Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Matthew 22:34 – 40
“Christianity made simple.”

“On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.”
[C.S. Lewis.]

I. Everything depends on love!

A. Jesus teaches the essential commandment of the entire Old Testament (and by implication the New Testament) is “love.”

1. Notice what Jesus did NOT say:

a. Jesus did NOT say “be holy” (25x in the Bible)

b. Jesus did NOT say “have no other Gods before me” (the first of the 10 Commandments)

c. Reason Jesus did NOT say these things?

1.) You can be holy in an empty way.

2.) You can put God first by discharging all your duties, but not have a living relationship with THE living God.

2. Understand some things that love is NOT:

a. Love is NOT “just” a feeling.

(Ill.) George Crane tells the story of a wife who hated her husband. "I do not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me."
Dr. Crane: "Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you've convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that your're getting a divorce. That will really hurt him."

Wife: "Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!" And she did it with enthusiasm. Acting "as if." For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn't return, Crane called. "Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?"

"Divorce?" she exclaimed. "Never! I discovered I really do love him." Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds. [J. Allan Petersen.]

Dr. M. Scott Peck, “Sacrificial love has transforming power. Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. ... True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision.”

1.) The feeling is one product of love.

2.) This love begins with action.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less." [Our Daily Bread, February 14.]

b. Love is NOT about what you can get.

(Ill.) Dearest Jimmy, No words could ever express the great unhappiness I've felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you'll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you! Yours forever, Marie.

P.S., And congratulations on winning the state lottery. [Source Unknown.]

1.) What happens is we focus on the strengths of others because they contribute something to us.

Endi Kovaks: “The culture forces us to live by our strength. We are asked to list our abilities, show our certificates, name our gifts and illustrate our achievements. That is what they praise us for when we introduce ourselves to a new group; that is why we get affirmation from our friends, that is how we can feel good about ourselves; and that is what the ongoing competition of the world demands from us all the time. But where does all this emphasis on strength lead us? It reduces our relationships to tasks, roles and programs. It empties our relationships of real content. A culture which lives by human strength cannot experience real community and friendship. ... we relate to others with our plans, ambitions and dreams. This is not our real self, this just a phantom. People cannot have intimacy with a phantom, but only with a real person. The fact that weakness is so contradictory to our culture is largely responsible for the lack of meaningful human relationships, I think.” [Endi Kovaks, Imago Christi, CRMLeaders]

2.) We look at those strengths because we want something from someone and we feel loved only if we get it.

B. What does it mean to love?

1. It means to be able to look beyond the hurts of the past. [God does not treat us as our sins deserve.]

During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ's commands. Then they came together.

Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, "What did you do then?" "We were just one," he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.
When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. [Our Daily Bread, October 4, 1992.]

2. It means serious cost to us. [Jesus’ example of the cross.]

"She was lying on the ground. In her arms she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little -- but it was all I had.

Taking a bite she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby's mouth, she forced the soft warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive. Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes the baby was asleep. I later learned that during the night the mother's heart stopped, but her little girl lived.
Love is a costly thing. God in His love for us (and for a lost world) "spared not His own Son" to tell the world of His love. Love is costly, but we must tell the world at any cost. Such love is costly. It costs parents and sons and daughters. It costs the missionary life itself. In his love for Christ the missionary often must give up all to make the Savior known. If you will let your love for Christ, cost you something, the great advance will be made together." [Dick Hills, Love is a Costly Thing.]

3. It means we will be in motion.

a. “Whoever loves much, does much.” Thomas a' Kempis.

b. The problem is that makes us vulnerable.

“To love at all is to be venerable. 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.” [C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1960, p.169.]

4. It means we will focus on others.

The Salvation Army was holding an international convention and their founder, Gen. William Booth, could not attend because of physical weakness. He cabled his convention message to them. It was one word: "OTHERS." [Unknown]

Bill Hybels says, “We have never locked eyes with someone that did not matter to God.”
[from Ryan Johnson, from www.sermoncentral.com]

II. What is the plan?

A. Everything starts with loving God.

1. This love changes everything:

a. Jesus said “with all your heart.” (The biblical “place” of the will, where choices are made.)

b. Jesus said “with all your soul.” (Biblically tied to the “heart” but when it is not, there seems to be two meanings: a) emotional part of us b) the “life principle,” a part that survives life... it can be controlled by the mind/heart.)

c. Jesus said “with all your mind.” (Biblically, this is the reasoning part and process... “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”)

2. How we chose, how we feel, how and what we think will be transformed as we put the full energies into loving God and others.

3. “Worship and Witness”

a. Worship as we direct our love to God.

b. Witness is helping others love God.

B. Loving God is mirrored by loving others.

1. The Bible says: “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. [11] But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” [1 John 2:10, 11]

a. Notice this is put in terms of “absolutes.” There is love and hate, light and darkness... nothing in-between.

b. We would like there to be shadows and gray area because:

1.) It relieves us of the responsibility to love.

2.) It relieves us of the guilt of not loving.

2. Remember: God loved us when we were “unlovable.”

a. The Bible says: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. [7] Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. [8] But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:6 – 8]

b. As helpless sinners who were loved unconditionally by God (who had every right to hold our sins against us) to the point of forgiveness... we now demonstrate that love for others.

C. Loving others implies serving others.

1. This becomes a criteria for judgement: "The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' ... "He will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' [Matthew 25:40, 45]

2. The Bible says, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. ... What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? [15] Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. [16] If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? [17] In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” [James 2:8, 14 – 17]

(Illustrations from www.sermonillustrations.com unless noted otherwise.)

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