Love One Another Deeply

Hope-Eternal---MM

1 Peter 1:22-25

I bet there isn’t a single person here who has not received an email from someone in Africa, claiming to be the wife of a recently assassinated national figure. She has access to millions, and despite the existence of Swiss banks and Fort Knox, out of every person on the face of the earth, she thinks the best person to trust with all her millions is actually you. You will have looked at that email and said “Is this for real?”

Or you go down to the car yard, and the salesman offers you more for your trade in than you know you can get in a private sale. You’ll think about that and ask yourself, “Is this for real?”

Or you’re down at the Fremantle markets, and you’re looking at the watches. They have all the great brands Tag Heuer, Rolex, Casio. The prices are unbelievably cheap. You’ll be wondering, “Are they for real?”

Now, people look at the church, they hear words about life, a fresh start, and transformation, and you know what are they asking?

“Is this for real?”

The Prescription

If you’re wondering how to spot authentic Christianity, Peter’s words are just what you need to hear. They open our eyes to the very thing that shows whether Christians are genuine.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22–23, NIV)

Love is the mark of the Christian. Love identifies true community from false community. Love strengthens relationship and authenticates witness.

Of course, love can be a variety of things: Altruistic love. Brotherly love. Erotic love. The love commanded here, however, is a sacrificial, selfless love. This is the love of decision. A commitment. A covenant to love despite the cost, despite rebuke, despite rejection. It is unconditional, and in many ways, unconventional. It’s a love demonstrated in God’s saving acts in Jesus. A love that goes to rebels, to enemies. It restores relationship. It builds togetherness. It develops oneness where there is division. It makes friends out of sinners.

Peter is saying to his readers: now that you are purified and holy through Jesus, there is one core reality to operate in. One central behaviour to show Christ is living in you. One thing that matters above all: love one another.

As Jesus had said some years before

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35, NIV)

See, Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. We believe him. He honour him. We trust him. We love him.

There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. We’re compassionate, friendly, considerate, gracious.

Here’s the deal: love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.

We also know the fall is still around us and in us. Christians fail each other. Communities of love can become contexts of pain and hurt. And then it’s easy to pull away, and just seek to do faith on our own. And that’s an easy option these days. If you listen to podcasts, you can have Tim Keller one day, John Piper the next, followed by John Ortberg, Matt Chandler, David Platt – your whole week can be immersed in the world’s best preachers. You can bail out of church and do it all at home. But the problem is that on your own, all you’ve got to love is yourself. And that is far from what the Lord calls you to in these verses. Loving God is never merely an individual thing. You can’t be a lone ranger in the kingdom of Jesus. Life with Jesus cannot be lived apart from Jesus’ community. Additionally, if we withdraw when we’re hurt, the hurt is never healed, it’s multiplied. Dragged deeper within, it becomes bitter and ugly.

Yet, when Jesus’ people love each other deeply, Christian community becomes the context of growth and healing where hurt and resentment can become a catalyst for growth and restoration. So: Love one another deeply, from the heart.

It’s your purpose

Second: we need to love deeply because it’s a core purpose of God in saving us. Loving others deeply is not an option. It’s not something that some people are good at or gifted in, while others aren’t. It is core behaviour for the followers of Jesus. Check out that first section of v.22:

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other…” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV)

Christ has purified us so that we can love sincerely. Christ is doing a work in you. He’s making his love overflow. A love that is active, persistent and practical. It’s expressed in relationships, in what we think about one another, how we help one another, how we bless one another, how we serve one another.

I started the sermon with the question of authenticity. How do we know if it’s the real deal? How do you spot the true church? Surprisingly, sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.

God has chosen the church, us, to show the world what sincere love really is. At Gateway Church we have just renewed our commitment to grow healthy Gospel community.

GCC Vision Template

We want to be a church where there’s sincere love, where the Gospel is seen. A place where we both live and proclaim Christ’s love for sinners. Where that love is expressed as his people love each other. Where it’s reflected in their love for their world.

Where this sincere love is seen the Gospel is more easily heard and believed and accepted. Where sincere love exists, every anti Christian argument, every attack on the church, is blunted. Where that sincere love persists in the face of attack, those attacks are neutralised. When sincere love thrives, anti Christ is overcome and the flaming arrows of the evil one are extinguished.

I saw last week that Richard Dawkins tweeted an article from the Economist suggesting a religious upbringing diminished generosity.

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What ahistorical piffle. Dawkin’s thought bubble doesn’t even have a rim. It’s nothing. It’s air.

History shows us that sincere love drove the church to mission, to compassion, to cultural advancement. Churches started hospitals, churches developed public education. Christians like William Wilberforce worked to abolish the trans atlantic slave trade. Christians continue today, through the work of organisations like International Justice Mission, to repair broken systems of justice, to stop the violence that perpetuates the poverty of the developing world.

Why do they do this? Because when Jesus rules people, when they are purified through his precious blood, all they can do is love sincerely! That has to be the outcome. It has to work. It cannot not work.

It’s God empowered

Hang on, you say. It cannot not work? Is this for real?

I look at myself and I acknowledge my weakness. We are imperfect. And look around, we can see plenty of contexts where it does not work well. True: this sincere love is not going to be perfect this side of heaven, but we do need to think through what Peter is saying.

First, as we’ve already seen, this love is purposed by God. And what God purposes will come about. Second, this love is commanded by God to people he lives in by his Spirit.

God never commands his people to do an impossible task. When he commands us to “love one another deeply, from the heart” he’s only enjoining what he already empowers. Check it out:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23–25, NIV)

Love one another deeply, from the heart (why?) … You have been born again or imperishable seed…

The Perth summer is fast approaching. Coming Saturday the temperature will be some 37C. For the last few months we have been working on our lawn. Enriching it with water retention material. Organic material. Other substances that retain goodness. Keeping the water up. Because if we don’t, we know the harsh summer is going to transform our green lawn into crunchy brown nothingness.

Peter wants us to know people a like grass. Soft and green one day. Brown and crunchy the next. People don’t last. Their efforts often come to nothing.

But when God acts savingly in people’s lives, he begins to transform human weakness – your weakness – by the power of his risen son.

Christians don’t just bear fruit. With Jesus living in them they bear fruit that will last. When God saves people, they move from the realm of the mortal, to the realm of the immortal.

““I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24, NIV84)

There’s no denying: we’re not in heaven yet. We still fail, and fall, and our love is imperfect. (That’s obvious, otherwise it wouldn’t have to be commanded.) By the same token, I think we underestimate the power of our great God in us.

It’s why in our tradition we’re often short on prayer (which times do you gather specifically for prayer?). It’s why we get worried and anxious when things don’t work out – we think we’ve got to do it all. We react as if God is not in the picture. It’s why the most discussed half of the glass can often be the empty half…

But God is saying, loving this way is not about your limitations. It’s not about you being fallen. It’s not about you perishing. It’s about my living and enduring word doing the very thing that I purposed it to do. It’s about the love and grace and mercy of Jesus doing the very thing I intended it to do in you! It’s about the word that has not only been proclaimed to to, you’ve received it, believed it, it has taken root, and it is bearing fruit.

Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4)

God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power!

Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!

“Love one another deeply, from the heart”

People talk about body language. You look at how a person is sitting and you can gauge their level of interest. If someone is in the meeting and they lean back with their hands on their head, we all know they think they’ve got the whole thing down and they may be feeling pretty superior. Body language. You can look at body language and get a reasonably accurate idea if what’s going on inside.

Guess what: Sincere love is the body language of the people of God, those who have been born with the imperishable word of God. You observe the sincere love of the people of God and you know what’s happening on the inside! God is at work, and they have been born again with imperishable seed! They are loving each other because they both love God and have been loved by him through Jesus.

Challenge:

So: is there enough sincere love here? Are we maxed out on love? Didn’t think so.

And the question, therefore, is what specific action will you take to start loving your brothers and sisters more?

I know: There’s always stuff that others can do more of, or less of. But this is about you. You and God. He has purposed this love to overflow from your life. So, what steps will you take to make that happen?

You in a home group? Discuss this question. Wrestle with it. Ask yourselves: do what you can to show more love in that context? Who’s on the sideline? Who’s fragile? Who’s in need? Speak into that. Love into that. Do something in love for them.

You’re not in a home group? Best reconsider. How can you love your brothers and sisters if you’re limiting the contexts where that love can be seen and felt and demonstrated? You’re too busy? Too tired? Best reconsider. We all get the same number of hours, and many are time poor. Instead of adjusting contexts of sincere love out of your schedule, adjust other components of your schedule to develop contexts of sincere love. Others will be the better for it, and so will be your heart.

Your church: what specific steps will you take to make your church more a place of love? Where people go out of their way to love? Where they forget about their own interests, and look to the interests of others? How will you start to do that, or extend that?

What will you change to better enfold people on the fringe? People in need? Sincere love says I can do something about that. Visit some people. Ask them around for a  BBQ or a Coffee. Steak and caffeine – what a wonderful ministry of love! See, it doesn’t have to be hard.

Like the eternal seed that started it all in us, the love and mercy of Jesus, such acts last forever.

When it gets tough, when things fall apart, the fact that God’s imperishable seed is at work in us will be our only hope, our only comfort, and our one reason for bringing glory to Jesus.

When that sincere love is good, it will be very good fruit. Those actions and events will be tasty kingdom morsels. We’ll taste them and instead of saying ‘Is this for real?’ we’ll say to ourselves ‘This is great, let’s have some more.’

Preacher, do your preparation. But remember: God may have other plans…

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Sunday, 0800

We were ready to go. I had carefully and prayerfully prepared my next sermon in “The Relationship Challenge” series. The manuscript was on the iPad. The Powerpoint loaded into Dropbox. I headed out the door and drove to Gateway ready for our 0930 service. I was relaxed and ready to go – a good thing after the previous week had been filled with a few additional diversions. I had prepared well and was ready to deliver this sermon, but as events unfolded it was clear that God had other plans.

As always, we met together with the elders and musicians for prayer before the service. Before we joined in prayer, Elder Mark mentioned an email he had received that morning. A person from Switzerland, whose son is working with a mission in Iraq… The email told how ISIS has taken over their town. ISIS was moving from house to house, finding the Christians, and asking the children in the families to denounce Jesus. When the children refused, they were killed. It spoke of the terror faced by Christian families, how in the face of such evil they had chosen to remain in their town to be the voice and hands of Jesus. The email asked us to join in prayer for the deliverance of Northern Iraq from ISIS, and for strength, courage and endurance for the Christians in the area, who were faced with the demand to convert, or die.

We were all well prepared, but God had other plans…

It seemed right to us to read the email in full before a prayer of intercession. So we prayed that God would be with us, that Jesus would be honoured, and we went to start the service.

Elder Mark started the service reading from Psalm 107, reminding us of God’s faithfulness even in the hardest of times. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever…”

It was a good start, but it crossed my mind right there how this was leading in to a sermon on relationships. I let the thought pass…

First bracket of songs were done, and I was on the deck praying through some pastoral issues. After that, I started to read the email to the congregation. My intention was to pray again when I had finished reading. As once more I read about the grave situation of these Christian people, the deaths of little children, the evil of ISIS, I sensed the congregation was also burdened with their plight. I thought, ‘instead of me being the only one to pray, maybe it’s best just to let people from the congregation pray, and I will close the prayer when it seemed right to do so’. So I asked people to pray. Jason quoted Psalm 46, asking God not only to protect his people, but to change the hearts of those who were perpetrating such evil. Cam prayed, Jeremy prayed, Elder Mark prayed – and read from Rev 7 where those persecuted during great tribulation – the multitude of people in white robes – stood victorious and full of praise before the throne of Christ the Lamb.

Thinking about it later, it seemed that in a few brief seconds as someone was praying, I processed more than a few second’s worth of thoughts. My mind was drawn to Psalm 73: the dissonance between the writer’s deep faith and the ugly presence of evil, the tension that created in his mind, his lack of capacity to understand, his unshakable trust in the Lord’s faithful covenant presence.

In those few seconds I felt a strong conviction that I should leave my prepared sermon, and instead preach – right then – from Psalm 73. Rationale came quickly: It would certainly harmonise with everything else that was happening; it would speak directly to the burden of the email; it would address some of the questions people at Gateway may have had; it would point us right to God’s faithfulness; it would call us to faith in times of threat and uncertainty.

With the hymn writer George Croly, there were ‘no angel visitants, no opening skies’. But I believe God’s Spirit was leading me to do something very different. I had never preached without notes. I had never preached extempore. Such a thing would normally freak me out just a little. But while someone was praying, I looked up Psalm 73. I could see a sermon introduction, several points of teaching and application, clear lines to Christ, and a close. There it was. So I said “Lord, please led me, I am am in your hands.”

For the next 20 minutes or so, I preached a sermon on Psalm 73 which sounded a lot like any sermon I would write on Psalm 73, just that it had been written yet. My major points were

  • Evil is real and its presence is confronting and disturbing. We should not be surprised if we do not understand how evil might enter our lives vv.1-16
  • We will never be helped if we cut God out of the picture. The Psalmist was comforted by God’s presence v.17
  • It may look as though evil has won the day, but in the grand scheme of eternity God will bring justice to those who do evil. Martin Luther King Jnr once said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Rev 7 reminds us that human history, our history, is in the hands of a loving Saviour. The Lamb who is also the victorious King.
  • The Psalmist was comforted with God’s faithfulness, but there is no indication that his life circumstances changed. Sometimes, all we have, and all we can do, is to trust God and throw ourselves on his mercy. This helped the Psalmist, and it will help us
  • God’s faithfulness is seen in his presence. It is good for us to be near God (v.28), and even better that he remains near us. All through the Scripture we hear that glorious prepositional assertion: I will be with you. This was comfort for Abraham, for Moses before Pharaoh, for Joshua, for King David, for shepherds on a hill who heard of “God with us”, for the church facing a universe of uncertainty with the certainty of Jesus’ presence “I am with you always, even to the very ends of the earth” (Matt 28:20)

I am still amazed at how it all unfolded. I am deeply grateful that in the midst of such disturbing news, God answered the prayer that we would honour him and that Jesus would be glorified.

God is his own interpreter. He took the events of the day, the thoughts and prayers of our hearts, and led us to a place we did not think we would go, but at the end of the service we were very glad he had taken us there. God wanted the focus to be not just a sense of solidarity and loving concern for the grave situation of Christians in Iraq. He also wanted us to focus on the greater reality that Christ stands above it all, and even out of the most terrifying circumstances, he will ultimately lead his people to victory.

Did God do something different at Gateway yesterday? Yes. And no.

It was definitely a different experience for me, and I don’t know when and if that will happen again. But it was not a new thing for God: he is always with us, he is always present, he always blesses people who turn to him in faith. It’s just that yesterday he expressed that in a different way, and took us to where he wanted us to be, and not where we thought we were going to go.

As preachers, we make plan our work. We take our task seriously. We exegete, we research. We write and apply and then preach as best we can. These are excellent disciplines. But we always need to remember that our sovereign God is the sovereign God. On any day we need to be ready to follow should he make it clear there’s somewhere else we need to go, and something else we need to say.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33, NIV)