- Introduction- Permanent marks, tattoos, birth marks- Does anyone have a birth mark? As far as I know I have two. I have one on the left side of my face that is pretty faint and hard to see unless you are looking for it. I also have one on my left leg behind my knee. Those are marks that are permanent. They are identifying, external characteristics of who I am. When people see me, they also see those permanent marks on my body. Now, some people don’t have birth marks, they have tattoos. Maybe a heart or a flower, the name of a loved one, or something related to military service. Again, those are marks that are permanent. When you get a tattoo it is usually to make a statement. It is meant to say something about who you are, the organization you belong to, or a person you love. Now here’s something you might not have thought about. Did you know the church is supposed to have some permanent external markings kind of like a birth mark or a tattoo. Markings that should easily distinguish us from any other organization in the world. When people see the mark “church” or the mark “Christian” there are some things that they should be able to assume about us because of what Scripture says about who we are supposed to be and how we are to treat each other. Two weeks ago we spent some time looking at one of the permanent marks: the mark of service. Specifically, we looked at how Christians should serve other Christians. Today we are going to look at another permanent mark of what it means to be a church and a Christian involved in a church: the mark of love and just like two weeks ago we are primarily going to focus in on how we love our fellow Christians within our own fellowship. Now remember, none of this is to say that we don’t love people who are not Christians or that we don’t love people who are outside of our fellowship, it is merely to focus in on the special sort of love we should have for one another within the confines of our local church body.
- How Does the World Know Us?- I think a good place for us to start this morning, before we start digging into what love should look like within the church, is to look at some of the ways the world sees us and by us I’m talking about the church in general. Tell someone you are a Christian and they probably have some opinion about the church based either on their own experiences, the experiences of others, or something they’ve heard about the church. Few people have a neutral opinion when it comes to the church. Some of these are not very positive, but most of the time those negative opinions are based off of real experiences. Experiences where someone came to a church and left with a bad taste in their mouth. So let’s briefly look at four opinions that you might encounter in your everyday life with regards to the church.
- Purveyors of Truth?- Those of you who were in church last week got a special treat. You got to hear most of the first sermon in a series from Tommy Nelson about the 1960s. One of the things he mentions is that before the 60s, there was a common set of cultural values rooted in a Judeo-Christian ethic. Now, that does not mean that all or even most of those people were Christians, but it does mean the culture had largely adopted that set of values as a cornerstone of morality and law. During those days the church enjoyed a position in the culture much different than today. Churches were largely seen as purveyors of the truth that undergirded the larger society. Some of you here today probably remember that reality. For many Christians, this remains the reality. We see the church as a trumpet proclaiming the truths of God’s Word. We rejoice when Scripture is rightly preached from a pulpit and from church classrooms. But do you think we enjoy the same place in society that we did 200 years ago? 100 years ago? Even 50 years ago? Decidedly not. So knowing that the culture at large does not see us as purveyors of truth, what are some of the attitudes out there in the culture about the church? Now, these are negative things but they are things we need be aware of.
- Peddlers of Lies?- This is essentially the polar opposite of the last point. As the culture has shifted and the cultural conscience is now shaped by voices other than the church, people now look at the standards of Scripture and laugh. They think it old fashioned and a bunch of lies passed on by gullible and backwards people for thousands of years. That might sound a bit harsh and you might be hard pressed to find people who will tell you that to your face, but if you spend a few minutes on the internet reading articles that uphold Biblical standards in the secular media and then you read the comment sections you will find an extreme level of vitriol leveled against people who espouse Christian beliefs. We might not see much of that attitude in rural Kansas but it is out there and it is important to know that there are people in America who see us as backwards and liars because we are called to minister to those people too.
- Pompous Hypocrites?- Sometimes people call us hypocrites. This one hurts because there is usually some history involved in the statement. I’ve often heard people call Christians hypocrites based upon a previous experience or the experience of a family member. People will often point to Jesus and say, “You claim to follow him but why aren’t you more like him?” Now, I know that many of us will cry foul and say we are imperfect! We are in the middle of our sanctification and we have not arrived yet! But the fact remains that there is a large segment of society who has seen a church that claims to believe one thing on Sunday and then turns around and lives another way Monday through Saturday.
- Permanently Divided?- The final one is the issue of division. Many people on the outside look at the church and they see us as permanently divided. Communities, especially small communities have a long memory, and church squabbles can seep out into our communities and tarnish our reputation for decades. For many people outside the church, this is their perception. The church is full of people who argue and bicker at the drop of the hat and too often it is not over issues that have eternal significance but rather over issues of personal preference or tertiary theological issues. I like to keep up with some popular Baptist blogs and one of the sure fire ways to get a contentious conversation going on in the comment section is to write about Calvinism. You will see Baptist brothers and sisters who all have high views of Scripture, affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, love Jesus, and desire to see the Gospel proclaimed to the corners of the globe form a circular firing squad and blast away at each other. Each harsh comment, each name called, each sarcastic remark only damaging our witness and ability to spread the Gospel as a united front. I read those debates and I leave shaking my head. Not because I don’t think it is an important theological discussion to have, but because if we can’t disagree in love and maintain a spirit of unity even among Southern Baptists how can we ever hope to change the perception that we are a divided house?
- How Should the World Know Us?- So that is how a lot of the world sees us. Before we go any further, it bears mentioning that the goal of the church is not to be popular in the eyes of the world. The goal of the church is to bring glory to God by advancing His kingdom. That is ultimately what drives us. It is not public opinion polls or the disparaging remarks of the media. Nevertheless, we do well to listen to what the world says about us because sometimes their critiques reveal places where we are legitimately weak and improving in those areas can help us with our kingdom mission. So with that in mind, I want to look at a few things that we should be known by. Instead of being known as hypocrites or perpetually divided, what are those characteristics we should be known by? Here are three things that we should strive for in our reputation:
- Love for God- Matthew 22:34-40- As Christians we should be a people known and marked by our first love. By first love I mean the relationship that bears the most weight in our lives. That should obviously be our love for God. It is God’s love for us while we were still sinners, his purchase of us by his sacrifice on the cross, and promise of eternal victory over Satan, sin, and death that drive our love for him. This is foundational for Christians and if we don’t have this relationship right we will be unable to function as the people God intends us to be. If we say we are Christians but God is not our first love, but rather it is a person or money or the comfort that is our first love, our motivations in life will be in service to whatever that first love is. So if we want to be able to love our fellow church members well, if we want to be able to love our community well, if we want to be able to love the lost on the other side of the world well, we must first love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
- Love for Neighbor- Matthew 22:34-40- Flowing directly out of that first commandment comes one that is probably much harder for us as Christians. There are times when I find it incredibly easy to worship and love God. When I look up at the sky on a clear, cold winter evening and see the stars overhead. I start to ponder the vastness of the universe and how great our God must be to have created such marvelous things. I find it easy to love God in moments like that. I find it easy to love God when I think about the gift of life. When I held my son for the first time I was very aware of God’s love for me and my love for him. Even in hard times, I find myself resting (sometimes with a lot of kicking and screaming) in God’s sovereignty. Trusting in his love for me and that he is working things out for his glory. But people. People are a different story. Where God never fails us, people do. Where God never leaves us, people do. Where God never lies, people do. Even those people we are the closest to will fail us. Anyone who has been married longer than thirty seconds knows their spouse is not perfect. Some of us have experienced friendships that become distant because of time or life leading us down different paths. And, let’s be honest, some people are just plain hard to love. They get on our last nerve. Each one of us probably knows someone who can push our buttons. Shoot, I’m probably that person for some of you! But Jesus says love your neighbor and not just love them, but love them as you love yourself. You know what that means? This means, essentially, that you treat other people the way you want to be treated. If you don’t like it when people snap at you, don’t snap at them. If you love it when someone checks up on you after a hard week, call someone you know has had a hard week and check up on them. Jesus gives us a command that is the epitome of common sense. It is so simple we teach it to little children: treat people how you want to be treated. Imagine if we all loved our neighbors like that! What would that do for the reputation of the church?
- Love for Each Other- John 13:33-35 Now that Jesus is gone how will the world know, understand, see, experience his love? For a few short years a small group of people had the indescribable privilege of walking with the Savior. They got to observe him as he ministered. They saw him confront hypocrites with the truth. They saw him calm deadly storms. They heard him call dead and rotting bodies back to life and from the depths of tombs. They watched as he cast out demons. They experienced his love, his discipline, and his mentorship. They watched him weep. They watched him laugh. They watched him sit with the undesirables of society. They watched him welcome curious children. It is impossible to overestimate the impact this time with Jesus must have had on the disciples as Jesus invested in their lives. Now in John, Jesus tells the disciples that the way the world will know his love after he is gone is by his disciples loving one another in the way that Jesus loved them. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples that the world would know them by beautiful church buildings, great music, Sunday School, VBS, church programs, regular worship attendance, dropping money in the offering plate, or anything of the sort. He told them that the world would recognize Christians first by how Christians love their fellow Christians. I can’t overstate the importance of this. Jesus clearly says that if we want to show people the love of Jesus the very first way we do that is by loving our fellow Christians as Jesus loved his disciples. Because Jesus no longer physically walks the world. Because he no longer physically models this love in the same way he did with his disciples. Jesus tells his disciples and us that we must now be the ones who model that love for the world. People should look at Christians, they should see how we love each other, and they should see a reflection of Jesus. This isn’t meant to build us up or make us feel overly important because we are simply mirroring the love that Jesus has shown us. We love each other in this way because he first loved us.
- Why Is Our Love for Fellow Christians Important? “The vertical love of disciples for the exalted Christ must be expressed horizontally in their love for all other Christians. Moreover, the horizontal love, which can be seen by everyone, is proof of the vertical dimension.” James Boice I think this quote really illustrates why it is so vital that Christians love one another. Is it okay for Christians to be mean, harsh, judgmental people? Sometimes we let ourselves off the hook and say, “Well, that’s just my personality. There are other people who can be loving.” Not so. Church, it does not matter how our personality predisposes us to act towards others. As Christians, our love for other believers is not supposed to be motivated by our personality. It is supposed to be reflection of God’s love for us. One of the ways Scripture teaches us to discern the true faith of a person is by the fruit they bear. If someone claims Christ but is always bitter, attacking, and negative towards others are they mirroring the love of Christ? It would not appear so. Church, it is vital for our witness in this community that we love each other well because if we can’t love each other well it shows that there is a problem with our vertical relationship, our relationship with God and that is a very serious problem.
- How Should We Love our Fellow Christians? 1 John 3:16-18- Now I want us to turn to I John and get really practical about how Christians are to love each other. Because, let’s be honest, it is really easy to talk about the concept of loving each other but it is a much different thing to see what that should look like in practice. John shows us three ways that Christians are to show their love for each other.
- Word- John tells that there is a problem when Christians say they are loving but in reality are not. That is loving in word only. As Christians we should love in word and also in deed and truth. We love in word by talking about how much we care about our fellow Christians. We love in word by talking about how much we love the church. We don’t say disparaging things about our fellow Christians. We don’t spread rumors in the church or community that will cause strife and disunity in the church. In other words, we should be a people where our actions and our words perfectly align. We should not be a people who acts in a loving fashion towards our neighbors but then talks about them behind their backs. We should not be a people who says that we love each other and love our neighbors but then never put hands and feet to those words. That brings us to the next point:
- Deed- We are to love in deed. This is the hands and feet of loving in word. It is not enough to merely state that you love someone or that you are a loving person or that we are a loving church. Our actions must bear that out. And the kind of love that John describes in this passage is a sacrificial love. A love modeled after the love of Jesus. When we love each other in deed it should be the kind of love that says, “Alright, I’ve got two hours on Saturday to put love into action.” It is a love that says even when we must sacrifice time, money, and resources that we will do it because it was with sacrificial love that Jesus loved us. You know, we talk sometimes about giving of our money sacrificially. About not just looking at our expenses each month and saying, “Well, I’ve paid the cable bill, the two car payments, the mortgage, the four credit cards, and I can afford to give God $20 this month.” That’s not how it supposed to work, right? When it comes to love we aren’t supposed to just give our leftovers, what we can “afford” to give. We are supposed give of ourselves sacrificially.
- Truth- Loving in truth is basically the one that looks at the heart. You can love in word and deed and still have a heart full of bitterness. John says that is not acceptable. We need to love in word, deed, and truth. Our love needs to come out of a heart that is desiring to reflect the love of Jesus towards others. We might be the most “loving” people on the outside but if our heart is not right it is like telling a lie every time you do something that is supposed to be loving towards another person.
- Conclusion- 1 Corinthians 13- I want to conclude this morning by reading one of the most well-known passages in Scripture about love. It is probably so well-known because it is often read at weddings and while it is a great passage to read at weddings it is worth remembering that Paul was writing to Christians in Corinth. The church there was facing a lot of struggles and infighting and Paul chose to include a lengthy section in his letter about what love should look like for Christians. So let’s read that together.
- Jesus is love- Ultimately, all the statements Paul makes about love are rooted in Jesus. I want us to do a little practical exercise here. In verses 4-7 I want us to put the name Jesus where the word “love” appears in the passage. I’d never seen that little exercise until I read it in a commentary this week and I thought it was really neat.
- We are to love like Jesus- But now I want us to do something else. Since we are supposed to love like Jesus loved and mirror his love, I want us to put our name where the word “love” appears. Let’s try that. Is that as convicting for you as it is for me? It really makes a difference when you put your own name in there and you realize, “Yeah, I can be pretty resentful sometimes.” Or “Yeah, sometimes I’m not exactly kind.” But church, we are supposed to love like Jesus and show the world that love by how we live it out with our fellow believers. When the world sees us and our love, are they seeing Jesus?
- I want to leave you this morning with a quote from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer:
“The church is to judge whether a man is a Christian on the basis of his doctrine, the propositional content of his faith, and then his credible profession of faith.
But we cannot expect the world to judge that way, because the world cares nothing about doctrine. And that is especially true in the second half of the 20th century when, on the basis of their epistemology, men no longer believe even in the possibility of absolute truth. And if we are surrounded by a world which no longer believes in the concept of truth, certainly we cannot expect people to have any interest in whether a man’s doctrine is correct or not.
But Jesus did give the mark that will arrest the attention of the world. What is it? The love that true Christians show for each other and not just for their own party.”
~ Francis Schaeffer “The Mark of The Christian”