July 27, 2014

A New Commandment for a New People with Global Impact

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Kingdom of God Anticipated Passage: John 13:31–35

Sermon from John 13:31-35 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on July 27, 2014

Thanksgiving for God's Work in VBC

I know Ben is going to come share more at the end of our time together, but I just had to say I was totally encouraged by the work God did this week in Vacation Bible Camp. I brought my son Luke up on Wednesday and got him all signed in, and walked through the door to a group of brothers and sisters full of the Holy Spirit and full of Jesus’ love. It brought me to tears at one point. I was so struck by all the Lord was doing through you, that it was even hard for me to break off and go to the office. I wanted to be with you guys and be where the Lord was moving so mightily through his people.

How awesome that 26 to 30 kids—both from inside and outside this church—heard the gospel dozens of times from different angles and saw that gospel authenticated by the way God’s Spirit was compelling you to love them and pour yourselves out for them—kids you didn’t even know before Wednesday; and you loved them like they were your own children. I was encouraged, because God is answering prayers in this church for what kind of people we are and ought to be for his name’s sake.

God Is Already Working Love in Redeemer Church

You know, I’m about to preach on the love command in John 13; but God is already working Jesus’ love in you. He started working it into you when he saved you, and I witnessed it this past week through some of your labors. And I know he’s working in all of you who have the Spirit. So, I want this message to be one that only stirs us up to more love and good deeds as a church; that moves our hearts to love one another more fervently for the world’s sake; that fans into flame the love of Jesus Christ already dwelling in your hearts by the Spirit. Some of you in this room don’t know the love of Jesus yet, but I hope this message leads you into it. For those of you who know Jesus’ love, I pray these words only increase it in you.

So let’s read it now together—with this hope, with this prayer for our church, that God only increase our love for each other—and I’ll begin reading in verse 31. Remember that Judas has just left the scene to betray Jesus, and then we get these words for the new community Jesus is establishing.

31When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Mark of Kingdom Citizenship

So Jesus has just sent out Judas (13:27, 30). He’s now left with the eleven disciples—eleven disciples he chose to bear fruit in his kingdom (15:16). It will be these eleven disciples that God uses to start his new community, the church—we see that in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:4-26). But before that happens, there’s something crucial Jesus wants built into these eleven, something so much at the core of what it means to be Jesus’ disciple, that not to have it would mean you know nothing of God and his salvation. That crucial something is the sacrificial love of Jesus. That love is the mark of kingdom citizenship. In fact, that Christ-reflecting love must be so much a part of our being that the world witnesses it in us and shining forth from us.

That’s why I titled the message, “A New Commandment for a New People—that’s you, if you’re a disciple of Jesus—with a Global Impact.” So what I want to do is take you there—to that reality of love working in a new people for global impact—and I want to do it in four parts that I see building on each other throughout the passage.

1. The Newness of Jesus’ Love Command

So part number one is this: we need to see what’s behind the newness of Jesus’ love command. In verse 34, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” And any of us who’ve read our Bibles or who’ve ever heard someone quote from Lev 19:18—“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”—are going, “Wait just a second. If such a command to love others has been around for centuries, what’s so new about Jesus’ command to love one another?” It’s not as if he’s bringing in a new teaching that overturns what God revealed beforehand in the Law. Jesus himself said the Law and the Prophets could be summed up in just two commands—the commands to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-33). So, what’s new?

What’s going on is that all that the Law anticipated regarding love is now being fulfilled in Jesus Christ and the kingdom of love he is establishing—beginning with these eleven. In other words, the newness of Jesus’ command is bound up with what time it is, what age has dawned, what day has finally come.

Part of what the Old Testament anticipated with its command to love your neighbor as yourself was a day when people in God’s kingdom did just that from a new heart—a day when people would be freed from the power of self-rule and self-indulgence that had so plagued humanity since Adam and caused Israel so much destructive pain (Matt 5:17). Even prohibitions in the Law such as do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie, do not covet—all of which relate to loving our neighbors—even these prohibitions anticipated a kingdom when they’d no longer be needed. They looked forward to a day when murder, stealing, adultery, lying, and coveting would be unthinkable among God’s people (Rom 13:10; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8, 12). Why? Because Jesus ushers in a kingdom full of love—a kingdom without sin, without hatred; a kingdom where we’re totally other-oriented in our desires and self-less in our actions all the time.

Now the final day when that kingdom of love is perfected in God’s people is still coming; but by telling his disciples here, “a new commandment I give to you,” Jesus is telling his disciples the kingdom is already dawning. The kingdom of love is already breaking-in to the old order, because that kingdom is bound up with Jesus and what he’s fixing to do for them on the cross (cf. 1 John 2:7-11). The commandment is new in the sense that never before in the history of mankind had the love demanded under the Law been displayed fully in a person. That’s partly because every person born in Adam couldn’t fulfill the command to love because of their bondage to sin (Eph 2:1-3; Tit 3:3); and it’s partly because all that was bound up with neighbor-love under the Law anticipated the One person who could actually bring that love to its completion, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word—“love your neighbor as yourself”—incarnate. The love command is new because it’s now attached to a person—Jesus!—and all that he’s bringing to pass, not just a letter in the Law.

2. The Standard and Fuel for Obeying Jesus’ Love Command

And that leads us directly into our second part, namely, the standard and fuel for obeying Jesus’ love command. I just said that the newness of Jesus’ command is bound up with Jesus and him bringing a kingdom that fulfills what prior revelation in the Law and the Prophets anticipated. But there’s an additional element bound up with the newness of Jesus’ love command, and it’s this: the very act of love that makes the new kingdom possible also becomes the standard of love that governs the new kingdom. Or we might say it another way: the self-sacrificial love of Jesus not only brings people out of the darkness into the kingdom; it rules the people in that kingdom. If you wear Jesus’ crown, you must also take up his cross.

I’m getting this from a couple things I see coming together in the passage. First off, we see the glorification language again in verses 31 and 32: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” Jesus’ glorification is his death and exaltation (7:39; 12:16, 23, 28; 17:1, 4, 5). It’s the climactic moment when Jesus reveals what God the Father is like through his perfect obedience unto death on the cross. When Jesus dies on the cross, the Father’s glory goes public for you to see and experience and enjoy. The cross showcases what God is like. He is holy; he is love. So, Jesus’ death for his Father’s glory is in view.

And this comes together with Jesus’ love mentioned in verse 34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another [and here it is]: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” So when the glorification of the Father in Jesus’ death comes together with Jesus’ love for us, this is what we get—Jesus loved us by glorifying his Father even when it required laying his life down for us.

This is John’s testimony. God the Father looked on a rebellious people—a people who provoked his wrath with every breath and could merit absolutely no love from above—he looked on these people, people like you and me, and from within himself simply chose to love us (3:16, 19-20, 36; 17:24). And his Son was on board with loving us too, because he submitted to the Father’s loving plan to rescue us, even when that meant heaven’s King would make himself nothing, become a servant, and die a death he didn’t deserve (1:14; 12:24; 13:1-17; 17:1-5).

More than that, his love didn’t just consider these things from above; it took the initiative such that the Son came down. God’s Son actually left glory and entered a broken world in order to save it (1:14; 3:17; 12:47). He loved a people that hated him (1:9-11). He blessed those who cursed him with truth (8:40, 45-46). He served a people who rejected his care (1:11); he stooped to wash their feet only to be betrayed (13:1-7, 18-20). More than that, his love looked eternal wrath in the face—wrath that wasn’t even his, but ours—and he bled through his pores in prayer for the strength not to do his own will but that of his Father above (12:27; 17:1f; cf. Luke 22:44). His love then gave all on the cross; he loved our souls to death, in order that others who had nothing might gain everything through a right relationship with God.

Here is a glimpse of the love we know from our Savior, Jesus Christ; and this is our standard. We pursue nothing less than this sort of Godward, sacrificial love. Now, he doesn’t mean you must give your life to atone for each other’s sins. Verse 33 clarifies that’s only a work Jesus can do: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you [he’s fixing to die]. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’” Only Jesus can take the world’s sins on his back and enter the darkness of death under God’s wrath. That’s a work that only he can do—he is God and he is without sin. He’s not commanding you to atone for people’s sins. But he is commanding you to imitate his sacrificial, self-giving love (cf. Phil 2:1-11; 1 Pet 2:20-22; 1 John 3:16).

It’s rather sobering when you think of it? That is, if we’re honest with how profoundly selfish we really are. This standard leaves us undone before our Lord and forces us to cast ourselves constantly upon his grace to create in us supernaturally a kind of love we cannot produce on our own. But isn’t it also the case that by looking at the standard of Jesus loving us, that we’re also moved to love one another? Isn’t it the case that the standard for our obedience—the love of Jesus for us—also becomes the fuel for our obedience.

Here’s what I mean. Jesus’ love drove him to take on the same human flesh in which we had failed to love others (John 1:14). Jesus then fulfilled the law perfectly at every point in love for God and love for neighbor, and he did it for you and me (Matt 5:17; John 1:16-17; 6:29). Jesus then died for sins not his own, in order that we might receive forgiveness for every occasion we haven’t loved our neighbor in word, deed, thoughts, and desires (Col 1:14; 1 John 1:9). And when he died, he also broke the power of sin over our lives, which hinders love for our neighbor (John 8:34-36; Rom 6:1-14). And to top it all off, his death became the pathway back to glory, the realm from which he sent the Spirit to produce his love in us who once never had it (John 7:39; 14:26; 15:26; 17:20-26). So, yes, his love is the standard alright; but look at all it accomplishes to free you and me to love as he loved.

That means our obedience to this love command isn’t a matter of sheer will power. There’s nothing in you that will kindle a fire to love anybody like Jesus is commanding us to love them. You might be able to do things that seem loving. But if your heart isn’t boiling with an encounter with Jesus’ love for you, then it’s all for not 1 Cor 13:1-3 tells us. The solution is to feast on Jesus’ love for you, and let his love fuel every fiber of your being to make strides in becoming more like him. The standard is also the fuel; it tells us what he did to enable us to love as he loved.

3. The Community Who Embodies Jesus’ Love Command

Which means, third, the work of Jesus actually secures a new community who embodies Jesus’ love command. There’s actually a new people who give hands and feet to Jesus’ love command. It starts with the eleven here; but thousands upon thousands would be added later as Christ builds his church. That’s you and me, if you’re following Jesus today. If Jesus is your Lord and your life, his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his gift of the Spirit means sacrificial love is not just a possibility for you, it’s already present in you. The question is what should it look like coming out of you?

Notice, there’s no option of whether you should love each other or not. Jesus hasn’t left that for his disciples to decide. If you love the Bridegroom, then you must love his Bride. He’s jealous for her salvation; and to remain indifferent to his church means you’re indifferent to Christ and he will guarantee your eternal condemnation. Just read Matt 25:31-46 when you get home (cf. 1 Cor 3:17). But a disciple learns to love what Jesus loves. So, the question is what should Jesus’ love look like coming out of you, Redeemer? How are you going to love each other as Jesus loved you, Redeemer?

A Definition of Christian Love

We’ve been through a definition of Christian love before in the life of this church, but I want to give it to you again—just so we’re clear and not falling into some sort of weak emotionalism or dispassionate duty or other false notions of love. When we look at Christ and the lives of the other apostles who imitated his love, this is how we might define Christian love. Christian love is a genuine affection for another’s ultimate good in God such that we spend ourselves sacrificially to see them obtain it (Mark 10:45; Rom 12:10; 1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1; 13:4-7; 1 John 3:16; 2 Cor 8:9; 12:15).

That’s the love we find in Christ for his people; and that’s the love that should characterize our church. The maturity of a church is not found merely in what we confess, or merely in what we achieve, but in how much we love one another sacrificially (Eph 4:16). Jesus pursued our ultimate good in God unto death. First John 3:16 says, “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

Tangible Examples of Christian Love

So, what does this love look like? We get numerous examples of it throughout the New Testament. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2); “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others, having in you the mind that was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:4-5); “Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess 5:15); “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another” (Eph 4:32); “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, living in harmony with one another” (Rom 12:15-16); “Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3); “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13); “Use your gifts to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4:10); and on and on we could go with hundreds of more examples from the Bible. But I think you get the point: Christ’s love is boundless. It touches every area of life for the believer and every relationship he or she has to others in the church.

Growing in Initiative and Investment

But I think it would help us grow if I pointed out two areas we’ve been weak as a church and need to grow. The elders have talked about these two areas, and would ask you to join us in prayer for God to strengthen these two areas in our church body. They are the areas of initiative and investment—initiative to enter each other’s lives, messy and awkward as they may be; and then once there, making the investment that leads to Christ-like transformation and service.

So what about initiative? I know many of you love this church and love your care group and want the best for each other. I’ve heard you say it. And I’m so thankful. Having such affection for each other means God is already working in your heart, kind of like when God put into the heart of Titus an earnest care for the church in Corinth (2 Cor 8:16). But when Jesus decided to love us in glory, he didn’t stay in glory. He took the initiative and entered our poor state; he entered our mess of a world; he entered our wrecked lives, in order to serve us and bring life to us. Our love must do the same.

So, for example, I mentioned Gal 6:2—“bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That doesn’t mean everyone should just exchange each other’s burdens; it means that those who are more able should bear the burden of others who are less able. But here’s what may challenge some of us: the command assumes that we actually know each other’s burdens, doesn’t it? It assumes that we’re taking the initiative to know what each other’s burdens really are. It assumes that we’re making the efforts to be around each other more, not less; having each other over to our houses more, not less; not letting people in care group get away with surface-level responses to our questions about their life or their marriage or their work, but taking the initiative to probe more, ask more, draw out more about how they’re really doing inside.

This past week at the Care Group Leader’s meeting, we talked about how sometimes we even make false assumptions that other people in the church are handling things or that other people are caring for someone. Instead of taking the initiative in asking or serving, we just assume it’s being handled. Maybe you know them: “Oh, I bet the elders have already done something about it;” “Oh, I bet Gary’s going to take care of that soon;” “Oh, I bet they’ve got plenty of volunteers for DIG and nursery;” “Oh, I bet their Care Group is already handling that;” “Oh, they’ve been parents long enough; they probably don’t need any of my help;” “You know, when I talked to him a month ago, he seemed to be fighting lust and internet pornography; but I’m not going to bother him right now; he’s probably doing okay.”

Folks, these sorts of assumptions do not reflect Christ-like love. These kinds of assumptions can actually become subtle ways of showing we’d rather not die to our own self interests. If we live by assumptions that love is happening instead of seeking out the truth, then we’ll end up loving nobody or loving somebody only when it’s convenient to us. Our sinful flesh and the devil will always tempt us to build stories that keep us from loving like Christ loved. Christ-like love takes initiative. It pursues truth. It enters people’s lives at all costs to self-interests and schedules and pocket books and your regular seat in the pew each Sunday. It initiates the hard conversations; it asks the deeper questions about life; it makes the phone calls; it cares for the needs of others; it pursues the other person’s good in God sacrificially. So, let’s look to Jesus and go there together.

And what about investment? So this moves beyond initiative and brings us face to face with how we’re going to serve each other’s good in God. This is difficult, because it requires even more death to self, more setting aside of our own interests to serve the interests of others. Timothy Savage, a pastor in Arizona, writes this as he reflects on the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. He says, “We reproduce the love of Christ when we pick up the broken lives of people right in front of us, bearing them on our own backs as though their brokenness were our own. And we will continue to bear up such lives until they are no longer broken—‘binding up wounds, pouring on oil and wine, carrying them to an inn, paying out whatever is required, showing mercy, proving to be a true neighbor’ (Luke 10:34-37). To love your neighbor as yourself is not merely to love another as much as yourself, but to take up the life of another and make it your own” (The Church, 23-24).

I wonder if we’re at a place where we can say this of each other as a church. Are we a kind of people willing and available to take up each other’s broken lives and make them our own? This is what I mean by investment. Jesus invested in us when he took on our humanity, when he endured the trouble, when he bore our sins in his body on the tree. He gave himself to see us saved and raised up. He overcame the obstacles to give us life. In the same way, we give ourselves over to see the brokenhearted bound up, the weak among us encouraged, the stressful resting in the Lord, the sick prayed for, the run-down missionary refreshed, the brother looking for a job fed, the one who’s going astray turned back from his evil ways, the mom who needs a break served, the couple whose marriage is rocky counseled, the brother who’s lazy admonished, the sister who’s depressed comforted. Jesus’ love requires initiative and it requires investment.

We’re not an event that happens on Sundays, we are a people who love each other as Jesus loved us; and the way we will grow in this love is by looking again to the love of Jesus himself for us and learning to make fewer and fewer self-calculations in our relationships with one another. The less we’re consumed with ourselves and the more we’re consumed with Jesus, the more his love will shine in our community.

4. The World-wide Goal of Jesus’ Love Command

One last part, I want to look at the world-wide goal of Jesus’ love command. All this sacrificial love for one another serves something greater than ourselves. You can see it there in verse 35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When Jesus’ love rules a community of people, that people serves as a visible testimony to the world that Jesus is mighty to save.

The Uniqueness of Our Love

I mean think about it. Our whole basis for loving each other differs from the rest of the world. We don’t love each other because we have a favorite football team, or a common education, or an identical ethnicity, or the same level of income, or the same workplace, or the same hobbies. We’re not naturally compatible people. Titus 3:3 says we’re naturally foolish, slaves to various passions, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. That’s what we are naturally. That’s what the world around us still is apart from Jesus. But since the Spirit of God has changed us, we stand united in Christ. He is the basis for our love and fellowship and unity.

More than that, his love moves us to do things that are rather peculiar to the watching world. For example, we love each other for Jesus’ sake. No matter how different we may be in our interests and backgrounds and needs and likes and personal preferences, at the end of the day, we love each other for Jesus’ sake. Gathering with others who aren’t like us, to sing and serve and fellowship—sometimes for hours together—seems silly to the world. But it just goes to show them that our lives are not ultimately about us, but about Jesus.

Or another example of our peculiar love for one another: we rebuke and correct each other with the truth, in order to keep us from growing comfortable with sin and in order to deepen our love for Jesus. Right? That’s what true love does. Love is a genuine affection for another’s ultimate good in God. We pursue people’s well-being in God, even when that means dying to our own comforts and fears to correct them. The world promotes tolerance and acceptance without bounds. But that’s not ultimately loving, because it fails to bring people to God. Our love for one another stands out in this way.

God's Strategy for Loving the Lost World Is the Church

There are other ways it sticks out, but the point of it all is that our love for one another is to shine the self-less love of Jesus into a world darkened with sin and wrecked with despair. The church stands as a glowing beacon of hope to the world that true peace and companionship comes only through the relentless, self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ. Church, one of the strategic ways you can love the world is by loving one another more, by being the community God has made you to be. The fire of your love for each other should glow and radiate the warmth of Christ to the dark and cold world that knows no such love.

Our Love for One Another Should Be A Regular Entry Point to the Gospel

Maybe an example would help. About seven years ago, I used to meet with several brothers for prayer on Friday nights, and then we’d do some door-to-door evangelism and discipleship on different days of the week. There were four of us initially: George—who’s now gone to be with the Lord—he was the joyful Hispanic brother; Jack was the firm, resilient leader of the group from Botswana, Africa; Mark was the short but bold Chinese guy, and spoke very broken English; and then myself, the nerdy white guy with boots.

So, we’d go out together and meet people and share the gospel with them, but the one thing that would come up in conversations was why in the world we were all hanging out with each other. You couldn’t have put more different people types in our circle. But we loved each other for Jesus’ sake, and people wanted to know how we became friends and why we hung out with each other. Our only explanation was Jesus Christ. He had united us in one Spirit, given us a love for one another, and taught us to serve beside one another for the advance of his gospel.

The explanation of our love for one another was a regular entry point to the gospel, just as Jesus said it would be here, and just as he prayed it would be in John 17:21: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” There’s a love from God that makes us one for the world’s sake—that the world might believe that Jesus saves, that Jesus’ final reign has begun as seen in the relationships between his people.

Your love for each other serves as a witness to the world. That’s what I saw happening this week in Vacation Bible Camp. That’s what we should want in our care groups. That’s what we should desire all week long—that our love for one another makes Jesus’ love look beautiful to the watching world; that our selfless pursuit of others bears witness that Jesus has won for himself a people and filled them with his sacrificial love.

May it be so even more for us, Redeemer! Let’s make it our prayer, that God would make our love for one another fervent, not just so that our church might be stronger, but so that people from outside might be persuaded to find the same love in Jesus Christ. Pray that God would so increase our love for each other, that it attracts the lost world around us to find in Jesus what they’ve never known before in this world of pride and self-centeredness (John 13:35; cf. 1 Cor 14:24-25). And then after you’ve prayed for it to be so in the church, pray that God would begin the good work with you. We can’t produce the sacrificial love Jesus is commanding of us; but God can, and he’ll be pleased to do so in you when you ask him.

On Our Way to an Eternal Kingdom of Love

I know this because if you’re in Christ, God’s in the middle of preparing you for the new heavens and the new earth; and there, you will love each other perfectly. The new heavens and the new earth will be a place of love. It won’t be characterized by war and rumors of war; by racism or ethnic pride; by economic division or social chaos; by age preference or affinity favorites. There will be one choir of redeemed saints—diverse, but united by the blood of Jesus—all of them thrilled with God’s glory and increasingly delighted to serve each other in God’s love. There will never be any tension, or awkwardness, or fear, or envy, or strife, or anything that will cause your division, because no sinful impulses will be present in any of your souls forever. Only love will be your words and deeds, because no sins will be hiding God’s glory in Christ from your eyes or hindering the enjoyment of God’s glory in Christ as it’s reflected in the self-less, Christ-like deeds of his saints. So, take heart believer, God isn’t through with us yet.

For those of you who don’t know Jesus’ love, please consider the cross this morning, where God’s love was displayed for you. You deserve wrath and judgment for your sins, but God sent his only Son to remove that wrath and bear that judgment, so that you might be forgiven. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today; come to him. If you want to know how to come to him, come and talk to me or Dale or Wes or any of the people who invited you. It would be our joy to help you know the love of Christ we spoke of this morning.

other sermons in this series