3 – His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness—through our knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and goodness.
4 – Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises,
…so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 – For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
6 – and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 – and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
8 – For…if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 – But if anyone does NOT have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
It is said that all good things must come to an end. Well, today I feel the truth of those words personally because we’re coming to the end of what I think has been a very GOOD thing. I’m referring to our study of eight of the “garments of grace” that go into making what we have called “The Dress-Code of a Christian…” and I don’t know how you feel about your “hearing” these sermons but I’ve really enjoyed studying for them. I, for one, have felt convicted and stretched and drawn toward Christlikeness in some very practical ways. To stay with the theme, I’ve felt the need to get my spiritual, “closet” in order. So it is indeed the end of a good thing, at least from my perspective.
To review, I would remind you that so far we’ve looked at SEVEN garments of grace: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, Godliness, brotherly kindness…and today we come to one final garment that we must learn to PUT ON or CLOTHE ourselves with if we are to mature and become more like Jesus…the very LAST part of the dress code: an action-inducing attitude known as LOVE.
I want to challenge you to think of LOVE as the LAST thing you put on before you go out the door—your “coat or hat”—the one thing your “outfit” would be incomplete without—because when it comes to Christlikeness, LOVE is indeed an essential thing. In a very real sense we are “un-clothed” without it. Remember—as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13, it doesn’t matter what else we have—if we don’t have love, we have nothing.
Now—I’m sure you know that love is VERY a common word in the English language. It’s a word that is used in so many ways. Think of it. We use these four letters to describe everything from our affection for Dilly Murray’s excellent meat loaf…to our feelings about our children or spouse. The problem is, we use “LOVE” so often and in so many different ways that it’s easy to get a little blurry when it comes to an accurate definition. So what exactly is Peter talking about here in our text? What does it mean to put on LOVE? Someone once said that if you want to know the definition of a word, ask a child—so in our attempts to get our minds around the true meaning of this word let’s do that. Listen now….as I share with you the definitions of love given by several children.
One kid who had apparently witnessed the marital struggles of his parents said, “Love is that first feeling you feel—before all the bad stuff gets in the way.”
Another very insightful youngster said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
Another child put it this way, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”
I like this one. “Love is what makes you smile at each other—even when you’re tired.”
One little girl said, “Love is when mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure that the taste is OK.”
A little boy who was wise beyond his years said, “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you don’t like to play with.”
One observant little girl said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, and then he wears it everyday.”
I like this one a lot. “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so very well.”
And…here’s one more goody. “Love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.” [that would be Brad Pitt for you younger people]
Well, the insights of these children DO help—but to fully understand the CALIBER of love Peter is talking about in our text we need to do what we have done seven other times now. We need to go back to the New Testament Greek and the GREEK word here in verse 7 is “agape” which basically means UNCONDITIONAL love. Let me put it this way. AGAPE is the reverse of the way that conditional forms of love work. Conditional love is an, “if…then” caliber of affection. Conditional love is based on desire and expectation. It is a love that says, “If you are good, if you please me, if you return love to me, if you are beautiful and you remain so…THEN I will love you.” But Agape love has no such conditions. It’s not a “because of” kind of love. No—it’s an “in spite of” kind of love. It’s a commitment to love even if the “lovee” is not beautiful…even if the lovee is bad…even if they do things that displease the “Love-er”…even if the “lovee” doesn’t love back. You see, AGAPE is a love that loves even in the face of fierce resistance. Buchanan writes, “Agape CHOOSES to love…in the face of betrayal, in the face of rejection, in the face of evasion, in the face of rank badness. It wills to love even when circumstances trigger instincts of anger or hurt, withdrawal or revenge. Agape is an UNPROVOKED love.”
Think of it this way. We read of unprovoked AGGRESSION all the time, “There was a John Doe, minding his business at the bus stop and along came a gang of thugs who beat him up and robbed him.” That’s unprovoked AGRESSION. Well, we almost never read of unprovoked LOVE but if we did it would sound like this. “There was a John Doe, minding his business at the bus stop, and along came a group of altruists and philanthropists who, in spite of the fact that John Doe was a grumpy selfish person who never gave a dime to charity—out of the blue they blessed him with a brand new BMW and enough cash that he’d never have reason to ride the bus or be grumpy or complain ever again.”
Agape love is this kind of UNPROVOKED “out of the blue” kind of love. It seeks those who never saw it coming…and indeed those who never HAD it coming. It shows up unannounced, unexpected, and completely undeserved. It isn’t predicated on our beauty or our popularity or our intelligence or our worthiness. It is a LOVE that pursues US—even when WE pursue UNLOVELY—hateful things. And—of course this is the way that God loves us. Because of His nature—because He IS love—God chooses to love you and me like this. You’ve heard of a “Latin lover?” Well, God is an “Agape lover.” His love is indeed undeserved and unprovoked.
And—as His children, God wants us to be like Him and to be like Him we must learn to PUT ON this kind of love in our own lives. We must learn how to be AGAPE lovers. This morning, [relying heavily on Buchanan’s book] I want us to try and understand how to love in this way by focusing on the places in life where AGAPE love shines the brightest—those places where AGAPE is needed the most.
(1) First, to put on this last part of our dress code we must lean to love the LEAST of these.
The “Least of these” is the kind of person you are most likely NOT to notice. These are the LOSERS of life. It’s the people we tend to ignore and avoid if at all possible. This past week, since I didn’t have a sermon to prepare, I made plans to join my siblings at mom’s home in Dover both to spend time with her…and also to help her make the kind of important decisions we should all make when we enter the golden years of life. We got mom’s accounts in our names and got power of attorney. We got her will finalized and talked about her living will—and began to explore the possibility of her moving her bedroom onto the main level so she wouldn’t have to go up and down stairs. We also spent several hours cleaning out her basement. Well, Friday morning I took her to get her hair done and while she was inside, I sat in the car reading. After a while there was a knock on the window and an elderly woman asked if I was Mark. She explained she was Mrs. Corn and when she did I recognized her as a former neighbor and the mother of a friend of mine from high school, named Bert. Names have been changed to protect the innocent! Well, Bert Corn was a great example of the LEAST of these. As I inferred, “Bert” was my literal neighbor in that his backyard bumped right up against mine—but to be honest I avoided my back yard so as to avoid bumping into Bert…because he was a true nerd—and I don’t use that term proudly. It’s a cruel way to describe someone—especially in the adolescent years.
But teens can be cruel so we branded Bert as a nerd which was easy to do because he had horrible acne, and thick, perpetually greasy glasses. He used a pencil guard in his pocket….and he always had very red, chapped lips which probably came from his playing the tuba in the marching band at cold Delaware football games. Bert was the guy everyone at Caesar Rodney High School avoided. He was just too hard to love…too needy.
Well, I must have grown up a bit since the late sixties when I knew Bert…because as I talked to his mom I felt the pangs of guilt for the times decades ago when I rushed past him in the halls. I wished I had embraced him more as a friend. Bert needed friends. Well, that’s what putting on this particular garment of grace does for you. Buchanan says, “It overturns our natural inclinations of disdain, disgust, and apathy. It strips us of our sense of superiority. It breaks our attachment to comfort and security. Agape pushes us beyond ourselves.”
I would remind you that Jesus taught that the best litmus test of whether or not we are truly maturing as His disciples is our capacity to notice the “Bert Corns” of life. We can measure how much we are beginning to LOVE like God by how OFTEN we commit acts of unprovoked love toward THE LEAST OF THESE. Do you remember those two times when Jesus cleared the temple? He did it at both the beginning and the end of His earthly ministry. Well, do you know WHY He was angry enough to grab a whip and drive those money changers and their herds out?
It was because they had set up shop in the only place that non-Jews could pray and worship—the OUTER part of the temple—the only place where THE LEAST OF THESE could go in God’s house. Remember? In Mark 11:17 Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer for ALL NATIONS…But you have made it a den of robbers.” So—to truly become like Jesus we must commit to love the outcast, the marginalized, the forgotten, the despised. That’s how AGAPE love works.
In Brooklyn, New York, there is a school called Chush. It’s for kids with learning disabilities. A few years ago a father of one of the students—a little boy named Shaya—this father spoke at a fund-raising dinner for the school. He began his speech mildly enough—by thanking this person and that person but then he startled everyone with an anguished question. He said, “Where is the perfection for my son Shaya? Everything done in heaven is done with perfection…but my child cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the perfection in that?” As everyone sat in a kind of stunned silence he continued, “I believe that when heaven brings a child like this into the world, the perfection it seeks is found in the way other people react to this child.”
Then he told a story. He said that one day he and Shaya ware watching some boys play softball. Shaya wanted to play, so the father went over and spoke with the pitcher of one of the teams. The boy was at first unsure. Then he shrugged and said, “Whatever. We’re in the eighth inning and behind by six runs. We’ve got nothing to lose. Sure, Shaya can play short center field. We’ll let him bat in the ninth.” Well, little Shaya was ecstatic. He shuffled out to his position and stood there. But by the bottom of the ninth, his team had scored such that they were only behind by two runs and had the bases loaded. They needed a home run to win—only Shaya was scheduled to bat. The boys conferred, and to the father’s amazement, they handed the bat to Shaya. He stood over the base, clutching the bat askew, too tight. Then the pitcher from the opposing team did a remarkable thing. He took several steps closer, and lobbed an easy ball right over the plate. Shaya swung wildly and missed widely. One of his teammates came up and wrapped his arms around Shaya from behind, and together they held the bat. The pitcher lobbed another easy ball and Shaya and his teammate bunted it. It rolled right to the pitcher. All the players shouted for Shaya to run to first and he shuffled along at his top speed which was SLOW. The pitcher could have had an easy out, but he threw the ball wide and far to left field. Shaya made first base. The players yelled for him to take second. Again the catcher in left field threw wide and far and Shaya made second. On it went, the other players all making it to home plate, Shaya loping along and everyone from both sides screaming themselves hoarse for him to run all the way. He touched home plate and the ball came singing in behind him. The boys cheered madly. They mounted Shaya on their shoulders and paraded him as a hero. At this point in his story, with tears in his eyes the father said, “That day…that day…those eighteen boys reached their level of heaven’s perfection.”
And I see what he was getting at, because that day those boys chose to commit an act of unprovoked love toward one of the LEAST OF THESE. Well, let me ask who are “the least of these” that God has placed in the pathways of your life? Who are the “Bert Corns” and the “Shayas?” Who are the people who are hardest for you to love—easiest for you to avoid? Is there some AGAPE love action that God is calling you to do for them right now?
(2) Well, to complete our dress code—to PUT ON Agape love—we must go beyond this first expression of Godly love. We must also love the MOST of these.
You see, comparatively speaking, it’s easy to love the LEAST of these. The Shayas and the Bert Corns of the world are innocent and they tend to do no harm. So, true AGAPE love goes a step further…and loves not just the LEAST of these…not just the LOSERS of the world…it also loves the WINNERS. Think of it this way. Agape is a love for the person who does what you do—ONLY BETTER. It’s a love for the person you are most likely to NOTICE…and resent. It’s your rival…the one who threatens to eclipse you. It’s your prettier sister or more athletic brother. It’s the guy at work in the corner office who always gets the pay raise. It’s that PERFECT mom down the street—the mom who never loses her cool and whose kids always shine. It’s the guy who has ten talents to your one.
Well, Agape love pushes us beyond ourselves to help us overcome our inborn jealousies or resentments to these kind of people. It trumps our feelings of inferiority and insecurity. I once served as the minister of music at a church that had a truly talented soloist who we’ll call Karla Patti. And Karla did have a great voice. And…she knew it and so did every one else in the church. But then a new family moved to our area and joined. The mom in this family was a great soloist as well. Let’s call her Donna. Well, Karla immediately felt threatened by Donna…and the feeling quickly became mutual. A rivalry began and their struggles almost split the choir and caused me a great deal of grief…because neither of these women had learned to love THE MOST OF THESE. Don’t get me wrong. They were both great people. They loved kids…and would be glad to help the needy. The other parts of their SPIRITUAL DRESS CODE were in pretty good shape. It’s just that they had not matured enough to love their rival. Our choir—our church—I—would have been much happier if they had learned to cheer for each other instead of compete. You see, that’s one of the ways that AGAPE love expresses itself. It enables us to be our biggest rival’s—biggest fan. It’s the kind of love that Jonathan had for David. Think of it. Jonathan was heir to his father’s throne but he saw God’s hand on David’s life so he stepped up to the plate and helped his rival.
Well, who’s THE MOST OF THESE in your life? Listen—To truly put on love—whenever you see one of “THE MOST OF THESE” in action, instead of feeling threatened you must learn to ask yourself, “What is God up to here? Why has He gifted this person? How can I join God in His work with this individual? How can I pray for them? What can I do to encourage them?” As Buchanan puts it, “…you can do this through a clenched jaw or with a generous heart. The difference between the two is agape.”
(3) But Agape calls us even further. To fully put this garment of grace on we must love not just the least of these and the most of these…but also the WORST of these.
In other words, to love as God loves, we must learn to love our ENEMIES…the people we have the LEAST reason to LIKE—and the MOST reason to HATE. I’m talking about the person who has betrayed you, hurt you, willfully misunderstood you, taken something from you. And this is where we REALLY need God’s help because our natural inclination is to HATE this kind of person….we tend to want justice or vengeance….but AGAPE loves instead.
Do you remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:43? He said that if we are to be recognized as God’s children, we must “…love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” A woman named Regine, who was a survivor of the genocide of Rwanda, tells the story of another woman whose only son was killed. This grieving mother was consumed with hate and bitterness and constantly prayed, “God, reveal my son’s killer.” One night she dreamed she was going to heaven. But there was a complication: in order to get to heaven she had to pass through a certain house. She had to walk down the street, enter the house through the front door, go through its rooms, up the stairs, and exit through the back door. In her dream she asked God whose house this was. He told her it was the house of her son’s killer. The road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy. The next day she couldn’t get that dream out of her mind.
Well, two days later, there was a knock at her door. She opened it and there stood a young man. He was about her son’s age. He hesitated but said, “I am the one who killed your son. Since that day I have had no life. No peace. So here I am. I am placing my life in your hands. Kill me. I am dead already. Throw me in jail. I am in prison already. Torture me. I am in torment already. Do with me as you wish.” The woman had prayed for this day. Now it had arrived and she didn’t know what to do. Well, she found, to her own surprise, that she did not want to kill him or throw him in jail or torture him. In the moment of reckoning she found she only wanted one thing—a son—so she said, “I ask this of you. Come into my home and live with me. Eat the food I would have prepared for my son. Wear the clothes I would have made for my son. Become the son I lost.” And so he did.
That day this woman was practicing Agape love because she reflected God’s love in her attitude and action toward the worst of these in her life—her son’s killer. Buchanan refers to this kind of Agape lover and says, “They do what God has done, making sons and daughters out of bitter enemies, feeding and clothing them, blazing a trail to heaven straight through their houses.”
And this is INDEED what God has done! Do you remember Paul’s words from Romans 5? “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.”
This morning we remember God’s unprovoked love toward us with the ordinance of communion. If you are our guest and are a Christian we invite you to join us. For—even if you are not a member of this church, if you are His, this is yours.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
You know, God’s AGAPE love is unprovoked…but ours is not. Ours comes from our personal experience of the UNPROVOKED, UNMERITED love of God. As Paul puts it in 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15, “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all. Those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
As we close our service, let me ask: What is God’s love compelling you to do this morning? Is there a LEAST of these…or a MOST of these…or even a WORST of these that you feel compelled now to love with an AGAPE caliber of love? Perhaps God’s love is compelling you to serve Him in this church family. Or—maybe our use of this ordinance that symbolizes Jesus’ death on the cross—maybe remembering that act of UNPROVOKED love has prompted you to profess your faith in His Son. If you have a decision like these to share, come forward as we stand and sing and talk to me or Bobby.
Let’s all respond now as God leads.