1 John 3.11-24
11For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.??12We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother???s righteous.??13Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.
14We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.??15All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us???and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.??17How does God???s love abide in anyone who has the world???s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help???18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;??22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.??24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
The entire success of the gospel ??? in regards to the Church???s responsibility ??? hinges upon our success of loving one another. ??That love that we are to have between each other as a community of believers is the evidence of Christ???s presence with us; evidence of transformation, of living faith. ??The world at the time of John???s writing did not think that Christianity would survive. ??But through the lives of the faithful, through the living out of genuine faith and love, the world saw Jesus truly resurrected in the lives of those who had been truly changed by God.
The example of the Church to meet the needs of others was their witness. ??It was their introduction to the rest of the world, a metaphorical handshake that left a positive impression in the world???s eyes. ??It didn???t always make sense from the outside, but within the fellowship of the Church providing for one another and laying one???s life down for another lined up perfectly with Christ, because it was explicitly what Christ had commanded. ??At the last supper in John 13, Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another. ??This was the one thing that needed to be done and could actually be done through the Holy Spirit. ??Fourteen times we are commanded to do this, by both St. John and St. Paul.??
But what does it mean to love one another? ??v. 16, ???We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us???and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.??? ??Just as Christ put our need to be forgiven above his needs, we too ought to put others before ourselves, as Paul says in Philippians 2, ???Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. ??Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others??? (vs.3???4). ??Laying down our lives for others is not limited to a literal interpretation, but rather it is a call to find numerous ways to put others??? needs first. ??Many of us have the health and strength to use our bodies in physical service to those who can???t get around or accomplish certain tasks. ??Many of us have the experience and wisdom to guide others in their frustration and their confusion. ??Others of us have resources to make projects happen and create ministry opportunities that otherwise would never be possible.
Your first challenge this morning is this: What are the needs of this community and what can we do to relieve them? ??How can we as a church begin to chip away at the suffering that others are enduring around us?
To live our lives for the betterment of others' lives is exactly what it means to love one another and to witness to the kind of love that Christ has commanded us to have.
Your second challenge is this: Will you live out a testimony of love for one another that will lead others to genuine, transforming faith? ??Let???s talk about this one for a second.
Our witness to the love of Christ among us is what the world actually wants to see. ??Forget the arguments about contemporary and traditional worship, about whether or not we should wear khakis or jeans to Church. ??Who cares if we meet in strip mall, a coffee shop, a gymnasium, or a cathedral? ??Folks, deep down other people don???t care whether we???re edgy or boring, because at the end of the day, all anyone wants to know is if this is real or not! ??Do Christians really have what they say they have?! ??Do they have eternal life?! ??Are they freed from their sins or do they travel back and forth between saint and sinner like a sad game of Red Rover? ??Do you want to know two truths? ??1.) God wants us to be authentic! ??2.) The world wants us to be authentic! ??Though their intentions are different, the conclusion of the two is the same: we are being called to be genuine representations of everything this book claims, of everything the lives of the saints have taught us, of everything the Church has fought for. ??We are CALLED to be the genuine article, the real deal, the BODY of Jesus Christ, alive and well in the world. ??
The world is DARING YOU to live out your faith, every day, waiting for Jesus to show up! ??And I believe that it is high time that we show them Jesus. ??The world is waiting for us to put up or shut up and I must tell you today, Church, I agree. ??We???ve piddled around long enough, spending the riches of God in vain pursuits and enjoying selective company and inner circles. ??It???s time for us to begin to resemble the Church that we read about in Scripture, the Church that has all things in common, both in mind and in heart, the Church that lays down her life for others the way Christ laid down his life for the world.
So listen to this. ??Christian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said, "The question of bread for myself is a material question: but the question of bread for my neighbor, for everybody, is a spiritual and religious one." ??This quote is important because in meeting the needs of others we are reaching beyond the normal and we are stretching out our souls to do something that a broken body and selfish mind sees as completely UN???natural. ??To put others before ourselves is a quality that comes from Heaven, not Earth. ??And so by entering into the lives of others through Godly love, we are tapping into the supernatural power of God that is able to overcome our natural selfishness.
Love brings to life the divine gift of giving, of providing for others in ways that are selfless, expecting nothing in return. ??When we give without the expectation of receiving anything back, we have learned what it truly means to put others before ourselves and to sacrifice. Once again, look to the example of Christ, the One who died for all, knowing that not all would reciprocate that gift of love. ??Can there be a greater expression of love than to give with the knowledge that the outcome could be less than perfect? ??Or . . . may be such a gift is so powerful that it redefines what we understand as ???perfect???
and challenges us to take on this new definition of giving and loving.
Each of us can think of someone we know who is in need of something. ??And each of us knows that we can provide for some need. ??The level of need is not for us to judge or criticize, but it is an opportunity for each of us to let go of something standing between us and faithful discipleship. ??Remember that loving one another isn???t just about the other person but is also formative for you spiritually. ??You cannot be taught how to love or learn to love without loving. ??You must experience the sacrifice of letting go of yourself, of your things, of your gifts in order to be truly given to. Each of us was created with the capacity, not just to give, but also to receive. ??For every time you give of your self, in what ever way, you create space to be given to. ??Who of us is perfect and without need? ??So because no one is without need, each of us should receive from another because each of us is giving to another.
Love one another. ??Be authentic. ??Shut the mouths of an unbelieving world with a love that will GRIP THEIR HEARTS! ??Father, let it be so. ??Amen.
Rev. Whit R. Martin
Pastor, New Liberty United Methodist Church