Living a Life of Love
May 17, 2014 | Brian Bill
Years ago, Christianity Today ran a story on the State of Evangelism in America. Here’s their conclusion: “…We found that most feel a responsibility to share the gospel and that most even feel comfortable doing so, but very few actually do it.”
Stephen Mattson, in a blog post called, “Bad Reasons to Not Evangelize,” gives some possible reasons why many of us don’t share our faith with others.
- We fear controversy. In our current cultural climate, that is growing increasingly caustic toward Christianity, many choose to remain quiet about Christ. Dr. Robert P. George, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, spoke this week and said, “It’s no longer easy to be a faithful Christian in America. Our culture increasingly condemns Christian beliefs as bigoted and hateful…they despise us if we refuse to call good evil and evil good.” Incidentally, according to 2 Timothy 3:1, even more perilous times are coming in the last days.
- We’re ashamed. Instead of boldly proclaiming Christ as the only way to heaven, some today are afraid to even admit they are Christians. Did you hear the report out of Sudan this week about a pregnant woman who refused to renounce her Christianity and has now been sentenced to death by hanging? Friends, let’s not bail on our faith but rather become even bolder for Christ. If you’re ashamed now what will happen when our society gets even more acidic toward Christians? We must come back to Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…”
- We don’t really care. We’ve become preoccupied, filling our lives with entertainment, tasks and a litany of technological distractions. Some of us are simply trying to survive and so we’re not thinking about those who don’t know Christ. Because we seldom think of the eternal realities of heaven and hell, we live as if this life is all there is.
I want to propose that the way to raise the evangelism intensity at this church is for us to increase in our love for God for others. Actually, if we love God with everything we have and love others as much as we love ourselves, we will engage in evangelism. We won’t be able to stop.
But we have a lot of work to do, don’t we? One of my new pastor friends shared an illustration this week that I found very moving. He reminded us that there are approximately 400,000 people in the QCA. As best he’s been able to determine, roughly 200,000 are connected with some kind of faith community, leaving 200,000 who aren’t. With about 215 churches in the QCA, our task is far from complete. In order to connect the disconnected, we’re going to have to intentionally and purposely live on mission 365/24/7. It’s not going to get done unless we change the way we’ve been doing some things.
We’ve been learning how to live on mission right where God has placed us, beginning in our homes and in our neighborhoods [show map]. Three weeks ago we focused on making sure that Christ is Lord of each of our lives so that we’ll be able to give the gospel out with respect and gentleness. Two weeks ago we were challenged to break down barriers and build bridges with those who don’t yet know Christ. Last week we established that moms and grandmas can make a kingdom impact with, or without, the help of a dad.
Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 12:28-31 and let’s read this passage together: “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Here’s the setting. It’s the last week of Jesus’ life and He’s just cleared out the temple and chased away the money-changers and now his enemies unleash a hurricane of hatred toward Him. At the end of chapter 11, the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders confront Christ with a question. In 12:13 we read, “Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.” These divergent groups, that didn’t even like each other, banded together to try to trap Jesus.
In verse 19, the Sadducees ask him a crazy question about the afterlife. I love the answer Jesus gives them in verse 24: “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?” May that never be said of the people of Edgewood!
After making the Sadducees sad, one of the Pharisees, a teacher, who had heard this debate, was drawn to Jesus and asked the following question in verse 28: “Which is the first commandment of all?” The New Living Translations renders it this way: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
He wants to know which one has the most weight. This was an often-debated question among the religious leaders. They liked to count and categorize the commands, arguing about which ones could be blown off and which had to be kept. We generally think of there being 10 Commandments but the Pharisees actually added all of them and came up with 613 – 248 were positive: “do this” or “do that” and 365 were negative: “don’t do this, don’t do that.” For them, a “don’t a day” kept the devil away!
The answer Jesus gives summarizes the entire teaching of Scripture: Love God and love others.
Notice verse 29: “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” The top priority, the consummate command is so important that Jesus quotes “The Shema,” which literally means, “to hear.” These words are found in Deuteronomy 6 and 11 and Numbers 15 and were recited by every pious Jew in the morning and evening, and some still do so today. This statement affirms the existence and unity of God and the community that He has with His people.
Notice that Jesus goes right to Scripture for the answer and He establishes the Sovereignty of God by calling Him Lord, or Yahweh.
The answer Jesus gives is two-fold.
1. Love God with all you have.
Verse 30: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” I’m struck by at least three truths in this verse.
- Love is more than a feeling. It’s a command but also a privilege. You and I must make a conscious decision to love God. Love is principally an action; not primarily an emotion. He could have chosen one of four Greek words for love. Eros refers to romantic love. Storgh speaks of the love of things. Phileao is the love between brothers. But this verse uses the verb agapao, which speaks of a never-ending, unchanging, unconditional, all-consuming love. This kind of love for God is a choice; a matter of the will driven by obedience and sacrifice.
- Love leads to a relationship. Jesus personalizes a relationship with the Lord by using the phrase, “your God.” That leads to a question. Is He your God? Warren Wiersbe points out that Jesus’ answer reveals that we are to live “not by rules but by relationships.”
- Love is to be comprehensive. Notice the four uses of the word “all,” which literally means, “the whole.” God’s whole-hearted love for us cannot be answered with half-hearted commitment from us. By listing the heart, soul, mind, and strength, no area is left out. We’re to love Him with everything we have – with devotion in our hearts, with passion in our souls, with thoughtfulness in our heads, and with passionate energy through our hands and our feet. We’re to love Him ahead of everything else and love Him with every faculty of our being. Friends, God’s limitless love for us should drive out any lukewarm love that we may have for Him.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
True to form, Jesus goes back to Scripture again and this time quotes Leviticus 19:18: “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The people standing there that day didn’t see this one coming because these two commands were never linked together before. I want you to notice that agapao love is used again. We’re to love our neighbors with limitless and unconditional love. We’re to love our neighbors with the same kind of love we have for ourselves. Give others the attention we give ourselves. We must think of our neighbors as much, or more, than we think of ourselves.
It’s easy to miss something at this point. Jesus is quoting a phrase from the tail end of a verse that is found in a long discussion about sacrifices and harvesting and paying workers. Let me read the first part: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” That means that we must give up our grudges and grievances and refuse to take vengeance on someone who has wronged us. And we’re to love our neighbors because God says, “I am Yahweh.”
Don’t be like the woman in Florida this week who had her neighbor’s mobile home bulldozed because she didn’t like them. When asked why she did it, she said, “because people who lived there were unsavory…” She considered what she did a “favor to her neighborhood.” She’s now facing a felony charge.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes our neighbors are not real nice, are they? Before you run out and rent a bulldozer, let’s draw our attention to the Word of God. I simply typed the word “neighbor” into my Bible study software and over 100 references popped up. Instead of listing them all, here are eight ways to deal with our neighbors.
- If you’ve lent something to a neighbor and it has not been returned for seven years, release it by singing, “Let it Go.” (sorry about that). Deuteronomy 15:1-2: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release.” Actually, don’t wait seven years to let it go.
- If you’ve borrowed something, return it quickly. Romans 13:8 says that we are to “owe nothing but love.”
- If you are in conflict with a neighbor, work it out and don’t disclose all the dirty details to others. Proverbs 25:9: “When arguing with your neighbor, don’t betray another person’s secret.”
- God hates it when we slander our neighbors according to Psalm 101:5: “I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride.”
- If you have something your neighbor needs, give it to them right away. Proverbs 3:28: “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you.”
- Be a close neighbor to someone who has far away family members. Proverbs 27:10: “Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.”
- Look for ways to please your neighbor. Romans 15:2: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”
- Help your neighbor any way you can. Isaiah 41:6 says, “Everyone helped his neighbor, and said to his brother, ‘Be of good courage!’”
Sunday Night Neighboring Ideas
Since we’re not having Sunday night services this summer, we’re encouraging everyone to take these nights to specifically and intentionally work on neighboring. The staff put together some ideas that may work for you. These are printed on the green cards on the table in the lobby.
- Begin praying, “God, how can I show love to my neighbors?”
- Introduce yourself to a neighbor you haven’t met yet
- Bring a plate of cookies to a neighbor
- Offer to share tools or lawn equipment
- Ask a neighbor for home improvement advice
- Schedule a date to have a neighbor over for a BBQ
- Hang out in front of your house or apartment
- Offer to help a neighbor in need
- Follow-up when you hear about a need
- Ask a neighbor, “How can I pray for you?”
- Go to a Back Water Gamblers Water Ski Show with a neighbor (free)
- Have a neighbor over for root beer floats
- Plan a neighborhood block party – we’re going to have one on June 22nd.
Jesus then states: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” It’s interesting that though this man asked for the one greatest commandment, Jesus actually gave Him two. He did so because loving others is the practical outworking of loving God. If you think of the 10 commandments, loving God covers the first four and loving others takes care of the last six. In Matthew 22:40 Jesus says, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
These two commandments are complimentary and are therefore really one – you can’t fulfill one without the other. In fact, after giving the second part, Jesus uses the singular word “commandment” to show that they are really impossible to separate. 1 John 4:20: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar…” 1 John 4:21 says, “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” We can’t say that we love God if we’re hatin’ on our neighbor.
God doesn’t want us to flounder spiritually but to live missionally.
Here’s the bottom line. We’re called to obey the Great Commission in the gentle spirit of the Great Commandment. God doesn’t want us to flounder spiritually but to live missionally. I heard David Platt say this week that we must stop living vacational lives. I would add that we must start living vocationally for Christ.
It’s pretty easy to say that we love God; it’s another matter to be walking in love. I like the honesty of one guy who said, “To love the world to me is no chore; my big trouble is the guy next door.”
In Romans 13:9 Paul says that God’s commands are “…summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” A bit of background is helpful here. There was a raging debate back then about whom a neighbor really was. They wanted to know who was in and who was out. The Jews typically interpreted “neighbor,” as “one who is near,” or a fellow Jew. The Pharisees tended to reject “ordinary people” while a smaller community at Qumran excluded everyone who was not part of their group.
The question is not “Who is my neighbor” but rather, “Am I being neighborly to everyone, even my enemies?” A neighbor is anyone in need who God brings in front of me. To ask “Who is my neighbor?” is to look for a loophole by focusing on what claim others have on my time and energy and resources. To ask, “Whose neighbor am I?” is to focus on what I owe to the suffering people all around me. A neighbor is anyone in need that God brings in front of me.
It would be a good idea for us to begin praying something like this: “Oh, God, don’t allow me to come into contact with anyone in need and leave him or her no better off than they were before I met them.”
We’ve been learning that our neighbors also include the nations of people that God is bringing to the Quad Cities. Leviticus 19:33-34: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Some time ago I read a book called, “The Art of Neighboring” with this subtitle: “Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door.” Here’s what I wrote down after reading it: “Many of us have hundreds of online “friends,” but do we know our neighbors? But what if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors, the people who live near to us? Wouldn’t it be great if we could mobilize our people to intentionally obey the second half of the Great Commandment? Imagine how our community would change! Imagine how Edgewood would change as families and individuals are won to Christ and begin worshipping with us! It would be incredible if God would launch a neighboring movement right here in the Quad City area!”
In his book, Discover Your Mission Now, Dave Ferguson recounts reading a doctoral thesis entitled, “Blessers versus Converters.” The researcher looked at two teams of short-term missionaries to Thailand with distinctly different Missional strategies.
Let’s love the lost and meet the needs of our neighbors.
The team referred to as the “blessers” went with the intention of simply blessing people in practical ways. On the other hand, the “converters” went with the sole intention of converting people. Here’s a summary of the findings: The “blessers” had a greater impact than the “converters,” with 50 times as many conversions as the “converters.” Friends, let’s bless those who are in a mess. Let’s love the lost and meet the needs of our neighbors. Instead of blasting or bulldozing, let’s start blessing.
Ten Little Christians
We need to get back on task by owning the mission we’ve been given.
- Ten little Christians, standing in a line, one disliked the preacher, then there were nine.
- Nine little Christians stayed up very late, one slept in on Sunday, then there were eight.
- Eight little Christians on their way to heaven, one took his own road, then there were seven.
- Seven little Christians chirping like some chicks, one disliked the song leader, then there were six.
- Six little Christians seemed very much alive, but one lost his interest, then there were five.
- Five little Christians pulling for heaven’s shore, but one stopped to rest, then there were four.
- Four little Christians, busy as a bee, one got her feelings hurt, then there were three.
- Three little Christians knew not what to do, one couldn’t forgive another, then there were two.
- Two little Christians, our rhyme is nearly done, quarreled over petty stuff, then there was only one.
- One little Christian, can’t do much ‘tis true; brought his friend to church – then there were two.
- Two earnest Christians, each won one more, that doubled the number, then there were four.
- Four sincere Christians worked early and worked late, each won another, then there were eight.
- Eight missional Christians, if they doubled as before, in just a few short weeks, we’d have 1,024.
Close But Far Away
Let’s go back to the encounter this man had with Jesus. In verse 32, he responds to Jesus: “…Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.” It’s a bit comical that this guy is telling Jesus that He’s right, isn’t it? Of course He is! It’s like he’s saying that he and Jesus are on the same page.
The man then adds that “to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” He knew his Bible for he is making an allusion to 1 Samuel 15:22: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
Jesus then responds to the man in verse 34: “ Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Did you catch that? He was close, but not in the kingdom. He was good, but not good enough. He was not far from, and yet he was far away. He was on his way but had not yet received Jesus as the only way.
The phrase, “not far” is emphatic in the Greek, meaning that Jesus wanted him to see that there was still separation between them, but he was close. He was religious, but did not yet have a saving relationship with the Savior.
- It’s possible to have a church background and not be a Christian.
- You can know the truth and be lost in your sins.
- You could have heard the gospel your whole life and still be resting in your own good works.
- You could be sitting in a pew each week and yet be hardened to the gospel.
- You could be an inch from heaven and die and still go to Hell.
I love how this encounter ends: “But after that no one dared question Him.” This is a double negative, meaning that absolutely no one, not even one dared to ask any more questions. Why is that? Because some of us don’t really want to hear the answers that Jesus gives. And yet, I wonder if some of you are not far from the kingdom right now? Could it be that today, right now, is the day that you enter the kingdom of God?
Turn from how you’ve been living. Repent of your loveless life. Recognize that through the death of Jesus, all your sins have been paid for…if you will receive Him as your Lord and Savior.
God’s love does not run dry…I’m falling on my knees offering all of me; Jesus, you’re all this heart is living for. I’m hungry for you.