An Unimpeachable Godóor, Love Your Neighbor Just as Jesus Did
Sermon for September 6, 1998
Text: Romans 15:1-6 and Galatians 6:1-3
Letís begin with what must be the critical question: what is it that the strong and the weak have in common? They have a sense of divine presence. If I were to spell this out from the passage, it would look like this:
So divine presence makes itself known through these avenues. It did so then and it does so now!
If we kept in mind the divine presence in an active and present sense, then the struggle with unity and the management of controversy would be much less difficult. One problem those who have experienced the touch of God is this: they tend to cool off after time. The divine presence which is very real when it happens seems less and less real with the passage of time. The reason that the strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak is simple. Both are children of the same God.
There is another compelling reason we should bear with each other: we have all died to our self. We share a fundamental other-directedness. We choose not to please ourselves in choosing to please our neighbor. This matter of pleasing ourselves is about selflessness. Choosing to do what builds our neighbor up is a conscious antidote to the poison of selfishness and pride. Yes, and pride.
Pride is the besetting sin of the strong. And the strong tend to be those who are pleased with themselves and pleased in themselves. That is what they must be exhorted to bear with others. We have a tendency to associate with people who share our values, strong with the strong and the weak with the weak. This can lead to some real divisions in the churchóan aloofness and an apartness which can led to despising and to contempt if we are not very careful. . . and humble. For the truth is that the strong are not better than the weak, they are merely different. The strong are those who by the grace of God have come into the mind of God on a certain matter and so walk in greater liberty regarding that matter. There may be, and probably are, other arenas in which they are "weak" and so indistinguishable from others who are weak. We have no basis for being overly pleased with ourselves and haughty because we are all saved by grace through faith. However, because the strong see themselves as "strong" then a large measure of responsibility falls on their shoulders: they should bear with the weak because they can. Of course, they have the encouragement of Jesusí example: He was able and He did bear with the weak . . . that would be all of us.
Letís be plain about that last point. Jesus Christ, in Himself, needs neither us, nor our services. But, in spite of divine self-sufficiency, He chose to stoop to our weakness. Out of marvelous compassion, unfathomable love, Jesus stooped, and gathered, and cleansed. With pure and selfless regard, love, He acted for us without regard for His own safety, comfort, pleasure, cost, or sanctity of person. His love also extended to the heavens and His Father God whereby He allowed the insults aimed at Father God to fall upon Himself. We, following that example, allow ourselves to bear insults aimed at our Lord Jesus Christ because the compassion of Christ has come to us, indwells. When we bear those reproaches, those hurtful and angry things people say and do, we do so grateful that we are counted worthy to suffer and we do so knowing that those who so afflict us are infinitely weak, totally baffled and completely confused. Just as we once were!
To the total bewilderment of the world, we pray for those who persecute us. We bless those who curse us. Why? So that we might demonstrate who we really are, after the Christ crisis, or event in our lives, after we have experienced the touch of God. That touch of divine presence made all the difference when it happened it should make all the difference even now. Remembering our Christ crisis, the moment when we were touched by the reality of God, is the primary motivation for neighbor love. Itís the measure between what we are and what we were that makes us ache for transformation in another personís life. Paul knows this tension. He describes it as birth pangs:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ
is formed in you . . . Galatians 4:19.
Standing in awe of the love of God for me fills me to overflowing with love for others . . . and being so filled there is a joyous splash-over effect. Love spills out of me in torrents, compassion floods my heart, tenderness blankets me like several feet of new fallen snow . . . my heart soars like an eagle in the skies of selflessness! Oh, if God would only renew my sense of His presence! I need a fresh touch of His majesty, a new measure of wonder and amazement:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars
which You have set in place, What is man that You are mindful of him, and the song of man
that you care for him! Psalm 8:3-4
Standing in awe of the love of God can also come through study of His word. It can come through Scripture that astounds me, turns my thinking completely around, revolutionizes my understanding. It can come in the form of a much needed conviction . . . a timely reminder, a sword through the heart. It can come through glorious promises, insight, the opening of my mind to truth. It can come through what was written before, the blessed revelation of God to teach me, through endurance and encouragement, hope! God can shower me with the sufficiency of His revelation, bathe me in richly unanticipated relevance and completeness . . . it is the one book that lacks absolutely nothing. And that the Holy Spirit even teaches me what it means is love!
All this is not unique to me. This is the experience of every Christian. It is divine presence that informs everything: the example of Christ, the life and presence of the church, the scriptures, the God of endurance and encouragement, even God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! We have so much more in common than we have apart so letís apply ourselves to loving each other more fully, freely and deeply. May the world again look at us and exclaim: "How these Christians love each other!" And may the world also exclaim, "And how these Christians love us!"
I close with a word about the title of this sermon. Christ Jesus loved us as His neighbors when He drew near and laid down His life for us. He did so selflessly, purely and at great cost. Therefore, He is unimpeachable when He demands the same from us. Isnít it great to have a God who cannot be removed from office?! Not only is it not possible, there are no grounds for it.