Sunday, March 22, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Last Word
#3—Love Each Other
How many of love your family? How many of you have someone in your family that’s a piece of work—a little hard to love? But you love them anyway, right? Why? Because they’re family, and family loves each other. Family, if it’s done right, ought to be one place you know you’re always loved.
I think Jesus meant for that to be true of His church. Church, if it’s done right, ought to be one place you know you’re always loved. Jesus didn’t just leave behind some new ideas; He left a new community—a new and very different community. In his book, Who is This Man? John Ortberg writes:
Where did the idea come from of the world gathered together—people of every gender, every nationality, every status — like a family? Where before Jesus was there a movement that actively sought to include every single human being, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, status, income, gender, moral background, or education, to be loved and transformed? Not only had there never been a community like this before, but there simply had never been the idea of a community like this before. It was Jesus’ idea. And it was happening. (Who Is This Man, by John Ortberg, p. 131.)
The church is God’s new community. We are family: brothers and sisters, all children of one Father. And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that last night in the upper room that we are to love each other.
My dream for you—for us, for Life Center—is that we would be the family that Jesus envisioned, that we would experience true Biblical community, loving relationships with each other. Please, let’s not settle for church as usual, for just being a crowd of people who come, watch, listen, and go home just as lonely and disconnected as when we came. Please…let’s not settle for anything less than true Biblical community, loving each other as Jesus loved us. I think that’s what we all really hunger for. In fact, I think people are so hungry for love that they’ll do almost anything for it. If we’ll love God with all we’ve got and really love each other, people will be drawn to us like flies to honey. As we grow in our love for each other, that love will be a magnet to a love-starved and lonely world. This experience of community not only meets our deep longings for love and inclusion, but is also how we grow spiritually. Christianity is a team sport. You can’t really play alone—only together, in community, as a family. So today, I’m calling you—more importantly, Jesus is calling you—to love each other. Here’s what He said in His last words.
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Notice that the command to love starts and ends this passage. Verse 12: Love each other as I have loved you. Verse 17: Love each other. Sandwiched between those two commands to love each other, Jesus talks about how He has loved us. “Love each other as I have loved you.”
The Big Idea: Jesus commanded us to love each other as He has loved us. Here are four ways He loves us.
1. He gave His life for us. (13)
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
What is the greatest love you can have? The greatest love is a love so strong that you would give your life for another. It is a sacrificial love. This is the love that Jesus had for His followers, and that He has for you. Love is giving, and the most you can give is your own life for another. That’s the greatest love, the love Jesus has for you.
Jesus wasn’t a martyr, killed against His will. He was a sacrifice. He laid down His life. His life wasn’t taken from Him; He gave His life freely for us—because He loved us with the greatest love. Paul put it this way in:
Romans 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
It is “very rare”, Paul says, for someone to die for another, even for a good person. I might do a lot of nice things for you, but die for you? Very rare! If you are drowning, I might throw you a rope, but I probably won’t swim after you. Why? I don’t want you to pull me under! The instinct for self-preservation is pretty strong! It’s very rare to find someone who will die for another, and then it’s almost always a friend or family member—someone we consider “good”.
But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is a greater love yet! Jesus died not only for His friends, but for His enemies. He died for people who hate Him, and people who avoid Him, and people who just don’t care about Him. This is the greatest love!
This is how Jesus loves you. Settle that in your heart right now: He loves you with the greatest love, a love that gives everything for you.
And this is how He wants us to love each other. Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you. Love costs. Love sacrifices. Love gives, and gives and gives. Love each other…like this.
ILL: When Andy was 5, Jeff 3, and Amy and Sally just 1, (Michael was still just a twinkle in my eye) I was invited to speak in Hawaii. I wanted to take Laina with me, and then stay a couple days after to relax. But Laina hadn’t left the babies yet, so even after the tickets were bought, she continued to agonize about going. Moms, can you identify with this? How about you, dads? It’s totally a mom thing!
The night before we were to leave, my friend Chris Brumfield called me up to wish me well. He knew that Laina was struggling and asked how she was doing. When I told him that she was still hesitant about going, he said, “I’ve been praying for you and her, and I want to help. How about if I go with you instead of Laina? That way she can stay home with the babies. It’s a sacrifice, but for you, I’d do it.”
What a guy! That’s sacrificial love.
How many of you would be willing to make a sacrifice like that? Wow! This is one loving church!
This is a loving church. You demonstrated that again last Sunday. You sponsored 12 more children in Kenya, and you gave over $28,000 for clean water in Kenya—add in the $15,000 matching gift and you gave over $43,000 for clean water!
Do you think that the people who gave money could have spent it on themselves? Sure, but they loved sacrificially. That’s what Jesus told us to do. Love each other as I have loved you. How did He love us? He sacrificed. He laid down His life for us.
What does it look like to love each other that way?
Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Here, husbands are specifically charged to love their wives like Christ loved us, sacrificially laying down their lives. Does that mean that every husband should literally die for his wife? No, no, no; you’re not going to get off so easily! It means that every day, in a thousand little ways, you must die to self. You must say no to yourself and put your wife first. If you have ever tried doing this, you know that it would be easier to just die in a single noble act of chivalry! Just kill me now!
We give our lives for each other in a thousand small ways every day.
ILL: Imagine it this way. Let’s say you have $1000, and you want to give it all for someone you love. We’d like to give it all at once, in a single great act of sacrifice. But God sends us to the bank or ATM and tells us to exchange the $1000 for quarters. Then we start giving it out a quarter at a time, or 50 cents or a buck.
You stop to listen when you’d rather talk. You let the other person have their way when you’d really rather have your way. You concede the argument, not because the other person is right, but because it’s more important to love her than it is to win the argument. You do the dishes when you’d rather watch the game. You are kind to the other person even though he’s been a jerk all day.
Love each other…one quarter at a time.
The reality is that most of us won’t have to literally die for someone else. But we all get to die to our selfishness a dozen times a day, a quarter at a time.
Jesus sacrificed Himself for you—love each other this way!
2. He calls us friends. (14-15)
John 15:14-15 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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.
In the Old Testament, it was a great honor to be called the servant of the Lord. But Jesus elevates our relationship with Him to a new level. “You are my friends,” He said. “I no longer call you servants; instead, I have called you friends.” Jesus calls us His friends. In the Old Testament, only Abraham and Moses were called God’s friends. Jesus opens the circle wider, and invites you and me in too! “I have called you my friends.”
And then He tells us, “Love each other as I have loved you. Call each other friends.” People call each other all kinds of terrible names. What if we called each other “friend”? Jesus said to them, “You are my friends.” What if we said that to each other? “You are my friend.” Try it!
What a gift that is—to call someone a friend. So many people are friendless. So many people are starved for friends.
ILL: In 1971, Pepper Rodgers was the head football coach at UCLA, and was in the middle of a terrible season. It got so bad that it upset his home life. He said, “My dog was my only friend. I told my wife that a man needs at least two friends and she bought me another dog.”
Ouch! So many people just need a friend. What a gift you give when you call someone a friend.
ILL: I spoke at a summer camp for high school students in Montana. Tracy was a sophomore, a new Christian, and didn’t have any friends at camp or at school. So she sort of latched on to me. When camp ended, she asked if she could write me (this was before cell phones and email—when people wrote letters on paper and sent them via pony express). I got Tracy’s first letter and wrote a response and signed it, “your friend, Joe.” She wrote back and said, “That is the first time anyone has ever said they are my friend.” I was stunned. We exchanged letters until she graduated from high school, and I signed every one, “your friend, Joe.”
What a gift you give when you call someone a friend. Of course, Facebook has redefined “friend.” I have 2,456 Facebook friends! I don’t know most of them! I’ve never spoken to most of them face to face or had coffee or heard their stories. But we’re “friends.” It’s possible to have thousands of these friends and still be lonely, still go home Sunday after church and eat lunch alone. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. “Hey guys, I friended you! Check out your Facebook page! And I posted some sweet pictures on Instagram! Peter, check out this picture I snagged of you walking on the water!”
Let’s be more than Facebook friends; let’s be real friends. Here’s a challenge: before you leave here today, tell at least one person: “I am your friend.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said that friends are “the best property of all.”
ILL: When Noel was pastoring in Hawaii—this was in the late 80’s—I called him one day just to talk. He asked me if I had added anything new to my collection. I was collecting baseball cards at that time. I told him that I hadn’t. Then Noel said, “I started a collection, too.” This stunned me. Noel is the most non-materialistic person I know. I had a hard time imagining him collecting anything. So I asked, “What are you collecting?” And Noel said, “Friends. I decided if I was going to collect something, I wanted it to be something I could take to heaven with me. So I’m collecting friends, and I’ve just added a couple new ones to my collection!”
I collect baseball cards, and Noel collects friends. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Friends are the best property of all.
What if you started a new collection today, a collection that you could take to heaven with you—a collection of friends?
Let me remind you that 90% of people who come to Jesus do so through the influence of a trusted friend or family member. This is why we do find, tell, bring.
- Find someone you love.
- Tell them what you know.
- Bring them to church.
I told you last week about reading Spirit Rising, by Jim Cymbala, and that every story in the book of someone coming to Jesus had this in common: a friend brought them to church, and they met Jesus there. That’s how it works. Here’s the rest of that story. Almost every one of these stories involved people who were really broken: drugs, prostitution, crime, gangs. They were hard cases. They were the people most of us would write off as hopeless, lost causes. But in every case there was a friend—and that friend didn’t give up on them, but kept inviting them until they came and met Jesus. Here’s why I’m saying this: bring your friends to church this Easter, and don’t just bring the easy ones; bring the hard ones! Bring the ones you think are lost causes! You never know who may be one invitation away from a changed life! Be a friend—make the invite!
Jesus calls you His friend—love each other this way.
3. He discloses Himself to us. 15
John 15:15 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.
“Love each other as I have loved you.” How has He loved us? He has disclosed Himself to us, told us everything. Jesus doesn’t treat us as servants, or hired help, who are on the outside, but as trusted friends with whom He can share everything. Jesus has pulled us into the inner circle of His friendship and His confidence. He wants us to know Him, so He tells us everything about Himself. “Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
We’re to love each other the same way, confiding in each other. Sharing confidences, being completely honest and transparent with each other, is the mark of close friends and deep trust. I don’t share my deepest feelings with many people, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you need to do that with everyone. That’s not practical or wise. But I am saying that one of the characteristics of Christ’s love is an openness, honesty, transparency that allows to really know each other and to move beyond superficiality. We will never enjoy true Biblical community or loving relationships if we don’t get beneath the surface, and really know each other. This kind of honesty and transparency is essential to real friendships. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.”
One of the wonderful benefits of self-disclosure is that it’s contagious. When one person risks opening up, the other person feels safe to open up too, and true community begins to happen.
ILL: A well-known psychologist went to a conference for counselors and bragged to everyone that he could get anyone to open up to him in their first session. He would know the person’s deepest secrets. “How?” they asked him. His method: he would share a personal secret that if broadcast could damage his reputation. His vulnerability caused his clients to feel safe, and they would open up to him and share their secrets.
Self-disclosure is risky business, and that’s why many of us naturally shy away from it. What if I tell someone how I really feel and they don’t care?
ILL: I was at our high school camp once ago standing in the lunch line when one of our students came up and said “Hey.”
“How’re you doing?” he asked me.
I said, “Oh terrible; my life’s falling apart, but thanks for asking.” He didn’t miss a beat; he shot right back, “Oh, well, I don’t care anyway,” and walked off. Boom!
We were both joking and knew it. But isn’t that the very thing we fear about revealing our true feelings? What if I let others see the real me, and they don’t like me? What if I share my heart, and they don’t care? What if I share confidences and they are told to others? Trust can be betrayed. It’s a risky business. But what’s the alternative? Loneliness. Staying locked in my cocoon, not letting anyone close enough to see the real me…safe, but very lonely.
Love is a risky business. Jesus loved us and told us everything, and it cost him everything. One of the men he loved and confided in betrayed Him. But aren’t you glad it didn’t stop Him? Don’t let it stop you either. Who could you honor today with your honesty and vulnerability? Who could you invite into the circle of your confidence?
Jesus disclosed Himself to us—love each other this way.
4. He chose us. (16)
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
Jesus chose us. He didn’t wait for us to choose Him, but He chose us. He took the initiative and called us. He picked us and said, “I want you to follow me.” Let me say that again: Jesus said, “I want you. I choose you!”
When you have a choice, what do you choose? If I were to give you a choice for dinner between Copper River Salmon barbecued with a hickory glaze, or grilled liver and onions, which would you choose? Salmon? Of course! Liver? I’m sorry. You would choose what you like! And Jesus chooses you! He didn’t have to choose you; He wanted to. He likes you. God probably has your picture on His phone, and shows it off: “Have you seen my kids?” He chose you because He likes you, He loves you more than you can imagine. He wants you on His team.
How many of you remember when you were kids and sides were being chosen for games? How many of you were always picked first—the studs and studettes! How many of you were picked somewhere in the middle—not bad. How many of you were picked last? Do you remember how that felt? It was hard. It feels good to be chosen.
ILL: When my youngest son Michael was in junior high, he invited several of his junior high buddies over to play basketball one afternoon. They played on our neighbor’s court. Our neighbor’s oldest boy, Austin, was 7, and he liked to play with the older boys. So Michael and the other boys invited him to play. After warm-ups, when it was time to choose teams, Michael whispered to the other captain, “Pick Austin first.” He did, and you should have seen Austin’s face! Astonished and delighted all at once! I was proud of Michael and his friends.
It feels good to be chosen, doesn’t it? It might be for a team. It might be for a job. It might be for a mission or a task. It might be for a friend. I choose you. But it feels good to be chosen.
And that’s what love does. It doesn’t wait for the other person; it takes the initiative. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Who loved first? Who took the initiative? God did! Jesus did! And now He tells us to love like this: take the initiative. I choose you. So don’t wait for the other person. Take the first step toward someone else.
Jesus chose us—love each other this way.
The last word: Love each other! The world will hate you! 18-27
In verse 17, Jesus repeats the command: Love each other. Then He goes on:
John 15:18-21 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
Love each other. Love each other. Love each other. Why is this so important? Because the world is going to hate you. Look at how the world treated Jesus. They killed him. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The world has always been hostile to Jesus. That’s not going to change. Last month, 21 Christians in Libya were beheaded by ISIS. This is Magda Aziz, holding a picture of her late husband, Hani, one of those martyred. Hani and Magda have four young children that she will now raise alone. Another relative said, “To the last moment, the name of Jesus was on their lips. As they were being martyred, they were calling God’s name, saying, ‘God, have mercy on us.’ The entire village is proud.” Every day, in our world, Christians are being murdered. And because it is far away, it seems unreal. Seeing their pictures, hearing their stories, reminds us that it’s real, and that these are our brothers and sisters in the faith. The world will hate you, Jesus said. So love each other!
Admittedly, some of the hostility has been deserved. Christians have often acted like butt-heads instead of like Jesus. That’s on us. Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Let’s change that. Let’s be more like Jesus.
And that means that we love people like Jesus loved them. Remember, He loved us while we were still sinners. He loves us with all our weakness, stupidity and sin. He loves us unrelentingly. Love each other that way.
We live in a world that is hostile to God. Love them anyway. We live in a world where people may hate you and persecute you for your faith. Love them anyway. And since we live in world that is hostile to our faith, it’s all the more important that we love each other, that you can be in a family where you know you’ll always be loved. Let’s be that family.