Mad IS Hell

03a-angry-little-girl

(Image retrieved from http://sp.meucantinho.org/pictures-of/faces/angry/angry-faces-avatars.htm on 8/21/17.  Happy Eclipse Day, everyone!  Here’s a little gal who didn’t get to see the eclipse!)

Please read Matthew 5:21-26 in your Bible.  I mostly used the NIV for my research.  After paroxysms of hate that convulsed in Virginia and its aftermath throughout the world, I don’t think any explanation of WHY we need to study anger management would be required.

Jesus taught that anger can be murder on relationships.

Context (What’s going on in Matthew?)

This is the first of a series of six teachings Jesus introduces with the words “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” or some variation on that.  His purpose was to contrast the Old Covenant or agreement between God and humanity with the New Covenant He brought into being.  The New is, in each of these six cases, better than the old.  In this case, the New Covenant went beyond a mere legalism about murder to address the root cause: anger.  Jesus definitely raised the ethical standard.

Comment (What’s going on in these verses?)

  1. Anger is a dangerous emotion (vs. 21-22).

Our ethics of anger begins with affirming the sacredness of human life.  Jesus began this section by reminding them what the Old Covenant demanded – “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER’” (v. 21).

The word MURDER does not refer to all killing, but only to the taking of a life that is not first commanded by God.  Remember we’re talking about the Old Testament (OT) here.  In the OT, God occasionally called for wicked people to be killed.  Since God is perfect in His knowledge and judgment, we can trust that He only called for the death of those who were actually guilty and deserving.  No exceptions.

Remember also that human life is sacred to us because God said so.  We are under His commands in all things, including the taking and preserving of human life.  Because we have only lived under the New Covenant, we can be uncomfortable about Bible passages where God commands killing.  We have to remind ourselves that God commanded different things to His people under different covenants and get over it.

The phrase SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT refers to the penalty for murder as required by the Law: death by stoning.  For example:

– Genesis 9:6 ESV = Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

– Exodus 20:13 ESV = You shall not murder.

– Numbers 35:30-31 ESV = If anyone kills a person, the murder-er shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of 1 witness. You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.

Jesus then contrasted the old standard with the new: “BUT I TELL YOU THAT ANYONE WHO IS ANGRY…WILL BE SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT.”  MURDER is still a sin under the New Covenant, but the change is that anger is now understood to be just as much a sin.  We find it easy to condemn murder because we’re so rarely guilty of it.  But we are routinely guilty of getting angry and so that hits closer to home.

Because human life is sacred, anger is as serious a sin as murder (v. 22).  The sacredness of human life is a principle fundamental to all civilization.  Every nation and religion must begin here.  Building on that, Christians are guided by a secondary principle called “the preciousness of others.”

– God says all life as precious because it is His.

– All life should be taken only with the most serious and righteous reasons.

– But human life is especially precious for these reasons: of all the created beings, only humans were created in the image and likeness of God.  Only human beings were given dominion over creation.

When we observe these two principles, it is easy to see that hatred is as violent and as ungodly an act as murder.  In fact, MURDER is most often motivated by anger, isn’t it?

Jesus explained that God’s new ethic was of a higher standard by reminding His listeners of current ethical practices (v. 22).

Firstly, when someone called someone else RACA, they risked the penalty of the court.  This word meant “empty” and was considered an expression of contempt.  (This may be a similar usage to our referring to an unemotional or inhumane person representing a corporation or bureaucracy as an “empty suit.”)  It was considered an example of a slip of the tongue, something said in the heat of the moment, but not really meant to harm the person’s feelings or reputation.  The worst discipline they might experience is the embarrassment of a rebuke from the Sanhedrin, their religious court.

Secondly but worse, to call someone a FOOL put one in danger of hell-fire.  The Jews considered this a more serious offense, a deliberate attempt to hurt the other person’s feelings and/or reputation.  Instead of the court, this kind of angry act put the person directly under God’s condemnation with the much more serious consequence of being destroyed in hell-fire.  Giving vent to anger in this way assumes the offender is an unbeliever and still under the wrath of God.  That was the way Jewish theology trended.

Rather than split hairs in this way, Jesus simply condemned all angry acts, teaching they are just as ethically serious as murderous acts.  As reluctant as we are to commit murder, we ought to be equally reluctant to do anything motivated by anger.

  1. Conflicts need to be resolved as peaceably and as quickly as possible (vs. 23-26).

To impart a sense of urgency, Jesus gave two examples: worship and litigation.

WORSHIP (23-24).

Relationships are so important to God that He would rather have you interrupt your worship than leave it unresolved!  THINK ABOUT IT!  In this one instance, even your most important relationship – your relation-ship with God – will take a back seat to getting that angry conflict resolved.

There are two reasons for this.  One, no one can legitimately worship God while hating their brother. (See 1 John 3:11-15.)  Two, nursed grudges and/or a bevy of burned bridges betrays a lack of true faith.

LITIGATION (25-26).

The practicality of Jesus’ advice to SETTLE MATTERS QUICKLY ought to be obvious enough for all of us.  Jesus offered a sensible reason if an ethical reason hadn’t been good enough: it’s cheaper and easier to settle out of court than it is to battle it out in court and potentially LOSE.  Would you rather put your trust in man’s law or God’s grace?  If you are a believer, grace is always better.  In choosing grace over law, all parties may have to give up their “rights” and forgive the “slights” they’ve suffered in order to compromise, exchange forgiveness, and move forward.  The way of Jesus is the way of grace triumphing over the law.  This is just as true in relational matters, in conflict resolution, as it is in any other area of life.

This is not found in the text, but please indulge me in a personal theory.  Here is another practical reason for resolution: unresolved conflicts are the leading cause of emotional dysfunction.  If we want victory over depression, to manage our anger, or overcome a host of challenging mental and/or emotional conditions; resolving longstanding conflicts is a good place to begin.

How to attempt quick and peaceable resolution?  Here’s one method.

1) FIRST, stop what you’re doing and make reconciliation a priority.  Approach it with a loving heart and a gracious spirit, aimed at reconciliation.  (Motives that have anything to do with “getting even” or “teaching them a lesson” are doomed to fail.)

2) SECOND, plan the context of the reconciliation attempt.  Choose a date, time and place that is agreeable to both parties and will be free of distractions.  That includes allowing for plenty of time.  A personal, face-to-face is the standard unless that’s plainly impossible or majorly inconvenient.

3) THIRD, declare in plain language your intention to reconcile.  Saying out loud and meaning it are necessary.

4) FOURTH, state the other person’s position and feelings.  Correct each other gently and compromise until you arrive at a mutually understood and accepted definition of the problem.

5) FIFTH, give and receive forgiveness for the wrongs mutually recognized in the previous step.

6) SIXTH, compromise on a way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding in the future and provide ways to avoid giving this offense(s) again.  This should include ways to respectfully approach one another to voice future concerns.

7) SEVENTH, extend and receive forbearance, which is “forgiving in advance.”  Realize that as much as you are working to avoid it, future offenses are going to be made.  Everyone should stop taking themselves so seriously and forgive in advance.  Commit yourself to forget the past offense in a way that will not require you to suffer it again in the future.

There are as many ways to resolve conflicts as there are “experts” who write about conflict resolution.  What I’ve shared with you is a summary of what I’ve seen and learned and used in my life and ministry.

The method is not important.  What is important is that we move to resolve our differences in a way that relieves us of anger.  We talk about being as “mad as hell.”  Jesus taught that being mad IS hell; it is a sin that finds its origin in Satan and, if unresolved, may find its conclusion in him as well.

We show we take the sin of anger seriously when we act to resolve conflict situations.  We show we are followers of Jesus when we choose love and grace over anger and law.

Our Orders are Simple

Please read Matthew 22:34-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

label

(Retrieved from http://www.awesomeinventions.com/funny-product-instructions/ on 8/14/17.)

Here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods.  I find myself wondering how anyone thought these were necessary or wise.

On a bag of chips:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On packaging for an iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On children’s cough medicine:
Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication.

On most brands of Christmas lights:
For indoor or outdoor use only.

On a child’s Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.

On shin pads for cyclists:
Shin guards cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.

A parking lot sign:
Entrance only. Do not enter.

Rules on a elevated train track:
Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.

On a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle:
Some assembly required.

On a can of pepper spray used for self defense:
May irritate eyes.

On a TV remote:
Not Dishwasher safe.

On a mattress:
Do not attempt to swallow.

<Retrieved from http://funnytab.net/doomed on 8/10/17.>

Is it possible modern life is just too complicated?  Is it possible that common sense has become so uncommon we really do need these kinds of warnings?

For all our sakes, I want to take a few moments to take a look at Jesus’ version of a “life hack;” the way He simplified the commands of God.  Ten Commandments?  Still too many.  He got the whole matter down to TWO.  Just two commands to keep, and those who do reveal themselves to be His disciples.  This morning we’ll take a brief look at what these commands are and how they serve as our operating instructions for LIFE.

First, let’s note these commands are part of Jesus’ response to a misleading question (vs. 34-36).

Jesus is days from being killed.  He is in the city of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith, having entered it with a very public parade and a equally public confrontation in the temple. The religious authorities hate Him and He has racheted up the pressure with these tactics, forcing their hand, so they are trying to find something they can use to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.

Matthew 22 records a series of four encounters where these religious leaders tried to trap Jesus in His words.  Our passage is the third of the four.  In this case, they want to draw Jesus into a long-standing argument about which of God’s commands was the most important.  As this was something godly people had debated for years, they were hoping that Jesus would take a stand that would alienate at least half His listeners, as His answer would not agree with theirs.  They probably didn’t care what Jesus’ answer was, they just wanted him to say something they could use to irritate a percentage of His followers.

Their question was posed by a LAWYER and theologian in one (AN EXPERT IN THE LAW) – need I say any more?  While a theological question like this may sound innocent to our ears, these people lived in an entirely different culture.  In our culture, questions of Bible interpretation have not been a deciding factor in mainstream policy decisions since the Civil War.  But in this culture, these questions had a great influence on all parts of life.  The way a person answered this question guided economic, political, and moral decisions.

Second, let’s see what Jesus’ answer reveals about following God (vs. 37-40).

It reveals something about our priorities.

Jesus said THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT is to love God.  God comes first because of who He is; as our Creator and Savior, He is the most deserving object of our love. God comes first because He is the highest good.  We help others and ourselves more when His love is the foundation of our attitudes and actions.  God comes first because He shows us by Jesus’ example what love is.

He also said the second most important command is to love our NEIGHBOR as we love ourselves.  Love for NEIGHBOR takes priority over love for self but does not eliminate it.  We are to be unselfish but we are not called to be anyone’s doormat.  Love for self is included.  Hatred of self leads to all kinds of disabilities and problems.  Yes, the Bible calls us to self-denial and self-control, but that’s to eliminate selfishness, not self-preservation or self-love.

The point is, we can’t really love God or anybody else without loving ourselves too.  It’s a matter of keeping our priorities in proper order.  There is a place for self-love and it is third place.

Life gets messed up and we fall into sin when we get these priorities out of order. Too often, we have it exactly backwards; we put self first, then others, then God – if we think about Him at all.

Jesus’ teaching reveals something about the nature of love.  Our LOVE is to be all-encompassing; WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Our most common mistake is we love with only part of who we are.  We think it’s OK to give our SOUL to Jesus, but we want to reserve our MIND for science, and our HEART for worldly things we enjoy.  The Bible repeatedly tells us that a partial commitment is really no commitment at all.  Love is not real until it involves all of who we are; no reservations.

LOVE is also “all-encompassing” in the sense that is the motive for all good actions.  This is what Jesus meant when He said in v. 40, “ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”  Or, to put it another way, “Love is the heart of what God wants from us.  The rest of the Bible is commentary on how to love.”

Our LOVE for each other is shown by taking care of others like we care for self.  Few of us are completely selfish; most of us care to some degree about the welfare and opinions of others.  (Completely selfish people might be called “sociopaths.”  Experts tell us only 1% of the population are currently in that fix.)  Though some of us take better care of ourselves than others, most of us do what we can to be healthy and happy.  Jesus is telling us that’s a rough guide on how to love others.

This is Jesus restating the Golden Rule; “Do to others what you want others to do for you.”  He is telling us the standard of care for our neighbor is the kind of care we normally require for ourselves.  We are to stop being selfish and treat others with the same care and respect we’d treat ourselves.

From Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) we understand Jesus defined “neighbor” as everyone nearby and in need.  In short, our “neighbor” is everyone else.

There’s an enormous amount of biblical material on this subject, but for our purposes, we can characterize the nature of love by the objects of our love.

Love for God is obedience.

Love for each other is unselfish service.

Let’s Stick with God’s Simplified Instructions

“A preacher was speaking about all the things money can’t buy. ‘Money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy laughter and money can’t buy love’ he told the congregation.

Driving his point home he said, ‘What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?’

“A hush fell over the congregation. Finally a small voice near the front, raised an important question, ‘How much would you give me not to love my big sister?’”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-great-commandment-steve-greene-sermon-on-christian-love-87624 on 8/11/17.>

There you go.  Even with good intentions, the preacher complicated this matter of who to love and how to love.

God is so good to us.  In this passage, Jesus made love as simple and as accessible as possible.  Why complicate anything in this life, but especially something as essential as love?

The answer to that question is, of course, that when complicate something we most often have some ulterior motive: we have something to sell or something to hide.  We’re trying to fool ourselves or somebody else.

This kind of love is not just words or sentiment, it is words and sentiment manifest in action.  It is making a sacrifice in order to meet a need, be a friend, redeem our time.  The kinds of sacrifices love may require include:

Time,

Money,

Getting outside our comfort zone,

Forgiving,

Associating with unlovable people,

Changing,

Being inconvenienced.

What we get in return is greater than our sacrifice.  God loves a lover.  Be that lover.

Which D.Q. for You?

Please read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Once in a while a fictional story draws an exceptionally accurate picture of life and you’re pleasantly surprised to learn something and be entertained.  I had that experience recently reading James S.A. Corey’s book Babylon’s Ashes.  Early in the novel he wrote,

“All through human history, being a moral person and not being pulled into the dramatics and misbehavior of others has caused intelligent people grief.” (p. 88)

The rest of the story went on to prove this point.

Lesson learned: the “dramatics and misbehavior of others” can lead us into grief just as much as our own “dramatics and misbehavior.”  My opinion is that life inflicts enough drama, we don’t need to go around creating more for ourselves or others.

I’d better explain this message’s title.  When we think about ice cream, many of us think about “D.Q.” or “Dairy Queen.”  I saw a t-shirt once that co-opted the Dairy Queen logo but used the letters to refer to “Drama Queen!”

DQ

So my question is, which kind of D.Q. do you prefer?  One’s sweet, the other is sour.  Be careful how you answer, lest your life disprove what you claim.

In spite of the feminine noun, a drama queen is anyone – male or female – who acts in an overly-emotional way.  They habitually blow things out of proportion, brewing a “tempest in a teapot.”

The very best demonstration of a drama queen is a Dutch TV commercial made about seven years ago.  It begins with mom driving her daughter to school.  Maybe the little girl is moping because she doesn’t want to go to school that day.

A policeman’s lights and siren interrupted the mother’s lecture why the she must go to school.  After she pulled over, the policeman said she was speeding and instructed the mom to get out her license and registration.

As mom pokes through her purse, the policeman notices the girl in the back seat and says, “Mom is in a hurry today, isn’t she?”

The somber little girl quietly replied, “She’s not my mother,” and held up a note she scribbled on her pad of paper which read “HELP!”

drama queen

That is a drama queen.  Regardless of their motivation, drama queens cause a lot of problems at home, work, and church.  They leave behind them a lot of burned bridges and create an area of negativity all around them as they careen through life, feeding on the unhappiness they cause.

Not surprisingly, God does not want us to be a drama queen.  Instead, He calls us to a QUIET LIFE.  We will see this morning God’s way to building healthy relationships.

First, let’s note the context of this passage: Paul explained every disciple’s primary ambition is to please God.  He Paul offered three steps to achieve this ambition.

First Step = Remember your INSTRUCTIONS (1+2).

INSTRUCTIONS in this case being the commands of Jesus Christ to love God first, others second, self last.  This is part of the Gospel that Paul had given them, the foundation of their church and life in Christ.  As there is always room for improvement, he urged them to follow those INSTRUCTIONS MORE AND MORE.

Second Step: Love God by being holy (3-8).

In people and objects, holiness means to be set apart to God, exclusively working to fulfill His purpose.  In people, holiness also means moral purity.  That’s why Paul urged them to practice self-control.  Disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the world by their HOLY and HONORABLE behavior.

Third Step = Love others by avoiding drama (9-12).

God teaches His children how to LOVE EACH OTHER (9-10).  Paul encourages them first, congratulating them on their love.  The love these church folk had for one another was known throughout MACEDONIA.

Though he didn’t NEED to write them about their love, as any good teacher would, that’s exactly what Paul did.  For, just as he said in v. 1, Paul repeated in v. 10, to love MORE AND MORE.  I know we can get tired of hearing that; the call to improvement can become exhausting and discouraging.  But, as Paul observed in v. 8, God gives us HIS HOLY SPIRIT, so we get the power to love from Him; we don’t rely on our own strength.

God keeps calling us to growth in Christ, to become MORE AND MORE like Him.  One benefit of making this our priority is that we keep praying, keep relying on God, keep turning back to Him for strengthening.  Besides, this is the definition of ambition, isn’t it?  Ambitious people never quit, are never satisfied, and are always looking to do more or better?

God’s children enact love in their ambition to LEAD A QUIET LIFE (11-12).  It sounds strange to combine the words AMBITION and QUIET, doesn’t it?  Most of us experience ambitious people as loud or bossy, drawing attention to their self.  How do these words work together?

In general, A QUIET LIFE means an end to “drama.”  Life creates enough drama to satisfy a reasonable person.  It makes no sense to go around creating more strained relationships and negative emotions.  Godly people seek a QUIET LIFE to please God and find out that it is also pleasing to others and themselves.

Paul offers two specifics of what a QUIET LIFE involves.  One, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  Being a “busybody” is identified in the Bible as a sin.  A busybody is not someone with a high energy level or a hard worker; this is someone who involves themselves in other people’s lives without permission.  No matter how we may rationalize it, offering unsolicited advice or comments of any kind is to be guilty of the sin of being a busybody.  God has identified this as a sin because busybodies have a negative effect on relationships and organizations.  Their intrusive and negative spirit makes everyone nervous around them and discourages creativity and/or risk-taking; all behaviors that might be good and necessary but are contrary to the busybody’s sense of the way things should be.

Two, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  One cure for busybodies is for them to MIND their OWN BUSINESS, as we’ve seen.  Another cure is to WORK WITH their HANDS because busybodies tend to be idle people.  This must’ve really been a problem in Thessalonica, because Paul addressed this issue again in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12:

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.

I’ve heard church folk eagerly cite this verse as evidence against government welfare programs and flatly ignore the gossip and complaining they do as busybodies.  WORK WITH YOUR HANDS is a figure of speech for “honest labor.”  This is a cure for busybodies because instead of wasting their time and energy on negative incursions into other people’s business, they fruitfully expend themselves on doing good.

Working together is good for a church.  The old maxim is still true: “Votes divide, service unites.”  Churches that work together build up their unity.  Honest work is a way we can serve God and others and it prohibits us making convenient but sinful distinctions between our “work life” and “church life.”  That’s hypocrisy, bud.

There are two aims with respect to the QUIET LIFE, two good reasons to make it our AMBITION.  One, to WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  A frequently-used excuse for not being involved in church is that churches are “full of hypocrites.”  There are snappy comebacks and reasonable responses to this excuse, but the most convincing reply is church folk earning the RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS by NOT being hypocrites.

We WIN RESPECT by having integrity; not just making claims of godliness, but by living in godliness.  Some people call this a “Silent Witness” or “Lifestyle Evangelism,” but to Paul, these were simply ways that all disciples were to live.  It is an important benefit to Christ-like living.

Two, to NOT BE DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY.  A secondary benefit to working with one’s hands is independence.  If you can provide for yourself, do so.  If you can’t, then don’t.   Being independent is not getting your own way as it is earning your own way.  Dependency has some negative social effects and God gave Paul the wisdom to see that capable people should be independent as long as they are capable.

This is Paul being practical but also Paul dealing with the culture of the Greek world of that time.  Greeks thought of physical labor as demeaning, while Jews had a strong work ethic they’d received from God.  Paul did not just teach this, he lived it.  Earlier in this letter he wrote;

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.               (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Laziness might be described as a lack of ambition.  So we understand two problems related to ambition in this passage.  Ambition for anything outside of God’s will is sin.  A lack of ambition is also sin.

God’s people are to behave in ways that are clearly more moral than people who are stuck on themselves, or in the world.  This passage is one of many in the Bible that sets God’s standard before us and then calls us to live accordingly.

This means deposing drama queens.  It means having as a goal for self first, then at home, in church, and in the community, a practice of life that drains the drama.  Here are some simple suggestions as to how you can do that.  I call them “Bumper Sticker Proverbs;” short, sweet, and hopefully, memorable.

#1 –No criticisms without compliments.  If you must complain or criticize, do not do so without making a genuine compliment before or after.

#2 – No advice without permission.  Unsolicited advice is detrimental to every kind of relationship in every context.  Ask first, and respect a “no” reply.

#3 – Nip negativity, push positivity.  Even if this requires a personality makeover, the peace achieved through positivity makes it worth all effort.

#4 – Pray before you say.  Ask God to set a guard at your lips and take away whatever is hurtful.

#5 – Tone down the teasing.  This is my worst thing.  A little bit goes a long way, even if the teasing is directed at yourself.  Humor with a cutting edge is a drama queen’s tool.

#6 – Follow your guide.  Asking yourself if your reaction is something Jesus would do is a handy way to both slow down our reaction time and eliminate sinful reactions.  Follow His example in word and deed.

#7 – Get in your time machine.  Before you react in any way, take a moment to imagine how important this matter will be in a year or 10 years.  A bigger perspective helps us avoid pettiness.

Love Does It

(Please read Romans 13:8-10 in your favorite Bible. I use the NIV in my study.)

A man and his wife were driving home from church one Sunday morning.  After a few moments of comfortable silence, the woman said, “Cindy is sure putting on weight.  Do you think she’s pregnant?”

“I didn’t notice, dear,” the man replied.

“Well, did you see how short Diane’s skirt was?  And at her age!”

“I’m sorry, dear.  I didn’t notice.”

“Surely you noticed the way the Smiths let their kids crawl all over everything during fellowship?”

“No, I didn’t see that either.”

“Honestly!” the woman said, disgusted.  “I don’t even know why you go to church anymore!”

Why ARE you here?

Let me suggest the best reason of all: to give and receive love.  Church is where we learn about love; it is like a rehearsal and pep rally where we are reminded about the essential importance of love and given a chance to practice it before we return to the world and put it to work.

Love is what we have received from God.  It is the reason we celebrate in worship and the object of our prayers.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

  1. Love is a DEBT in the sense that we “owe” it to one another.

The first part of v. 8 is good financial advice.  V. 8 relates back to v. 7, which is about keeping our monetary obligations, mentioning TAXES and REVENUE.  The Gk word for OWE in v. 7 comes from the same root as the word DEBT in v. 8.  This is a chain of thought in Paul’s mind.

LET NO DEBT REMAIN OUTSTANDING takes v. 7 and generalizes it into a principle which can guide many of our daily decisions.  Financial counselors will tell you to avoid debt wherever possible.  Debt has a way of crushing our finances and straining our relationships.  It’s a kind of stress that should be avoided.  When debt is unavoidable, the next best thing is to pay it off as soon as possible, to not let it REMAIN OUTSTANDING.

On the other hand, Jesus taught “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” in Matthew 5:42.  Money should be the same as ministry in the eyes of a believer.

Church Father Origen wrote, “The debt of love is permanent, and we never get out of it; for we pay it daily and yet always own it.”

God has commanded us to love, that’s why we owe it to one another. In the Old Testament we find the command to love evident in the following passages.

– Love God = Deuteronomy 6:5 = LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.

– Love your neighbor = Leviticus 19:18 = DO NOT SEEK REVENGE OR BEAR A GRUDGE AGAINST ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE, BUT LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  I AM THE LORD.

In the New Testament the command to love is affirmed by Jesus and the apostles.

– In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said, “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.  THIS IS THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT.  AND THE SECOND IS LIKE IT: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”

– Peter wrote, ABOVE ALL LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS. (1 Peter 4:8)

  1. Love is the fulfillment of every point of God’s Law.

Paul sets forth the principle in vs. 8+10: LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.  This is true because LOVE is the highest, best, and most reliable motive for keeping the LAW.

One way we know whether or not any word or deed is loving is to subject it to the standard set forth in v. 10: LOVE DOES NO HARM TO A NEIGHBOR.  Love is distinguished by always wanting more for the other person than for self.  Love motivates us to avoid doing anything harmful.  Of course this means causing physical, mental, or reputational pain – harm of any kind.  Love takes a positive approach every time.

The literal meaning of NEIGHBOR is “one who is near.”  This means that the application of this command is universal – all the people we meet.

Paul offers four specific examples of how we’re to treat our NEIGHBOR in verse nine.

First, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of committing ADULTERY.  Our English word ADULTERY translates the Greek word porneia.

It is the Bible’s base word for all kinds of sexual sin.  Whether a person is married or single, this one term covers all forms of this kind of sin.

ADULTERY is not restricted to the physical acts of disobedience, but encompasses all the attitudes of the heart that put satisfaction of self ahead of devotion to God.  For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus condemned

LUST as an act that makes a person as guilty of ADULTERY as the physical relationship.

Those who love keep their eyes and heart devoted to their beloved, so they are never guilty of ADULTERY in an emotional or spiritual sense or a physical one.  Marriage is the one relationship where sexuality is approved.

Second, everyone who truly loves will not commit MURDER.  This word does not refer to capital punishment or acts of violence in defense of self or the innocent.  Some Christians believe this command forbids all forms of violence, but that is not what the text says.

Of course, there are other kinds of violence.  Jesus taught that whoever condemns his brother is in as much danger of hell as whoever commits murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Once again, unloving attitudes are as much sin as unloving acts.

Third, everyone who truly loves will not STEAL.  Stealing is an offense to God for many reasons, but at its base it is a refusal to respect others and their rights to private property.  The idea of DOMINION or ownership goes back to Genesis 1+2.  Those who steal disrespect the dominion God has given others over their property.

Of course, people routinely steal things other than property and are thereby as guilty of stealing as someone who pinches physical goods.  For example, the sins of gossip, lying, backbiting, and slander are sins because they steal from another person’s reputation.

Fourth, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of coveting.  To COVET is to be so materialistic that you desire things you do not own.  It may be a prelude to stealing.  It is a sin because it is a selfish irritation and dissatisfaction with what God has provided.  It betrays a lack of faith & trust in God.

The truly loving person will not COVET because they will care more about the owner than the item.  They will recognize that the owner and their treatment of him will continue into eternity, but the thing in question will not.

All of these examples are problems that would be solved if we loved our neighbor as ourselves, if we kept the Golden Rule.  Notice how Jesus expressed this in Matthew 7:12: “IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU, FOR THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.”  Does that sound familiar?  That’s exactly what Paul wrote!  Imagine what kind of a home, church, community and world we would have if everyone abided by this foundational ethical principle.  It is simple, portable, and it works.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

“Almost a century ago, two young medical school graduates, along with their doctor father, tried an important experiment. They built a small sanitarium on a farm outside Topeka, Kansas (USA). Oftentimes patients were sent to impersonal institutions where they might remain their entire lives.
“The doctors were Charles Menninger and his sons Karl and William. The Menningers had a different idea. Their sanitarium would not be impersonal. They were determined to create a loving, family atmosphere among their patients and staff. Their vision was to grow a community of doctors, nurses and support staff that would cooperate to heal patients.
“To this end, nurses were given special training and were told, ‘Let each person know how much you value them. Shower these people with love.’ Many of the patients received more love and kindness at the Menninger Sanitarium than they had ever experienced before.
“The treatment worked – spectacularly.  [At the end of the first six months, the time people spent in the institution was cut in half.] The experiment was a resounding success and the Menninger’s revolutionary approach to healing and their radical (for that time) methods became world famous.
“Karl Menninger later wrote numerous books and became a leading figure in American psychiatry. ‘Love cures people,’ Menninger wrote, ‘both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.’ His work demonstrated just how true that statement is.”

<Retrieved from http://stevegoodier.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-conspiracy-of-love.html on 1/20/17.>

“Love cures people,” that’s a quote worth remembering, isn’t it?  We’ve learned today that love helps us keep God’s commands: indeed, it is His greatest commandment.  Love is the most important thing.

The flipside of love is holiness.  To be genuine, you can’t have one without the other.  Holiness is the practice of love in our relationships, the things we do that are in keeping with God’s commands.

One of the chief places where love shows up or is conspicuously absent is in our conversations.  The words we say and the way in which we say them goes a long way in revealing whether we are truly in Christ or not and that’s why the NT spends so much time on them.

(If you’d like to see the video version of this message,

Love Without Limits

(Please read Matthew 18:21-35 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Those of us of a certain age will recognize the name W.C. Fields, the rest of you will have to google it.  A famous comic actor in the black and white era of motion pictures, Fields played mostly grumpy old men in his movies.  It turns out that off-screen, he was a grumpy old man and a drunken rascal.

W.C. Fields was also a notorious atheist.  That’s why a friend of his was astonished to discover Fields, at the end of his life, reading the Bible.  He asked Fields, “Why in the world are you reading the Bible?  Are you looking for answers?”

The comedian replied, “No, I’m looking for loopholes.”

Looking for loopholes.  That pretty well describes human nature doesn’t it?  We want maximum gain with minimal effort.  We expect to be rewarded above and beyond our lukewarm commitment and selfishly motivated actions.  Justice and mercy are things we want when they benefit us, but are far less concerned about them for the sake of others.  Particularly for people whom we do not happen to like.

The last time I preached on this passage was 20 years ago.  At that time, God was using a peculiar method to teach me about mercy.  God used Woofie to give me daily opportunities to show forgiveness.

Woofie came into our lives as “Wolfie;”  we changed her name to make her sound less aggressive.  The change of name had no effect on her nature, however.

Woofie was the poster dog of the local Humane Society.  Really.  She was a stray who’d been hanging around a cemetery, barely eking out a living, in bad shape when she was caught.  Life on her own did not prepare Woofie to be a house dog.

She loved everyone in the family and hated all other life forms.  She was a barker.  A jumper.  She bolted every chance she could get, so we had to devise an elaborate and strong pulley system to let her outdoors.  One of her favorite tricks was to walk up next to Melanie and bump her with her backside, sending Melanie, then a toddler, sprawling and bawling on the floor.  When we watched a movie and ate popcorn, she would bark angrily if you didn’t frequently flip a kernel her way.

The story has a happy ending.  Woofie lived with us for more than a decade.  She peacefully lay down to sleep one day and never awoke again.

What eventually made the difference was love.  And forgiveness.  Lots and lots of forgiveness of her canine sins.

Now, twenty years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We adopted Rue from the Sioux Falls Humane Society just before Christmas and her list of doggie offenses is growing.  I must be a slow learner to have to go through this again!

  1. The occasion: Peter asked a question.

Rabbis (Jewish teachers) are and were tasked with applying the Law of Moses to everyday life.  When they did so, they tended to use a very legalistic approach.  They taught that a person might be forgiven three times for a repeated sin.  On the fourth occasion, however, no one was required to  forgive something a fourth time.

It’s possible that when Peter offered the number SEVEN, he was surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees as Jesus had commanded in 5:20. (“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”)  Or Peter may’ve settled on SEVEN since that was seen as “the perfect number,” the number for God.  (Six is the number for man; always one short.)  In either case, Jesus had just been talking about the steps in restoring fellow church members from sin to forgiveness and this sparked Peter’s questioning mind.  He wanted to know if there were any loopholes in this matter of forgiveness and restoration.

In the first part of His answer, Jesus one-ups Peter and adds a second seven.  (In some texts it’s plus seventy, in others, it times seventy.  Since we’re NOT dealing with a legalism here, the difference makes no difference.)  Jesus sometimes uses humor and exaggeration to make His point and I believe that’s what’s happening here.  SEVENTY-SEVEN and 490 are both ridiculous numbers if you intend to make it a law.  Who would have the capacity to keep such a command?  How would keeping an exhaustive count of offenses make anyone feel better or make you more godly?

No, SEVENTY-SEVEN is obviously a metaphor for a limitless number.  Once they’ve had a chuckle over the first part of His answer, Jesus goes on to tell them a story that will justify effectively limitless forgiveness.

  1. The one main point of the parable: “Forgive one another as you have been forgiven by God the Father.”

We will show how Jesus’ parable develops this truth in just a moment.  For now, we note the large strokes.

The KING is God the Father.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He forgives the massive, impossible-for-us-to-fix debt of our sin.

We are the unforgiving servant when we take out our petty anger on the people around us, who are represented by the FELLOW SERVANT.

The unforgiving servant had no mercy, so he received justice instead; justice in the form of judgment.  The warning in v. 35 could not be clearer: people who are unwilling to forgive will miss out on God’s forgiveness.

  1. The sub-points of the parable:

One: The debt the king forgave was impossible to repay.  In Jesus’ world, it was possible for servants of a KING to amass a debt in the course of their service to the king.  They were tasked with managing their master’s assets and logically their management wasn’t always successful.  In such cases, the master didn’t write a loss off, but held the manager accountable, counting the loss as a debt owed him.  (This system sounds a bit like riding a tiger; choose carefully which end you face!)

Even so, this amount is another purposeful exaggeration: Jesus used an impossibly large amount of money to create the impression that the debt was impossible to repay.  For context, I refer you to a 2010 article by Philip Massey who calculated the debt to require 200,000 YEARS of labor to repay.  The 2010 equivalent, his math said, was $7.04 billion.

– OR, the net worth of Bill Gates.

– OR, more than the national debt… in 1917!!

<Retrieved from http://chimes.biola.edu/story/2010/oct/27/parable-two-debtors/ on 1/6/17.>

The king did the math and realized that even if he sold this man’s entire family into slavery (as he did in v. 25), it would not make a dent in his losses.  His original motive must’ve been to get what he could and make an example of this servant and his horrible mismanagement of the king’s funds.

He orders the servant and all his family and possessions seized for the debt.  Our sympathy may naturally go to the servant, but think about it: if the indebted servant realized the debt was impossible to pay, his pleading with the king to be PATIENT, promising to repay all, was a lie.

Let’s note the character of the KING on the basis of his response to his servant’s plea.  His character is substantiated in v. 27: it was PITY, not the empty promise of repayment that motivated the king to cancel the servant’s debt.  Let there be no doubt this king is a figure symbolizing God the Father.

– Each person’s sin is an insurmountable debt, a problem we can’t fix.

– Not because of our empty promises to be good, or anything else we can do, the debt is cancelled.

– Does this help you understand the incredible seriousness of your sins AND the depth of God’s forgiveness?

– Remember, the money is a metaphor; the actual situation is even more dire, for the wages of sin are DEATH (RMS 6:23).

Two, the debt the servant did not forgive was tiny in comparison.  The modern value of A HUNDRED SILVER COINS would be up to $45,000.  That is a princely sum for most of us, I would guess, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to $7.04 billion.

This is a third exaggeration, a sum chosen carefully by Jesus.            On the one hand, it is not so small a sum of money that a person could easily forgive the debt and not miss it.  A needy or greedy person would be motivated to insist on repayment.  On the other hand, it is not so large a sum that it compares at all with the debt this servant’s master had JUST CANCELLED.

In v. 29, the second servant’s plea reads almost exactly the same as the plea the unforgiving servant has just made with the king.  Here Jesus is using irony to make sure that we connect the unforgiving servant with the one who owed him money.  The unforgiving servant takes the place of the KING and the second servant takes his place.  Though the debts are very much different, the situation, through the wording, is very much the same.  What is different is the outcome.

It is a terrible, immoral deed that the unforgiving servant does to his peer, throwing him in prison over this comparatively tiny debt after he has been forgiven so much (30).  What he did was as illegal as it was immoral.  According to the law of the land, you could not sell a person into slavery for a debt that was worth less than the person’s life.  In other words, the unforgiving servant was trying to not only recover his debt, but make a profit too.  This detail exposes the unforgiving servant as greedy, not needy.

Three, the king’s justice is an example of God’s justice.  The injustice of the unforgiving servant’s actions was not lost on his peers.  Jesus says they were GREATLY DISTRESSED (31).  Probably at some personal risk, they went to the KING and told him what had happened.  This makes even more sense if the actions of the unforgiving servant are illegal AND immoral.

In vs. 32-34 we are pleased to see that this KING, who was so good-natured as to forgive such a massive debt, also had a good sense of justice.  He was indignant at the unforgiving servant’s actions and rebuked him for his pettiness, his unwillingness to demonstrate the same kind of mercy as he had recently received.

In righteous anger, the KING delivered a just condemnation of the unforgiving servant.  The word translated in the NIV as JAILERS is really too tame a choice of words.  It should read “torturers.”  The justice and mercy of the KING are a stark contrast to the greed and injustice of the unforgiving servant.

Four, let unforgiving folk be warned (35).  God’s justice is perfect; He knows who is guilty and the punishment always fits the crime.

This warning could not be more clear.  Unforgiving people betray the true status of their soul as themselves being unforgiven.  There is a cause and effect relationship between being shown mercy and giving mercy.

This warning could be more serious.  Our eternal destination is at stake.  Just as the unforgiving servant was handed over to the “torturers,” so can an unmerciful person expect only the wrath of God.

This warning could not be any more certain.  The unforgiving servant was exposed and justice was rendered.  He may have gone away from his first encounter thinking he’d fooled the king but his true nature emerged and he was dealt with justly.

Several years ago, on a beautiful spring day a man walked along a country lane to enjoy the sun.  He chanced upon a farmer plowing his field with a mule.  He was having a tough time of it.  The mule was not very responsive.

The visitor waved to the farmer and motioned for him to come over to the fence.  The farmer mopped his sweaty brow as he came over to the fence to greet his friendly visitor.

“Say,” the visitor said, “I’m not one to tell a man how to do his business, but I think that mule would be more cooperative if you’d say ‘Gee’ and ‘Haw’ to him when you wanted him to turn.”

The farmer considered this advice for but a moment and replied, “Reckon that’s so, but that mule kicked me five years ago and I haven’t talked to it since.”

Holding a grudge against people makes about as much sense, doesn’t it?  As this parable makes plain, grudge-holding and all forms of being unforgiving and unmerciful have no place in the life of a follower of Jesus.

Instead, just the opposite is true.  A claim to faith by a person or a church is proven by a character of mercy.  This quality of a fellowship (church) is also necessary to attract and retain new people in a church.

The Original ‘No Spin Zone’

(Please read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

The truth is better than ‘spin.’

“Spin” is a slang word that describes an attempt to change someone’s feelings about a thing by changing the words you use to describe or designate it.  It is a favorite tactic of the “politically correct” crowd – the “secular orthodox” – to influence public opinion.  (Have you noticed people don’t “think” anymore, they “feel?”)

It works on people who don’t think for themselves.  Here’s an example in a story told by Anne Watson.

Her great uncle Ed was a country lawyer by day and a moonshiner by night.  One day, a man came to Ed’s office and asked for his help with a criminal case – the sheriff had charged him with theft for stealing a pig.

“Oh,” said Ed.  “Did you do it?”

“Yeah,” his new client answered.

“OK,” Ed said, thinking.  “Where is the pig now?”

“In my smokehouse.  I got no money to pay for it.”

“Give me half the pig,” Ed said, “and I’ll get you off.”

This was done that night and the next morning, Ed and the pigstealer appeared in court.  When the charge was read, Ed’s defense consisted of the following statement; “Yer Honor, they ain’t any more of that pig in this man’s smokehouse than there is in mine!”

Making a lie more acceptable is what “spin” is about.

The prevailing culture in America is very dependent on spin.  Part of the problem is that spin is being used to widen the gap between the culture and the Church.  The influence the culture exerts on the Church is growing as critics and skeptics become louder and bolder.  What are we doing?

On the one hand, the Church has resorted to “spin,” the practice of hiding unbiblical teaching behind deceptive language.  Some churches have bought into the new orthodoxy of political correctness and have tried to hide the fact by pasting churchy-sounding words on the outside or adapting biblical concepts to approve their agenda.

Other churches have done the opposite – they have retreated into traditions and legalism, angrily rejecting all change and avoiding any dialogue.  The anti-church elements of our culture love this response.  Why?  If they get the Church to appear more antique and ill-mannered or force it to withdraw entirely, they have succeeded in silencing her.

What are we to do?  This has been on my mind and heart more than usual this week.  This morning I want to suggest a response to you, one that avoids either of the two extremes that are killing the Church in America.

In short, I suggest that the most precious thing the Church has to offer our communities and our country is Jesus Christ.  Every dialogue, every confrontation, every collision, is an opportunity to tell unbelievers the good news about Jesus.

There are two things we must do.

One, keep it simple.  Don’t allow the truth to be killed by qualifications or complicated by compromises.

Two, keep it true. Firstly, that means true to the Bible.  Without apology, the Bible is our objective but personal revelation of what is absolutely true.  The culture wants to deny that absolute truth exists.  We will not allow that.

Secondly, that means true to the social context.  As we will see, there are a set of appropriate and effective behaviors in the context of the Church and another set in the context of the world; they are slightly different.  Context also takes in our immediate surroundings and the persons involved.  This is not complicated, but it does require some sensitivity and benefits from some forethought.

Fortunately, we have an example set by the Apostle Paul.  He sets forth this position in 1 Corinthians 2, where he wrote to a troubled church and explained in plain terms what he intended to do with them.  Let’s take a look.

  1. The Apostle Paul dealt in the truth alone.

What Paul wanted to avoid was diluting the Gospel by resorting to spin doctoring.  He wrote, I DID NOT COME WITH what we might call worldly words or wits.  Paul explained this decision in three ways, the first being ELOQUENCE (1).  This is personal social power, interpersonal assertiveness accomplished with word plays and/or charisma.  He vowed not to rely on SUPERIOR WISDOM (1): rhetorical tricks or lies, exercises of mental assertiveness.  Finally, Paul eschewed  WISE AND PERSUASIVE WORDS (4), which can be understood as reliance on learning, reputation, education.  This is Paul’s advocacy for the purity and simplicity of the Gospel, not for “dumbing down” the intellectual content of the Gospel.

Instead, Paul told the Corinthians the plain truth.  This claim is also developed in three parts.  First, I PROCLAIMED…THE TESTIMONY ABOUT GOD (1).  This was Paul’s personal testimony of what God has done in his life and what he’d witnessed in the churches.  Second, I RESOLVED TO KNOW NOTHING… EXCEPT JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED (2).  This is a matter of keeping our focus where it belongs: on Jesus.  Third, he came to them WITH A DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT’S POWER (4); he had relied on God’s power, not his own.  There are at least three ways the Holy Spirit’s power is revealed in the personal experience of followers of Jesus.

“Conviction” is the work of the Holy Spirit on unbelievers to convince them of their sin and their need for repentance and salvation.

“Salvation” is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  It was accomplished in Jesus’ sacrifice and fully rendered in the empty tomb.

“Sanctification” is the work of the Holy Spirit on believers to draw them into deeper spiritual maturity; to make them more like Jesus Christ.

In this way, Paul demonstrated humility and focused on Jesus, not himself.  Here the Apostle used a pair of phrases.  The first is WEAKNESS (3). In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul referred fondly to his weaknesses as opportunities for God to demonstrate His strength.  The second is FEAR AND MUCH TREMBLING (3), a

common biblical phrase for trust in God, not self.

Do these two personal descriptions sound anything like the feelings you have when you think of witnessing or standing up for your faith?  If so, you’re in good company!  The Apostle Paul felt that way too.  Remember, it’s not about you anyway.  It’s about God in you!

Interestingly, Paul’s detractors said the similar things about him.  We learn this from the way he addressed their accusations in 2 Corinthians 10:10; FOR SOME SAY, “HIS LETTERS ARE WEIGHTY AND FORCEFUL, BUT IN PERSON HE IS UNIMPRESSIVE AND HIS SPEAKING AMOUNTS TO NOTHING.”  I guess they didn’t read the first letter, especially this passage.  The truth is, Paul could have preached assertively, exercising his obvious intellect.  Instead, he chose to preach the way he did so that he would not undermine the security of their conversion. This approach is in continuity with his teaching in the previous chapter: 1CT 1:27. BUT GOD CHOSE THE FOOLISH THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE WISE; GOD CHOSE THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE STRONG.

Paul affirmed that the Gospel, all by itself, has the power to change lives.  It needs no adornment.  He explained his preaching and leadership style as having this objective: SO THAT YOUR FAITH MIGHT NOT REST ON MEN’S WISDOM, BUT ON GOD’S POWER (5).  If you and I do what we can do, we get the glory, but it’s not as big a deal.  If you and I do what only God can do, God gets the glory and it’s always a big deal.  Faith founded on a person is shaky; faith founded on God is steady.

As the apostle affirmed Romans 1:16, I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL, BECAUSE IT IS HE POWER OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES: FIRST FOR THE JEWS, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.  Any statement is more likely to be true if it points people back to God; if it glorifies Him.

  1. In our collisions with contemporary culture, we must stand on the truth alone.

What do we have to offer to the world around us?  Nothing less than the truth and nothing more than the truth.  The truth we have to offer is this: Jesus Saves Sinners.  Skeptics and critics will try to disprove or disavow any one of these three truths, but compromise here makes faith false.

How do we offer t truth to the world around us?  Two ways: in context and in compassion.

Paying attention to context can mean asking, “Which kingdom are we in? We are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Our primary behavior is love.

Our code of conduct is the Bible.

The aim of our code is to help each other find God.

Within our walls, we encourage discussion but don’t tolerate division or interference.  Differences of opinion must be resolved on the testimony of the Bible by means of the Holy Spirit.  Individuals submit to the authority of God as determined by the church as a whole.

We are, secondarily, citizens of the United States.

Our primary behavior is civility: mutual respect.

The code of conduct is the law.

The aim of the code is justice; equal opportunity to decide our own outcome and jointly decide the outcome of the country.

We realize that our American culture is an immigrant culture and as such it is always in tension, always being redefined.  Our faith, however, does not have be lead around by our culture.  We don’t have to submit to the latest trends and follow their fads.  When culture and law contradict God’s word, we stand firm on God’s word.  As Paul did, we stand firm on the word of God.  Whenever outsiders demand compromise, compliance, or silence, we must decide with Peter and John that it is better to obey God rather than men (see Acts 4:18).

In regard to compassion: start with positivity & love.  Note Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman: He established a conversation and began a relationship before He confronted her sin (see John 4).  Paul and the people of Athens (see Acts 17).  He used one of their landmarks as a symbol of what was wrong with their godless culture and presented Jesus as the solution to the problem they denied having.

Remember this universal statement of human nature: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Peggy Noonan was a speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan and has remained an advocate for conservative politics to this day.  Way back in 1992 she wrote an opinion piece for Forbes magazine entitled, “You’d Cry Too if it Happened to You.”  I heard this portion of the article quoted on the radio last week. It impacted me, so I looked it up on the Internet to share it with you.

“We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: ‘She’s going to have a baby.’

“The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

“But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

“The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (‘We disapprove’) and the particular (‘Let’s go help her’). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between ‘official,’ disapproval and ‘unofficial’ [service]. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.”

<Retrieved from http://www.peggynoonan.com/47/ on 4/29/16.>

Noonan’s point is that in becoming more “tolerant,” our culture has become less caring.  We spread our approval further but have become miserly with our love.

I mention this to restate the point of this message: The truth is better than ‘spin.’ To love in deed and in fact is better than loving in words.  And THAT is what the Church has to offer that the world does not have.  TRUE LOVE.

Why’d He do It? Love!

(Please read Ephesians 5:1-2 from your preferred version of the Bible.  I cite the NIV in the following article.)

Love motivated Jesus to sacrifice His life o/t cross.

Americans Turn to Scripture in Search for Love                         February 10, 2016

By Aaron Earls

“As it turns out, many are looking for love in the perfect place — the Bible.

“More people searched for ‘love’ at Bible Gateway, an online Bible search site, than any other word in 2015. It remained consistently at the top of the rankings throughout the year.

“In addition, ‘love one another’ and ‘love is patient’ were also among Bible Gateway’s 25 most searched words and phrases last year. Both of those became the second and third most searched terms immediately before Valentine’s Day in 2015.

“Those two phrases, along with ‘God is love,’ spiked on Google searches last year in mid-February as well. People also began searching more for ‘Bible love’ and ‘Bible verse love.’ All those phrases have already begun trending upwards again this year as popular searches.

 

“Love was also found in the top verses searched at Bible Gateway. The most popular verse, John 3:16, describes God’s love for the world, while the fourth verse, Romans 8:28, speaks of God’s promises to those who love Him.

“Eight verses from the so-called ‘Love Chapter’ of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, also show up throughout the 100 most popular Scripture verse list, with 1 Corinthians 13:7 hitting ninth place.”

<Retrieved from http://factsandtrends.net/2016/02/10/americans-turn-to-scripture-in-search-for-love/#.Vr4jxcsUXct on 2/12/16.>

  1. Jesus gave His life on the cross because He loved us.

These verses are part of a long section that compares righteous living with unrighteous living in a way that is familiar to Star Wars fans: the “light” side versus the “dark” side.  The phrase JUST AS CHRIST LOVED US in verse two is the key to the whole thing.  The defining element is love.  The defining moment of love is when Jesus surrendered His life on the cross.

[Jesus] GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR US (v. 2) develops the sacrificial aspect of the Crucifixion with two expressions that hearken back to the Old Testament and the sacrificial system it set forth.  For Christians, the sacrificial system is no longer required, but it is still useful for illustrating and understanding what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

The first is A FRAGRANT OFFERING (v. 2).  In the Old Testament, when a sacrifice was offered to God, it was burned on the altar outside the tabernacle/temple.  The smoke rose from the fire and God declared it smelled sweet in his nostrils.  (See Noah’s sacrifice after the Flood in Genesis 8:21.)

This is a symbolic way of saying that a sacrifice rightly made and with a sincere heart was pleasing to God.  When He died on the cross, Jesus was not burned up, but His sacrifice was rightly made and with a sincere heart, so He pleased God the Father.  The word translated as OFFERING was very familiar among the Jews of the time and appears over 40 times in the first five books of the Bible.

The second phrase is A SACRIFICE TO GOD (v. 2).  From the Genesis to Revelation, God revealed that sin is death.  To be saved from the death penalty, a life had to be sacrificed.  God made it clear that any creature’s life is in its blood and only the shedding of blood was the means of salvation.

– In the Old Testament, it was the blood of animals that provided the solution to sin.

– In the New Testament, it is the blood of Jesus, the perfect and once for all time sacrifice that provided the ultimate and final solution to sin.

William Barclay wrote, “What was that sacrifice?  It was a life of perfect obedience to God and of perfect love to men; obedience so absolute and a love so infinite that they accepted the Cross.” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, 1976, Vol. 10, p. 161.)  The word translated as SACRIFICE was used by the Jews of the time o refer specifically to the “peace-offering;” blood that was shed to restore peace between God and people.

  1. In response, we are to imitate that love.

Paul’s command, BE IMITATORS OF GOD, (v. 1) is rather stunning.  Just stop and think about that for a moment.  What more impossible task could you set for a human being?  We’re not trying to BE God, we’re just trying to IMITATE God and yet His power and perfection are way beyond us.

It looks like a set-up to fail.  However, it is not and it makes a world of sense.  It is the most ambitious spiritual goal God could set for us.  As we have all learned, if you aim higher, you accomplish more.  Spiritually speaking, God did not leave us to accomplish this on our own.  He has given us His word and the Holy Spirit to empower us for divine imitation.

Why should we BE IMITATORS OF GOD?  Here are several reasons.

One, AS DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN (1), we are to be motivated to love by the fact that we have been loved.  We ought to act in gratitude that God the Father loved us so much that He adopted us and made us His children.  On a more familiar level, we’ve experienced how a child learns by imitating one’s parents.  It’s cute when our children imitate our good points, not so cute when they imitate our bad points! Having and demonstrating our love is one of the ways we prove to ourselves and others that we truly are God’s children.

Two, the Gk word translated as IMITATORS was commonly used by Gk philosophers to refer to the method by which great teachers trained their disciples: the learner simply did as the teacher did, repeated what the teacher said, and accepted what the teacher presented as the truth.

Three, the practice of imitating God is well-supported in the Bible.

– Through Moses, God commanded, “Be holy, for I, the LORD your God am holy.” (see Leviticus 19:2)

– Through Jesus God commanded, “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (see Matthew 5:48)  Additionally, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (see Luke 6:36)

– Through Paul, God commanded, “Forgive one another, just as God, in Christ forgave you.” (see Ephesians 4:32)

Fourth, and most importantly “God said so.”  That is simple enough and all the reason any follower of Jesus should need to obey His commands.

A fifth motive for imitating God is that it is by imitation we make God known in our world.  Yes, our words matter, but only to the degree that they are backed up by our deeds.

How are we to BE IMITATORS OF GOD?  Paul offered two ways.

One, to LIVE A LIFE OF LOVE (v. 2).  Love is an essential characteristic of God.  So, logically, as imitators of God, we need to be increasingly characterized by love.  “Living a life of love” means having love as the center of our character.  It’s not an act we put on or something we do in some situations; it’s an essential expression of who we are.

Two, following Jesus’ example: JUST AS CHRIST LOVED US (v. 2).  There’s a whole sermon here, isn’t there?  We are to imitate the love Jesus showed us on the cross.  Obviously, obedience to God and sacrifice to benefit others are the ways that kind of love appears in us.