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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Having A Horizontal and Vertical Love
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Love
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-06-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 111:1                                                                                   

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – James 2

Ps 19:3,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 2

Hy 28:2,5,6

Hy 11:1,2,3,9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, in order to hit your goal, you’ve got to be aimed in the right direction. That’s true for a lot of things! If you’re trying to snap a photo, you have to point carefully, adjust the zoom, and hit the button when you’re ready. If you’re trying to score in soccer, you won’t succeed unless you aim for the net. Even if you want to park your vehicle, you need to aim.

Direction is important, otherwise we’ll miss the mark. It’s also true as Christians: We have to make sure we’re aimed in the right direction. And simply, the two directions that we always need to be facing are horizontal, and vertical. That’s what we see in the 10 Commandments, which are divided into two parts.

The first part of the law “teaches us how to live in relation to God.” This is that vertical orientation to our life—pointing upwards—where we realize there’s more to life than what we see here on earth. Life isn’t just about pursuing our goals, and it’s also more than enjoying the blessing of other people. No, there needs to be that vertical aspect, where we live in a loving relationship with God our Creator and Saviour. God has a claim on us, and He wants our genuine love and worship.

The second part of the law, says the Catechism, deals with “what duties we owe our neighbour.” This describes how we live “horizontally,” relating to all those people on our level, around us, each day. You meet these people everywhere: they’re in your house, they’re on the train, at church, at the shops and at work. And the question is how we deal with them: how’s our horizontal aim?

Even though we won’t get to the Ten Commandments until much later, that two-fold division is helpful here in Lord’s Day 2. Because we’re talking about God’s law. What does God require of us? We’re his possession in body and soul, we saw in Lord’s Day 1, which means that God calls us to live his way. This is our theme,

What does God’s law require of us?

  1. to keep the royal law of love for neighbour
  2. to show an active faith by love for God

 

1. keeping the royal law of love for neighbour: We read from James 2 earlier. And reading that chapter, it’s not hard to get the sense there was some real strife among the believers James writes to. And a lot of the tension was because of differences in social standing and economic position. There were rich people in the congregation, and poor people. There were members who were privileged and prosperous, and members of a more humble status. And that’s not a problem—there’s always going to be these differences.

But then James points out how these outward distinctions led to a terrible result. He describes a typical scene of the church getting together, maybe holding a worship service, or having a fellowship meal. Things are underway, when one of the church’s richer members—a landowner, a government official, perhaps—comes in. It’s not hard to notice his wealth, he’s got gold rings and fine clothing. As he comes into the room, he probably carries himself with a confident manner. What do the others do? They quickly make a place for him. They give him a chair near the front, and fetch him some coffee.

Then, not a minute later, someone else comes in, another church member. But he’s wearing dirty clothes, and to be honest, he smells a bit. Perhaps he’s a labourer, and he’s come straight from work. Anyway, his low position is clear.

And the difference in reaction to these two men is very telling! Because while the wealthy one was given a warm welcome and treated with favour, the other is brushed aside. Suddenly there’s no more chairs, and he has to sit on the ground. James’ church has made a distinction between who should be loved, and who should be tolerated. He writes, “Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (v 4)

Could that happen here? Do we make distinctions like that among ourselves, and judge the people we meet? Love some, and leave others? It’s challenge, isn’t it? This commandment confronts us with our failings. Knowing God’s command to love our neighbour is one thing, but doing it can be a real test.

I remember reading once that when we meet a someone new, we so quickly form a judgment about them. Within something like five seconds of their beginning to speak, or even before they’ve said anything, we’ve reached conclusions about what kind of person they are—conclusions based strictly on superficial things like outward appearance. Things like the kind of clothes they wear, and the shape of their body. Or whether this an attractive person, or a successful person, a younger person—that determines how I’m going to treat them. With what kind of eyes do you look at people? That’s the challenge, not to be “judges with evil thoughts”—but to love them! To see them on our level, to treat them with grace.

Scripture says it so often. The Catechism quotes the words of Jesus from Matthew 22. His words are, in turn, a quote from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The LORD has always called us to live in that horizontal direction, to turn ourselves outward, to be “our brother’s keeper.”

James adds his voice to the love-chorus of Scripture when he says in 2:8, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well.” Instead of showing favouritism, we need to put into practice the royal law.

Notice how James describes this love-command as “the royal law.” What’s a royal law? One that has been issued by the King, by the one who is seated on his throne. “Love your neighbour as yourself”—this royal law is the supreme and authoritative word from God. It’s the law that was confirmed by Christ our King, and which was demonstrated by his life of humble service. When it comes to our neighbour, this is the law that sums up all the others. Love others, just as you love yourself!

“As you love yourself…” the royal law says. In the hands of the wrong people, that can be a dangerous phrase: “I’ve got to love myself!” We hear it often in a self-centred world, “I need some me-time.” “I’m going to treat myself: because I’m worth it.” “Let me take another selfie and share it with everyone, because I’m so interesting.” So with this command is God suggesting that we’re supposed to love ourselves, in the sense that we make sure WE are happy and WE are secure, above all? No, even the children know the J.O.Y. principle: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last!

Still, God knows that so many of our thoughts are about ourselves. It’s that inner conversation we have: “How am I feeling right now? Will this help me to reach my goals? Should I eat lunch soon?” Attention to yourself is unavoidable. You can’t get away from self-interest. But God’s royal law means we take that inward-orientation, and we point it another way: Try to love someone else like that! Think about the needs of others. Get their physical good, and their spiritual benefit, onto your radar. Pursue the good of others with all the devotion you pursue it for yourself. Ask them, “How are you doing? And how can I help you?”

This gives a different outlook to our life. What happens when you hear about a person or a family who is in need? Or what happens when you see someone standing on their own after church? Take action. Put the royal law into practice! Love them, as you love yourself. Or what if you know a neighbour who would benefit from your kindness, from your friendship, your care? Put Christ’s royal law into practice! Try to bring blessing in some way.

This new orientation comes across in the New Testament, in the numerous texts that end with “one another.” There’s at least a few dozen. It’s a sobering and challenging exercise, to look them all up, and meditate on all the “one anothers” in Scripture. Here’s just a few: “Love one another. Be devoted to one another. Live in harmony with one another. Accept one another. Serve one another. Be kind and compassionate to one another. Submit to one another. Bear with one another. Encourage one another. Offer hospitality to one another.” In short, make “one another” your concern.

Yet even when we aim to love others, we miss the mark. The Bible calls us to one kind of love—a genuine, gracious, giving love—but our love is way off. Because, as we said, we do show “partiality.” We favour one person over another, are biased toward one, and ready to ignore the next. When there’s someone poor in front of you, what do you think? Or what about that church member with the abrasive personality, the one that can be difficult? Or what if it’s simply a stranger we meet—what kind of thoughts go through your mind?

Since we know that thoughts lead to actions, and that thoughts give shape to words, that’s an important question. Do you really see this person as “on your level,” on the level of a brother or a sister, or the level of one who was also made in God’s image?

Another challenge we have is being kind only to those who are kind to us. Yet we hear the words of Christ: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them? And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6:32-33). Christians should have a different approach. Don’t love simply those in that tight circle right around you. Don’t value only those who make you happy, or associate only with those who share your interests and opinions.

No, consider what Christ says, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35). That’s how high the royal standard is set; it’s according to how God treats us! For the LORD sees that no one deserves a thing. He sees how poor we are in ourselves, how unlikeable. But He shows us rich mercy and kindness.

For the King himself was the one who kept the royal law! Though He was “the Lord of glory,” He came down to earth to be clothed in our humanity. Christ spent his life ministering to sinners, serving them and helping them. The “Lord of glory” put our interests ahead of his own, and He loved us with a priceless love.

By his sacrifice Christ has made us a royal priesthood, to keep his royal law. He’s even made it the mark of being his disciples, “that we love one another.” That becomes the evidence that we have received God’s mercy: when we show mercy to others, when we treat them better than they deserve. May God help us not to judge people, or show partiality, but may He help us reach out with a whole-hearted love. They’re on our level, they’re in our life, so they must receive our love.

 

2. showing an active faith by love for God: Earlier we mentioned how God’s law is divided into two parts. His law governs the duties we owe our neighbour, and it directs our relationship with the LORD. The law, we said, means your life and love needs to have a horizontal direction and a vertical direction.

And about the vertical, we should say that everyone lives in some kind of relationship to God. For God is our Creator. His royal law is supreme over all humanity. So every single person on this planet is in a relationship with the Lord, whether or not they’re aware of it. Only the question is: Is it a good relationship, or not? And how do we know? We know it by our faith-filled obedience. You can know that you love God by what you do with God’s commands.

James has something to say about this as well. In chapter 2, he’s teaching us about faith and works, how they’re like root and branches. Your deeds go with your creed. But James imagines someone arguing with him, “You have faith, and I have works” (2:18). In other words, “God’s happy with you because you go to church, and agree with the creeds and confessions. And God’s happy with me because I support the Red Cross, and I lend my garden tools to my neighbour.” This thinking says that as long as you’ve got one or the other—faith in God, or love for other people—you’re doing OK.

In response, James points to the demons. He challenges his readers, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe!” (v 19). Because at one level, it’s not so earth-shaking to say you believe in God. Probably many Australians still do. And the demons do too. You could say that the demons are even orthodox in their doctrine, because they affirm the oneness of God. They have an accurate view of the LORD.

But so what? Right doctrine is not proof of a saving faith. Saying that there is a God doesn’t mean that things are right between you and the Lord. Those demons know about God, but they hate him. They’re in a relationship with God, but one that makes them tremble, because they’re going to be destroyed. Their response to him is all wrong.

So then, if a person says he knows God, even claims to love God (and comes to church every Sunday), but that love isn’t worked out in a practical way, what should we conclude? If being a Christian doesn’t change what you do, doesn’t set you apart from your unbelieving neighbours, such a faith is dead. It’s dead: not just in the sense that it’s not doing what it should. It’s not even really what it claims to be—it’s not faith!

There’s a different way to relate to God. It’s this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Q&A 4). We hear that so often, but let’s take that apart.

First, what does it mean, if you love God “with all your heart?” Your heart is the centre of your person. It’s your heart that determines your words; that gives shape to your thoughts; that numbers your priorities and sets your desire on things. So God commands that we be filled with not just with a knowledge of him, but with an affection for him. We love him! We delight in Christ! We enjoy our fellowship with the Spirit!

“Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul.” If your “heart” is the command-centre of your life, then your “soul” is your very existence on this earth as an individual. It’s that array of abilities and talents you have, your duties and responsibilities that you bear before God. So, God says, take all that you have, all you are, and love him with every bit of it! As James says so often: What are the works that accompany that love, the deeds that go with your faith? What’s different about your life, now that you’ve affirmed there is a God and that you love him?

The Spirit tells us, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). It’s just like in human relationships: when you love someone, you take a pleasure in doing their will. When there’s someone we care about, it’s not (usually) a burden to serve that person. So also if we love God, we’ll listen to what He says: “This is what God wants me to do, so I’ll do it. I’ll go his way, not because it’s easier. I’ll do it because I love him, because of what He’s done for me.” Our love-language for God is acts of service, deeds of obedience.

Love God in heart, in soul, and “with all your mind.” For our mind must be set on things above. God wants us to dwell on his mighty works. Even in the way that we think about other things—about our job and position, or other people, or our troubles—God desires that we bend our minds toward him. It becomes an instinct, a sanctified way of thinking: “What would God say about this? How would the Lord want me to respond? What would Jesus command me to do in this situation?” This is living out that vertical link, attuned to the Lord, dependent on the Lord, submissive to the Lord.

Horizontal love is hard, we saw earlier. But it’s even harder to have that vertical bearing, to live in a spirit of worship before God. When it comes to other people, it’s pretty difficult to avoid them, because we bump into them all the time, whether we’re in line at McDonalds, we’re walking across the playground at school, or we’re in the lunch room at work. We can’t help but be reminded of our Christian calling with respect to other people. “Here’s a person I’ve got to love. I’ve got to be kind. I need to be patient.”

But the vertical is another matter. God is invisible. He doesn’t reach down and grab us by the sleeve so we pay him attention. So we can go long hours without thinking of the Lord. Yet God hasn’t gone away. He’s involved in every second of our day. He’s behind every event. While we’re working, studying, relaxing, it’s God who is directing us, leading us, blessing us, keeping us alive—yet so often we don’t even notice. And if we don’t notice God, how can we love him? If we don’t think of God, how can we worship him? Here we still have to do battle with that old inclination, to hate God, to forget him, to dismiss him.

Yes, the vertical dimension of our life can begin to fade, and the upward direction can go astray. The Catechism reminds us how we’re inclined to do this very thing. For example, if we don’t open God’s Word, we’re like a radio that starts picking up more and more static as you drive away from the city. It starts strong, but the clear signal gets lost. The voice starts to fade. If we don’t make time for the Lord’s Word and prayer, then the upwards connection of our life starts to weaken. As with anything, if you don’t aim for it, how can you expect to reach it? If you don’t seek God, you won’t find him, and you won’t love him.

Instead, draw near to God, to the one who gave his Son for you! Know the God who calls you his child in Christ. Delight in the LORD, who blesses you daily with good things. Seek the LORD in his Word, and praise him with your voice, and with all your works. Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Because He has so deeply loved us, in Jesus Christ his Son!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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