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Posts Tagged ‘love’

Today I want us to focus on “How we should relate to one another” in our congregation.

God doesn’t just call and work through individuals. He has called us to be in community; a part of the people of God. That’s how God has always worked. Being in a community together has many advantages –

  • we can accomplish more together
  • we can support one another, and
  • we complement each other with our different gifts as the body of Christ

For these reasons and more to be a Christian means to be a part of the church. It means to be plugged into and active in a local congregation.

But it is also true that being in community with one another can be challenging. Misunderstandings, different personalities and points of view can lead to conflict and pain. But God uses this. This is a part of God’s purpose for having us be together, and not just off all by ourselves serving God independently. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our interactions with each other are meant to make us better.

God puts us together, as different as we are to stretch us and to teach us what love is really all about. And you can’t learn this unless you are in relationships with others. And I dare say in relationship with people who are different than you are. And like all love, this can be painful.

The problem is that when we experience relationship difficulties we too often respond in inappropriate ways, which compounds the situation. We do what comes naturally to us – in our human weakness and self-centeredness. Things like gossip, slander, always thinking we are right, always wanting our way, holding on to resentments and negative attitudes, being mean, being cliquish, being impatient,   being hard-hearted. The list could go on and on.

We have all seen or experienced or even practiced these kinds of things. (It’s amazing what can happen in churches.) And because of this and the pain it brings, many draw back and don’t want to be a part. And thus God’s purpose is defeated.

And so we need to be reminded, not of what comes naturally to us in the flesh; we need to be reminded of what comes supernaturally to us by the Word of God and the Spirit of God working in our hearts – to care for each other in our relationships with one another.

And to remind us of what this looks like and to challenge us to be this way with each other I want us to look at the “one another” passages this morning. These are various verses in the New Testament that have the phrase “one another” or “each other” and which tell us how we are to relate as brothers and sisters in the Lord. (These are most of the positive exhortations that have to do with two Greek words that mean – “one another” or “each other.” [αλληλων; ῾εαυτου. The latter is marked by an asterisk.])

 I have arranged them into several categories. As we go through these I want you to think about how these might apply to you, and how you relate to others in our fellowship. Where might God be challenging you this morning? Who might you need to make things right with?

1. We are to love one another

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – John 13:34. Love means acting for the well-being of another. And in this verse Jesus gives us himself as an example. We are to love one another just as Jesus loved us. That is, we are to lay down our lives for one another. We are to sacrifice for the good of one another.

Several other verses also speak to this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7. “Love one another with brotherly affection.” – Romans 12:10. Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

Do we love one another? It’s not about just words or feeling, but about how we treat one another.

2. We are to welcome one another

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” – Romans 15:7. The context here is that of Jews and Gentiles getting along in the church at Rome. Although from very different backgrounds they are to accept each other as fellow believers.

Closely related to this is “Show hospitality to one another.” – 1 Peter 4:9. Hospitality means to be warm and friendly, to make room for someone, to include that person, even if they are different.

Do we welcome one another? Are we warm and friendly with one another?

3. We are to bear one another’s burdens

 Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2. The context here is that of gently correcting each other if we fall into transgression. This is a way of showing our concern for one another. As James 5:19-20 says, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death . . .”

But certainly bearing burdens can cover working with all kinds of needs. We are to help one another with our life burdens. The law of Christ is the commandment, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

4. We are to be at peace with one another

 Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another.”  Mark 9:50. The context here is in part that Jesus’ disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Not only does he tell them that to be great you must be the servant of all, he tells them to be at peace with one another.

Other verses that speak to this: Live in harmony with one another.” – Romans 12:16. Be at peace *with each other.1 Thessalonians 5:13 (own translation).

Are we living in peace with one another? Do we work through our disagreements and conflicts? Being at peace doesn’t mean pretending that we get along. It means working through things with love and respect for one another, so that our relationships are whole and life-giving.

5. We are to serve one another

 Through love serve one another.” – Galatians 5:13

 A similar verse applies this to using our spiritual gifts to serve each other – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve *one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10.

6. We are to bear with one another

. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love . . ..” – Ephesians 4:2. This means to put up with, to tolerate or to endure. If you are married you know that even those couples that love each other the most still have to do this in areas. Here it has to do with the weaknesses in another believer or the things they say and do that might rub you the wrong way.

How are you doing with this?

7. We are to be kind with one another

 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” – Ephesians 4:32. That is, don’t be hard hearted, but rather mild, generous or considerate.

8. We are to forgive one another

Our previous verse goes on to say, “. . . forgiving *one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32. When someone has wronged you, choose to love them, and seek to work through it, and when they make things right, restore the relationship.

9. We are to be humble before one another

 Peter says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” – 1 Peter 5:5.

A specific example of this comes from Paul, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” – Romans 12:10. Lift up your brother and sisters in the Lord. It’s like a competition,  not for praise, but to give honor and praise to others.

10. We are to teach one another

 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing *one another in all wisdom.” – Colossians 3:16. We are to share with one another of what God has taught us. To admonish is to teach in a way that warns and corrects.

 Along these lines the writer of Hebrews says, “But exhort *one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13.

11. We are to pray for one another

James says, “Pray for one another.” – James 5:16. We are to care for each other by lifting lift up each other’s concerns before the Lord that he might give grace and help in their time of need.

Do you pray for others among us during the week?

12. We are to confess our sins to one another

Our previous verse in its entirety says, “Confess your sins to one another pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16. Certainly this means that we confess our sins to the one we have wronged. And it could, when appropriate, mean confessing our sins more broadly than this. This all requires vulnerability before others and honesty.

And then we pray for healing for the person from any discipline the Lord may have allowed them to go through, because of their sin. Once the sin is dealt with, the discipline can be lifted.

13. We are to do good to one another

 Paul says, “Always seek to do good to one another.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15. He says just before this that we are certainly not to repay evil for evil, or harm for harm to one another. You know, “I’m going to get them back!” Rather we are always to do good to each other.

14. We are to encourage one another

Paul says, “Encourage one another and build one another up.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11. To encourage means to instill someone with courage; to cheer them up, to comfort them. Close in meaning to this is the word “build up,” which means to strengthen or to make more able.

Similarly, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” – Hebrews 10:24. The idea is that we can become complacent or lazy and so we are to act to get each other focused and moving forward.

So here are 14 ways we are to relate to one another:

  1. Love one another
  2. Welcome one another
  3. Bear one another’s burdens
  4. Be at peace with one another
  5. Serve one another
  6. Bear with one another
  7. Be kind to one another
  8. Forgive one another
  9. Be humble before one another
  10. Teach one another
  11. Pray for one another
  12. Confess our sins to one another
  13. Do good to one another
  14. Encourage one another

How are you doing? Do you need to make some changes?

Let the power of God’s Word work in your heart and mind to show you the way. And ask the Spirit to come in power to change your heart in any way that might be needed, so that our relationships with each other will be strong and pleasing to God in every way. And so that we can work here together in unity to do God’s work.

May our relationships be so full of Christian love that people can sense it when they come in to worship with us. May God make this so.

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We’re talking about resentments today and how we need to deal with them. We have all been in situations where we weren’t treated right and have been tempted to become resentful – maybe it was with a family member, a friend, neighbors, co-workers or even fellow church members. And certainly as we move forward as a congregation we want to be united in mind and heart and have no residual resentments in our midst that might hinder God from working among us and through us.

A little exercise. I want you to look at everyone that is seated around you. Now look at me. If I may, let me say, this message is for you – and not for them. So don’t think to yourself, “I hope so and so is listening up! I’ll be waiting for their apology.” Let’s each examine our own lives and hearts this morning, in the light of God’s Word. What is God calling me to do? This is the right focus.

We begin with the question – 

What is resentment?

I believe this is a good short definition, “to continue to hold something against someone.” The basic idea comes out in a couple of verses that talk about forgiveness:

  • Jesus uses the phrase – “if you have anything against anyone.” – Mark 11:25
  • Paul says it this way- “if one has a complaint against another” – Colossians 3:13

Now, listen carefully. It is natural to have something against someone, if they have wronged you. That’s how we are made. We are moral creatures. It is the continuing to hold onto it, instead of dealing with it in a biblical way that is the key. That’s what these verses are talking about. 

When we continue to hold onto it, it becomes a grudge, a vendetta, a point of bitterness – what I am calling “a resentment.”

Let’s break this down some more by looking at –  

The three parts of resentment

When we are wronged, 1. we have a sense of unfairness; of injustice. We rightly feel that the other person owes us for what they have done.

2. This then leads to ill feelings, especially anger. Again, it is natural to have anger when you are wronged. But as Christians we have to be very careful what we do with our anger. Anger is meant to motivate us to act; it is meant to lead us to deal with the situation and to deal with it in a biblical way – face to face with the offender, in gentleness and so forth.

But when we don’t deal with the situation and find some kind of resolution – and most of us would rather jump off a cliff than deal with hurt and conflict face to face with someone; when we don’t deal with the situation in a biblical way, our anger, as it were, spoils within us and becomes a well-spring of resentment in our heart. And this leads to other ill feelings such as hatred and we eventually end with hard-heartedness.

3. Finally, these ill feelings manifest themselves in expressions of judgment and punishment. Some typical examples of this include: avoiding the person, cutting off the relationship, talking the person down (slander, gossip), criticizing and fault finding, verbal attacks and worse.

You move into punishing mode. You haven’t found resolution to your fundamental sense of unfairness and anger, so consciously, or not you take things into your own hands and are busy getting back at them.

Now, that we have looked at what resentment is, I want you to think for a moment, is anyone coming to mind that you have a resentment against? Keep that person before you as we move on.

The message today is that – 

We need to release our resentments

Instead of holding onto resentment and acting out on others in punishing mode,  Scripture teaches us that we are to choose love and forgiveness. Let’s look at how this works in three specific scenarios:

1. Someone wrongs you, but it’s not a big offense. It’s not a big deal. Here you can simply choose to overlook it. That is, just let it go. You don’t hold it against them.

Now if you find you can’t do this; that you have abiding anger, resentment or bitterness – then this is a sign you need to deal with the situation. But if not, just choose to let it go; release it.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” This is an act of love on your part.

2. A second scenario. Someone wrongs you and the person isn’t seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Let’s say you have gone to them, as the Scriptures teach (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3), but they are unrepentant. In this case, you are to release the resentment and choose to walk in love. Release it into God’s hands. This is absolutely key. Give your anger over to God who will sort everything out and right all wrongs. Trust God to take care of this so you don’t need to take up the issue of payback or go into punishing mode.  

What you are really doing here is loving an enemy. For an enemy is precisely someone who harms you and has no repentance. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” – Luke 6:27-28 (NIV). So we return good for harm in all these examples. Instead of anger and punishing behaviors, we show them love.And we pray for them.

And I can testify that doing good to an enemy and praying for them can change our towards those who have harmed us. 

Now it is really hard to love an enemy. This is one-way love – from you to them. But it is a choice that we make, enabled by God’s grace.

In this scenario, even though the relationship is currently broken, our goal for the relationship is ultimately full forgiveness and reconciliation (two-way love), although this can only happen when they want this also, and when the issues are fairly dealt with.

3. Someone wrongs you and the person is repentant and is seeking forgiveness. Let’s say you have gone to them as the Scriptures teach or they have come to you as the Scriptures teach (Matthew 5:23-24) and the person is sorry and wants to make things right and commits to treat you right from now on. So things are dealt with, which should address the issue of your anger. In this case, you are to release the resentment and forgive so that the relationship can be restored.

Sometimes we still don’t want to. We want to hold onto our resentment and continue in punishing mode. But Scripture is clear on our need to forgive. Indeed, this is the situation that is addressed in most if not all passages that talk about the need to forgive.

  • “If your brother . . . repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3
  •  “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone . . .” – Mark 11:25
  • “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” This is a portrait of resentment. Rather we are to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” -Ephesians 4:31-32
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other . . .” – Colossians 3:12-13 

Now this can be hard, but it is a choice that we make, whether we feel like it or not. The feelings will come later with God’s help. Sometimes we will have to continue to choose to release the resentment, because the temptation is always to take it back – even after a reconciliation has been reached. You have to let it go and don’t take it up again.  

Let me end by giving you –

Several reasons why you should release your resentments and choose instead love and forgiveness

 You are only a forgiven wrongdoer yourself. How can you hold resentment, when God has released his resentment against you, loved you and has now forgiven you? That’s why we are to forgive “one another, as God in Christ forgave you” – Ephesians 4:32. We have no ground to stand on to hold onto resentments we who only live by God’s grace and mercy.

Resentment will destroy you. No doubt you have heard the saying, “resentment is the poison you drink hoping for the other person to die.” But they don’t and it only destroys you. It poisons you.

  • It takes away your joy and peace. As Paul says about those who need to forgive, your life will be characterized by things like “bitterness” “wrath” “anger” “clamor” “slander” “malice” – Ephesians 4:31.
  • It will make you a slave of the person, the wrong, the situation that you are bitter about as you continually replay it in your mind.
  • It will make you self-focused as you think about how badly you have been treated – me, me, me. You become self-absorbed.

It twists and distorts us from being who God want us to be, into a negative, bitter person, walking around with a cloud over our head. So for your own sake get the poison out. Enter into the peace and joy that God wants for you  to have.  Choose love and forgiveness and be free!

Resentment will destroy your relationships with others. Everyone will fail us at some point. So if you can’t release your resentments your relationships with family, friends and fellow church members will remain weak, damaged or broken. And you will end up isolated and lonely.

To have strong relationships you need real love. And as Paul said “love is not resentful” – 1 Corinthians 13:5.

Resentment will destroy your relationship with God. This is the most serious and dangerous thing of all. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” What a great promise. But hear the warning as well – “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” – Matthew 6:14-15.

 

What resentments do you need to release this morning?

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“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We are talking about loving one another today and we are looking at 1 John 4:7-11. But I want to begin with a different passage. Turn if you will to 2 Peter 1:12-15. Peter has just spoken about several godly qualities, culminating in brotherly affection and love. He says, “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”

Well, in the same way, a good part of my job in standing up here Sunday after Sunday is not to teach you new things, but to remind you of what you already know and to encourage you and to stir you up to do what you already know. Can you imagine what the church worldwide would be like if we all did what we already know! If you want revival, if you want spiritual renewal this is the place to start. Put into practice what you already know – the Spirit is waiting for us to get on board.

The call to love one another

As our text says so simply, and to the point, “let us love one another.” And even though we have heard and know this message, I would remind us again this morning sisters and brothers, “let us love one another.”

The writers of the New Testament constantly remind us of this call to love:

  • 1 Peter 1:22 – “love one another earnestly from a pure heart”
  • 1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, keep loving one another” earnestly”
  • Hebrews 13:1 – “Let brotherly love continue”
  • Philippians 1:9 – “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more”
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:10 – “But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do this – love one another – more and more”
  • Galatians 5:13 – “through love serve one another”
  • Romans 12:9-10 – “Let love be genuine. . . Love one another with brotherly affection.”
  • Romans 13:8 – “Owe no one anything, except to love each other”
  • 1 John 3:16 – “we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters”

All these calls to to love should lead us to ask –

What does it mean to love?

Our passage in 1 John 4:9-10 helps us with this. It says “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the *atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

We see from this passage that love acts for the good of another. God acted “so that we might live.” God acted, not to tear down or harm us, but to help and bless us; to give us life. We also learn that love does this even at great cost. These verses tell us that God “sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice” for us; his “only Son” – v. 9. God sacrificed for us. He gave up what was most precious to him. It cost him. And finally, love takes the initiative. God didn’t wait for us to love him first. That wasn’t going to happen. Despite our lack of love for him, “God sent his Son” – v. 9, v. 10.

And we are to emulate this love that God displays toward us in our love for one another. As v. 11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We also are to act for the good of one another – not to tear down or harm each other, but to build each other up and to pour life into each other. We also are to love each other sacrificially, and not hold back when it requires our time, our patience and our commitment. And we also are to take the initiative to love even if our brother and sister doesn’t seem to love us. To cross boundaries and to reach out to them. We are to love other just as God has loved us.

Let me end this morning with –

An encouragement to love each other

Not because we don’t have love, we do. I see it in how we care for each other in difficult times. And I see it in how so many give of their time and talents to serve so that our congregation works and even thrives. I encourage you this morning, because we all need to grow in our love. And perhaps, if any have set love aside so that your heart is cold and hard towards another, I encourage you to allow God to come in and give you a new heart full of love for one another; a heart that is warm; a heart that is soft and sensitive.

Let us love one another when we have disagreements or fail each other. This means going to the person we have a problem with, as Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18:15. Now judging by our practice this is not a popular teaching, because hardly anyone practices it. But it is still God’s will and his servants choose to follow him. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” And we are to do this not to blast the other person, but to work things out and be reconciled; the goal is restored relationships.

This means not going to other people instead, in order to slander or gossip or tear each other down. Rather as Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Do your words give grace?

This is what love means when we have disagreements and fail each other.

Let us love one another in bearing with each other. We all have weaknesses, personality traits that can rub someone the wrong way, differences of opinion and so forth. And these can all lead us away from each other. Love, however, binds us together despite our differences. Paul says in Colossians 3:14, “And above all . . . put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And remember 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7 – “Love is patient and kind . . . Love bears all things.” Love puts up with a lot because we care about each other and want the best for each other.

This is what love means in the midst of our differences.

Let us love one another by welcoming each other.  Paul says in Romans 15:7, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you . . ..” Paul says this to Jews and Gentiles, two groups that were very different and had a history of animosity and hatred in many cases. In the same way, whatever different groups we come from or different backgrounds we have – Christ has welcomed us all to come to him. And if he has done this for us, we are to do it for each other – even if they are from a different race or are poor or rich, or are rural or urban, or if their politics are different. Just as Christ has welcomed us so we are to welcome them and embrace them as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

This is what love means when we come from different backgrounds and different places in life.

And so, in all these ways and more, sisters and brothers, “let us love one another.”

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Series on witness

Last week we began looking at ways that any one of us can reach out – no special gifts or callings needed. Remember with me the first five:

Live a faithful Christian life. Let your light shine so that others can see God’s work in your life and give glory to God.

Share what God has done for you. Look for ways to share your story and how God has blessed you. Not just when you first became a Christian but also what God is doing in your life today.

Pray for the lost. Ask God to put specific people on your heart that you can regularly pray for.

Pray for outreach workers,that God will raise people up to minister to the lost, even from our congregation.

Support those that are called to reach out. Give financially so they can fulfill their calling and encourage and pray for them.

Today we continue on with yet more ways each one of us can reach out. And the first is to –

Build relationships with the lost

Sometimes long-time Christians are hindered from reaching out because all their friends are fellow believers. They don’t have a lot of connections with the lost. This certainly wasn’t true of Jesus. Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

Now this comes to us in part as a complaint from his critics, but it is true. Jesus was around the lost, and while he was with them in genuine relationship with them, he engaged them with the gospel. It says, they wanted to hear him. Are you open to this? The lost are all around us, but are you open to being in relationship? It’s easier to just hang out with fellow believers. But as Jesus said, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12).

In my former church we began a ministry to the homeless in our area. And I met tons of people, both Christian and non-Christian. And we would eat together and get to know each other and talk about needs and spiritual things. And my family and I formed relationships with some that last to this day.

But you don’t have to do this. Just be open to whoever God brings across your path. And even take the initiative.

Make use of outreach opportunities at church

Paul says in Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (NIV) This verse obviously applies very broadly. But it certainly applies to the point that one of the easiest ways to share your faith is by inviting people to church. This isn’t the end goal, of course, but it can lead to the goal of someone discovering new life in Jesus.This is using wisdom to take advantage of opportunities in relation to outsiders.

  • So come to VBS and invite children to come
  • Come to VBS follow-up and meet the families of the children.
  • Come to events like our recent block party and invite others to come.
  • Come to our upcoming Christmas activities – wreath making, Christmas caroling, and invite others.
  • Come and invite people to our Sunday services

*Think for a moment, who might you invite? Maybe it’s the same person or persons whom God has put on your heart to pray for.

Did you know that 66% of the people that come to church come because a friend has invited them or brought them along with them. This is by far the highest percentage. For instance only 8% come from a pastor’s efforts; only ¼% from evangelistic crusades.

Along these same lines . . .

Show hospitality to those who visit

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells the church he addresses in chapter 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” We are to be loving, warm and welcoming to every single person who comes to our church, whatever their background might be.

Now we have a hospitality ministry team that works at this and I am grateful for them, but everyone needs to be involved.

According to the experts a person decides if they like a church and will come back within their first 11 minutes. So take the initiative, get to know people, learn their names, find out some things about them, connect them with other people in the congregation, invite them over for dinner.

*Are there people here today, or maybe who have been coming for a while that you still don’t know their names? This is something to work on so that we can be a more hospitable congregation.

Serve others in Jesus’ name

Jesus said in John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He is talking about laying down his life for others on the cross. And when he did this it bore much fruit in that so many have come to salvation based on seeing the love of Jesus on the cross for them.

And we are to take up our cross and serve others. Give of your time, your talents to serve and bless others. Lay down your lives to help others. And when we do this it too will bear much fruit. People respond when they see such love.

*Some of you have been working at this and I am so thankful. But we still have opportunities to serve here in SW Chambersburg. Denise has put together some action cards, some of which have to do with serving and others with sharing. You can look at these after the service. What might God lead you to do?

And then finally,

Love one another

This is our corporate witness as a congregation. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It’s not common to see real love for others – especially beyond family or friends. But we are to love each other deeply from the heart. We are to give our lives for each other by ministering to each other’s needs, sacrificing for each other, encouraging each other, and forgiving each other.

This kind of love is supernatural. It is fruit of the Spirit of God working in our hearts. I would like for us to be a congregation that is known for our deep love for one another; so that when people come they sense it and know that God is at work. And will be drawn themselves to be a follower of Jesus.

* In your bulletin you have the handout: 21 Traits of Love – A Test. Most of you have seen it before, but look it over again. Take it home with you and see how you are doing loving others – especially your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

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As we approach our baptism and recovenanting service on May 19th I would like to share the next two Sundays on two particular parts of our church covenant, that deal with two important aspects of our Christian lives. And today we begin with a focus on Christian fellowship.

Let’s take a look at the section of our church covenant that we are dealing with today: “We commit to love each other – to be gentle, kind, compassionate, honest and forgiving with each other; to humbly serve, encourage, teach and pray for each other; to meet together regularly”

I have three points this morning on these themes and more broadly on the topic of Christian fellowship.

1. We are related to one another in the Lord

In fact, we are a new family. Let’s listen to this story from Mark 3:31-35. “31And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ 33And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Jesus makes the point that he and his disciples form a new family, that is different than a natural family. It is a family made up of those who believe in him and do God’s will as he teaches this.

And although Scripture teaches us that we have clear obligations to our natural family and hopefully we have very close connections to them, as we see here, ultimately our faith family is more important than our natural family.

More specifically, Jesus says in Matthew 23:8 – “ . . . you are all brothers and sisters.” The word “brothers” as it is used in the New Testament, most often refers to both men and women, so we can say here “brothers and sisters.”

So in this family we are all brothers and sisters, and Jesus is the eldest brother (Romans 8:29) and God is our Father (Matthew 23:9). We are part of a huge family that extends throughout the world. And then we are a part of an extended family of believers here at Cedar Street. And every Sunday that we gather its like a family reunion.

Now, it is interesting to me that when Jesus speaks of the kind of relationship we have with one another, he highlights this idea of being siblings and not, for instance, being friends. And that’s because the relationship of siblings is more open. It is not based on similarities in interests, and personalities that click; it is based on a common relationship to Jesus and the Father.

Also, the relationship of siblings is more durable . Friends can disagree and not be friends anymore, but siblings are always siblings, at least on some level.

So we are related to one another as siblings, and this is the basis of our fellowship with one another, but –

2. How should we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord?

Well, just as brothers and sisters (in a good, healthy family) watch out for one another, take care of one another, help each other out, so we are to do the same as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Let me give you a number of examples from the New Testament that fill this out in terms of our faith family.

We are to:

  • “love one another” – John 15:12. And Jesus give himself as the example here of what love means. We are to love as he loved.
  • “love one another with brotherly affection” – Romans 12:10
  • “serve one another through love” – Galatians 5:13
  • “seek to do good to one another” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15
  • “lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:16, sacrificing for each other’s well-being.
  • “be kind to one another” – Ephesians 4:32
  • “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” – Romans 12:15, as we walk with each other through life’s good times and hard times
  • “pray for one another” – James 5:16
  • “bear one another’s burdens” – Galatians 6:2, that is, when another is struggling or weak
  • “show hospitality to one another” – 1 Peter 4:9
  • “clothe (ourselves) . . . with humility toward one another” – 1 Peter 5:5
  • “outdo one another in showing honor” to each other – Romans 12:10
  • “submit to one another” – Ephesians 5:21
  • “bear with one another in love” – Ephesians 4:2
  • “forgive each other” – Colossians 3:13
  • “be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50
  • “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” – Colossians 3:16
  • “encourage one another, and build one another up” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • “exhort one another” the verse says, “every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:13
  • “stir one another up to love and good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24
  • “serve one another” with the spiritual gifts that God has given us – 1 Peter 4:10

So this is a portrait of what our relationships are to look like, as we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord; as we share together in Christian fellowship.

3. We need to spend time together

And that’s because, as in any example you want to talk about, relationships require time. Without investing time in each other’s lives, you can’t receive the love and support you need to help you along in your Christian life. And just as importantly you can’t give to others the love and support they need.

Hebrews 10:24-25 makes this point. “24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” In the middle of saying “stir one another up” and “encourage one another” the writer says, don’t neglect to meet together. We have to be together to do these kinds of things.

Also in the book of Acts we see a thriving New Testament church, which is a model for us. And they certainly spent time together. Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They were together doing all these things. Acts 2:46 goes on to say, “And day by day, [they were] attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes . . .”

My desire for our church is that we have a deep and caring community here. Churches can have varying levels of fellowship, and what I want for us is that we continue to grow in this area more and more.

But I have two concerns. The first concern is that the Sunday morning service is not enough. I guess different ones of you will have to make your own evaluations. But certainly if the Sunday service isn’t enough, we do have some other options:

  • There is Sunday school, but this is usually more study focused.
  • We have youth groups for the youth.
  • We have share groups – and I wish that more would or could be a part of these. I would be happy to start a new one if there is interest. There is also the idea of having one during the Sunday school hour.
  • We can invite each over to our houses more and more.
  • We also have a “fun and fellowship team” to plan events for our Christian fellowship, but currently no one is on it! So we need some help here.

Just briefly, my second concern is that we set aside the time needed to invest in each other’s lives. And this is a challenge with our busy lives of overscheduling and constant stress. We need to work on this. Such busyness not only keeps us away from each other and therefore weakens our relationship with each other, it also distracts us from giving proper time to our relationship with God.

So, let’s remember who we are. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord. And let’s live this out in how we relate to one another. And let’s create the space and time we need to be able to be true brothers and sisters in the Lord together.

William Higgins

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I want to share with you on the topic of Christian love – how we are to love our neighbors, our fellow church members, our spouses, our kids, our parents, our co-workers – and whatever other relationships you want to add in here, even our enemies.

I want to talk about what Christian love is, what it looks like, some of the core components of it and how it’s different than what the world calls love.

Let me set the stage for looking at what Christian love is, by making the point that –

Love is the most important thing of all

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. Here he says that:

  • You can exercise spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, but if you don’t have love for others, you’re just a “clanging cymbal” – v. 1.
  • You can be prophetic and have all knowledge, but if you don’t have love for others, Paul says, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can work amazing miracles, but if you don’t have love for others, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can even sacrifice greatly giving away wealth or dying for a cause, but if you don’t have love for others in this, you “gain nothing” – v. 3.

We can add any number of other examples: what you accomplish with your career, your life achievements, your reputation, your wealth, your relationships with your family and friends, your volunteer work, the roles you have filled in church. The point is the same: without love, you are nothing.

Paul is saying in this passage that these other things are partial and will pass away in the age to come. But “love never ends” – v. 8. It goes on into eternity.

So, for instance, if I come to God on the final day saying, “look at all the knowledge I have!” God could say to me, “the least in the eternal kingdom knows a thousand times more than you.” It’s like I’m boastfully bringing a brick of gold to a kingdom that has so much gold that it uses it to pave its streets.  

Love is what is all important in God’s kingdom. Love for God for sure, and our topic here – love for others. So here’s some questions to consider: Have you loved others with your life? Have you made loving others the focus of your life? Have you shaped everything you do in life toward the end of loving others?

Now, since love is the most important thing of all, it’s extremely important to ask and then answer the question –

What is Christian love?

1. Love requires actions. Love begins within; in our hearts. But it must come to fruition in deeds of love. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Good thoughts or good words aren’t enough. When there is a need and you can help, to love “in truth,” as John says, is to act.

The example from this context is helping someone who lacks basic material needs. 1 John 3:16 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his sister or brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It’s not enough to say good things, “Oh, you don’t have food and clothing?” “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). Love requires action.

2. Love acts for the well-being of others. We are to “do good” to all, even if they do us harm, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27 and Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Let’s look at some specifics:

  • God loves us in that he feeds us, giving rain and sunshine to all so that our crops grow – Matthew 5:45
  • God loves us in that he gave his only Son to die for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8
  • Jesus teaches us to pray for, bless others, even if they mistreat us – Luke 6:28
  • Jesus healed the ear of the one who arrested him – Luke 22:50; and he prayed for those who crucified him – Luke 23:34

These are all good actions, aimed at doing what is best for another.

Now, If love truly means doing what is best for another then we can’t just go around being nice. We can’t reduce love to being nice. Being nice and keeping up good social etiquette is often more about staying out of people’s problems and needs. For example quickly giving money to a homeless person, hoping they go away. Or not saying anything to a fellow believer who is involved in sin, lest you make waves.

We keep up social etiquette so that we can feel good about ourselves, but we get ourselves off the hook of actually having to love them. Love, however, means doing what is best for the person. And so sometimes love has to be tough and deal with issues, precisely because this is what is in the best interests of the person.

Also, if love means doing what is best for another we can’t just join in with doing harm for harm. You may have the right to do this legally or it may be the just thing to do. But we have a higher standard to live by. We always have to consider what is best also for the other person. This must control our actions, not an eye for an eye, even with evil people.

The only way we can do something that harms someone, is for it to be redemptive harm; something that doesn’t destroy them, but something that does them good in the long run.

[Nor can I say that it is OK to non-redemptively harm or destroy someone as long as I am not doing it as a personal vendetta, or in anger, or with hatred in my heart. My actions reveal what is in my heart – Luke 6:44-45. If I simply act to harm someone, without regard for what is best for them, my actions reveal (at a minimum) a lack of love for that person in my heart.]

Love acts for the well-being of others.

3. Love is a commitment to act for the well-being of others. This is where our culture is so wrong. Love is not based on feelings. It may involve certain feelings from time to time, but these can waver or even go away for a time.

This is why there is so much divorce today, and you see this especially in celebrity culture, the feeling leaves and so the relationship ends. But Christian love is based on a deep commitment to the other person and their good. It’s a choice that we make. That’s why God can command us to love others. You can’t command a feeling, but you can a choice.

This kind of love is a defining characteristic of God. As God says about himself in Exodus 34:6, the LORD is a God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation.” The word here “steadfast love” has to do with unchanging love. It is God’s sustained covenant loyalty to his people. It is based on his commitment to our well-being.

Think of God’s love for his people throughout the centuries, calling us, teaching us, walking with us, bearing with us – his love isn’t based on warm feelings. It is based on this firm commitment to us and for what is best for us. And so as well, Christian love is based on a commitment to act for the good of another.

4. Love involves sacrifice, laying down our lives for others. As Jesus said about himself in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 3:16 speaks of Jesus’ love in this way, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for” others.

Often the world portrays love as focused on finding personal fulfillment, that is, for yourself. It’s about what you get out of the relationship. But Christian love is about what you give to the one you love, or what you give up for them – serving and sacrificing.

In the world if you’re not feeling fulfilled in the relationship you leave. But Christian love teaches us that true fulfillment only comes when we move past self-centered love and learn to serve and sacrifice for the one we love.

5. Christian loves includes all people. It is always easier to limit our love to a certain subset of people, but Jesus teaches us that all are included.

  • It’s easy to love those who like us, but we are to love those who don’t love us; those who harm us. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” – Matthew 5:46.
  • It’s easy to love those who are like us, but we are to love those who are different than us – different race, nationality, economic or social status. Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:47.

Jesus teaches that our love is to be perfect or “complete,” like the Father’s love is perfect or complete, the word here in Matthew 5:48 can be translated either way. This is a love which is complete because it includes both the “evil and the good” and the “just and the unjust” – Matthew 5:45.

Let me end by saying –

This kind of love only comes from God

It doesn’t come from our flesh, our self-centered existence apart from God. In the flesh we want what is best and easiest for us. Christian love!? What!?

  • Good words and thoughts aren’t enough, I have to something?
  • I can’t just be nice or act according to harm for harm? You know, something less than acting for the well-being of another.
  • It’s not based on feelings? I have to hang in through thick and thin? When I don’t feel like it?
  • It’s not about me? I have to focus on giving, even sacrificing?
  • I can’t limit it to people who like me, or how are like me?

The flesh doesn’t want anything to do with Christian love.

No, this kind of love only comes from God, who is love. As 1 John 4:7 says, “God is love.” And only God can produce this kind of love in our hearts. Christian love is “the fruit of the Spirit” who is at work within us – Galatians 5:22.

William Higgins

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

Today in our series on Paul to the Thessalonians we are up to 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13. As we work our way through this passage, I want us to pay attention to the love that we see demonstrated in Paul for these believers. We can really see his heart for those he ministered to.

But first let’s remember together –

The story after Paul had to leave

  • Because of persecution Paul and team were sent away by the new church – Acts 17:10
  • They went to Berea and ministered there – Acts 17:10-12
  • But some opponents from Thessalonica came to Berea and stirred up trouble – Acts 17:13-14
  • The believers sent Paul off to Athens, but Silas and Timothy stayed behind – Acts 17:14-15
  • Paul ministered in Athens, speaking at the Areopagus– Acts 17:16-34
  • Silas and Timothy came to Paul in Athens – 1 Thessalonians 3:1
  • Paul sent Timothy back to check on the Thessalonians – 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 5 (possibly Silas was sent somewhere in Macedonia as well – Acts 18:5)
  • Paul went on to Corinth and began ministering there – Acts 18:1
  • Silas and Timothy met up with Paul in Corinth – Acts 18:5
  • Paul heard Timothy’s report concerning the Thessalonians – 1 Thessalonians 3:6

This is when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in response to this and almost certainly sent it back by means of Timothy.

With this background in mind, let’s look at our verses.

Paul’s desire to see the Thessalonians

1. He tried to visit. “17But since we were torn away from you, brothers and sisters, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.”

Paul is saying, ‘Hey, it’s not for lack of trying that we haven’t come back.’ The reason is that Satan hindered us. This may refer to synagogue opposition, or restrictions put on Paul by the authorities in Thessalonica, or maybe that he was too sick to travel that far. But he tried several times.

“19For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20For you are our glory and joy.” Here he assures them that his not being able to come is no reflection on his concern for them. They are his crown of boasting, that is, his victory wreath that will be made know when Jesus returns. He says, “you are our glory and joy.”

2. Paul sent Timothy to check on them.  “1Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”

Paul was really in anguish not knowing how they were doing as new believers under persecution (for Paul’s anxiety for his converts see also 2 Corinthians 11:28-29).

His concern was that they would give up their faith (the phrase “your faith” is used five times in this passage). He is concerned that they would be “moved by these afflictions;” that “the tempter had tempted them” so that they no longer had faith in Jesus.

So he says twice that when he could bear it no longer (3:1, 5) he sent Timothy to check on them, even though it meant he was left alone (3:1). It’s likely that if the obstacle was opposition in Thessalonica Paul would have been immediately recognized, but Timothy was not such a public figure. Timothy’s mission was to check on their faith and “to establish and exhort them.”

Just a note on suffering. Paul says, “we are destined . . . to suffer affliction” – 3:3-4. This is something that he taught them ahead of time. How different is so much teaching in America, where the gospel is all about self-fulfillment and prosperity. Something to think about.

3. Timothy’s report to Paul in Corinth. Just as you can feel the anguish of Paul in the verses before this, so here you can feel the relief he had after hearing Timothy’s good report.

“6But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?”

Timothy reported that they had not abandoned their faith, nor their love for Paul. Paul’s response to this is overflowing thanksgiving to God joy and great comfort.

Our passage ends with 4. A prayer to see them. “11Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

His prayer to see them was eventually answered as we see in Acts 20:1-2.

He also prays for much of what he will be talking about in the next two chapters: love for others, holiness, and Jesus’ return.

Now we turn to our focus –

Paul’s love for the Thessalonians

This is clear in several places in this letter, but especially out text.

1. He has affection for them. 2:17 – he talks about being “torn away from you” but “not in heart.” 2:8 – he says you are “very dear to us.”

2. He wants to be with them. 2:17 – “we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.” 3:6 – “we long to see you.”

3. He wants to know what is going on with them. 3:5 – “I sent to learn about your faith.” 3:5 -“when I could bear it no longer” that is, not knowing, he sent Timothy.

4. He is concerned for their well-being. 3:3 – “that no one be moved by these afflictions.” 3:5 – he speaks of his “fear that somehow the tempter had tempted” them and their faith was now gone. 3:8 – when he heard good news he said “for now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

5. He wants to help them. 3:2 – “to establish and exhort you in your faith.” 3:10 – to “supply what is lacking in your faith.”

6. He takes joy in them. 2:20 – “for you are our glory and joy.” 3:9 – “for what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.”

7. He prays for them as we see in vs. 11-13.

How is your love?

In his prayer Paul prays, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love as we do for you” – v. 12. Notice the last phrase – “as we do for you.” Paul uses his expression of love for them as an example for what God might do in them. And in the same way, this morning I want to use Paul’s expression of love to challenge us to grow more and more in our love for others.

Let’s look at this in several areas:

1. Paul was in a relationship with them as one who ministered to them. So we can ask – How is your love for those you minister to? Think for a moment about who you do minister to. Maybe it is a Sunday school class, or a friend going through a hard time, or sharing your faith with someone. Do you:

–         Have affection for them?

–         Want to be with them?

–         Want to know what is going on with them?

–         Have concern for their well-being?

–         Help them?

–         Take joy in them?

–         Pray for them?

2.  Paul relates to them as a parent because he brought them to faith. In 2:17 he likens himself to a nursing mother who is gentle. In 2:11 he likens himself to a father in his exhorting them. So we can ask, as parents or grandparents – how is your love for your children? Do you:

–         Have affection for them?

–         Want to be with them?

–         Want to know what is going on with them?

–         Have concern for their well-being?

–         Help them?

–         Take joy in them?

–         Pray for them?

3. Paul uses “brother/sister” language to speak of them as fellow Christians. So we can ask how is your love for one another in our congregation?

–         Do you have affection for them? Do you show concern?

–         Do you want to be with them? Do you miss them when they don’t come to church for a while? Do you have time in your busy schedule to spend time with them to build relationship?

–         Do you want to know what is going on with them? Do you check in on them?

–         Do you have concern for their well-being?

–         Do you help them? Do you even know what their needs are?

–         Do you take joy in them? Do you rejoice in their growth in faith?

–         Do you pray for them earnestly?

How does your love measure up? Do you need to increase and about in love more? May God challenge each of us to grow and increase in our love – just as we see in the example of Paul’s love for the Thessalonians.

William Higgins

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