Be Rich Part 3: Loving
On Sunday 21st May at our morning service, we continued our series 'Be Rich' with the topic 'Loving'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
To download the talk to listen to off line, please click here.
Our lives are often affected by rules and when we break them there are problems. We need checks and balances but not to be driven by them. All religions set rules but the danger is that this leads to a relationship with God based solely on the principle of following rules: you must follow them to get to heaven or paradise or a better next life. Sadly, the rules are sometimes set by men to keep people in their place, under control.
Christianity has been no exception. The early church gradually worked out ways to put the principles Jesus set into practice but as the church became more organised, rules crept in and as they did, love often went out of the window. We don’t reduce our loving human relationships to whether someone obeys us or not. There is so much more to a relationship than that, so why would we do this with God?
In the Old Testament part of the Bible we read a lot about rules: how God’s people were to live, what they should eat, how worship was to be conducted and so on. This supported the “old covenant”, an agreement between God and his chosen people, Israel. There is also much about love and caring but whether God blessed the people depended on their obeying his commands. The trend over the centuries was to flout the Law, turning away from worshipping God and to reap the consequences. By Jesus’ time on earth, their descendants had more rules to follow, developed by religious leaders to interpret the rules already in the Law.
The New Testament tells us of a new covenant, a one-to-one relationship with God that Jesus made possible based on love, not rules. Ultimately, our relationship with God is measured against our relationship with others. Love is at the heart of the Christian message: from God towards people, our loving God in response and then loving others. Tragically, this is not the message that some get when they encounter people who claim to be Christians but who mistreat others.
During the talk, we looked some verses from 1 John, chapter 2 verses 6-11. At first sight, verses 1-6, look like more rules but, looking closer, we see that we don’t have to follow rules to be loved by God and reconciled with Him. Jesus has already done what is necessary. If we do get things wrong (sin) – and by implication recognise it and repent – Jesus speaks up for us. As John has explained earlier in the letter, God is faithful and just and we will be forgiven, restored.
But there is something here about obedience (verses 3-6): “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
This means following Jesus teaching and example. It is not a condition to earn God’s favour but simply how we should respond to God’s love. Obedience is a response, not a restriction, and indicates to us that we are following God. John doesn’t mince words – anyone claiming to know Jesus but not following his teaching to love others is a LIAR. That is strong stuff but the great thing is, following Jesus “makes God’s love complete in us” – like the final bit of the jigsaw.
This is no new command but an old one that Jesus gave a new emphasis when he said (John 13 verses 34-35) "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Here is the point again: loving one another is how people recognise that we love Jesus. John rams this home in verses 7-9: claiming one thing but doing the other is like being in the dark rather than in the light; loving and hating have no place together.
The way of love is simpler than following rules but is more demanding. Answering the question “what does love require of me?” is relatively easy whereas keeping track of complying with rules may not be.
What does being rich in loving mean in practice? Well, you can’t mistreat people for whom Jesus died, and everybody is somebody like that. For Christians, following Jesus means loving one another – there are no two ways about it. This should be a natural response to loving Jesus and receiving God’s love – which is always there for us. But what can we say about those who don’t? We are forced to conclude that someone who says they are a Christian but doesn’t love others, who behaves nastily towards others, is probably not really a Christian.
John wrote (v9): “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness”. If that gives you pause, reflect on your relationship with God. Ask yourself, how am I doing at loving my brothers and sisters? That is the crunch; responding in obedience like that is the mark of how you know you are His. But remember, you are not on your own. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to fill us with his life and love, which should overflow, top us up and keep us loving. There will be moments when this is tested – some people can be un-loveable at times – but the principle should still underpin everything we do.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Are you as rich in loving as you might be?
2. Think about your relationship with God and your commitment to follow Jesus: how has God’s love been made complete in you?
3. Does this show in your attitudes to other people and how you express your faith?
4. How committed are you to showing God’s love to your Christian brothers and sisters by joining with them in the things EBC does?
5. While we should love our fellow Christians, this should flow out towards others too – how are you doing on that score?
6. What simple thing might you do for someone that would show that love?