January 22, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Our Big Deals
#2 Loving Everyone Always
Introduction and offering:
Love Everyone Always! That’s what we’re talking about today. So I thought I’d start with a picture of love (Zealand, Stejer and Coza).
This is week two of “Our Big Deals.” We are talking about our vision as a church: what we’re about, where we’re headed, and how we’re getting there. We have three Big Deals. Two of them are always Big Deals; the third is our Big Deal, our specific focus for the year. Next Sunday, we’re going to talk about Our Big Deal for 2017. Today, we’re on the second of our two Big Deals that are always our Big Deals. We are a Great Commission church and a Great Commandment church.
- The Great Commission is to make disciples: we help people find and follow Jesus. Last week we talked about how we do that.
- We help people find Jesus by doing find, tell, bring: find someone you love, tell them what you know, bring them with you.
- We help people follow Jesus by doing 1-2-3: 1—Church; 2—Rooted; 3—Life Groups. I explained that these are the first three steps as you follow Jesus—and they lead to many more up the spiral.
- We plant churches that help people find and follow Jesus.
- The Great Commandment is to love God and love people: we love everyone always! That’s what we’re talking about today.
Those are our two Big Deals—always! They are expressed in our mission: we help people find and follow Jesus. And in our motto: Loving God and loving people. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God with all you’ve got and to love your neighbor as yourself. Love everyone always!
The Great Commandment is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, each with a little twist.
Matthew 22:35–40 One of them (a Pharisee), an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” meaning, the Jewish Law. Rabbis counted 613 commands in the Jewish Law and debated their relative importance. Obviously, “do not murder” is more important than “don’t boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk.” Unless you’re the baby goat. So this was a common question: what is the greatest of all the commandments?
And Jesus replied, “Love God with all you’ve got—all your heart, soul, and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hand on these two commandments.” Or said another way: do this, and you’ll do everything God wants you to do. Love is the greatest commandment. The word “greatest” translates the Greek word mega. This is the Mega-Commandment!
In Mark, a different word is used. There, Jesus is asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The Greek word is protos, literally “first” or “prime” or most important.
Jesus gives the same answer. Love God with all you’ve got—heart, soul, mind and strength (added here)—and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
And in Luke, the story takes a big twist. Jesus is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is an even bigger question! Jesus turned it back to the man asking: “What do you think? How do read God’s word?” And the man answered just as Jesus had: Love God with all you’ve got—heart, soul, mind and strength—and love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this and you’ll live,” Jesus said. But the man had a problem with this answer—we’ll get to that in a few minutes.
What is the greatest commandment? Love God and love people. What is the most important commandment? Love God and love people. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Love God and love people. Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself.
How many of you think it is important that you love God and love people? If Jesus said it’s most important—then I think it’s most important! But it seems we Christians easily forget this, and we make other things more important than loving God and loving people. We need to keep the main thing the main thing!
First, let’s define love. The first thing most of us think of when we hear the word “love” is a feeling. It may be a romantic feeling—we fall in love. It may be sexual passion—we make love. It may be a pleasurable feeling—we love ice cream, or we the Zags—these things bring us pleasure. Love is all of these, and more! It’s even a zero score in tennis! But none of these are what Jesus meant in the Great Commandment. And here’s why: you can’t command feelings. “Be happy!” Did that work? “Like me!” That didn’t work either. You can’t command feelings. You can command action, or behavior.
Webster lists 9 definitions for the noun love. I mentioned a few. Romantic feelings (falling in love) was #1. Love of the Zags was #2. Sexual passion was #7. A zero score in tennis was #8. Here’s #4. “Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” And the dictionary gives two examples: “as the fatherly concern of God for humankind; and brotherly concern for others.” Thank you Mr. Webster. That is what Jesus is talking about here when He commands us to love God and love people: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another. We’ve defined love this way:
Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.
Where did we get that? From Jesus. Jesus said:
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
This is exactly what Jesus did for us: He laid down His life for us. He did what was best for us, no matter what it cost Him. Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you. So let’s think about how to love like this.
- Love God with all you’ve got.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all you’ve got—with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. So the question I want to ask is, “How do we love God?” If love is more than a feeling, if love is doing what is best for others, how does it look to love God?
It would mean that we do what is best for God. It means that we do what He wants. We ask, What does God want in this situation? And we do that. When we do what God wants, we are loving Him. If you doubt that, consider these words from Jesus.
John 14:15 If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
John 14:23–24 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jesus repeats this: if you love me, you obey me. If you love me, you keep my commands. Who loves me? The one who obeys me. Who doesn’t love me? The one who doesn’t obey me.
In other words, we love God by obeying Him. We love God by doing what He wants.
ILL: We get this. My wife wants to stay home tonight—just the two of us. I want us to go to a movie with friends. I love my wife by staying home—I love her by doing what she wants.
There is a problem with this analogy. What if what the other person wants is bad—bad for them or bad for me? That’s where the analogy breaks down, because what God wants is always right. What God wants is always good for you.
Deuteronomy 10:12–13 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Notice that to love God is to walk in obedience to Him and to observe His commands, and these commands are “for your own good.” God wants what is best for you.
ILL: I was not a perfect father, by any stretch of the imagination. But most of the time, my commands to my children were for their good. Sometimes they were for my good too—sometimes you just need a little peace and quiet. But I truly wanted what was best for my kids.
When I told my pre-schoolers never to go in the street without mom or dad—I wasn’t trying to restrict their play space. I wanted the best for them—I was trying to protect them, keep them from getting squished by a car! My command was for their good.
Later, when I told my teenagers not to drink, I wasn’t trying to spoil their fun. I wanted the best for them—I was trying to protect them. People who drink too much do stupid things! My command was for their good.
If they had said, “Dad, I love you,” and then disobeyed me, I would not have felt loved. I would have said, “If you love me, do what I say, because I want the best for you.”
How do we love God? We do what He wants, understanding that what He wants is good for us. We ask, What does God want in this situation? And we do that. When we do what God wants, we are loving Him. Don’t say you love God, and then disobey Him.
What about the feelings? Shouldn’t we feel something for God? Of course. As I pointed out, you can’t command feelings, but you can command action. When you do what He wants, you’ll feel what you should. As you love God in action, you’ll grow to love Him in emotion.
First, love God with all you’ve got. Ask, What does God want in this situation? And do it!
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
At one of the Inaugural Prayer Services in Washington DC, one of the pastors said, “We can’t love God without loving each other.” He’s right. One of the most practical ways to love God is to love people. How do I know that? Jesus said it:
John 15:9–12 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
If you love me, keep my commands. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. We love God by loving each other.
There are lots of verses on your outline about loving people; we’re going to focus on one: Luke 10:25-37. I told you that in this version of the Great Commandment, a man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him what God’s law said. The man replied, “Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded, “Do this and you’ll live.” But the man had a problem.
Luke 10:29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Who is my neighbor? I want to go two directions with this.
First, I want us to answer the question literally. Who is my neighbor? When you hear the word “neighbor,” who do you think of first? The people who live in your neighborhood. Your next-door neighbors. Whoever else our neighbor is, it must include our actual neighbors. We are to love our neighbors—the people who live on our street. So who is your neighbor?
When you came in, you were given this card: “My Neighbor Love List.” Jesus said, “Love your neighbors.” It starts with getting to know them and pray for them. On the flip side, you’ll see six boxes. The bottom center box is you—you can write “Me” in there if you want. The other five boxes are the neighbors who live closest to you. Do you know their names? Write the names you know—I’ll give you 30 seconds. Go!
Did you get them all? If not, go meet the ones you don’t know. Introduce yourself and make a new friend. You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t even know them! Flip your card over and we’ve suggested four starting steps for loving your neighbor—your actual neighbor:
- Add your neighbors’ names. Go meet them.
- Learn more about them. What’s a great question you can ask? “Tell me your story.”
- Look for ways to serve. Neighbor love is very practical—like helping shovel a snowy walk.
- Note ways to pray. As you get to know them, you’ll learn specific needs you can pray for.
Love your neighbors! Your actual neighbors! If all of us would do this, we could change our neighborhoods. And if we change enough neighborhoods, we change our city.
ILL: Jim Millard, our missionary in Japan, told this story in one of his monthly newsletters.
Bob Moffitt loves to work in his yard. One day the Lord told him to clean up his neighbor’s yard, which was a mess. His neighbor had already told Bob that he did not like Christians. Bob cleaned his neighbor’s yard—and then kept taking care of it for two years! One day the neighbor came and asked Bob to tell him about Jesus. He was an alcoholic and had many problems. He opened his heart to the Lord that day.
Several years later this man invited Bob and his wife to come to his house for dinner (both families had moved). He said, “Bob, because you cleaned my yard for two years I came to believe in Jesus. I am now a leader at my church and am free from alcohol. On the weekends when I am not working I find people who have problems and needs like I had and try to help them. This all happened because you loved me with Christ’s love.” Love your neighbor!
Who is my neighbor? First, it’s your actual neighbors—the people who live on your street, and the people who live in your house. It starts there—but it can’t end there.
Second, it’s anyone you meet, anyone in need…everyone. Here’s the deal. This man who asked Jesus the question, “Who is my neighbor?” was looking for a very narrow definition of neighbor. He wanted to limit it to his own race and religion. This would be like me asking Jesus if I only have to love people who are white and Christian. “Jesus, can I get a pass on everyone else. You’re not really asking me to love people of a different race or faith, are you?” That’s what this guy is asking.
Jesus answered by telling one of the most famous stories ever: the story of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked, robbed, beaten and left for dead. Before long a Jewish priest came by—a holy man—but when he saw his fellow Israelite lying bloodied in the road, he passed by on the other side. Then a Levite came by—another holy man, the priest’s assistant—and he too passed by on the other side. And then a Samaritan came by. Cue sinister music! Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. The hatred ran so deep that whenever possible they avoided each other’s territories to avoid getting attacked. The Jews considered Samaritans to be a different race and religion, and vice versa. As Jesus’ told the story, what do you think his audience expected the Samaritan to do? Finish him off! Instead, the hated Samaritan—the enemy—felt compassion, stopped, bandaged his wounds, and transported him to the nearest emergency room, where he pre-paid the bill! He even told the doc, “If this doesn’t cover everything, I’ll reimburse you when I return!” Have you been to the ER lately? This is incredibly generous! All this for his enemy—someone of a different race and religion.
If Jesus were telling the story today, it might be an Israeli lying in the road, and a Palestinian stops to help him. Or it might be a Republican lying in the road, and a Democrat stops to help him. Or it might be an American in the road, and a member of ISIS stops to help him. That’s jarring, isn’t it? That’s exactly what Jesus wanted you to feel. He is getting our attention!
Jesus asked the man, “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man who was robbed?”
“The one who had mercy on him,” he said. He couldn’t even bring himself to say the words, “the Samaritan.”
“Go and do likewise.”
Wow! Who is my neighbor? Not just those who are like me, but those who are different: a different race, religion, class, culture, gender, or age. My neighbor is whoever is in front of me right now. My neighbor is whoever is in need. My neighbor is everyone and anyone. Love your neighbor means loving everyone always.
How do we love our neighbor? Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you. Love is doing. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
What do we call this? The Golden Rule. It’s about doing: do to others what you would have them to do to you. Treat people the way you want to be treated. This is love for neighbor: do for them what you want done for you—and you want the best. Do it for them.
- You want to be treated with respect—treat others respectfully.
- You want to be listened to and understood—listen to others to understand.
- You want to be helped when needed—help those in need.
Love is so practical. It’s doing what you want done for you. It’s self-interest turned inside out: what would I want? I’ll do that for you. Look at this verse again:
Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
What do you notice at the back end? “This sums up the Law and Prophets.” Where have you heard something like that before? The Great Commandment. Loving God and people sums up the Law and Prophets. The Golden Rule is just another way to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How do you love your neighbor? You do for them what you want done for you.
What do you notice at the front end? “So in everything.” In every situation, we are to love our neighbor. Love everyone always. Love is our modus operandi, our standard operating procedure. Do we always get it right? Of course not—I often have to go back, apologize and try again. Is it hard? Oh boy. That’s why we say love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you. It’s almost always costly.
ILL: Shelly Wyrick is a mom and Life Center member who sent me this story.
I was pushing all three kids on the swing set, when this conversation erupted from Matthew (age 3) who was giggling at me as I struggled to push each child’s back every time they swung back.
Matt: “Mom, is that hard?!”
Matt: Super Dooper Wooper Hard?!
Matt: Are you doing what’s hard for you and good for me?!
Me: YES! What’s that called Matt?
Matt: Mom…that’s called wuv.
Shelly wrote: Its a concept we’ve been working on, as there are plenty of opportunities in a home to do what is hard for you and best for someone else. I’ve been heard complaining about how much pushing I do on the back yard swing set. I even got a sore shoulder for a while! But now I see it through his little eyes. I’m loving him in the very simplest of ways.
Love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you. Sometimes it costs you time. Sometimes it’s a sore shoulder. But love is always worth it.
Love God with all you’ve got.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Love everyone always.
I hope I convinced you from the story of the Good Samaritan that to love our neighbor is to love everyone always. Love the person in front of you, even if they are different. But if you’re still doubting, remember that Jesus not only calls us to love our neighbor, but also love our enemy.
Matthew 5:43–48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If you love those who love you—anyone can do that. If you greet only “your own people”—those who are like you—anyone can do that. But as Christians, we are to be like our Heavenly Father who moved toward us and loved us.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God is holy. You are a sinner. And this holy God moved toward you in love. He did what was best for you and it cost Him everything. And now He asks you and me to do the same—to move toward people who are different and love them. Move toward people who don’t believe like you do. Move toward people whose race or culture is different than yours. Move toward people whose politics irritate you. Move toward people who are different with an open heart and listening ears. Love everyone always. I’ll finish with this fun story.
ILL: Have you ever texted the wrong number? Just a couple months ago, Wanda Dench texted her grandson, inviting him over for a Thanksgiving meal. It turns out that her grandson had changed his number and hadn’t let her know, so instead of her grandson, the text went to 17 year-old Jamal Hinton. The two figured out the mistake quickly, but Jamal asked if it was possible to “still get a plate.” Wanda responded, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do.” So Jamal joined Wanda and her family for Thanksgiving dinner.
That’s not all. The story went viral online after Jamal tweeted it. Inadvertently, Wanda’s phone number was visible in the tweeted photo. About 600 other people texted and asked if they could “get a plate.” The Denches had a very big Thanksgiving dinner!
I love that when Jamal asked if he could come to dinner, Wanda said, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do.” Love is doing what is best for others, no matter what it costs you. This week, move toward people who are different. And love everyone always…because that’s what Christians do.