This week I came across a story about a Catholic priest who was assigned to a new parish. He wanted to know what the people of his new congregation were really like, so he decided to go to the village early for a “look see.” This priest felt he could get a more accurate understanding of his people if he went among them “in cognito.” So, dressing as a beggar, lingering among the market-place, and never letting on who he really was, he studied his people as they transacted their day-to-day business. One day he found himself talking to a prim, proper lady, who considered herself WELL-SCHOOLED in the truths of the Bible. Quite naturally, the conversation turned to religion.
In an attempt to display her “vast storehouse” of biblical knowledge and at the same time prove his ignorance of scripture, the lady asked, “How many COMMANDMENTS are there?” The beggar/priest replied, “I believe there are eleven.” “Eleven?!” she repeated back, obviously horrified at his incompetence. “Why, you know nothing about religion at all! Be gone, beggar man! Why should I spend my time with such as you?” Well, you can imagine the look on that lady’s face when she came to church the following Sunday, only to discover that this beggar was her new priest! But what REALLY stunned her, though, was the SERMON he preached that morning, which he entitled: “The Eleventh Commandment.” His text came from the words Jesus spoke in the Upper Room the night before His crucifixion. They are recorded in John 13:34-35 . Let’s read them together
34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 – By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.
As you know, we’ve just finished a lengthy study of the ten commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17 but it is important for us to realize that no study of God’s commands is complete without looking at this New Testament text. And we should also note that with this new commandment-this “love law” so to speak-Jesus gives us the key to understanding and obeying the previous ten. In Matthew 22 Jesus said as much when He said that “ALL the law and the [teachings of the] prophets” hang on-or rely on-our love for God and our fellow man.
You see, if we truly love God, we won’t profane His name….we won’t worship other things….we will have no other gods but God. We’ll also eagerly keep the Sabbath because we love being in God’s presence. So it is love that motivates us to obey the commands that relate to our relationship with God. And…it is also love that compels us to adhere to those laws that relate to our relationship with our fellow man. Our love for our parents prompts us to honor them. If we truly love our wives and husbands we won’t commit adultery. If we love our neighbors we won’t steal from them or lie to them or want what is theirs….and we certainly won’t kill them. So you see…..love is indeed that motivational force that helps us keep all the laws of God. Romans 13:8-10 puts it this way, “He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not harm to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” That great preacher of yesteryear, C. Campbell Morgan said, “Every breach of the decalogue is a violation of love….” It seems appropriate that, thanks to our “snow Sunday” a couple weeks ago and the subsequent interruption to my sermon schedule, that we’re studying LOVE on Valentine’s Day weekend! Well, what should we learn from our study of this love text?
1. Well, first of all we should note that this is a COMMAND…not a SUGGESTION.
Jesus is not saying here, “I’d PREFER that you love one another” or “It WOULD BE NICE if you could love one another” or “TRY to love one another.” No….Our Lord is using the imperative voice here to issue a command. With the same force and authority that God said, “You SHALL NOT kill or steal or commit adultery,” He is saying here, “You MUST love one another as I have loved you.”
It is easier to see that this was a commandment, when we remember the context in which it was issued. Jesus uttered these words on the night of His betrayal and arrest. He knew that the cross was only a few hours away. His time with the disciples was short. So, this was no time to mince words. It was a time for final, no-nonsense orders! It’s like the instructions a father gives when he is about to head off to war and before he goes, he gathers the family together and orders his eldest son to…“Take care of your mother!”
This commandment obviously had a great impact on the Apostle John for he writes more about love than any other New Testament writer-with the possible exception of the Apostle Paul. In his 1st Epistle, John used some form of the word “love” a total of 51 times. It is not surprising that he became known as “the apostle of love.”
Tradition says that when he became so old and weak that he could no longer walk…he would ask to be carried to the front of the church where he would content himself with a brief sermonnette in which he would simply say, “Little children, LOVE ONE ANOTHER!” When his bearers wearied of this and asked him why he was so hung up on this one teaching, he would reply, “Because, it is the Lord’s command, and if ONLY THIS is done, it is enough.” So, the first thing we need to realize is that loving one another is a requirement for all disciples of Jesus. Its not optional. And then another thing we should note about this text is that Jesus says here that when we obey this 11th command-when we love one another-
2. we PROVE that we really do have a RELATIONSHIP with God.
Verse 35 says, “By THIS all men will know that You are My disciples.” I think the reason Jesus said this is because God is the SOURCE of all pure or genuine love. As I John 4:7-8 says, “…love comes from God….for…God IS love.” Someone once put it this way, “Love flows from God as light radiates from the sun.” Note that this text doesn’t say, “God is loving” as if it were one of many divine attributes of God….like His patience, His power, or His wisdom. No…it states, “GOD IS LOVE.” In other words, the very essence of God’s being is LOVE. Love pervades and influences all of His attributes and activities. When He creates, He creates in love.
When He rules, He rules in love. He even judges in love. Love never is and never can be absent from His being. For example, we know that one of God’s characteristics is His holiness. Hebrews 7:26 says, He is “undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.” As a holy being, it would be perfectly understandable for Him to view all sinners with the utmost of contempt. But since God is love, then His is a holiness that REACHES OUT to sinners with salvation for them-His holiness is the antithesis of aloofness or indifference. Oswald Chambers writes, “God is love, not, God is loving. God and love are synonymous.
Love is not an attribute of God, it IS God; whatever God is, love is. If your conception of [God’s] love does not agree with justice and judgement and purity and holiness, then your idea of love is wrong.” Once, while riding in the country, Charles Haddon Spurgeon saw a weather vane on a farmer’s barn and on the arrow the words: “God is Love” were inscribed. He turned in at the gate and asked the farmer, “What do you mean by that? Do you think God’s love is changeable; that it veers about as that arrow turns in the wind?” The farmer said, “Oh, no! I mean that whichever way the wind blows, God is STILL love.” Well, since God IS the source of all love….then it follows that the best evidence that a person truly knows God is whether or not he or she loves in a godly way. It is as John-the Apostle of Love-writes in his epistle: “Everyone who loves is born of God and Knows God. The one who does not love does not know God.” (I John 4:7-8) In other words, a stranger to love is a stranger to God. Love is the proof of a regenerate heart. Only true Christians are capable of Christlike love.
My brother Jon was here a few weeks ago for my mother’s surgery and if you have ever met Jon then you know that we look very much alike. He has the same receding hair line, the same “Adams dimple” in his chin, the same dashing good looks. These and other characteristics clearly indicate our shared family heritage. We got our genes from the same pool! One look at us will leave no doubt in your mind that we are closely related. And in this text Jesus is saying that our Christlike love for each other clearly indicates our relation to God. When we love as only Christ can love people will recognize us as the children of God. Bishop William C. Martin once said, “Love is the one attribute of character-the only one-about which we are able to say, ‘If a man has this, it proves unconditionally that he is a Christian. If he does not have love, no matter what else he has or does, it proves that he is not a follower of the Lamb of God.'”
The third thing I think we need to realize here is that when we obey this 11th commandment…
3. it has the affect of ATTRACTING LOST PEOPLE-non-Christians-TO GOD.
In John 12:32 Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” Well, one way we “lift Jesus up” is when we love as only He can love. And when we do we see this promise of Jesus fulfilled, for people are then indeed drawn to Him. Years ago, in an interview for PBS, Charles Colson was challenged to validate his new found faith. The female interviewer defied him to tell her something that proved that Christianity was real. In answer he told of an experience he had while he was spending time in prison due to his involvement in Watergate. He said, “Several Christian men stunned me with a quality of LOVE I had never known before. I’ll never forget the day one of them-Al Quie-called to say, ‘Chuck, because of your family problems, I’m going to ask the President if you can go home, while I serve the rest of your prison term.’ I gasped in disbelief. At the time Al was the sixth-ranking Republican in the House, one of the most respected public figures in Washington. Yet he was willing to jeopardize it all-out of LOVE for me.
The fact that a believer would lay down his life for another…was a powerful witness to me that Jesus was for real.” As he shared this story with the PBS correspondent she broke down and waved her hand saying, “Stop, stop.” Tears mixed with mascara were streaming down her cheeks. Later she confessed that Al Quie’s willingness to lovingly give himself on Chuck Colson’s behalf had touched her deeply, and she vowed to return to the church she had left years earlier. You see, when we love as Jesus loves…when we “lay down our lives for our friends” people are drawn to God.
I read of a young boy who years ago traveled all the way across Chicago EVERY Sunday to attend D. L. Moody’s church. Someone asked him why he went to so much trouble just to go to that particular church when there were several churches closer to his home and he replied,
“Because they love a fellow over there.” Christlike love ATTRACTS people to God!
Well, in order for us to obey this 11th commandment we must first UNDERSTAND what Jesus’ love was like. Remember….He said, “….love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU…” So this morning I want us to consider three aspects or qualities of Jesus’ love:
a. . First of all, His love is characterized by ACTION not FEELING.
I consider this good news because, to be honest, it is very difficult for me to FEEL love for some people. This reminds me of a story about a seminary professor who spent a lot of time lecturing on the importance of loving one another. One day he had a new sidewalk poured in front of his house. A small neighborhood boy was playing around there and apparently didn’t realize it was wet because He ran RIGHT THROUGH the cement and messed up the seminary professor’s beautiful new sidewalk. He caught the boy and really reamed him out! Some of his students heard about this and when he came into class the next day They said, “You’ve been telling us that we ought to love one another, but look how hard you were on that little kid.” The professor replied, “It’s like this. I love him in the abstract, but I don’t love him in the concrete!”
Well I think we understand how that professor felt…..it IS hard to FEEL love for everyone! So, fortunately this is a command not to FEEL love but to ACT in love. Jesus is talking about a love that is controlled not by the HEART but by the HEAD….it is a love that expresses itself by doing good things for other people. The love Jesus commands here is a love of ACTION….and we see this quality of love in God’s love for us. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He acted….“He GAVE His only Son.” Romans 5:8 says, “God DEMONSTRATES His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus’ love is a love characterized by ACTION, not necessarily FEELING. We are commanded here to ACT in love toward all people.
b. . Another characteristic of Jesus love is that it is INCLUSIVE…not SELECTIVE.
Jesus acts in love toward EVERYONE…He doesn’t pick and choose whom He loves. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved THE [WHOLE] WORLD.” II Peter 3:9 says that God, “…is not willing for ANY to perish but for ALL to come to repentance.” William Barclay tells the story of a group of soldiers during WWII who had lost a friend in battle and wanted to give their fallen comrade a decent burial. So they found a church in a nearby village with a graveyard behind it surrounded by a white fence. They asked the parish priest if their friend could be buried there in the church graveyard. “Was he Catholic?” the priest inquired. The soldiers answered, “No, he was not….He was Protestant.” “I’m sorry then,” said the priest, “Our graveyard is reserved for members of the holy church. But you can bury your friend outside of the fence. I will see that the grave site is cared for.” “Thank you, Father,” said the soldiers, and they proceeded to bury their friend on the other side of the fence. When the war had finally ended, before the soldiers returned home, they decided to visit the grave site of their friend.
They remembered the location of the church-and the grave, just outside the fence. But when they searched for it, they couldn’t find it. Finally, they went to the priest to inquire as to its location. “Sir, we cannot find our friend’s grave,” said the soldiers to the priest. “Well,” answered the priest, “After you buried your fallen friend, it just didn’t seem right to me that he should be buried there, outside the fence.” “So, you moved the grave?” asked the soldiers. “No,” said the priest, “I moved the fence.”
And that is exactly what God has done for us. None of us deserves a place “inside the fence” of His love. But that doesn’t keep God from acting in love toward us. I don’t know about you but I am so glad that this is true because if I had to deserve God’s love I would be in big trouble. We say that “Love is blind.”
But this is not true of God’s love. HIS love is open-eyed. It acts in love in spite of what it sees. It is a love that is for all people. As Paul writes in Romans 2:11, “He is no respecter of persons.” ….God does not show favoritism. Martin Niemueller was a pastor in Germany during WWII. He was so outspoken in his opposition to Hitler, that they placed Him in a concentration camp and finally hanged him. Before his death he wrote, “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies.
He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” His words remind me of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…..if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors and pagans doing that?”
Jesus calls us here to an inclusive love of all people for there is no one in the world who stands OUTSIDE of the circle of His love. Now, most of us have a hard time drawing a circle as large as God does. We’re not sure God loves drunks, drug addicts, fornicators, homosexuals, thieves, and people who abuse others. I like this pin that Bill Stuart gave me last week. It says, “Someone Jesus loves has AIDS.” That fact might be hard for some of us to swallow.
Well,to help yourself grasp just how all encompassing God’s love is….DRAW a circle in your mind, and imagine yourself standing in it and then say to yourself. “There’s not anybody in the whole world that God loves more than He does me.” And then before you begin to feel self-righteous add: “And there’s no anybody in the whole world that God loves LESS than He does me.”
God loves all people….EVEN PEOPLE WHOM WE FEEL JUSTIFIED TO HATE. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey tells the story of Will Cambell, a minister in Mississippi in the 1960’s who was very involved in the civil rights movement.
His stand against the evils of racism cost him his job at Old Miss and turned many of his friends against him but he was determined to do all he could to put an end to legalized segregation. So, he moved into the thick of that battle, leading voter registration drives and supervising the idealistic young Northerners who migrated south to join in the civil rights crusade. He often found himself verbally criticized by “Christians” who refused to let people of other races into their churches and who resented anyone tampering with laws favoring white people. One day a renegade newspaper editor who viewed all Christians as “the enemy” and could not understand Will’s stubborn commitment to religious faith asked him, “In ten words of less, what’s the Christian message?” Campbell thought a second and then blurted out something like, “We are all scum but God loves us anyway.”
Perhaps the darkest day of Campbell’s life was the day an Alabama deputy sheriff named Thomas Colemen gunned down a young man named Jonathan Daniels…who had come south to assist Campbell in his work. After this happened the same reporter, cornered Campbell and asked, “Does your definition still work? Do you still believe God loves ALL of us? Who does God love more…..that murderer, Thomas Coleman or the innocent victim, Jonathan Daniels?”
Campbell said, “When he posed this question, everything suddenly became clear. I agreed that the notion that God would love a man who walked up to an innocent young man who was selflessly giving of his time and talents to help others…..and fire a shotgun blast into him, tearing his lungs and heart and bowels from his body…the thought that God would love such a person was more than I could stand. But unless that is precisely the case then there is no Gospel, there is no Good News.” What Will Campbell received that night was a new insight into grace. The free offer of God’s love extends not just to the undeserving but to those who in fact deserve the opposite: to Ku Klux Klanners as well as to civil rights marchers….to murderers like Sheriff Thomas Coleman as well as to victims like Jonathan Daniels.
Yancey said that this message lodged so deep inside Will Campbell that he underwent a kind of “earthquake of grace.” He became what he wryly calls an “apostle to the rednecks.” He bought a farm in Tennessee, and today is just as likely to spend his time among Klansmen and racists as among racial minorities and white liberals. A lot of people, he decided, were volunteering to help minorities understand God’s love; he knew of no one ministering to the “Thomas Coleman’s” of the world.” Jesus’ love is an all inclusive love….there is no one He does not love.
c. . And then….a third characteristic of Jesus’ love is that it is a SACRIFICIAL, SELFLESS love..
In other words, God acts in love for everyone-even when it COSTS Him to do so. As I John 4:10 says, God LOVED us and “…sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” In his classic book, THE BODY, Charles Colson tells the true story of Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish monk who was imprisoned in Auschwitz by the Nazi’s in WWII. Father Kolbe was subjected to years of tortuous manual labor yet he was a constant source of Godly love and encouragement to his fellow prisoners. One July night a couple years after his imprisonment, the camp air was suddenly filled with the baying of dogs, the curses of soldiers, and the roar of motorcycles. A man had escaped from Barracks 14 — Father Kolbe’s barracks.
The next morning there was a peculiar tension as the ranks of phantom-thin prisoners lined up for morning roll call in the central square. You see, the escapee had not been caught and that meant death for some of those who remained. All prisoners in the camp, except for those in Barracks 14, were dismissed. They were ordered to wait, standing at attention as the summer sun beat down upon them. Some fainted and were dragged away. Some swayed in place but held on only to be beaten by the butts of the SS officers’ guns. Father Kolbe, by some miracle stayed on his feet, his posture as straight as his resolve. He and his fellow inmates were forced to stand without rest or food all day. By evening roll call the commandant was ready to levy sentence. He screamed,
The prisoner has not been found. Ten of you will die for him in the starvation bunker. The next time this happens 20 will die.”
This was a horrible way to die! The gallows-even the gas chambers-were better than this slow agonizing death. After a day or two in this bunker the condemned didn’t even look like human beings. Their appearance and behavior even scared the guards. The heat and absence of food and water caused their throats to turn to paper, their brains to turn to fire, their intestines to dry up and shrivel like desiccated worms. The commandant walked along the rows of prisoners demanding each man to open his mouth so he could see his teeth….choosing victims like horses. Soon there were ten men.
The last man chosen groaned aloud, “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?” Suddenly there was a commotion in the ranks. A prisoner had broken out of line, calling for the commandant. It was unheard of to leave the ranks, let alone address a Nazi officer. To do so was cause for execution on the spot so the commandant grabbed his revolver and, pointing at the prisoner, yelled, “What does this Polish pig want of me?” The prisoners looked and gasped. It was their beloved Father Kolbe, the priest who shared his last crust of bread, who comforted the dying, who heard their confessions and nourished their souls. The frail priest spoke softly, even calmly, to the Nazi butcher. “I would like to take the place of one of the men you condemned.” “Why?” snapped the commandant. Kolbe calmly replied, “I am an old man sir, and good for nothing. My life will serve no purpose.” The commandant asked, “In whose place do you want to die?” “I want to die for that one,” Kolbe responded, pointing to the weeping prisoner who had bemoaned the fate of his wife and children. The commandant agreed and as Kolbe passed this other prisoner, the man’s face was an expression so astonished that it had not yet become gratitude. But Kolbe wasn’t looking for gratitude. If he was to lay down his life for another, the fulfillment had to be in the act of obeying God’s command. The joy must be found in submitting his small will to the will of God.
As the hours and days passed, the camp became aware of something extraordinary happening in the death cell. Past prisoners of this starvation bunker had spent their dying days howling, attacking one another, clawing the walls in a frenzy of despair. But now, those outside heard the faint sounds of singing coming from the bunker. For….this time the prisoners had a shepherd to gently lead them through the shadows of the valley of death, pointing them to the Great Shepherd. And perhaps for this reason, Father Kolbe was the last to die.
If you were to go to Auschwitz today you would find a perpetual flame burning. It is a flame of remembrance so that we will never forget what happened there in the hopes that Nazi atrocities will never be repeated. But Colson points out that it is more than that. This flame celebrates the fact that men and women who are enduring even the greatest of horrors can demonstrate the greatest of loves. It is not a monument to Father Maximilian Kolbe alone….hero though he was. It points ultimately to the God/Man, Who laid down His life for us all on the cross…..the Master Who came not to be served but to serve….the only King in history Who died on behalf of His subjects.
You know, after my study of this 11th commandment I have come to two conclusions. First of all, I have come to realize just how desperately our world needs the love of Jesus. Hate comes so easily to people these days…stories like the one this week that told of two teens gunned down by a peer in the streets are always in the news. We need the culture-changing impact of Christians like Father Kolbe who will act in love toward all people even when it is expensive, costly, to do so. And secondly I have concluded that we can’t love like this…we can’t obey this 11th commandment or LAW on our own strength. This kind of love must be empowered by God.
This is what Paul was inferring in II Corinthians 3 when he said that God’s law was, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…for we are not competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence [our power] comes from God.” Can you imagine the impact that we could have if we committed this morning to love as only Jesus can….to rely on His power so that we will have the strength to always act in love? We sing our closing hymn to give you an opportunity to think about what we have learned together about love this morning and to respond publicly if you feel so led.
At this time we invite you to join our church or rededicate your life to God in some way….or to respond to the love of God by making your public profession of faith in Christ. As we sing I urge you to come forward and share any decision you have to make with me.