Last week we began our series called Life Is and we learned that life is really all about love, but it’s not primarily the love we have for one another but the love God has for us. In fact, before we can truly love God or anyone else we need to first accept the love God has for each one of us because the love we share with others is not something that comes from us; it is something that flows through us. The Bible says God is love so in order for us to love others or love God we have to first receive God’s love. So life is to be loved, but that love can’t stay bottled up inside us, it needs to flow through us into the world.
If you have been paying attention to the Pope’s visit to the US this week then you have heard him talking about love. Beyond the history of being the first pope to speak to the congress and beyond everyone trying to figure which side of the political fence he is on, at the core of his message all week has been love, a basic love and respect we are to have for all people. I heard a commentator say that what the Pope has done is remind us that behind all the issues that we face today from immigration to refugees, from religious freedoms to the sanctity of the family are people and every person is loved by God and needs to be loved by others but the kind of love that the pope is calling for is not easy and I would say it is not earthly – it is divine, it is the love of God.
The kind of love needed to solve the world’s problems is not going to come from our government because no government is ruled by the love of God; the solutions are going to come from the church which was created in the love of God. For us to reach our full potential in life and for us to experience the fulfillment and purpose in life that all of us long for we need to accept the love of God so completely that we are moved – almost compelled – to love others. So today we are going to take about how to love others more, but how we do this might surprise you.
Beside the golden rule and a new commandment to love one another, Jesus called those who wanted to follow him to a life of sacrifice, look at Mark 8:34. If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. When we hear these words of Jesus we hear a call of self denial and service, but the disciples heard something very different. For the disciples, this was a radical and difficult statement because they actually saw people carrying crosses on their backs not wearing them around their necks. Crosses were instruments of torture that only had one outcome – death. For Jesus to tell people to carry a cross he wasn’t calling them to a casual faith where you give up a few things now and then, he was calling people to a life of complete love and devotion to God. A love and faith that would encompass everything.
When I first heard this call to deny myself and carry a cross, I thought it meant I had to go out and do something for God. When I heard Jesus say I had to love God completely and love others fully, I thought of it in terms of what I had to do for God. Following Jesus was about how I had to serve God and how I needed to help others. It was all about how I was supposed to sacrifice and how I could give away my time and my energy and my life for the things of God. Did you hear a problem with what I just said? I made loving and following Jesus all about me when loving and following Jesus needs to be all about Jesus.
Early in my Christian faith I struggled with this sense of always having to do something and a friend challenged me on this and told me to read John 15:4-5a. After I read it I asked him, so how do I do this? How do I remain in Jesus? He told me to read it again – and again – and again. Each time I read it I asked him the same question, how do I do this and he said, Andy you don’t do anything, you simply remain in Jesus. You rest in him, you abide in him, you trust in him, you love him. This is a hard lesson to learn because we live in a society that is obsessed with doing. We are judged by what we do, we are rewarded by what we do, we find our value and worth and meaning in what we do. We define and find life in what they do but Jesus tells us that faith is not based on what we do as much as it is based on staying connected to him.
Now please don’t misunderstand, hard work is important and the bible says clearly that faith without works is dead, but our life in Jesus isn’t first and foremost about hard work and doing something for God, it’s about accepting God’s love and then allowing that love to shape what who we are and then what we do.
The author Judah Smith gives a great example of how remaining in Jesus shapes our hearts and lives and ultimately our actions by looking at the disciples Peter and John. At the last supper, Jesus was reclining at the table with his friends and it says that John, the disciples whom Jesus loved, was next to him. What it really says is that John was resting on Jesus. He was actually leaning on him, which to us seems very odd and reveals a total lack of respect for one’s personal space, but in that culture it was a sign of John’s love and his complete commitment to Jesus. During the meal, Jesus told his disciples that one of them was going to betray him. When Peter heard this he wanted to do something to stop the betrayal so he asks John to find out who the betrayer is. Peter always wanted to do something. Peter wanted to fight for Jesus, he wanted to walk on the water with Jesus, he always wanted to do something for Jesus or with Jesus, but John simple stays seated next to Jesus. He leans on Jesus. He abides in him and loves him.
Now fast forward a few hours and when Jesus is hanging on the cross Peter is nowhere to be found, but John is right there. In fact, John is the only disciple to be at the foot of the cross with Jesus when he died and when Jesus asked John to care for his mother and to love her as if she was his own, John was there to say yes. When our focus is on simply loving Jesus, that love will give us strength to do things we never thought possible and shape our words and actions, but if our focus is on us and what we can do or what we should do, we will fail. My guess is that we all experience this at times. The more we focus on how we should be living for God and serving God and loving others, the more we see our failure and that’s because our focus is in the wrong place, it’s on us when it needs to be on Jesus.
So the key to finding life in loving others isn’t to go out and try to love others, it is to love Jesus more because the more we love Jesus and the more we focus on God, the more our lives will reflect God and be filled with love for others. I have used this example a few times before because it is the best illustration I have ever seen that shows us how this happens. Think about a wheel where God is the center and our lives are the spokes on the wheel. As we get closer to God, as we love God more – look at what happens – we get closer to one another – we love others more. We don’t set out to do that – it just happens. The more we love God – the more we love others. The more we remain in the vine which is Jesus Christ – the more fruit we bear and this fruit is our love and care for others.
Let’s look at this principle at work in the life of someone else who encountered the love of Jesus – Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector which means he was neither loved nor respected by his neighbors, but he was loved by Jesus who asked to have dinner at his house. Zacchaeus said yes to Jesus and accepted his love and after dinner Zacchaeus made an announcement to the crowds that he was giving half of his possessions away to the poor and if he had cheated anyone as a tax collector he was going to repay them 4 times the amount he had stolen. Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to do this, these were not the conditions for being a follower of Jesus nor the requirements of salvation; this was love at work. Zacchaeus accepted the love of Jesus and began to love Jesus and as he loved Jesus more, this is what happened – he began to love others.
The more we focus on Jesus and accept God’s love for us, the more we love others. Stephen is another example of this principle at work. Stephen was a leader in the early church who was very vocal about his faith which got him into trouble with the religious and political leaders of the day who wanted Stephen to stop preaching and teaching and talking. Stephen loved Jesus so much that he could not keep quiet and one day after passionately speaking about Jesus as the Messiah, the religious leaders dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. Acts 7:54-60.
Through this ordeal, Stephen kept his focus on Jesus. He looked to heaven. He saw Jesus and it was his love for Jesus that didn’t just help him endure the stoning but it helped him love others until the very end. The last words of Stephen were words of love for others – Lord, do not hold this sin against them. As he was dying, Stephen was loving others; actually forgiving those who are throwing stones at him. This kind of faith, strength and love is only possible if it comes from God. The only way we can love others this completely and powerfully is if we will first allow God to love us and then fix ourselves on that love and allow it to grow and develop within us.
Stephen wasn’t the only one who allowed the love of God to shape their lives; many in the early church did this. If we look at Acts 2 we see that life in the early church was characterized by the love of God and then a love for God flowed through them to others. Acts 2:42-43. First the people were focused on God. They were devoted to Jesus and spent their time in worship and prayer. They accepted God’s love and were growing in their love for Jesus. As we read on we see that this love and focus changed them. Acts 2:44-45. Their love for God led them to love one another. There was no law or command that told the people they had to sell what they had to give to others – the just did it. The love of God compelled them to live differently. The love of God flowed through them and they began to love others in very real ways. They shared what they had, they ate together and they were filled with joy as they spent time together.
This love of God brought the church life. In Acts 2:47 it says, The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. The love of God shaped their lives and brought them life. Life comes when we love God and love others, but the way to grow in that love isn’t to go out and try to love God more or find tangible ways to love others, it is to allow God to love us more because when we receive the love of God, our hearts will be directed toward Jesus and the more we focus on and love Jesus the more we will love others and this is what we were created for. Life is to be loved by God and to have that love shape our hearts and lives so that we love others.
Life Is to love others.
Loving others comes from a heart that is sold out to Jesus and a life that is fully committed to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength so this week’s next steps are not things we can do to show our love for others but things that help us remember why we love God and help us express that love more fully.
Scripture – Each day read one scripture that reminds you of God’s unfailing love and of His presence and power at work in your life. Rewrite these verses in your own words.
• Exodus 14:13-14
• Psalm 136
• Isaiah 43:1-5
• Isaiah 54:10
• Jeremiah 31:3-4
• Romans 8:38
Prayer- Each day set aside five minutes to simply talk to God.
• Thank God for His love.
• Ask God to show you how to love him more.
• Ask God to show you how to love others more.
Journaling – Each day identify one way you have seen or experienced the love of God.