Love One Another

Third in the “Life’s One Anothers” series on relationships.
Delivered July 20, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: Love one another as Jesus loved us. Freely. Sacrificially. Graciously. So that the world might know that He has been sent.

Sermon Text:
John 15:12-17
and Psalm 133

Let’s pray. Lord, thank you so much for your love and grace and for your Word. Apart from your Word we would be lost, and yet with your Word we are able to understand your guidance and which way we are to go in. And, so we pray that your Spirit would open our minds and understand the scriptures so that our hearts might burn with love for you and each other. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Anyone here know anyone famous? I mean, you know them. I don’t mean that you know a famous person, but you know somebody. I mean you are on a first name basis with a famous person? (Someone talking to George) Who? William H. Macey. The actor? Is he related to you? (Someone talking) He’s your first cousin, like you talk to him and everything? The guy that was in Fargo? And you talk to him and everything. Wow, look at that. See that, now what and let me check it out. Does everybody know who William H. Macey was? About half, okay. I am talking about somebody really famous. Yeah. Jesus, okay. You know Jesus. All right, good. First name basis with Jesus. Yeah. (Someone talking to George) Grace Kelly, wow. Everybody knows her right? Who? I am talking about famous. (Someone talking to George) You know what, I was not trying to go there. I am talking about, do we really get on a first name basis with somebody famous. I mean, really famous. (Someone talking to George) Who, Cal Ripken? Do you know his personally? He’s is your second cousin. Wow. Some of you guys are rubbing elbows with the big timers. One more and that’s it. (Someone talks) Spiro Agnew. Do you all remember Spiro Agnew? Okay.

One time I used to do baseball chapels years ago, back 20 years ago and one time I met Reggie Jackson. Everybody know Reggie Jackson? Some people are saying, who is Reggie Jackson, right? I talked to him for about one minute. It was a great thing. Another time I did some chapels for football teams, and five years in a row the New England Patriots came in to play the Colts, and I talked to John Hanna. Anybody here know John Hanna? He’s an All-Pro offensive tackle. See, half of us here are like, who is John Hanna? We don’t even know who he is. He is not famous. And I sent him a letter once, and he never wrote me back. He never wanted to develop a relationship with me. So I think it would be, it’s rare, it’s really rare for us to really know somebody that is so famous, that everybody knows, that we would be on a first name basis with them. I mean, how would you feel, let’s say if the President, I mean President George Bush, everybody knows him. Or somebody even bigger like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Everybody knows Arnold. What would it be like if Arnold came out today and put his arm around me and said, “This is my friend George. I am so glad to be with him today. It’s a fantastic privilege.” And the guy from Austria is saying, that’s the worse Austrian accent I have ever heard in my life.

Seriously, what would it be like if Jesus came into this room today, looked you straight in the eye and said, “Hello friend.” And then He had you stand up and He put his arm around you and He said, “This is my friend. I am so glad to be in her friendship or his friendship today.” On what basis would Jesus say that about anyone of us here today? On the basis of what we are about to read in John, 15:12-17. Let’s look at it. If we titled it we could call it, “What friends of Jesus look like, not in their appearance, but in their character.” Let’s look at it together. The metaphor has changed from the vine and branches to friendship.” Verse 12.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends,for everything that I learned from my Father, I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit- fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.”

This is the third and last of a brief One Another sermon series. And in this sermon, we understand that Jesus equates friendship with Him on the basis of how we love each other, as well as Him. And it is a great note to go out on because it’s the note that Jesus sounded when he separated from his friend because he wanted it to be so crystal clear that it was the first priority of life in the community and in the church. Because love is the greatest gift of all time. You cannot have a greater gift than truly to be loved. In fact, the Bible says that faith and hope and love are three great things, but faith will be gone one day. Hope will be gone one day, because we will see the Lord, but love will never end. Love will exists for all eternity, because God is love and that love is what is the expression of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this text, Jesus talks about obeying his Father’s commandments of pleasing the Father because obeying his commandment and that the love that they had with one another was expressed by Jesus’ obedience and in the same way he says, “I want you to show your love for me by obeying my commandments and by loving each other.” The proof of our friendship is demonstrated by our loving one another in the family of faith. So, let’s look at what this is saying a little more closely. I am going to give you four truths about Christ’s commandments to his disciples. Four “P”s and a couple of them are very brief and some of them are a little more extended.

The first thing that we see from this text is in verse 12. He says, my commandment. It says, “my commandment is this, love each other as I have loved you.” Notice the pronoun. It’s my commandment. It’s the commandment of Jesus. He takes all the commands that he has just been speaking about and he narrows it into one when it comes to human relationships. That’s to love one another. To love one another as he has loved us and it’s singular. It’s a commandment. He wraps up all the commandments. This is it. This is the big one. God is love. And to love each other as he has loved us is the priority that Jesus sets out. Now notice that he does not end the sentence with just love each other. He ends it with love each other, as I have loved you.

So from priority we now go to predicament. Because we cannot love each other the way that Jesus loves us, unless He lives inside of us. And you say, well how does He get to live inside of you? Because you have invited him in. Because you have life exchanged. You said, Lord I see that you died on the cross for me and for my sin to bring me back to God, now I am going to die to myself and ask you to come into my life and in that life exchange your Spirit is now able to love, as you have loved through me.

And so that is the way that the predicament gets solved, because much of what we think passes for love may not be love at all. Sometimes what we call love may be activity designed not to lose somebody’s affection or approval. You know, if we were to act a certain different way, maybe we would lose that so we think that’s love. Or maybe we feel guilt and so we try to do many good things for people and it looks like it’s very loving, but really its more like we are trying to sway something in us. Same thing when we have a hard time experiencing people’s loss or seeing people in distress. We try to, maybe we over function a little bit so that it keeps our anxiety from going down. Now, that can all be mixed up in true expressions of love, but many times what we think about love is really not love at all. The love , which Jesus speaks of, his love towards us is so different from anything else, and so what does this love look like? What would make us be a friend of his, where he could put his arm around us and say, this is my friend? How does a friend of Jesus demonstrate love? It leads us to the third “P” and this passage shows us the principles of divine love. The kind that Jesus showed toward us and there in verse 13 it says, “Greater love has no one in this that he lay down his life for his friends.” The principles are three and they are right there in that verse. Three principles of love.

First, Jesus said, he laid it down. That implies freedom. He freely gave what he gave. Jesus did what he did for us without coercion. And that’s a great question to ask ourselves when we are trying to judge our own actions. Am I doing what I am doing freely? That’s a test of whether it’s really Christlike love. Do we give to others freely or begrudgingly? Do we find ourselves saying, no one appreciates me around here? Or, why do I even bother, or we try to get across to our kids how much we are trying to provide and help, I never had it this good when I was a kid. You know we say things like that, that can sometimes betray the fact that maybe we are not giving as freely. I know it is frustrating to be feeling like you are carrying one end of the log and nine other people are carrying the other end, but the point is that love, if it is truly divine is given freely. God loves a cheerful, free giver. So love is given freely and that means that it is something that is given. And Paul said in 1st Corinthians 13, that love is patient and love is kind. In other words, it’s an expression of something. It is active goodness. Some people say, well I am showing love because I don’t hurt anybody. I am not bothering my neighbor. Well, that’s good, but it is not the kind of divine love that Jesus is talking about. The divine love that He is talking about is active goodness.

I remember a friend 20 years ago, maybe some of you remember his name, he was Noel Wines. He and his wife, Linda were members here at church. And I did not know them very well. They were acquaintances. We would talk on occasion. And we were because of Central Presbyterian Church, supporting us and loving us by encouraging us through seminary and supporting us financially, we were moving from here to Michigan in 1984. And a bunch of you all helped out in many ways, but I remember Mel in particular because I was really starting to feel anxious over the fact that we were not going to get the house all ready for renters before we had to move, and so there was tons of stuff to do, and you know how that feels. You have not enough time and too much work and Mel shows up. We have three days before the truck pulls out and he shows up and he is like a painting maniac. He just is going and going, painted so many rooms in the house, the trim work, the walls and all this other stuff. You know, I am painting and he is painting, and then he came back a second day and he did it again. I thought, man one day, I can’t believe he is back here again. And then a third day, the last and final day, I mean if it wasn’t for him, we would not have gotten it done. I remember looking at him painting trim work over top our patio door, he was just finishing up the last thing and I looked at him, I know he didn’t see me, but I looked at him and I thought, that’s love. That’s love. I am seeing it. And see, love is not love unless somebody’s sees it, hears it, feels it. And that’s the kind of divine love that Jesus was talking about that is given freely. He freely laid it down. So now I have secretly softened you up in case I have to move any boxes next month. You guys are now completely set up to help me to do that. Kidding.

Jesus freely laid down what? This is the second principle. He freely laid down his life. No greater love has a person than this that they lay down their life for their friends. I was watching the history channel and you have probably seen it a million times too. About the D-day invasion. You see the faces of those guys in those amphibious crafts as they are heading to Omaha Beach. I am like, my gosh, what unbelievable bravery. What unbelievable love. Most of them, they are not going to make it another hour and they are doing it for us, for freedom, for liberation and I look at that and I think, that’s what Jesus is talking about. He laid down his life. It’s sacrificial. The divine love is sacrificial. In other words, when we love it’s going to cost us something. It’s going to cost us time. It may cost us money. We will probably be discomforted in some way. There will be some sweat or inconvenience or loss, but love will somehow extend itself through us so that another is blessed in a small or great way. If it doesn’t cost, it probably is questionable maybe, if it’s really sacrificial love, if it’s God’s kind of love.

And so He gave it freely, He gave it sacrificially and then the third principle said that He laid down his life for his friends. And he goes on to unpack that when he says you are my friends if you do what I command you and listen to how he starts to talk about friendship. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. For everything that I have learned from my Father, I have made known to you.” You see, Jesus’ method of friendship and Jesus’ definition of friendship has to do with making known what cannot be known unless you say it. And so friendships and love in the body of Christ is a process of letting ourselves be known. That is what was so great about 40 Days. So many people entered into small groups and were able to let themselves be known just a little bit more.

Now, here’s the thing. Paul would say that love, one of his lists of what it was, was that it does not insist on its own way and one of the reasons that we don’t let ourselves be known in the community of faith is that we are afraid that if we really let ourselves be known, we would be judged or we would be in some way put somewhere else on a pecking order. So here is how love works in a congregation I think that is really healthy in Jesus Christ. True love does not insist that everyone fits the same spiritual mold. Now, I know I am preaching to the choir because Central has three different services. We are saying, hey everybody does not have to do it the same way. We have different songs, that’s fine. No problem. Now, we all have to encourage each other to be accountable to Christ. We need to move each other towards Christ, but many times there is differences of opinion even like in a good marriage. There is going to be differences all the time. And so, a good marriage is a way of helping express those differences without rejecting the other. So here’s how it works. I love the way Scott Peck puts it when he describes a safe community, a loving community. Listen to this. I think he says it well, but listen carefully.

“A safe community, a loving community is a place where there can be difference, but one can still belong. A safe community becomes a healing place and a converting place only after its members have learned to stop trying to heal and convert.”

See, if you believe something differently than I do, and I spent all my energy trying to get you to be where I am, I start to get in the way of love. But if I accept you where you are and we just say, let the Lord work it out, then love flows freely and people can share their opinions and they can share themselves. They can share who they are and what they think without worrying about being devalued or judged. Even a person who comes in who is not a believer and says, You know I don’t believe this and I don’t believe that. That’s okay, we love you. It’s all right. Come on. Have coffee with us. Have a donut. See, it is not our job to convert. It’s only God’s job to convert. Our job is to be the vessel of love that God does that through. There is a wonderful circularity to it. We often think that if I love God then I am going to have the power to love others. You know, it works completely in reverse sometimes too. If I love others, and they experience that love, they are going to love God and when I see them loving God, then I am going to love God even more. You see how that works? And we have seen it in retreats. We see it in small groups. Somebody comes in. They are somewhere else differently. People love them and they accept them where they are, they come an embrace the Lord Jesus and we are all loving God and giving thanks because of it. That’s the kind of community that Jesus is talking about. And then that leads to the fourth thing.

That leads us to the fourth “P”. The product of love. What’s the result? That’s fruit. Verse 16. You did not choose me, but I chose you. Why? I appointed you to go and bear fruit. That fruit will remain, that will last. And then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Again, this is my command, love each other. Notice that a loving, praying community is a powerful tool in God’s hand. And Jesus’ emphasis of his choosing of us is designed to eliminate all pride. We are not here because we have a natural affinity for one another, although that works in our favor, I guess. We are not here because, even because of our faith. That’s a stepping stone that we experience God’s grace. We are here because God called us and chose us to be here. And who is going to say to the Lord, you chose poorly? Whose going to say to the Lord, you chose poorly? Whose going to say, I don’t want; I don’t have need of you when the Lord is the one who has put a person in the body? As we accept and love each other especially in our differences, God uses powerfully to draw others to Christ through us. God has got a process more than goals. It is not the goal that God has so much in mind, like I am thinking about the building. You know, Central will eventually probably will build another extension on the building and more and more people will come, and as you get to that goal, if love is lost getting there, then it is not worth it, because love is the greatest gift. And if you don’t’ get to the goals, but you love one another, then we have succeeded in God’s eye. You see? That is the way it works. That’s what so important to Him. Because love will last forever. So loving each other, and I will say it one more time, how we are with each other is our first form of witness to a hurting world. Drill that into your mind. It’s our first form of witness, how we are with one another. That is what bears fruit for God.

At the 100th anniversary of the arrival of missionaries in Zaire, Christians gathered to celebrate from that part of Zaire once called the Belgian Congo. The festivities lasted all day with music, preaching, food, conversations and many reminisced about all that God had done and the progress of the gospel in that part of Africa. Near the end of the program a very old man stood up and said that he had to say something, or else a secret would go to the grave with him. It is something that nobody else knew and he felt it important to tell. He explained that when the first missionaries came to the Belgian Congo that the people didn’t know whether to believe the message of Jesus or not and so in sort of a diabolical way they devised a plan to slowly and secretly poison the missionaries who had come to their shores. One by one, children and adults became ill and died and were buried. And it was when his people saw how the missionaries died and how they loved each other even in the midst of distressed they finally believed and they became Christians. Think of it, those missionaries never had a clue as to what was happening. They didn’t even know they were martyrs. They didn’t know they were being poisoned and didn’t know why they were dying, but in the midst of their distress and their stresses, they continued to love each other. They loved Christ and they trusted him and so in their dying they taught others how to live. You know, sometimes we are not aware of why we go through troubles, why we go through struggles, but if we will love through them, if we will love through them, then a watching world will notice and will believe.

So my final charge, my final call, my final encouragement to you and I am speaking to myself, is that we love one another as Jesus loved us. Freely. Sacrificially. Graciously. So that the world might know that He has been sent. This is my command, love each other.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you so much that its love that is the most powerful agent for change. We all know it from our experience and I pray for those today Lord who do not feel love, that somehow, some sign, some touch on the shoulder, some kind word today would be the vehicle of communicating your love through us. Lord we pray that this congregation will grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior, and that because of their love for one another and for all who enter these doors, Central will continue to be a beacon of grace and light in Towson and beyond. Thank you so much. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.