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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:Love All the People Around You
Text:LD 40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Love
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-02-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 133:1,2                                                                                  

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Matthew 5:13-48

Ps 112:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 40

Hy 28:5,6,7

Hy 50:1,2,3,4

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


Beloved, back in the days before COVID, we sometimes found ourselves in big crowds of people. Maybe at a concert or a sporting event, or celebrating a national holiday with many thousands. 

In a way, that is what this life is like, even on a daily basis: we’re surrounded by many people. There is a tight circle right around us: spouse and children perhaps; parents and grandparents; our close friends. But then there are other friends, and more distant relatives. Add to that fellow members from this congregation, and nearby churches, and elsewhere. There’s classmates, colleagues, and clients. Then our neighbours from next door and across the street. Plus the people we meet at the shops and the library and school—neighbours everywhere!

It’s a lot of people, a whole crowd that you have contact with, one way or another. For God has made us creatures of relationship, social beings. And this means we need instruction in how to treat all these people in the right way. How do we deal with the many hundreds or even thousands who surround us? How do we maintain these relationships in the proper manner?

God gives much needed guidance in the sixth commandment of his law. And Christ fills this out this command with his words of “commentary” in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s then listen to God’s Word on this theme and points,

Christ teaches us to love all the people around us:

  1. with an active love
  2. with an urgent love
  3. with an extensive love

 

1) an active love: Christ’s pattern of teaching in his Sermon is unique. For the sixth commandment, it’s as if He looks at his audience and asks, “Anyone commit a murder lately? Any serial killers in our midst?” Everyone looks around, smiling. They don’t really expect to see anyone putting up his hand.

Of course not. Christ simply confirms what they all knew, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt 5:21). For that was in God’s law, in black and white: murder is evil. That’s why there were no killers out there listening to Jesus’s sermon.

But then Christ does his signature move. He turns upside down all the things they thought they knew. He tells the crowd that keeping God’s commandments involves more than just refraining from certain outward activities. For instance, not murdering involves much more than just putting away your gun. Like the Catechism asks, “Is it enough, then, that we do not kill our neighbor in any…way?” (Q&A 107)

No, and this is Christ’s message, “I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council. …Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (v 22). Christ has taken the whole idea of murder a lot further, has applied it more broadly, and his words are suddenly uncomfortable.

He first puts our anger in his sights. That is a hard thing to do, because anger is so often unseen. It’s an emotion, a feeling you have towards someone else on account of what he said or did, or maybe didn’t do. Anger is bad for your blood pressure, but is it really bad for your neighbor? She might never feel your anger’s heat, never even realize you had a problem with her! But that’s not the point: Christ is searching the hidden depths of our hearts. This commandment is about not even wishing to hit someone else in the face, or not giving any oxygen to that bitter feeling against him. For even these things are offensive to the holy God!

For Jesus’s audience, this knocked the smiles off their faces. It rattles us, too. Because it’s pretty easy to be angry with the people around us. Friends can let us down. The elders or deacons can be insensitive. Children can be infuriating. Customers can be ignorant. Parents can be exasperating. Just like that, you feel your anger on a low boil, quickly rising. But Christ says, “Be on guard against anger. Walk away. Be slow to become angry.”

Next Christ tackles insults. Say you call someone “Raca.” That doesn’t sound bad to our ears. And as an Aramaic word, it’s almost untranslatable. But Jesus’s listeners knew exactly what message this word sent. “Raca” is basically a tone of voice—it’s the kind of word that you spit out with contempt. You can’t stand someone! Centuries later, the word has changed, but we still know how to express these feelings with a few well-chosen words.

These are serious crimes, says Christ. They should be tried before the council; they might even land you in hell! This was another shock: the Sanhedrin didn’t even listen to murder cases—now they’re going to convict people for being mean? Murderers were killed by stoning, but someone who harms the reputation of another will face eternal death?

Is it really so bad to hurt someone with our words? Sometimes we need to put a person in their place, don’t we? And why is looking down on others so evil? It’s a favourite pastime: we sometimes call it “people-watching.” We see brothers and sisters at church, we regard our neighbor next door, we encounter strangers at the shops—we look them over, and we’ve quickly made an assessment of their worth, their intelligence or importance. We look at their looks, their clothes, their social position, and we might despise them, just a little.

Christ knows that so often it’s a secret thought. It could blossom into gossip or it could erupt into an insult. Or we could just keep it to ourselves. But already by our thoughts, we assert that we’re better than they are. Made public or kept private, these things attack our neighbour’s God-given life.

There’s more we could say about breaking this commandment. The Catechism sums it up: “I am not to dishonour, hate, injure or kill my neighbor by thoughts, words, or gestures, and much less by deeds” (Q&A 105). As we stand in that crowd of people, every one of us is mass murderer. We’ve got a long list of victims.

And isn’t it true that the people who stand closest often receive the worst treatment from us? Our family in the faith, like our fellow church members. Or the people we live with from day to day, like children and husband and wife and parents. These poor souls bear the brunt of our violence, in word and thought and deed.

Should all of us killers go to prison, or worse? By God’s grace in Christ Jesus, we walk free. So now the question isn’t whether we spare our neighbor the worst, but if we wish him the best. For like all the commandments, this one is meant in a positive way: God also requires you to act righteously. Instead of scorning someone, avoiding or criticizing someone, love places you right beside someone. There you can actively show your love.

That’s the lesson of the images in verses 13-16: salt and light. First, “You are the salt of the earth” (v 13). We’ve all heard how in Bible times, salt was valued so highly. On one hand, it was a good preservative: you’d use salt to keep various foods from going bad.

So we must be, says Christ. Love gives us a preserving and sanctifying effect. No matter who we are, there are people in our life we can influence, for better or worse. There’s a tone that we set. You know that when you’re in the company of some people, the conversation can start to go downhill into nastiness, and morals can start to slide into the muck. But when you’re with others, somehow it becomes easy to do good, easy to speak of better things. There’s this atmosphere of godliness and grace.

We should all have that positive effect! We can be salty by our good example to our friends, our children, and our co-workers. We can be salty by not delighting in evil deeds or unloving conversation. We can be salty by noticing what is good in others, and encouraging it.

Salt is also precious for its flavour. We’ve all tasted food without the right measure of salt. It might look fine on your plate, but when it’s in your mouth, you know at once that it’s missing something. That’s what a life without love is like. You can outwardly appear good—like if you talk grandiosely about Scripture at Bible study, and you always conform to expectation—but if there’s no heart for others, no affection, it’s empty. Then you’re salt without flavour.

But when we treat others in love, there’s a vitality about us. Few things are as refreshing as an unexpected kindness! A small gift, out of the blue. An upbuilding comment, just when you needed it the most. Maybe it made a lousy day into one that seemed a lot better. We’ve surely tasted what love can do! So  be salty to others and flavour their lives with goodness.

Christ also says, “You are the light of the world… [People don’t] light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (vv 14-15). In his time, houses were very dark, with one or two tiny windows. So the necessary light had to come from a lamp—basically a saucer filled with oil, and a wick floating in it. It wasn’t easy to rekindle such a lamp, so the light was always kept burning. When people left the house, the light was put under a cover, so it continued to burn safely. But once you got home, you removed the cover at once. The light of the lamp was meant to be seen.

That’s what you must be like, says Christ. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (v 16). There can be no secret Christians, no secret love. The great crowd of people around us needs our light! By our good deeds—our sharing, our helping, our visiting, our serving—by our good deeds, they’ll see our love, and they’ll glorify the Father.

Such love won’t only be visible in the church. Christ says, “You are the light of the world.” For the greater part of every week, that’s where we are: in the world. And there too, our love can’t have a protective basket over top. It should be visible in how we treat servers and cashiers; in the way we treat our boss, and how we treat our students. Love has to be visible in the way we play a game or how we deal with adversity. “May they see your good works!”

Beloved, you are salt, and you are light. Salt and light are different, but here’s what is the same: they both exist for their surroundings. Their value is the greatest when they’re in contact with their environment. That’s us! Christ calls us to fulfill our purpose on earth, “to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness” toward all those around us (Q&A 107).

 

2) an urgent love: Every day we deal with our fellow humans. Because we’re sinful, there’s always the possibility that in relating to others, we’ll hurt and be hurt, that we’ll sin and be sinned against. Human relationships can easily get wrecked.

What do we do with this? Just brush it off, and under the carpet? The command to love is also an urgent command. So if there’s conflict, we must aim at reconciliation, and as soon as possible. Christ says, “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (vv 23-24).

This is the scene: A man is at the temple, about to present his offering to the priest, who goes and places it on the altar before the LORD. All of a sudden, the worshiper remembers something. His brother! They had harsh words last Tuesday. They parted ways angry, and that’s how it stayed. Hadn’t much thought of it again… until now.

Christ says to the man at the temple, “You better go and make things right. That’s your God-given duty. And it’s urgent. Why, it’s better to let the priest stand waiting at the altar, than to let your brother wait for your confession of sin!”

Notice that true reconciliation has two parts. In the first place, we’ve got something to say to our neighbor. It might be a confession of sin, an apology, or simply a more peaceful discussing of the issues. But it’s not an optional exercise. It needs to happen. Before you offer that sacrifice to God, Christ says, go and speak with your brother!

For we can’t really hope for peace with God until we’ve honestly tried to right our wrongs—until we’ve confessed our sin, not only to the LORD, but also to others. We sometimes wonder why there seems to be a separation between us and God. We wonder why our prayers feel empty. Perhaps we’ve put up a barrier by refusing to be reconciled to someone.

But if you’ve made amends with someone, then “come and offer your gift.” For after sinning, we’ve also got something to say to God. We need to restore that relationship, too. We need his forgiveness and mercy, his grace to help us carry on in the right way.

Christ gives another example of the urgency of love: “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him” (v 25). Find reconciliation, even if you have to do it while en route to court. Otherwise when the judge has his say, you might end up worse off.      

We’re not likely to take our neighbors to court, but here’s an important lesson. Loving one another calls us get our troubles sorted out. Get them sorted out, especially before they get worse. It’s a common experience that a quarrel that isn’t healed will go on festering. It won’t get better on its own, but like a nasty mold, it multiplies. A conflict between two people can spread into entire families, even get inherited by future generations.

Christ says that a lot of grief could be spared with quick action. If the two sides have the grace to apologize, to admit fault—or to receive these things in a humble spirit—a lot of the ugly mess just might be avoided.

So do we wait for the other person to approach us? May we demand that conditions be met before we forgive? Tough questions, but what if God had done that to us? What if God had waited for us to come to him? But God looked for us. While we were still his enemies, Christ died for us. In the same way, we should be ever-ready to receive the person who has offended us.

And Christ’s sacrifice shows how far this goes. “Forgive one another,” Paul says, “even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). We don’t pretend that we can simply “forget” those past wrongs. We don’t say that an apology will magically return everything to how it was before. There is sometimes a brokenness that can’t be mended—there are scars that do not fully heal. Yet the urgent call of Christ is to live a life of love.

Listen to God’s Word in Romans 12 about the command to love, “If it is possible, as much as [it] depends on you, live peaceably with all men…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (vv 17-18, 21).

           

3) an extensive love: In that big crowd around us, there’s all kinds of people. There’s more than just the persons we like to get along with, together with those we can tolerate. Lurking here and there are enemies. People who don’t like us, who insult us, who even ridicule us for our faith. So what about them?

Again, Christ starts with the familiar, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (v 38). That was the Old Testament law, the law of retribution. It sounds harsh, yet it is wise. For violence can so easily spiral out of control, as people pursue vendettas and hold grudges. But if there’s fair punishment, an offense can be considered finished with. That’s justice: dealing with crimes according to their seriousness.

Yet Christ proposes a new way, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person” (v 39). He upholds justice, of course, but He says that in our personal relationships, we shouldn’t let someone else’s aggression lead us to act aggressively.

Jesus gives an example: “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also” (v 39). Someone might slap us with his hand. Someone might just as well slap us with the words she writes online, or by his actions against us at the office. The easiest thing is to get nasty in return But a Christian strives to rise above it. We look the other way.

And why? Because we rest ourselves in God. He knows every heart, and He’ll vindicate all who fear Him. Christ says that in love, we’ll put others first. In love, we’ll be willing to take the lower position, even if we lose face and lose the argument. “Accept the pain and insult,” He says. “Accept the shame. Do it for me.”

This kind of love goes way beyond the expected limits. Jesus again: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (v 43). Yes, that was the Old Testament way of thinking, and understandably. They were a nation with enemies, and God called Israel to deal with them, even severely.

But things have changed. Christ says, “I say to you, love your enemies” (v 44). For we still have enemies. Satan still wants to divide and conquer the kingdom of God. He’s busy trying to do that, every day. We hold fast to the truth, but we counterattack not with hatred, but with love! Because we know the struggle has already been decided. We know the gates of hell cannot overcome the church.

Doesn’t this show our confidence in Christ, then? We show our confidence in Christ by daring to love those who oppose us. We show our confidence in him by reacting to opposition with patience, peace and gentleness.

Such love even resembles the love of God! “Do this,” Christ says, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v 45). The point is, God bestows his love without limits, and He shows no partiality. Even wicked people receive their daily bread. Even atheists and people ‘on the left’ feel the warmth of the sun. Even Muslims and Buddhists enjoy times of prosperity.

It’s always easy to draw safe little circles around ourselves. We might love only those who can bring us some kind of return. Even in the church, we might have our preferences and our favorites, while others are left out.

But true love doesn’t discriminate. We’re called to love people without regard for what we know about their past, or for a person’s skin colour, or their appearance, or even their religion. And when we love widely, people see in us a faint reflection of God’s own love, for He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good. When we love, Jesus says, we’ll be seen to be sons and daughters of the loving Father in heaven.

For the glory of God’s Name, let’s then love all the many people in that big crowd around us, those who are coming and going in our life every day and every week. Let’s love them, with an active love. With an urgent love. With a wide-reaching love. Let’s love them with a love like God’s love!  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 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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