Calvary Road Baptist Church

“COMMANDED TO LOVE, WHAT IS OUR FIRST DUTY?”

John 14.12-15

 

Last Sunday morning, as part of a continuing series of sermons, I preached about the command the Lord Jesus Christ issued to His church. It was in the Upper Room, shortly before taking His remaining apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed, where He was betrayed, and where He was then apprehended by soldiers. Then began a series of unjust and illegal activities leading to His crucifixion in precise fulfillment of God’s plan. The specific command our Lord Jesus Christ issued to His church was a directive for us to love one another, John 13.34, which He almost immediately restated twice in John 15.12 and 17 while walking with His apostles to Gethsemane. The complexity for us arises from our Lord’s qualifying phrases, “as I have loved you,” John 13.34, and “as I have loved you,” John 15.12. In other words, we are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to love each other as the Lord Jesus Christ loves us.

My friends, that may sound simple and straightforward at first. However, just a little thought leads us to recognize that since the Lord Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh, His love for us is of the same essence as God the Father’s love for us. But it takes only a little study of God’s Word to see that God the Father’s love is somewhat more difficult to comprehend than most people think. Consider five thoughts related to God’s love that most people rarely, if ever, give any thought to before arriving at what they wrongly think are biblical convictions about God’s love:[1]

First, one’s understanding of the love of God is necessarily related to what one understands about God. It is almost certain that most of us in this room have a greater portion your understanding of God and His love deriving from Hollywood movies, popular songs, and hearsay comments from friends and family than from the Bible. And if your conception of God is not drawn directly from the Bible, your conception of God’s love is certainly incorrect, as well.

Related to this are the certainties about God that are not believed by our current American culture, but which certainties are shown to be not only compatible with a correct understanding of God’s love but necessary for a correct understanding of God’s love. Back in the day when folks recognized that God is sovereign, that God is righteous, that God is holy, that God is infinitely powerful, and that they are sinful, they would frequently find it surprising that God loved them. Our friend, missionary Bill Hathaway, tells of his orphanage experience in Philadelphia and hearing for the first time at the age of fifteen that God, surprising and shocking to him, actually loved him. The common conception of God that presently prevails is that God must certainly love us because we are so lovable. Such opinions do not reflect what the Bible teaches about God’s love for sinful men.

Third, there has now arisen in our culture confusion about how people know what is to be known. You will recognize this trend as the way anyone challenges you for having the gall to believe that yours is the only way of salvation, and how dare you judge other people. Thus, the only remaining heresy in our culture is the notion held by some few of us that there is such a thing as heresy. God is a God of right as opposed to wrong, a God of truth versus falsehood, a God of light against the darkness. Therefore, if you think it is okay to have sex with someone you are not married to so long as you are “in love,” then you repudiate almost everything the Bible says about God. And how can you understand God’s love so long as you also repudiate the certainty that God hates? You think you understand God’s love while not imagining that fourteen times in the first fifty Psalms we are told that God hates the sinner, as well that His wrath is on the liar, and so forth?[2]

Add to those three thoughts a fourth. Is God sovereign? That is, can He do what He wants to do and does He have to do anything that contradicts His nature? The Bible teaches that God is righteous and just, that He is holy and unchangeable, among other things. Therefore, how do you reconcile the view of God’s love that some have these days that requires Him always to be always forgiving and nice with the reality that His righteousness and holiness requires that He actively oppose what He finds contrary to His nature and in violation of His expressed will? For example: What about the sinner who has never heard the gospel? Is the love of God so easy to understand that you completely grasp the notion that someone who has never heard the gospel is nevertheless doomed to eternal punishment by a loving God?

Fifth, there is the notion that God does not love everyone to the same degree. Whatever is meant by Romans 9.13 (“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”), the verse simply cannot mean that God loved Jacob and twin brother Esau equally. As well, what about John 3.16 and First John 2.15? John 3.16 shows that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. In First John 2.15 we are forbidden to love the world and told that anyone who does love the world has not the love of the Father in him:

 

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

 

So you see, the love of God is a far more complex matter for our consideration than most people realize. That necessarily means the love of Christ is a more complex matter than most people realize. Thus, it, therefore, has to be that our obedience to Christ’s command that we love one another as He has loved us cannot be at all times a straightforward and simple thing. It demands that we bring our full attention and the sum of all our faculties to bear to do what our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to do actually to love each other. Would you not agree?

Let me propose a very superficial and shallow consideration of this important and difficult matter of loving one another as Christ has loved us. I would like to accomplish that consideration by surveying the gospel of John from the point at which our Lord issued His command until His enemies took Him into custody in the Garden of Gethsemane so that we can see crucial things related to His profoundly important command. Our Lord initially issued His command to the eleven in John 13.34:

 

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

 

But notice that Simon Peter in John 13.36-37, and Thomas in John 14.5, and then Philip in John 14.8, ask somewhat off topic questions that are not directly related to Christ’s command that we love one another:

 

13.36-37    Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? . . . Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?

 

14.5      Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

 

14.8      Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.

 

Ever been in a conversation in which you are explaining something important and someone jumps in with a question that is off topic, but you recognize that he hasn’t the discipline to follow the flow of your explanation until his curiosity about his question is satisfied? That is what we have in John chapters 13-16. Our Lord had to address their somewhat off topic questions in order reacquire their focus on what He needed to teach them. Therefore, allow me to take you, like a thrown flat pebble skipping across smooth pond water, to the important things the Savior needed to impart to His men concerning His command to love each other, with each point being somewhat like where the flat rock briefly touches the water before skipping again. Granted, we are passing over great truths without much comment, like a pebble flies over a great deal of pond water, but it is necessary to grasp how we are to obey the Lord’s command to us.

The command is issued: Love one another as Christ has loved us. Here is what we must not miss, even as we, for now, skip over much of what our Lord said to the eleven to satisfy their curiosity about other, albeit important, matters:

 

First, TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER WE MUST PRAY

 

We see in John 14.1 that their heart is troubled, and the remedy encouraged is faith. From John 14.1, down through John 14.11, our Lord uses the word “believe” four times in rapid succession. Then, beginning in John 14.12, our Lord shows that belief works. In what way does belief work? By praying in order to keep His commandments:

 

12     Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

13     And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14     If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

15     If ye love me, keep my commandments.

 

If you believe on Him you will do the works that He does, and greater, because He goes to His Father. But which of those works that He has done has He just referred to? “. . . as I have loved you,” John 13.34.

This prompts the disciple to respond to Christ’s love and His command to love to then pray, which is the first step to obeying Christ’s command to love one another:

 

13     And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14     If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

 

Asking is praying, asking the Father in Christ’s name. The ultimate consideration is “that the Father may be glorified in the Son,” but the immediate consideration is, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Do this in order to do that. Thus, it is clear that the very first thing the Savior taught His eleven apostles concerning their obedience to His command to love each other was to pray. Pray about what? Pray about loving each other as Christ has loved us. Do you do that? You ought to. You need to. Because loving each other isn’t as simple as the simple-minded among us think it is. You certainly must pray to obey.

 

Second, IF WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER WE WILL BE AT PEACE

 

I seek in no way to denigrate the Holy Spirit of God or His ministry, which is of paramount importance in both Christ’s ministry and the ministry of Christ’s followers. Keeping in mind that the Holy Spirit is vital, where does our flat pebble flung across the pond touch next after first touching on the point of prayer? Peace. Granting that the Holy Spirit will be a major theme of the next three chapters, what matter connected to loving each other and praying is to be seen next? As I said, it is this matter of peace, John 14.27:

 

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

 

Is it so difficult to grasp that one of the immediate results of believers prayerfully asking God for grace and wisdom and insight to love each other is peace? Of course not. People who are engaged in conflict with each other are not at the pinnacle of their expressions of love toward one another. Peace is the absence of conflict, certainly. But on a positive note, it is the presence of accord, and congeniality, and good will, and mutual affection, and cooperation. So, what is present whenever there is contention between two individuals, be they saved or lost? Pride.

Proverbs 13.10 shows us the unique and solitary cause of conflict between two people, and it is a malady that has to afflict both sides at the same time, for if only one is so afflicted there will be no interpersonal conflict. Are you ready for it?

 

“Only by pride cometh contention.”

 

Therefore, if the Lord Jesus Christ commands love for each other, with instructions then given to pray, and one result of prayer being peace with each other that is absent the pride that produces conflict, and then an unintended consequence of prayer is intimated here: humility. Humility is the opposite of pride, and humility is a component of a genuinely prayerful attitude. One cannot bow before God in prayer without humility.

If you are serious about obeying Christ and loving each other, then you will get to praying, praying that will result in peace between you and others as you ask and God answers your prayers to love one another. And a byproduct? Humility, because no one can or does pray to God, who is proud.

 

Third, IF WE ARE AT PEACE WE WILL BEAR FRUIT

 

The flat rock skipping across the pond first splashes at prayer. It next splashes at peace. It third splashes at fruit-bearing. This is covered in John 15.1-17. We haven’t the time to read the whole familiar passage, but there are three verses that will strike a chord with you. Right in the middle of this great and famous passage about abiding in Christ the true vine and bearing fruit is John 15.9:

 

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”

 

No surprise that this matter of love is emphasized once more during their brief walk to Gethsemane. Three verses later the command is issued once more:

 

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”

 

The passage on fruit-bearing wraps up with verse 17 and a restatement (for what, the fourth time?) of the command to love each other:

 

“These things I command you, that ye love one another.”

 

Oh, how Christian’s lives are tied together by this command from our Savior to love each other. To love, we must pray. A consequence of prayer is peace with each other. How can you engage in conflict with someone you are praying for and who prays for you? Another way of describing this in this portion of the gospel is abiding in Christ, with the result being that we bear fruit and much fruit.

 

Fourth, THOSE OF US WHO BEAR FRUIT WILL SUFFER PERSECUTION

 

In the very next verse, John 15.18, the Savior said,

 

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”

 

Looking down to John 15.20, He also said,

 

“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”

 

This next place our pebble of inquiry touches the water is quite foreign to those of us raised in this country, but it is not only a Biblical concept. It is also something that is understood by most Christians throughout history and in almost every region of the world. The Apostle Paul echoes what the Savior taught the eleven in his second letter to Timothy, Second Timothy 3.12:

 

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

 

This is something that real Christians, who love Christ, who prayerfully seek to love other Christians in obedience to the Savior, who are at peace with other believers, and who seek to bear fruit as they abide in Christ, must certainly deal with. The opposition may come from an employer, a coworker, a neighbor, a longtime friend, or even a member of your family. And what should your response be to unreasoned and unreasonable opposition while loving each other and seeking the salvation of the lost? Notice what the Apostle Peter writes about such experiences, in First Peter 4.14-16:

 

14     If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

15     But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

16     Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

 

Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, if opposition from unbelievers never arises in your life even as you are at peace with your brothers and sisters in Christ, you are either wonderfully blessed for a short span of time in your life or you are not much of a Christian, witnessing to no one, and not taking a stand for Christ in an antagonistic world.

 

Finally, THE SAVIOR’S PRAYER SHOWS THIS ALL WORKS TO GOD’S GLORY

 

At some point, the pebble skipping over the pond’s smooth surface decides that this is where it wants to stop with the skipping so that it can fully plunge into the clear and satisfying water. Glorifying God is where that final splash, and purposeful plunge, takes place. Peter made reference to it if you noticed, in First Peter 4.16:

 

“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

 

Glorifying the Father was always the goal of our Lord’s command to us to love one another, as His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, a portion of which is recorded in John 17, reveals. We see at the outset that the Savior’s whole effort beginning with His incarnation, and during His earthly ministry, and concluding with His saving work on the cross, is for the purpose of glorifying His heavenly Father, John 17.1:

 

“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.”

 

In John 17.9 we learn that our Lord Jesus Christ prays for us and not the world:

 

“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”

 

In John 17.15 we are told a portion of what our Savior prays for us:

 

“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”

 

In John 17.17 we are told a bit more of what He asks for on our behalf:

 

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

 

And in John 17.20-24 we find these words:

 

20     Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21     That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22     And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23     I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

24     Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

 

As I promised, we have skipped over a great deal of Bible truth in order to better understand this command from our Savior to love each other as He has loved us, closing out with His wonderful example of praying for us in John chapter 17 as He urged the eleven to pray in John 14.13-14 in order that they might obey Him in this matter of loving each other. Ah, beloved, we simply must pray that we might obey. What is all too obvious is that we have not even scratched the surface of learning how to love one another this morning. Rather, we have only surveyed the topic in a most superficial way. Therefore, I will leave it to you to devote time and prayer and reading and Bible study to cultivate your understanding and diligence to obeying in this important matter of loving one another.

We cannot conclude our time together this morning without me making some application of the art of loving one another based upon my personal experiences as a gospel minister. I hope my experiences will be of some benefit to you.

May I suggest that you verbally compliment and show appropriate affection to your brothers and sisters in Christ as frequently as possible, yet not so often that your displays lose value for seeming to be cheap and too casual? I know there are some who foolishly overstep appropriate boundaries of physical affection between people of opposite sexes, but the requirement for caution about such needs only passing mention by me. It is foolish for a Christian to reduce the impact of love by violating propriety to do so. That is why with rare exceptions I do not throw my arms around women and why I do not allow women to throw their arms around me. Such is not an expression of love because it violates the Apostle Paul’s call for charity to avoid being unseemly.

On the other hand, there are also times in which you express love for a brother or sister in Christ by helping them when you see them overtaken in a fault, Galatians 6.1:

 

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

 

May I share with you my personal philosophy about this verse? First, make sure it is a fault you are observing rather than acceptable conduct you happen to disapprove of. Second, make sure that you do nothing if you are not spiritual. Third, understand that your goal is restoration and not rebuke. Finally, please be careful for yourself. It is so easy to do wrong in an ill-conceived attempt to do right.

For practical purposes, I might add that it is a wonderful thing to compliment and show affection at church, but the church house is a terrible place to try and restore someone, rebuke someone, or correct someone. I learned long ago that you never want someone to become wary of coming to church lest they are ambushed by a sincere but ill-conceived attempt to correct a fault. I used to get hammered about once a week at the church by well-intentioned but foolish church members. So much so that I seriously thought about not going to church to avoid such confrontations. To steer clear of such reactions, I try always to ask for a meeting at another time and in another location when seeking to restore someone overtaken in a fault. But I try never to ask at church. Church is for worship and edification and nothing else. And if the problem is not important enough to talk about at another time or to schedule a meeting at another time or another place, it probably isn’t important enough to deal with. Therefore, continue to pray for that person.

Can I mention one more piece of advice, related to my age? People are losing sight of the age factor these days. I was recently accosted by a young professing Christian from another church who took me to task in a way that was very disrespectful. On top of that, she did not know what she was talking about though she was in a typical millennial fashion very confident about her erroneous belief. In First Timothy 5.1-2, Paul directs Timothy to deal with aged men and women differently than younger men and women. This reflects the admonition in Leviticus 19.32 always to show respect for the aged. As well, Peter in First Peter 5.5 admonishes his readers to be cognizant of the age of those with whom you are interacting in one way or the other. When you are showing love to someone like Isaiah or Archie or me, you should take into account our age and our life experiences. The same is true with respect to Joyce, or Shirley, or Demetra. Likewise, when the love you express to someone is in the form of Christian correction (because those of us advanced in years make no claim of sinlessness), the same considerations of age are to be taken into account.

The takeaway for us all is that God’s love is not at all easy for us to understand or to implement. Christ’s love is not at all easy to for us to understand or to implement. The love of God is so far beyond us that it is a mystery. And to much the same extent, Christ’s command for us to love each other is a far more challenging task than the spiritual novice might sometimes be willing to admit. It requires gentleness. It requires wisdom. It requires humility. And each of these arises from that first step that must be taken to comply with our Lord and Master’s command. We must pray.

Father, grant us grace and insight into the best and most edifying ways by which we might obey our Savior in loving one another.

__________

[1] Thanks to D. A Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000), pages 9-16 for this line of thought.

[2] D. A Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000), page 69.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org