IN THE MEANTIME—LOVE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 23, 2009
How do we live grace in the meantime?
- By learning to love [John 14:15; 1 Corinthians 13:13]
- By living like crazy [John 14:21,23-24; Romans 6:15-18]
- By running the race with grace [John 14:25-27; Acts 20:22-24]
As our video clip revealed, Charles Goodyear understood learning and living like crazy. For years he turned his wife’s kitchen into a science lab in pursuit of his goal to galvanize rubber. And though he wasn’t financially successful according to how the world would look at it, he kept his faith in God and ran the race of his life with grace. And because he did, our world is dramatically different today. As we approach Memorial Day this year, which reminds us of sacrifice and offering, it couldn’t be more appropriate that we too take some time to look back and remember the extraordinary sacrifice and love Jesus offered His disciples in that upper room. Only hours later He would show them the full extent of His love by dying on the cross.
During our current sermon series, based on John 14 and 15, we’ve been asking ourselves “How do we live grace in the meantime?” The disciples were learning how to do that in the looming shadow of the cross. We’re learning how to live grace in the light of the 2nd Advent. And if like the disciples and later followers of Jesus like Charles Goodyear, we learn to love and live like crazy, we too will be able to do so in remembrance of Jesus. Hopefully, you’ll see how Scripture says this, so please open your Bibles to John 14:15-31.
15"If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." 22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" 23Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He 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. 25"All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 28"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave.”
So how do we live grace in the meantime? Point number one: By learning to love. Verse 15 says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Some authors point out, somewhat accusingly, that the laws God gave His people at Sinai contained 613 rules. They feel sorry for the “poor” Israelites who labored under the weight of such a multitude of laws in contrast to the glorious freedom of the New Testament where people are called simply to love God and their neighbors as themselves. However, learning to love I think involves re-thinking the way we relate to law. Whether they’re the 10 Commandment laws or civil laws or the greatest laws Jesus described in Matthew 22:37-40 to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s important for us to re-think how love relates to law for a few reasons. The first reason is because it was Jesus who made the laws and gave them to us in the first place! This comes as a surprise to some Christians. But it’s what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 10 when it says that Jesus was the one leading the children of Israel through the wilderness. Additionally, the Bible writers use Jesus and the name of YHWH interchangeably because they want the reader to understand they believe it was the pre-incarnate Christ was who was giving them these laws. So that’s just a common sense reason.
A second reason Christians need to re-think how love relates to law is because love has always been the motivation for keeping them. This too is surprising to some Christians. Because they portray the Old Testament believer’s motivation for obedience as ‘an obligation to numerous specific laws’ in contrast to the New Testament motivation ‘from a response to the living Christ.’ But the Bible does not portray it that way at all. Instead, love was always the basis for keeping His commands. Deuteronomy 5:10 and Exodus 20:6 for example include this phrase “Showing love [hesed, ‘mercy’ NKJV] to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Now saying that doesn’t deny that there are some passages in Deuteronomy and Exodus, for example, that contain more threatening sounding statements either embedded in them or associated with them. I still don’t understand how lighting a fire or collecting sticks on the Sabbath is worthy of the death penalty! But 1 Corinthians 13:12 comforts my questions by reminding me that “Now I know in part; then I shall know in full.” In the meantime, what I’ve learned is that such threatening statements warning people away from behaviors God deemed as at-risk were not understood by people then and are not understood by Jews today as statements from a cruel master threatening to punish his slaves for any slight infraction of his whimsical and irrational commands. But rather, they understand them to mean God’s parental way of showing love to His children. So maybe we should try seeing them that way too.
This became more obvious to me recently as I’m reading a great little book called Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. Chapter 12 entitled “Jesus and the Torah” is worth the price of the book alone. In it the authors, one of whom is Jewish, describes that love was the essence of the Torah [or first five books of the Old Testament]. And that both before and after the times of Jesus, the rabbis were fascinated by the same question relating to love: ‘What is the greatest principle of the Torah?’ They were looking for the one abiding principle that would embody all of the rest. Quoting the Shema, which is a word that means “hear” but implies “obey”, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 in Matthew 22 talking about loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.
Later the Talmud records a conversation in which the rabbis used key scriptures to summarize the 613 commandments of law as they counted them into fewer and fewer precepts, and finally into only one. Micah, they said, reduced the law to just three things: ‘Act justly...love mercy, and walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8]. Isaiah reduced it to two: ‘Maintain justice and do what it is right’ [Isaiah 56:1]. And finally Amos and Habakkuk reduced it to one: ‘Seek the Lord and live’ [Amos 5:6] or ‘The righteous will live by faith [Hababkkuk 2:4].
So what’s the point? The point is love was what motivated all that law in the Old Testament. Both love of God for man. And love of God from man. And for years, we as Christians have missed this. But that’s not all we’ve missed. We’ve also missed all the love for law in the New Testament. And this is the third reason we need to re-think how love relates to the law. Because one reading of the New Testament looking for the commandments it contains will find over nine hundred direct commands and three hundred indirect commands! True, some of them are repeated for emphasis, but that’s the stats. I’ve got a handout on this. If you want a copy, see me afterward and I’ll give it to you.
In fact, there are so many commandments in the New Testament that Paul joked about it in Galations 5:23! After giving a list of sixteen “acts of the sinful nature” that, if habitually committed, will not allow people “to inherit the kingdom of God”, he gave a beautiful list of positive qualities that are the “fruit of the Spirit” [love, joy, peace, etc.]. And then he added this meant to be funny line in Galations 5:23, “Against such things there is no law.” Paul made a joke!
But in case you think the New Testament consequences of breaking any of those laws are just as funny, think again! Take some time to look at some of these New Testament texts with consequences proving the New Testament takes law just as seriously as the Old [all of which are also on the handout so don’t bother trying to write them all down]. Matthew 5:19; Colossians 3:25; Romans 2:9; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:3,5-6; 1 Peter 3:10-12; Romans 2:5; James 5:12; Luke 13:5; Matthew 18:6; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 2:22-23; Revelation 6:1-8; Hebrews 10:26-31; Matthew 13:50; Revelation 21:9; Hebrews 10:29]. No wonder Hebrews 10:31 says “31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
But remember, the warnings of the New Testament are meant to be understood in the same way the Old Testament curses were understood by people then. As preliminary judgments and consequences intended to wake us up, lead us to repentance, and move us toward a loving relationship with God. That’s why Paul says in Romans 2:4 says, “4Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?” And adds in Galations 3:24 that the law’s job is to “lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”
So legalism cannot be correlated with the number or nature of law in the Old or New Testament. Because one could legalistically obey just Jesus’ command to love God and your neighbor as yourself just as easily as any of us could legalistically observe the Sabbath. 1 Timothy 1:8 says “We know that the law is good—if one uses it properly.” The problem is not with the law. The problem is with our use of law. And how we have divorced it from love. That’s what I hear Jesus saying in John 14:15. “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
But in order to do that, we must learn to love. Even if that means re-thinking how we relate to law in the Old Testament or New. If you want more info on this, I recommend you read Skip MacCarty’s fascinating book In Granite or Ingrained? And in the meantime, remember these words found in 1 Corinthians 13:13. “13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Always has been. Always will be.
Moving on, John 14:21 adds these words, “21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Please understand this verse isn’t saying God only loves you like crazy if you’re good. There are way too many texts like John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 that say otherwise. And this verse isn’t saying God will only reveal himself to those who obey Him. We talked about that a couple weeks ago when we discovered that God loves slum dogs in India and orphans in Africa and hookers at truck stops. No, the good news is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Romans 5:8]! All who come to Jesus will never be turned away [John 6:37]! And that He reveals Himself to all of us regardless of where we’re born [Romans 1:20]. So I think this verse is simply saying that God will reveal even more of Himself to you when you sincerely obey Him because doing so will place you in a position of even more receptivity to God than ever before. Why? Because more of God is revealed to us when we reveal more of us to Him!
It’s like that line by dc Talk in their song “My Will” which goes: “I’m learning to give up / The rights to myself / The bits and the pieces / I’ve gathered as wealth / Could never compare to / The joy that you bring me / The peace that you show me / Is the strength that I need.”
How do we live grace in the meantime? By learning to love. And re-thinking how our sincere obedience fits in with law and love. That’s point number one. And this is point number two: We live grace by living like crazy. And it will feel crazy to turn the other cheek [Matthew 5:39]! To esteem others higher than yourself [Philippians 2]. To race to reconcile [Ephesians 4:26-27]. To live justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God [Micah 6:8]. It will feel at first like door mat religion. Like everybody is dumping on you. But you know what? It won’t always feel that way! Because we will learn to love and live like crazy! Jesus said in John 14:31, “But the world must learn that I love the Father and I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
If Jesus had to learn to love and live like crazy [cf. Hebrews 5:8], what makes you think you won’t? So in the meantime, it might be uncomfortable for a while. Especially as we fall short of the glory of God. And will continue to do so according to Philippians 1:6 until the day Jesus literally comes again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t re-think the way we feel about it. And choose to start looking at the paradoxical commandments of God’s as a blessing not a curse.
That’s what a 19 year old Harvard student started doing 30 years ago when he first penned what he thought would be a little booklet on leadership entitled "The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians." Since then, Dr. Kent Keith’s book Jesus Did It Anyway and specifically the 10 commandments gleaned form the pages of that book have been shared far and wide. Mother Teresa even hung them up in her home for the destitute and dying in Kolkata, India. Each of you can have a copy of these if you pick up the handout after church today. So don’t try to write them all down. Here they are:
1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Aren’t those great? Since he wrote those, I understand he added an 11th commandment based on the Old Testament prophetic book of Habakkuk. The world is full of violence, injustice, starvation, disease, and environmental destruction. Have faith anyway. But here’s the thing about living like crazy: Rightly understood, we can only do so when we understand that God loves us like crazy. Which is why I keep telling you that! Because all of us will be tempted to doubt that! Especially when we aren’t obeying better. Changing faster. Or becoming more like Jesus.
That’s when we need to remember that Deuteronomy was primarily about love not law. Maybe you knew this, but I didn’t. I wasn’t aware until recently that in the book of Deuteronomy, the word “love” referring to God’s love for His people or their need to love Him and others occurs more times in Deuteronomy than in any other book of the Bible except Psalms, Hosea, John, and 1 John. Did you know that? Isn’t that cool? Three of the most loving books in the Bible are in the Old Testament and one of them is Deuteronomy!
Not only that, but the command to love God and one another has been rooted in all of God’s covenants with humanity from the beginning including all the laws given at Sinai. In fact, prior to Sinai, the word love only appears 5 times. Here's where:
1. Jacob asked Esau for the meat he loved [liked in NIV but ‘ahab’ / love in Hebrew] in Genesis 27:4,9.
2. Jacob’s seven-year labor for Rachel seemed like a few days, so strong was his love for her [Genesis 29:20].
3. When Leah bore Jacob’s son, she hoped she had thereby gained Jacob’s love for her according to Genesis 29:32.
4. God asked Abraham to to sacrifice the son he loved according to Genesis 22:2
5. And Joseph’s brothers testify to their father’s love for Benjamin in Genesis 44:20.
That’s it. That’s the list of love. Until Sinai rolls around. After which love and law gets forever mingled in the minds of the people, rabbis, and even couples getting married to this day. So we may need to re-think how love relates to law. If we really want to live like crazy. Because God loves us like crazy! And we can choose to believe the Bible instead of how we feel about the confusing portions of the Bible. Because Romans 1:5 says, “5Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”
The Bible says grace leads us to repentance [Romans 2:4] and obedience [Romans 1:5]. Not the other way around. So if you want your kids and grandkids to obey better, you need to preach more grace and less law. But at the same time, you need to live like crazy sincerely obeying law, not so sin would abound, so that grace will abound! Romans 6:15-18 says it this way: “15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
You see what I mean? It’s got nothing to do with the number or nature of law. Because each of us can legalistically keep one or a hundred and one. It’s got everything to do with how we respond to law that determines whether we’re slaves to sin or righteousness. Yes, God loves you like crazy! But once you know that, He’s also calling you to live like crazy! And you might as well try to do so because the Bible says we’re gonna be a slave [or servant in Greek] to one or the other! Everybody has a devotional life. We’re all devoted to something. And that something will either lead us to more sin or more righteousness. So as crazy as it sounds, choose righteousness! That’s Paul’s point. But specifically how do we choose righteousness? What makes the changes happen in us when we live like crazy? That’s the subject of John 15 so come back for that next time.
But Paul understood that choosing righteousness is simple but not easy. In Acts 20:22-24, he’s leaving Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem not knowing what will happen to him when he gets there. He knows living like crazy means that prison and hardships are facing him. But he’s not worried about his life on earth. In verses 24-25 he says, “24However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.”
Paul didn’t always do this. If you read the beginning of Acts, you can read how he used to be the one killing Christians for living like crazy. Which Jesus had warned his disciples about in John 16:2. But now, like Charles Goodyear would many years later, Paul is passionately and sincerely living to please God. He’s running the race with grace. And that’s what Jesus was doing too. In John 14:31 he said, “Come now; let us leave.” Let’s get on with it. And that’s what we should do too. How do we live grace in the meantime? By learning to love. And re-thinking it’s relationship to law. That’s point number one. By sincerely living like crazy. Point number two. And by running the race with grace. Which is point number three. I hope and pray these are every American’s desires this Memorial Day. Do this, Jesus tells all His disciples, in remembrance of Me.