a hint of the old question, ‘Who should be greatest?’ It was Christ’s answer to their unseemly conduct, and a lesson to all Christians “who love to be first” for all time. It said, ‘Let him that would be greatest become the servant of all.’”

– B.W. Johnson

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling;Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Augustus Toplady

 

The best commentary on John 13 is Philippians 2 because it describes the stages of Christ’s mission. Note what the text says in 13:4: “Jesus rose from supper” just as he had risen from his heavenly throne. “He laid aside his garments” just as he had laid aside his heavenly glory. “He girded himself with a towel” just as in the incarnation he took the form of a servant. Verse 5… “He poured water into a basin and began to wash and wipe their feet” just as on the cross he secured our cleansing from sin. Verse 12…. When he had washed their feet and taken up his garments, “He resumed his place…” He sat down again just as when he had purged our sins he returned to his heavenly glory and sat down at the Father’s right hand. By these actions, he dramatizes his whole saving mission.

John Stott 

For Judas to betray such a master, to betray him so cheaply and upon no provocation, was such downright enmity to God as could not be forged but by Satan himself, who thereby thought to ruin the Redeemer’s kingdom, but did in fact ruin his own.

Conscious that we labor under darkness, and conscious of our inability to judge what God is doing, should make us sparing and modest in our censures of his proceedings…Unlike the Apostle Peter in John 13.

– Adapted from Matthew Henry

To What End Does God Love You?

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...

John Donne

I’ve been studying over the past several days for our Spring Sermon series entitled “Final Words” from John 13-17 which is Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse.

John 13:1 says: Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

A devotional thought worth serious reflection and meditation comes from the pen of
John Donne from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He writes:

“Those whom God loves,
he loves to the end
and not to their end and their death,
but to His end,
and His end is that
He might love them more.”
– John Donne