Love and Obedience (John 14)

Theme: To love God is to trust him (Jn 14:1). When we love and trust God we obey him (Jn 14:15, 21, 23). Our ultimate obedience is to trust God regardless of our situation (Prov 3:5).
Pray that January 2018 may be the month of love. The last two weeks we touched on Real Love (Rom 12:9-21), and  Love at Ten Years (1 Cor 13:1-13)--last Sunday being West Loop's 10th anniversary. Paul says that love must be real (Rom 12:9) and that love is the greatest (1 Cor 13:13). This Sunday, we consider what Jesus says about love and obedience (Jn 14:15, 21, 23).

In 2013, while studying Jesus' upper room dialogues, I preached on John 14 with the title Believe in Jesus. My point was that when we simply believe in God without fear or doubt, all of our problems vanish away. That's what Jesus promised his disciples (Jn 14:1). It really seems cliche and simplistic or even unrealistic to say, "Believe and trust God and you'll have absolutely no problems!"

Yet our lives, even as we profess faith in God, is often inundated with our own frustrating problems and issues that never seem to go away, or that keep recurring again and again. Often without any effort, we keep falling into the same problem over and over: fear, lust, anger, bitterness, resentment, sorrow, unforgiveness, even uncontrollable hatred.


Love that is Genuine, Sincere and Real (Romans 12:9)

Just how important is love? What is the place of love in Christianity? What is the evidence that you truly love God? What Who When Why How.

Romans 12:9-21 - Love Must Be Real; Love and its manifestations. [The transforming power of the gospel: Christian conduct (12:1-15:13).]

From Rom 12:1 Paul shifts his focus from instruction to exhortation, from theological to practical, from "indicative" to "imperative," and from "what God has given us" (Rom. 1-11) to "what we are to give to God." Yet it must be noted that what we are to give to God cannot be produced independently of God's continuing gracious provision; it cannot be anthropocentric.

Commands are rare in ch. 1-11 (Rom 6:11-13, 19; 11:18, 20). To Paul, what he teaches in Romans has an eminently "practical" significance. For if we take the gospel to heart it will affect our lives in uncountable ways. In ch. 6 Paul makes clear that our union with Christ in his death and resurrection leads to "walking in newness of life" (Rom 6:4) and demands that we "present ourselves to God as those who are alive from out of the dead" (Rom 6:13). Now in 12:1-15:13 he fleshes out these general principles about the transforming power of the gospel by urging Christians to manifest the power of the gospel in specific areas of day to day life.

Ro 12:1-2 is one of the best-known passages in the NT. Its fame is justified. Paul succinctly and with vivid imagery summarizes what the Christian response to God's grace in Christ should be.

12:9-21 is a parenesis. It strings together admonitions of a general ethical content and is characterized by eclecticism (borrowing from many sources). Rom 12:9a is regarded as the heading for the entire section. Genuine love is the overall topic and the underlying motif of the section. In Rom 13:8-10 Paul spotlights again that love is the fulfillment of the law and basic to the section. Paul keeps coming back to love as the single most important criterion for approved Christian behavior.

There is no verb in the Greek in Rom 12:9. Paul says, literally, "sincere love," "genuine love" or "real love." These words are the heading for what follows, as Paul proceeds in a series of clauses to explain just what sincere love is. The addition of an imperative verb in all major English translations is not off the mark, as Paul's purpose is to exhort, not simply to describe.
Jesus singled out love for others as the essence of the OT law (Mk 12:28-34), and the central demand of the New Covenant (Jn 13:31-35), which is enshrined as the traditional and characteristic ethical norm of Christianity (1 Th 4:9; Gal 5:13-14; 1 Cor. 13; Jas 2:8-9; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:10-18; 4:7-12, 18-21; Rom 13:8-10). The love of Christians for others is grounded in, and enabled by, the love of God expressed in the gift of his Son (Jn 13:34; 1 Jn 4:9-11). Love is a necessity and is an indispensable mark of the new creation in Christ.

Rom 12:9. Paul has already reminded us of this love (Rom 5:5-8). So basic does Paul consider love that he does not even exhort us here to love but to make sure that the love he presumes we already have is "genuine." In urging that our love be genuine, Paul is warning about making love a mere pretense, an outward display or emotion that does not conform to the nature of the God who is love, and who has loved us. The Greek word literally means "without hypocrisy," not playing the part of an actor on the stage. This same adjective is applied to love in 2 Cor 6:6, 1 Tim 1:5 and 1 Pet 1:22 (2 Tim 1:5 describing faith; Jas 3:17 describing "wisdom from above").


Discipleship Rooted in Love

"In the twilight of our lives, we will be judged on how we loved." St. John of the Cross.

"To love yourself in the right way and to love the neighbor correspond perfectly to one another; fundamentally they are one and the same thing." Soren Kierkegaard.

"Christian perfection is loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. This implies that no passions contrary to love remain in the soul. It means that all thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love. Charles Wesley. For Wesley, all God is and does is motivated and governed by divine love.

"God gave love. God bestowed love. There brothers you have the scriptures of God." Augustine. "The entire finite universe disappears like a speck when placed on the scales of value next to the love of God." Kreeft. Love has infinite value.

"It is not by ideas and programs or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God." Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

"Therefore let us repent and pass from ignorance to knowledge, from foolishness to wisdom, from licentiousness to self-control, from injustice to righteousness, from godlessness to God."  Clement of Alexandria.

"The (Bible) is God's open love letter to humankind and thus should be read with a deep hunger for the experience of eternal love." John Armstrong describing what the Bible is. When I know love through God-given experience, I can then love as he loves. This experience of love is what leads to true discipleship. God's love is central to Jesus' mandate to "make disciples" (Mt 28:18-20). At its core Christianity teaches that following Jesus in true faith and obedience really can radically change our lives, despite how our early influences may have shaped us in less than optimal ways.

"In love, our self and another become entwined, so that sorting our benefits becomes absurd. Do good for loved ones and gratefully receive the good that comes from doing so. Give and don't count the costs, but don't give because it costs. Give because there is a love for the recipient and glory in giving." Chad Engelland. The Way of Philosophy, 2016.

"A real love for God arises out of the knowledge of what God is like. But at the same time that we begin to have this knowledge, we also come to know what being in the image of God means. We long to have that image, covered over with the muck of everyday life, restored to what it was meant to be. Then we are able to seek our own salvation not out of self-hatred, but rather out of a love of our own life. We begin to see that if God loved human beings so much that we were given the gift of the incarnation, the terrible crucifixion, and the resurrection, then no one can offer any Christian justification for despising or hating any human being, ourselves included." "It is the way God made us when God set us in creation, for creation itself is changing. The real issue is not physical change at all, but moral or spiritual change, over which we (d0) have control." Roberta Bondi.

Love functions as the goal, yet love is also the means to the goal. Love is the language of the covenant, and the basis for discipleship.The Spirit loves us and draws us into the redeeming relational love of the triune God (2 Cor 13:13).


Make Love Your Goal

"Let love be your highest goal!" (1 Cor 14:1, NLT) "Follow the way of love..." (NIV). "Pursue love..." (ESV, HCSB). "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal 5:6b).

The singular mark of the church should be love. Why? There are many reasons foremost of which is that God is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). Also, the greatest struggle inside the church has always been love, or the lack of it. Yet the church (and the gospel) has often been reduced to rules, rituals, commandments, theories or organizational goals and concerns. The highest priority of various churches are outreach, worship, youth ministry, leadership development, evangelism, discipleship, church growth, mission, purity, holiness, sacraments, particular doctrines of particular Christian leaders, denominational concerns, etc. These are not unimportant and certainly have their place. But should such agendas and ideologies ever supersede the place of loving others, or relegating love to just one of the many things the church does?

What should the church do? Shame people or slam "bad" people? Win the "culture wars"? Elect our "Christian" candidate? The Christian church is singularly commanded to bear witness to God's love for the world (Jn 3:16).

"Love is not something you choose to do, but what you choose to be." Dallas Willard.

"(Jesus' cry of forsakenness from the cross was) the climax of his pain (and) the climax of his love. The fact is that if 'Jesus is Jesus Forsaken,' that is, the Son who entrusts himself to the Father, without residuals and conditions, in the act in which the Father seems to hide the name of Abba in the most cruel and darkest trial--if Jesus is this, then our faith in him is a partaking, through grace, intimately, in the very event of his abandonment. Our faith is carrying within us the faith of the abandoned One in the occupations of our day. Whoever finds this man has found the solution to every problem human and divine."  Chiara Lubich.

"By each action done to the sick and dying, I quench the thirst of Jesus for love of that person--by my giving God's love in me to that particular person, by caring for the unwanted, the unloved, (the) lonely, and ... all the poor people. This is how I quench the thirst of Jesus for others by giving his love in action to them." Mother Theresa.

"It is hard to find a church or para-church staff that is practically oriented around Jesus' instruction: 'Love one another, even as I have loved you' (Jn 13:34). You might think this would be their primary explicit goal, but it usually turns out otherwise." Dallas Willard, Getting Love Right, 2012.

"At the 'heart' of Paul's theology was the 'Gospel' or 'good news,' about Jesus as the revelation of God's love and the source of all benefits that accrue to us from it (liberation, reconcilliation, redemption, justification, access to God, sanctification, and so on). The proclamation of this mystery is what Paul called the 'good news,' and his primary concern was that those whom he brought to Christian faith might fully participate in the Paschal mystery and its benefits. (Paul) regards love as the 'super' virtue that joins together all the other virtues in perfect harmony." Daniel J. Harrington, Jesus the Revelation of the Father's Love: What the NT Teaches Us. 2010.

"We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it. It is also good to love--love is difficult. Love is perhaps the most difficult task given us, the most extreme, the final proof and text, for which all other work is only preparation." Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).

"Jesus calls men not to a new religion but to life." Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Mt 5:17-20 is an indispensable text for understanding why everything "hangs" on loving God and our neighbor. From tradition we receive secondary forms of faith and practice. But what remains primary is the commandment Jesus gave regarding love for God and neighbor. All our religious practice and piety "hangs" on these commandments.

 "All the patterns, morals and predictions of the OT come to their complete realization in (Jesus). The first lesson we get in reading the Bible is this one: Look to Jesus as its central story." Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God and Loving Others.

"God does not demand great acts from us, but only surrender and gratitude." Therese of Lisieux.

"We do not achieve the disposition of agape love by direct effort, but by attending to and putting into practice the conditions out of which it arises." Dallas Willard.


Love Must Be Real (Romans 12:9-21)

The Kingdom New Testament. A Contemporary Translation. N. T. Wright (and other translations)

Love must be real (sincere, without pretense). Hate what is evil; stick fast (cling) to what is good. Be truly affectionate in showing love (show family affection) to one another; compete with each other in giving mutual respect (honor one another above yourselves). Don't get tired of working hard (do not lack diligence; never be lacking in zeal). Be on fire with the spirit. Work as slaves for the Lord. Celebrate your hope; be patient in suffering; give constant energy to prayer; contribute to the needs of God's people; make sure you are hospitable to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless them, don't curse them. Celebrate with those who are celebrating (rejoice with those who rejoice); mourn with the mourners (mourn with those who mourn). Come to the same mind with one another (be in agreement [live in harmony] with one another). Don't give yourselves airs (do not be proud), but associate with the humble (people of low position). Don't get too clever for yourselves (do not be wise in your own estimation; do not fancy yourself sages; do not be conceited).

Never repay anyone evil for evil; think through what will seem good to everyone who is watching. If it's possible, as far as you can (as far as it depends on you), live at peace with all people. Don't take revenge, my dear people, but allow God's anger room to work. The Bible says, after all, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord." If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will pile up burning coals on his head. Don't let evil conquer you. Rather, conquer (overcome, vanquish) evil with good.


The Core, Crux and Center of Christianity

The Bible. The Commands. Obedience. Faithfulness. Commitment. Loyalty. Fidelity. Yes, but is it the core, crux and center?

"Being a Christian means learning to love with God's love. But God's love is not a warm feeling in the pit of the stomach." Roberta C. Bondi.

"...the great intensity of the genuine religious life...engages and exhausts every single aspect of man... God claims our whole being for himself, not in the manner of a tyrant who wishes to exploit and annihilate us, but as a lover who deems us so precious that he will not tolerate the slightest capacity of our person going to waste. God delights in the utmost energizing of our being..." Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Trappist monk). Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 2012.

"Love your neighbor as yourself--this is the major principle of the Torah." Rabbi Akiva, second-century.

"What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. God and learn." Hillel (the great Jewish scholar a century before Christ).

"On three things stands the world--on the law, on the worship and on the works of love." Simon the Righteous.

A central point of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is that a renewed heart of love precedes all our actions.

"If we are sane ... we ought to fear sin more than sickness, sufferring, or death itself." Peter Kreeft.

The three most important words in the English language: "I love you." The second three most important words: "I don't know."

"The knowledge husband and wife have of each other includes a profound respect for the otherness of the other; based in love, each seeks to preserve the integrity of the other, allowing the other to be [who he or she is] without simply becoming an extension of the spouse. It is a knowledge that comes out of living together, responding to each other's daily interests and needs, being shaped by deep caring for the other. It is a transforming knowledge."

"It is in faithful self-giving (to others) that a person finds a fullness of certainty and security." John Paul II.

"The love in which we spend our lives in serving others will not give us the temporary happiness of romantic love stories, but, rather, the lasting, everyday, all-one's life-and-then-some happiness Jesus refers to as joy."


The Most Important Word

Mission. Meaning. Mercy. Forgiveness. Humility. Grace. Yes, all very important words. But can it be the single most important word?

"Love, to be real, must cost--it must hurt--it must empty us of self." Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

"A fresh interpretation of love is needed in all sections of Protestatantism, an interpretation that shows that love is basically not an emotional but an ontological power, that it is the essence of life itself, namely, the dynamic reunion of that which is separated." Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era, 1948.

"The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one's neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease." Mother Theresa.

"Is love a feeling? Is love an act? Is love an art? Is love voluntary or involuntary, or both? How is self-love related to love of neighbor? Does love extend to enemies? What is the relation of love to sexuality? Can love be commanded? Is love redemptive? Is love divine? Is divinity love? How does love form and inform our existence?" Carter Lindberg, Love: A Brief History Through Western Civilization, 2008.

"A definition of love is especially necessary because love ... is the point of everything. If we do not know what this love is ... then we do not know the point of everything. We only know the word. If we are to put all our eggs in love's basket, what could be more practical, more essential, than to know it is the right basket and not another?" Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You.

Love is the "superstar virtue of virtues" and has to be "the most watered down word in the English language." Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, 2016. To define love better we must get past the conventional definitions of love, such as a term of endearment, a feeling of strong attachment or deep affection, sexual passion, or the beloved who is the object of such feelings.

"Agape describes a life-enhancing action that flows from God to humans (Rom 8:37; 2 Cor 9:7) and vice versa (Mt 22:37). The commandment to love regulates human conduct within the church: 'Love one another' (Jn 13:34; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Jn 3:11; 2 Jn 5); and husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph 5:25, 28; Col 3:19). But those outside are to be loved: the neighbor (Rom 13:9) and enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28, 35)." William Klassen, Love (NT and Early Jewish Literature), 1992.

"Grandfathers are kind. Fathers are loving. Grandfathers say, 'Run along and have a good time.' Fathers say, 'But don't do this, and don't do that.' Grandfathers are compassionate, fathers are passionate. God is not called our Grandfather in Heaven. The most frequently heard saying in our lives today is precisely the philosophy of the grandfather: 'Have a nice day.'" Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You, 2004.

"God loves you immensely." Chiara Lubich.

"Love God and do whatever you please; for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." Augustine.

"If you love God, you cannot fear him; if you fear God, you cannot love him." Old Serbian proverb.

"Religion is nothing else but love of God and man." William Penn.