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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
 canadianreformedseminary.ca
 
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love
Text:LD 51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-11-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 65:1,2                                                                                

Ps 99:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Luke 6:27-38; Romans 12:9-21

Ps 130:1,2

Sermon – Lord’s Day 51

Hy 28:5,6

Ps 32:1,5

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


Beloved in the Lord, what’s the defining characteristic of a Christian? What sets apart a person who follows Christ? If we asked our neighbours, our fellow students at university, or our work colleagues, I wonder what they’d say? How do you know a Christian when you see one? Today we’ll look at something that should be very close to the heart of our identity and behaviour as God’s children. And that is love.

There’s a song that we used to sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” By our unity with one another, by our mercy on the suffering, by our heart for the lost, by our forgiveness of those who mistreat us, people will know that we are Christians. They’ll know we are Christians by our love!

For faith, hope, and love abide—but the greatest of these is love. Or in the words of Jesus in John 13, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (v 35). But what is love? Christian love doesn’t fade like a flower, as soon as there’s a challenge, or the moment that someone treats us badly. But Christian love endures, and it flourishes, even in the hard testing that God sends.

This comes out in the fifth petition of Jesus’s prayer. For He teaches us to forgive people, as we have been forgiven by God. That takes a miracle! But with God’s loving help, we can love and forgive. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 51,

Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness, as we also forgive:

  1. our divine example
  2. our difficult assignment

 

1) our divine example: We read a portion of Luke 6 earlier. The heading in my Bible calls it “Love Your Enemies.” But it could just as well be entitled, “Mission: Impossible.” Because Jesus assigns a task in these verses which is astoundingly difficult.

Just look at some of the things He calls us to do: ‘Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. To him who strikes the one cheek, offer the other also. Judge not. Condemn not. Forgive.’ You can just imagine his disciples listening to him in a state of shock: Jesus, do you really expect us to live this way?

We’ll get to our difficult assignment in the next point. First, we need to explore the foundation of such love. It’s in verses 35 and 36. For our love can only be a faint reflection of a more beautiful reality. Our love can only flow out of a deep wellspring, namely, that we are “sons of the Most High” (6:35).

Jesus mentions it almost in passing, yet here is a profound and life-changing reality: you and I have become sons and daughters of the Most High God! Remember how the Lord’s Prayer gains so much richness and comfort from this same truth, the fact that we are allowed to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven…” When we pray the name “Father,” we’re doing something both bold and reassuring. Through Christ, and by his Spirit, we can pray to our Father in heaven, even as little children speak with simple earnestness to their earthly parents.

So what’s the connection between having God as our Father, and being called to love and forgive other people? Notice how Jesus puts it in verse 35, “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.” You will be sons… That is to say, it’s by genuine love that you prove that you’re a genuine child of the Father.

It’s a Biblical truth that we can generally expect children to act like their parents. Sometimes that’s a really good thing, and sometimes bad. It’s borne out by our experience too, that a child so often displays a real resemblance to her parent, and not just in looks, but in behaviour and manner: “You’re so much like your mother!”

So as sons and daughters, who is our Father? What is God like? There’s so much you could say, but a very good place to start is Exodus 34. There God says about himself that He is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod 34:6-7). Those are qualities of God’s character that are evident on every page of Scripture: God shows mercy, and He is rich in grace; He is longsuffering or patient; His goodness and truth are not quickly diminished, but He abounds in these good things; and He forgives.

Jesus adds to that in Luke 6 when He says that the Father is loving, not just to those who go to church and generally behave themselves. For, says Christ, “He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (6:35). The kind of love that God shows doesn’t have normal limits, isn’t dependent on the merits of the person. How do we know? Even the wicked receive their daily bread. Even atheists feel the warmth of the sun, and those who are ungrateful enjoy times of prosperity. God shows love to those who are living as his enemies: “God is kind to unthankful and evil.”

How very unlike our approach to relationships! By nature, we draw tight little circles around ourselves: our family, friends who have made the cut, people that we have to associate with at work or school. We often don’t have a lot of time for anyone outside of those invisible walls, anyone who doesn’t somehow give a return on our investment of love and attention.

But Jesus says that’s not God’s style of love. True love isn’t partial. We’re called to love people without regard for their past, or wealth, or appearance, or even religion. We put all that aside, and we just love them. For when we love like this, we’re making a big statement about where we come from: from God. Because it’s just not normal, showing a love that is impartial and truly sacrificial brings glory to the name of the Father! By being generous with our gifts, by forgiving those who offended us, being hospitable to the lonely, our love begins to resemble the love of God the Father! “Do this,” Christ says, “and you will be sons of the Most High.”

Then comes the high note of this section: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (v 36). See how Jesus captures the essence of the Father’s character: He is merciful. God’s anger can get burning hot, but his wrath subsides, and in its place are the cool waters of mercy. For it is God’s great joy to show compassion, to pardon sinners for our sin.

The Scriptures tell us that God’s forgiving love is amazingly powerful. It’s so effective that it doesn’t leave any trace of what was there before. When God forgives, there’s not left any residue of sin, no footprint and no stain. Like the Bible says, sin is blotted out by God. Trampled underfoot. Thrown by God into the deepest parts of the sea. Separated from us as far as the east is from the west. Forgiven!

How is mercy like this even possible? We can’t point to anything in ourselves. We’d like to, of course: ‘I’m at the front of the queue with God because I’m a good worker. I’m diligent in coming to church. A generous giver. All around nice guy.’ But it’s not because of our righteous deeds, but because of the LORD’s great mercy. That’s the only ground we kneel on when asking forgiveness: his mercy.

The two sacraments portray this amazing truth. For instance, reflect on your baptism. Long before we had any realization of what was happening, the Father promised his grace. He said, “In the blood of Christ, I’ll wash away all your sins. To you my child, I extend the gift of mercy. It’s yours, for you to ask for and to receive.” What better way to start life, than with the assurance of God’s mercy in Jesus?

All because of his cross, God forgives. That is put front and centre in our Lord’s Day, the first thing that we want to say about this petition: “For the sake of Christ, do not impute to us wretched sinners any of our transgressions” (Q&A 126). This is our one hope, the only ground of our salvation. God doesn’t have to forgive, but He does, “for the sake of Christ.”

For Jesus did what we could not. During his life, He kept all of God’s commandments. During his life, and especially at the end, He drank every bitter drop from the cup of God’s wrath. He did what we could not: perfectly obeyed, then paid the severe penalty for our transgressions. It wasn’t cheap, for it cost him his heavenly glory, his earthly existence, his precious blood, even his communion with the Father. It cost him everything. But now, “for the sake of Christ,” God forgives. It’s the rock solid ground on which we stand.

In Article 29, the Belgic Confession is well known for describing the marks of the true church. But in the same article, it speaks of the marks of true Christians. As we said before, there should be something that distinguishes us from others: we have an emblem, a brand, an identity. And one mark of Christians is this, says Article 29: “They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in him.”

A Christian appeals constantly to the blood of Christ. Some people appeal constantly to Google or to Siri or to Alexa for the answers to all their questions. Others appeal constantly to their friends as backup in their troubles. Others find some other refuge. But what does the Christian do? She appeals constantly to the blood, suffering, death and obedience of Christ.

That appeal is constant, as it says, because our sins are near-constant. During every day, at the end of every day, we have a heap of new things to confess to the Father: “Father, please forgive my sins once again. Once again, I really haven’t lived like one of your children. Once again, I didn’t do the good that I want to do, but the evil that I hate, that’s what I did.” We have to make a constant appeal for grace, and God gives it, because Christ’s blood never runs dry.

If we believe in Christ as our Saviour, God forgives us without a moment’s hesitation. He forgives us and calls us friends—even beloved children. The Father’s loving mercy is miles deep, and also powerful to change us. That is Jesus’s point in Luke 6, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Because God has shown such amazing grace toward us, we show grace to others.

Think of how a child who really loves and admires his dad or mom wants to be like them. That’s a great honour to parents, when children say about them, “That’s how I want to be when I grow up.” It’s a great honour to God, too. When we truly delight in the Father’s mercy which we have received, we want to live in the same way, to show the same kind of love for our enemies, the same kind of grace for the weak. That’s how we want to live too, showing mercy like the Father does. That brings us to:

 

2) our difficult assignment: In Luke 6, Jesus shows that He knows the true atmosphere of our hearts—He knows what we’re like on the inside. That’s why He gives admonitions like in verse 37, “Judge not…Condemn not.” It’s so easy for us to make unfair judgments.

What is an unfair judgment? When we think the worst of someone’s motives—not knowing for sure, but having suspicions that we don’t take the time to clear up. That’s unfair. Or it’s when we form a harsh opinion about someone, without taking into account their weaknesses, the struggles they’ve had—all that we see when we look at them is their mistakes, their strange ideas, their character flaws. That’s unfair. Or it could be that we believe the worst about someone, even if it’s only a rumour. So we judge and condemn, sometimes mentally, often verbally. After all, other people are always the easiest topic for our conversations!

But then see how Christ annihilates all our sinful attitudes toward other people with this simple command: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (v 37). This is the style of life that should mark every child of God: a forgiving spirit, a patient spirit, a life of mercy. If God’s love has truly been poured into your heart, then his love in you will overflow toward others.

That’s the same idea as in the Catechism. It says, “We…find this evidence of [your] grace in us, that we are fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbor” (Q&A 126). Underline those emphatic words, driving home the point. We must not simply think about forgiving the brother in the next pew; we shouldn’t just cherish it as a nice but unrealistic idea. Rather, we must be “fully determined, wholeheartedly to forgive” those who have sinned against us: the person who offended you with their words, who hurt you at school, who seemed to ignore you at church, who treated you badly in business. Are you fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive?

When we talk about forgiving, I understand it’s easy enough to say, “No, I don’t hold it against him. Doesn’t bother me, what she did.” But the rest of our words or deeds tell a different story about forgiveness. Do you keep bringing up that sin, finding a way to mention it? Do you get some quiet satisfaction in recounting how badly someone else once behaved toward you?

If we will pray the fifth petition—and pray it sincerely—it requires us to examine our hearts. “Are there old sins that I love to remember? Do I still hold things against my spouse, or against my fellow believer? I know it’s been ten years, but do I still resent him for how he behaved back then? Does his background and family history mean that I’m a bit suspicious of him?” Or do we show grace?

Forgiveness means that as far as we’re concerned, the sin is done with. It’s off the table and out of the equation. So we don’t keep mentioning it. When we repent, this is how God also treats our sins in Christ. He throws our sin into the deepest depths of the sin, casts them behind his back, blots them out of his book—that’s the divine model of grace. And that’s the way forward for our own relationships too, that we return to the Father’s example.

Listen to what the Holy Spirit says in Ephesians 4, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you” (v 32). Notice the comparison: just as God has forgiven us in Christ, we must forgive each other. Just as. It means forgiving as God forgives, without a moment’s hesitation, with an abundance of patience, with a tireless kindness. Freely forgiven, we must freely forgive.

We saw it also in Luke 6, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (v 36). Do you want to be more like your Father? Having his spirit of mercy means that we’re willing to reach out, willing to try, and willing to try again, forgiving those who wronged us. Says Paul, “Repay no one evil for evil” (Rom 12:17). And again, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v 21). That’s the power of God’s love at work in us.

A bit earlier in Luke 6, Jesus gave several illustrations of this love at work. Look at verse 29, “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also.” In Bible times when someone slapped you on the cheek, this was more than a mild physical assault. It was an act of rejection, for a person was saying that he didn’t want anything to do with you.

Today, someone might slap us with his hand. But someone might just as well slap us with his words, or by his actions against us, or even by his body language. Whatever way it is done, the animosity radiating from another person can be so painfully clear. But Christ says that his followers will strive to look the other way, and to persist in loving—even to love the difficult and prickly person.

Consider another illustration: “And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either” (v 29). Would you be willing to give up your outer garment, even your undershirt, if that’s what it would take to help someone out? It’s a picture of someone being completely giving toward others. We still talk about people who’ll “give you the shirt off their back,” those good people who do anything to lend a hand. And that’s well and good, but keep in mind that Christ is talking about doing this for those who have hurt us! If someone has taken away, then volunteer to give him even more.

This is tough to swallow, because everyone hates being taken advantage of. In our relationships, it can be so hard to keep taking it, day after day. To realize that we’re not being treated fairly; to see that our kindness is just being abused; to go better than half-way, and then to still have the door slammed in our face—it’s not easy. Our natural reaction is to give up, or to respond with bitterness. Why should I keep doing this?

But Christ says, “Do good,” even to those who hate you. Put others first, even the offensive ones and the unfair ones. Gladly take the lower position, even if that means you’re going to take more heat. Paul explains the practice of selfless love in Romans 12, “Be kindly affectionate… in honour giving preference to one another” (v 10). Really does sound like “Mission: Impossible.” But we can do this when we fix eyes on the perfect model of God’s love in Christ, our Father who is “kind to the unthankful and evil.”

And when we treat one another with generosity, that’s how God will also treat us. Jesus borrows an image from the marketplace to show this: “Give, and it will be given to you: [a] good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom” (v 38).

What does that mean? A seller in the marketplace would pour his grain into a container for measuring. After pouring, he’d shake it hard to level and settle it, to ensure that the buyer was getting a fair amount—no air-pockets, no empty corners. That’s how God dispenses grace to those who are generous: He gives grace that is pressed down, shaken together, even running over. For we have a giving God!

And then the same gets applied to us: “For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (v 38). If you give big portions of mercy to others, you will receive mercy in the same measure. People who are loving find themselves to be greatly loved. The forgiving person experiences a far greater joy in God’s forgiveness. This is the evidence of God’s grace at work in us, when we want to show goodness to others, just like God has shown it to us. Then He measures it back to us richly.

In all this, we stay realistic. Showing goodness to other people won’t change them. You won’t be able to soften a person’s heart by your acts of kindness alone. You might try a hundred times, and still get a cold stare in return. But Paul says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18).

As much as it depends on us—such that we can place ourselves before the LORD God and say to Him that we have done our best to love—as much as depends on us, we need to do it. Simply put: By the way that we treat each other, by the way we respond to hurts and offenses, are we really showing ourselves to be God’s children?

If we love only those who share our opinions, or love only those who have been nice to us, or love those who are quite like us, then we’re stocking the regular brand of love. That’s the kind that takes no special effort. A follower of Christ must be filled with a greater love, a distinct love. We are called to love with a love like God’s.

Let us be known as God’s people by our spirit of forgiveness.

Let us be known as children of the merciful Father by our life of mercy.

Let us be known as Christians by our love.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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