the measure of a church Ragland Royappan Seminary Intern English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church Vancouver, British Columbia Theme of the Month Love in the Body of Christ Sunday Sermon for 16 January 2011 Scripture Passages 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 4
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. John 21:15-17 15
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. John 13:34-35 34
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
INTRODUCTION While preparing for my sermon for this morning I was very fascinated by the question Jesus asked Peter in this passage. So what I did was I went and Googled to see what comes up if I type “love questions.” I was fascinated by one of the results that I got. It’s called the “100-question love test”. When I was reading these questions it really made me laugh because some questions were ludicrous and some others were very bizarre because they did not make any sense. What does Jesus really mean in this passage when he asked Peter, Do you love me? Does he really mean the same thing as the questions that I read? Is Jesus trying to measure the love Peter has for him? If so, why does he ask the same questions three times instead asking different questions like the one mentioned in this survey? Today, we have a very narrow understanding of what love means, but the love questions in this passage encourage us to look deeper into what love really means to us as Christians. The word “love” is such a common word in our society today that people all talk about it. We wait for it. We long for it. We search for it. We desire that we find this love. We today have a very narrow understanding of the meaning of love. If you look up a dictionary to find the meaning of love, you will find many definitions and ideas. Some see it as a emotion—a feeling, an attraction, or a passionate drive. Others, particularly those who are highly influenced by our twenty-first-century culture, see love primarily as sexual activity. It can also refer to the emotional closeness of familial love, to platonic love that defines friendship, to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, make love unusually difficult to consistently define, compared to other emotional states. Even though all of these things could be involved in the proper context of some expression of love, the Bible presents a far broader perspective and a far deeper meaning than most of our contemporary approaches to the topic. Our church theme for this year is “L.O.V.E.: Loving One Another, Uniting in Likeness, Obedience, Virtue and Example.” Throughout the year we will be doing some more deep studies 2 THE MEASURE OF A CHURCH
into this topic of the Love of God and love among believers. We will also be focusing on the themes of (Christ)likeness, obedience, virtue and example. Before we dive into the deep end, I want to take you through a journey of basic foundations of this biblical concept of love. Even though you might find it very basic and foundational, I believe it is very important for a church and individuals to lay our foundations strong. I believe when we set our thoughts and prepare ourselves for this year to be filled with this Christian love, we will definitely be blessed as a congregation and as a church.
LOVE IS INAUGURATED BY THE COVENANT The first principle that I would like to share with you this morning is that love begins with the covenant. My dear friends, it is very important that we understand this principle. If you have your Bibles, turn with me to to John 13:34-35, which is our theme verse for this year. In this passage Jesus says to his disciples: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. I like this translation but I would like to paraphrase v. 35 and read it like this: “If you love one another, everyone will know that you are my disciple.” This is such a powerful verse containing the covenant aspects of love. Here, I want to emphasis two points in the covenantal love: 1) the new commandment as the New Covenant and 2) the reciprocal aspect of this covenantal love. Let me explain this in detail. Firstly, this new commandment that Jesus gave us is the New Covenant. The Gospel of John is a very unique and interesting book to read. It is also called, the Gospel of Love. We see Jesus in this passage giving his disciples a new commandment. Now, you might wonder, why I use the term covenant instead of commandment. You might say Jesus himself uses the term commandment not covenant. A deeper understanding of the story of Israel and Old Testament suggest that there is a interplay and deeper understanding to the giving of the commandment. One scholar writes that “commandment is a relational term which can be understood better in the covenantal context.” In
the Old Testament, the covenant between the Yahweh and Israel is laid down by the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. We see God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. Apostle John, follows in the same line and he says, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment. The Greek word entolh stands out in the whole Gospel of John. He uses this word for emphasizing two purposes: 1) for the commandment given to Jesus by the Father (John 10:18; 12:49,50; 14:31) and 2) for the commandment given by Jesus to his disciples. So, we find in the New Testament and in this passage Jesus renewing the covenant not only through his blood but also through the love for this world. In the Old Testament we see God love the People of Israel so much that he chose the nation Israel as his own people. In the New Covenant we see “that God so loved the whole world that he gave his only Son.” It’s not because he loved a particular nation, or chose a particular group of people. John tells us, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” And this, God’s love for us, is the inauguration of the New Covenant. My dear friends, it is through this covenant that love begins. The second facet in this covenantal love is that it has reciprocal aspects to it. A simple definition of the word covenant would explain us with this aspect. Covenant simply means an agreement between two parties. In theology, it means an agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people. Most often when we think of Love or talk about Love, We would emphasis only the first part of this agreement. We completely forget the second part of this covenant which is required of us, i.e. to fulfill our part of the covenant. As Christians when we talk about love or when we sing we only mention about the Love of God to us. When we think of love we immediately say, “God is love”. Wow! We read the passage: “for God so loved the world that He gave his only Son to die for our sins.” Wow! What a privilege for me to receive this love. What a great privilege it is to be loved by the King of Kings, the Creator of the universe. Wow! God loves me so unconditionally. Wow! He showed his love for me on the cross. Wow! We are completely blow away by those wow factors (the acts of love of our God) and forget our part of the covenant. The Father’s love for the Son Jesus 3 THE MEASURE OF A CHURCH
Christ becomes the paradigm of Jesus’ love for the disciple. Through Jesus, God the Father’s love reaches to the disciple. The disciples are able to reach out to each other in love because they have been reached out in love by the Father through his Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear friends, we can say that this covenant relationship in love has been established because of the reciprocal intimacy between the Father and Jesus, between, Jesus and his disciples, and between the Father and disciples. That is the reason, these disciples are regarded as a new community based on love. That is why John (13:35) writes, If you love one another, others will recognize that you are my disciples. Now, Jesus is asking us, the same question he asked Peter, VCBC, do you love me? If we say we love him, we should love one another. Maybe we have forgotten the covenantal aspect of this love in the last year. Maybe we were overwhelmed by our own issues and concerns that we forgot to manifest this love. Let us renew the covenant this morning. Church, let us recommit. Let us ask for forgiveness and march forward in this new year. God will bless us.
LOVE CAUSES RECONCILIATION The second principle which I would like to share with you this morning is that Christian love results in reconciliation. If you have your Bibles open turn you it back to John 21:15-17, to the story where Jesus questions Peter. This is a very important passage and many scholars have great discussions on what is going on here. Some say that this particular chapter could be a later addition to the Gospel because Peter was a leader in the Church in Jerusalem and needed some approval to be the leader. How can they accept him as a person who denied Jesus and had ran away? So they added this last passage to the Gospel where Jesus personally approves him as the pastor, the leader of the sheep with the responsibility to feed His sheep. Some other scholars argue that it is the moment of reconciliation between Jesus and Peter and that the threefold denial of love has its counter in this threefold commissioning grounded in love. And this is the reason Michael Crosby in this book writes that in Chapter 21 he sees much more than simple “rehabilitation” of Peter. He says there is an evolution in Simon Peter from entrenchment
to pastoral engagement, from religious resistance to the acceptance of responsibility. If we go back a couple of chapters in the Gospel of John, we will see the sad story of Peter’s denial and estrangement from God and his love. But here in this passage we see a new Peter who is reconciled to Jesus not only because of the love of Jesus but by his love and repentance. Now, in the embrace of love, not only was he restored, but his very status was transformed as the leader. This passage is not just a scriptural grounding for Peter’s status or authoritative office, as some suggest. It is the story that highlights to all humanity that it is the process every Christian must pass through if we are to be faithful to Jesus’ words: “To follow him.” It is the example that we are gone stray and we could go astray from the Love of God. We could backslide. We are fragile. But there is Jesus. Through Peters’ story we are shown that we too must free ourselves of our entrenched ideas of this world and come out of our fears and ideologies that take us away from the love of Jesus Christ. If we are embarrassed because we have denied Jesus in many ways, we can embrace him again and be empowered like Peter in this passage but we need to take the lead. We need to take the initiative. We should apply the Love of God in our lives. We should take this step of reconciliation and return to God. A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city. The soap manufacturer casually said, “The Gospel you preach hasn’t done much good has it? Just observe. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and a lot of wicked people too!” The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter. Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, “I see that soap hasn’t done much good in the world either; for there is much dirt, and many dirty people around.” The soap man said, “Oh well, soap only works when it is applied.” And the pastor said, “Exactly, so it is with the Gospel.” It works only when it is applied. My dear friends, only when we take the Love of God and apply it in our lives, can we then be reconciled and transformed. Maybe you are saying to yourself, I am a Christian, I have already reconciled with God, I am changed, and I don’t need to reconcile and 4 THE MEASURE OF A CHURCH
repent again. But my dear friends, there are two aspects: 1) vertical reconciliation and 2) horizontal reconciliation. You might have been reconciled (vertically) with God, but if you are still far away from your neighbours or your friends in church, you must reconcile (horizontally) with them. And that is what God is expecting of us. You might have had some bad experiences, someone might have hurt you badly, and you might have grown cold against someone. It might be something they said against you or something they did to hurt you. But my dear friends let’s forget the past and let’s be reconciled! It is the Love of God that was manifested through Christ that enables us to reconcile to one another. My dear friends, Jesus is asking the same question he asked Peter, Do you love me? If our answer is yes, or if we want our answer to be yes, we should be reconciled with God and with one another.
LOVE IS DEMONSTRATED THROUGH ACTION The third principle that I would like to share with your this morning is that “love leads to action.” To explain this principle, let us turn our Bibles to our third Scripture passage for this morning, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Paul writes: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. When you look at verses 4-7 it might look like “love” is an abstract noun with a whole lot of adjectives attached to it. That’s how it looks in this translation. So we might think Paul is saying something like, “love is warm and soft, tingly and sweet…” Or maybe we can say Paul is giving us a list of similes and metaphors to show what love is like. For example, “Love is like drinking hot chocolate, love is like walking on fresh snow, love is like watching a beautiful sunset.” Is this what Paul is saying here? No! Paul is not waxing lyrical, describing the concept of love. Instead, Paul is pointing out that love is a concrete living thing that performs a lot of deeds and actions. For Paul, “love is a force, a power, a life that goes ahead and do things.”
My dear friends, If our hearts are filled with love, we will do deeds that pleases God. We will do actions in kindness to others. We will not be selfish. If our lives and hearts are filled with the Love of Christ, We will perform actions of love to others. Most often we tend to keep everything to ourselves because we do not want to be offended or hurt by others. There is always this fear of being nice and humble and meek and selfless. We are always afraid: Will that person take advantage of me if I do this? Will he/she hurt me? Maybe our past experiences might pull us away from doing the actions of Love. C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, writes: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin or your selfishness. But in that casket— safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers . . . of love is Hell. Freely we received the Love of God; freely and unconditionally should we give the love. If we have the Love of God in our hearts, we cannot sit quietly and ponder. We should be ecstatic to preform deeds that will show love to others. My dear friends, most churches are broken and battered because the people in the churches are not willing to do acts of love. In Chicago, a few years ago a little boy attended Sunday school in his neighborhood church. When his parents moved to another part of the city, the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome travel by bus and train each way. A friend asked him why he went so far and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home. “They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply. “Why not?” she asked. “Because they show me love there,” he replied. And that is why D.L. Moody once lamented, “If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and many would be evangelized. Let love replace duty in our church relations, and the 5 THE MEASURE OF A CHURCH
world will soon be evangelized and the churches will be filled.” My dear friends, let the love take the form of action, and it will be a blessed year for our church. We will grow in number and in our spiritual lives. So the question Jesus is asking this morning is, Do you love me? If our answer is yes, our love should be demonstrated through our actions. We will doing more as Thomas à Kempis once said, “Whoever loves much, does much”.
CONCLUSION As I conclude, I am reminded of a story that I read in a book. A police officer brought a 13-year-old girl into the police station in the wee morning hours. She had been physically abused and tormented by her stepfather. The police chaplain talked with her while the officers processed her case and waited for Human Services to come take custody of her. The girl related how her stepfather hated her, favouring his own daughters. She was neglected by her mother and beaten by her stepfather for minor disagreements. Her mother didn’t show her love and care. Her sisters hated her. She felt there is no purpose for her to live in this world. She fell on the chaplain’s shoulders and cried and cried and cried. Finally, she told the chaplain, “Nobody loves me!” In an effort to comfort her and offer some ray of hope, the chaplain replied, “But don’t you know that God loves you?” Holding out her battered, bruised arms, she replied, “Show me!” Yes! Show me! The measure of a church is found in its willingness to show love! There are many around us who are asking us to show. There are people in our neighborhood, friends in our work places, classmates in our schools, and even believers in our church. Their cry today is SHOW ME! Let these words keep ringing in our ears all throughout this year.
Reflection Questions 1. What are the instances you have forgotten to fulfill your part in this covenantal love? 2. As Christian you have been reconciled with you. If you are gone far away from Jesus like Peter in this passage, what steps would you take to reconcile back to Christ? 3. Is there anyone God is showing you that you should reconcile with? 4. What tangible ways can you demonstrate Love through your actions?
Message by Ragland Royappan. Love. A basic Christian concept, right? How much do we really know what it is. Ragland analyses for us what lo...