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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:The More Excellent Way of Love
Text:LD 40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 6th Commandment (Murder)
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-02-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 112:1,2                                                                              

Hy 7:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

Ps 119:13,14,15

Sermon – Lord’s Day 40

Hy 47:2,5

Ps 133:1,2

* 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 our Lord Jesus, every day we’ve got to deal with other people. Every day you’re interacting with those God has placed in your life: colleagues at work and your boss; the children at the dinner table; your spouse; the people who come to you for business; the people in your class; church members in the fellowship hall. Which means that every day we’re faced with the question of how to treat the people around us.

And it’s always not easy. Being with other people can be a real joy for us, a source of encouragement and strength, but it can also be draining and challenging. There’s impatience with those who irritate us, feelings of envy for someone else’s good position, a deep hurt when someone breaks your trust. Troubles like our short temper and selfishness can wreck things too.

The complexities of dealing with other people are addressed in the sixth commandment. There’s the obvious things that are forbidden here: murder, hatred, revenge. But how does this command address the delicate dance of human relations? Does it say anything about what makes a good friendship? Or the purpose of patience? Or when we should extend forgiveness? These are practical questions that we can face on a daily basis—that we might face again this week—and they require a true and godly understanding.

The sixth commandment shows the way. For by forbidding murder, God also commands the opposite: “He commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy and friendliness toward him, to protect him from harm as much as we can, and to do good, even to our enemies” (Q&A 107). There’s much to reflect on in this Lord’s Day as we seek to live in a Christ-like way. We listen to God’s Word on this theme,

God commands the “more excellent way” of neighbour relations:

  1. the need for loyal love
  2. the quality of true love

 

1) the need for loyal love: Love is like motherhood and apple pie—everyone will agree that these things are good! As followers of Christ, we should be the first to affirm that love is important to a holy style of life. There’s the song that goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Yes, but how?

If we say that love is important, we’re right—maybe 50% right. Because we need to understand that love in the right way. We use the word “love” so loosely: “I love lasagna. I love my Saturdays off.” But God’s brand of love is much more than a passing affection for something, more than an emotion that depends on the good things that we’re receiving.

Because there can certainly be a love that fails, a love that melts as quickly as the ice in our drink on a hot summer day. That is so often the kind of love that the world knows—a love that fades, simply because “you’ve lost that loving feeling.” We love someone intensely for a while, we feel like we could love them forever, but six months later we wonder what’s happened. We’ve already moved on.

But Christian love has staying power. For it has another key element to it, something called faithfulness. When God talks about love, He always means something like committed love. Loyal love. Devoted love. If there’s no faithfulness combined with our love, then it’s lacking a needed ingredient, and it’s going to fail.

This portrait of “loyal love” is seen nowhere more clearly than in 1 Corinthians 13. When we read 1 Corinthians 13, LOVE is chiming constantly in our ears: “Love this, and love that. Love doesn’t do this, and love always does that.” With all the love flying through the air, it’s no wonder that this chapter has been read at countless weddings all around this world. It’s known as the great love chapter!

But because we’ve always connected it to weddings and romance, I think that we’re not always sure what to do with this chapter. Isn’t all this love too mushy for the rest of us? Does 1 Corinthians 13 really say anything about how you should treat your mother-in-law, or a difficult co-worker, or the person beside you in church?

It does! Don’t just let husbands and wives have this chapter. It’s for everyone. Because let’s be clear that Paul isn’t talking here about the romantic love between a man and a woman. He’s not speaking about marriage in the first place, but about the love among Christian brothers and sisters in the church, about the love that we should have for all people. You understand then, that it’s a text that gets to the heart of the sixth commandment, where God commands us to love our neighbour with love that is patient, peaceable, merciful and friendly.

The Corinthians needed that encouragement. You probably remember the Corinthians as “the church with problems.” And one of the biggest issues there was disunity. Paul writes in chapter 1, “I appeal to you… in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (v 10).

The believers at Corinth were fighting with each other. Like so many of the fights that we get involved in, even with other church people, this fight was over something really dumb—something that should never have been cause for disagreement. The Corinthians were arguing over which spiritual gift was the best.

And why? Since the Holy Spirit had come, He’d worked many different gifts in Christ’s people. In Corinth too, there was a variety of gifts. Some Christians could miraculously speak in other languages; some could interpret these revelations; some could heal, others prophesy—which was great, because through the gifts of Christ, the church grows and strengthens!

But instead of being a reason for upbuilding, these gifts were causing them to quarrel. For who had the more important gift? Whose ability was more useful? And the members who had the “better” gifts were viewed as more valuable. It’s nice to have someone who can prophesy, but someone who can speak in tongues? That’s really exciting. Give them a pew right at the front!

This is why Paul pleads for unity. He says that the church needs each member and each gift. The church’s life—our strength, our unity, our faith—it’s all the product of the one God, working by the one Spirit. Christ makes the many members into one body, a body that is called to live in love and to grow through love.

So what’s the sense of all those spiritual gifts if they’re not employed in love? Why receive God’s blessings if we’re not going to use them for the good of others? Paul is very bold, saying that any gift of Christ really is useless if it’s not exercised with love: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (v 1). The most eloquent speaker, the wisest counselor, the nicest singer—if he or she doesn’t have love—it just sounds like radio static turned up loud, sounds like a pounding jackhammer.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (v 2). Say there’s a person who can clearly explain the faith, who is well-versed in Scripture, and can dive deep into the confessions. If he has all that, but doesn’t have love for other people, he might as well keep his mouth shut. All that knowledge is nothing without love.

Beloved, having this or that spiritual gift isn’t the main thing. It’s also not praiseworthy if you’re being ridiculed at work because you speak up for Christ. Listen again to what Paul says, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (v 3). If you give and sacrifice and suffer, but you don’t genuinely care about other people, you might as well keep your money and your time and your body. God doesn’t want them.

That could be a hard dose of reality. But it’s also richly encouraging. It means that if we do have the gift of love, we can do so much. It’s the one essential gift. We might only be in Grade 6, but we can love other people enthusiastically. We might only be making a modest wage, but we can still show a love that is costly. We could be 81, and a widow, and weak, yet still be active in love. We could be a young woman at university, or a young man on the jobsite, and be busy loving each day. We don’t need an official position or endless resources or even piles of energy.

With love, with the “best gift” (12:31), we can do much for God’s glory. We accomplish it by our regular prayers for others. By our helping those in the church who struggle. By speaking in kindness to our classmate. By working faithfully for those who’ve employed us. Doing all this in love is “the most excellent way.”

This love begins, continues, and culminates with Jesus Christ. Love is most powerfully shown by his sacrifice on the cross: He died in order to free us from sin. He died in order to free us for holy service through the working of his Spirit.

And here Christ sets the pattern of his own life before us: “As I have loved you, so you also must love one another,” our Saviour said in John 14. This is how we know what love is, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for his friends. “I have set you an example,” the Teacher told his disciples after washing their feet, “I have set you an example, that you should do for others, just as I have done for you.” That’s the sixth commandment as it was beautifully fulfilled by Christ, and now given to us as our high calling.

           

2) the quality of true love: When you walk the aisles in your local supermarket, you see that some products are all about what’s missing from them. They’re marketed by what the product doesn’t have: “Reduced fat! No salt! Decaffeinated! Gluten-free!” Those are the qualities that you’re supposed to notice—what is not there is what makes it desirable.

Paul does a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 13. He expresses many of love’s characteristics in a negative way. Love does not envy. It’s free of pride. It never fails. This is because Paul is realistic about sinful human nature, even about believers who have the Holy Spirit. He knows what we can be like, that it doesn’t take much and we’re near-exploding and ready to kill someone (even if it’s just in our thoughts).

Christ-like love is different. Remember: it’s loyal love. In our dealings with other people, we’re commanded to have a love that “suffers long” (v 4). That’s an older way of describing patience: “long-suffering.” You’ll notice the Catechism also mentions “patience” as something we’re commanded to show our neighbour (Q&A 107).

Patience is more than simply being tolerant of someone who annoys us. True patience is active, rather than passive—more than just waiting for someone to go away. No, it means a patience like Christ’s. For He isn’t simply slow to become angry with those who sin, but He also helps us to do better. He comes alongside us and He shows us the way.

This heavenly example of patience is so good for all of us to consider. It’s needed by parents when it’s 5:00 PM and our children start to drive us around the bend. It’s a good example for church members to imitate, when a brother or sister is so disagreeable. It’s our model when dealing with demanding customers and students. Patience: to show true love, time after time.

That’s why the Spirit links patience with being “kind” (v 4). Kindness is the concrete, practical expression of love to whomever God has placed in your life. It’s “doing good,” says the Catechism, “even to our enemies” (Q&A 107). It’s doing what will benefit them.

And if we have Christ’s gift of love, then we will “not envy” (v 4). Envy is a love-killer. For when we compare ourselves to someone else, it’s not always just about us, wanting better than what we have right now. It can also be about resenting the other person, disliking him for having more, for being happier. That’s why when we try to deal with our envy, we often resort to listing the ways that we’re actually superior to someone else; we bring them down in order to bring ourselves up.

But love isn’t like that! It does not envy. Instead of having an endless focus on our own happiness and position, always wondering if people are noticing us, Christ calls us to be oriented toward others. He teaches us to rejoice with those who rejoice. Imagine that: being happy for someone else when they’re blessed! Celebrate their promotion. Give thanks for their progress, even if it seems like we’ve been left behind. That’s love.

Living in this quality of love also means you’re “100% pride-free.” The Spirit says it twice in verse 4, “Love does not parade itself, [and] is not puffed up.” When a person parades himself, he puts himself on show. He talks a lot about himself, and he’s so busy talking that he doesn’t notice others. Love doesn’t do that, but love listens.

It’s not about being in the centre of attention, and not being “puffed up.” That’s a colourful image: think of a balloon you blow up when you’re decorating for a party. Those first blasts of air quickly give the balloon its shape. But now you’ve given ten or twelve huffs and puffs, and the balloon is still growing.

Pride is like that. With God’s blessing, we might be good at one or two things. But then we keep thinking about how good we are. We keep replaying the compliments that we got last month. We keep “filling that balloon,” and we get an inflated sense of ourselves. And we’ll probably start looking down on others.

So, more positively, another key ingredient for true love is humility. If we recognize that we deserve nothing at all from God, and then we consider how much God has given us, we’ll want to treat others with a gentle and lowly and loving spirit.

Now, one thing that makes it hard to love is how this life is so changeable. It might be 11 in the morning and we’re having a good day, when we’re surprised: caught off guard by someone’s bad behaviour at school, or shocked by a colleague’s unkind words. Quickly we feel ourselves losing our grip, needing to retaliate. But love, the Spirit says, “does not behave rudely” (v 5). Instead of throwing back at your sibling or spouse a sarcastic comment or biting word, refuse to behave indecently to others. Love has tact. Not rudeness, but what the Catechism calls “peace and gentleness” (Q&A 107).

Another quality of love, negatively-put, is that love “does not seek its own” (v 5). Turn that around: Love seeks others! Think of Christ’s example in Philippians 2, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself… Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (vv 3,5). Jesus accepted death in order to redeem us. His brand of love—which should be our brand of love—doesn’t seek its own but looks to the interests of others.

A Christ-like love is also “not provoked” (v 5). What does that mean, “not provoked?” That we resist getting irritated, and we fight the urge to be offended. Sometimes we can be so touchy, and we take everything personally. Instead of irritability, love means we strive to be cheerful and accepting, even when people aren’t perfect.

For God’s kind of love also means that we “[think] no evil” (v 5). The Spirit here uses a word that speaks of crediting something to someone else’s account. I like how the NIV puts it, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” When a sin has been committed against you (and there’s going to be!), love means we don’t register it, or store up the resentment for later.

Yet that’s exactly what we tend to do: keep a mental list of the mistakes a person’s made, all his annoying habits. And the better we know someone, the more we’re acquainted with their failings. We might do this in marriage, when for years we’ve seen firsthand the weaknesses and mistakes of our spouse. “He always does this… She never does that…”

In church too, we keep a record of wrongs: “I still remember what that brother did to me, so I don’t speak to him anymore.” Or we think, “Ever since that sister committed that sin, I just can’t look at her the same way.” Everywhere and in everyone, we see a history of shortcomings. But loyal love forgives, “just as in Christ God forgave you.” Loyal love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (v 6).

In the next verse Paul builds to a climax with four sweeping statements, each ending with “all things.” This illustrates even more positively what true love will do, without fail.

Love “bears all things” (v 7) Love should have a resolutely supporting ability. It bears up under any sort of struggle and offense and hardship. Maybe financial need has often afflicted someone in your life, or mental or physical illness, and we need to find ways to support them, year after year. That gets tiring, being a support for others, continuing to give. But Christ-like love “bears all things.”

And it “believes all things” (v 7). That doesn’t mean we naively accept everything we hear. But we try to trust that a person’s motives are pure. Sometimes we speculate about why a person did something, and we’re pretty sure it was for selfish motives, or out of spite. But love wants to believe the best about other people. Unless there’s clear evidence to the contrary, we believe them. We accept their word.

Love also “hopes all things” (v 7). True love doesn’t quickly crash into the wall of despair. It means we don’t give up on others. So we keep seeking the lost. We persevere in praying for the sick, and the wayward, for we’re thinking of how God can still make things better. For love hopes all things.

And love “endures all things” (v 7). Loyal love has this amazing capacity to endure, to persevere despite all the messiness of being in relationship with other people. We don’t always feel like loving. Beloved, it’s hard to be full of love when you’re tired, or stressed out by work, or when you have a lot of pain. It’s hard to love when you’re pretty sure that your love is going to be thrown back into your face. But at those times, pray to God for the Spirit. Pray for an enduring love—one to endure all things.

And to underline one more time the quality of love, Paul follows these four “all things” statements with that final declaration: “Love never fails” (v 8). He puts it negatively, but we know he means it positively. Our love must not fail, but be true: a faithful love.

If you read it carefully and honestly, 1 Corinthians 13 is probably one of the most challenging chapters in all of Scripture. They always say that it’s one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible, but it’s also immensely demanding.

There are times in my own life when I’ve turned to this chapter, just knowing that I need to hear its holy challenge once again. When I was struggling with bitterness toward someone, when I was wondering how to deal with a person who’d been deeply unfair—and I was feeling pulled toward a sinful response. And surely we’ve all been there. We get caught up in the challenge of dealing with other sinful, broken, fundamentally selfish people, and we feel a hatred or an anger or a despair growing within us.

It’s by God’s grace that we pause at those moments and give ear to the voice of the Saviour. In all your interacting with other people—in your home, at your work and school, and on your street—be shaped by the power of the sixth commandment. And be shaped by the power of these words: “Love is patient and love is kind. Love does not envy. Love is not proud. Love isn’t easily angered, and it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.”  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 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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