Here is the message from this past Sunday's gathering. Our second week of our Body Politics.
Today we are continuing our series entitled Body Politics, looking at how the Body of Christ should do life together, or how we should “govern” the way we engage and interact with each other.
Last week we covered Matthew 18:15-17 which outlines the process of reconciliation that should happen when a brother or sister sins against you. We talked about the struggle we all have with this, as we have seen when this process blows up more than when it goes well. We talked about the need, in this process, to submit to one another, and to be Kingdom citizens who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus for this process to go well. We need to be a Kingdom community that lives in mutual submission to each other and to King Jesus.
Today we are talking about something that I believe goes hand in hand with not only last week’s theme of Conflict Resolution Jesus Style, but that is a thread that runs throughout our entire series and is the thread that runs throughout the whole of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. That of love. A group of people who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, doing life together as a Kingdom Community should be known by that one thing….love. All too often, however, in our world, Christians aren’t known for their love for each other, or others in the wider world. Just think back to the video that we played earlier. And take a look at this humorous picture that is all too often true. “They will know we are Christians by our T-Shirts”. But what does it look like to be a Kingdom Community of disciples that truly love each other? What does it mean to love each other and what is the purpose of that love? Let’s turn to our text this morning and unpack it together, John 13:34-35.
John 13:34-35 says, ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The first thing we need to understand in regards to this Scripture is the wider context in which Jesus is saying this. If you look at the beginning of John 13 we realize that this section of Scripture takes place in the Upper Room in the night before Jesus is crucified. We also see this is the section that contains, I believe, one of Jesus’ most subversive actions ever, that of taking on the role of the lowest of servants and washing the feet of his disciples, even Judas who was going to betray him, and Peter who was going to deny him. So when we talk about love, we need to realize that it is not an abstract proposition that is something outside of us. No. In fact, love is not an abstract proposition, but a person who embodies it. First and foremost that person is Jesus. He embodied love when he washed his disciple’s feet and so when he then calls all those who follow him to be known by love. To not just talk about love as a proposition, outside of oneself, but to actually be the embodiment of it. And when you have a community that embodies love, it is a holy and beautiful thing that not only makes a difference in the lives of the community of Christ Followers, but that it seeps out from the community into the wider world, and begins to impact the wider world with the love of Jesus. So much so that Lesslie Newbigin, a theologian and missionary said in his book ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, “the only hermeneutic (interpretation) of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” And I would say that that the only interpretation of the gospel is a Kingdom community that lives under the rule and reign of King Jesus, and the outworking of that rule and reign in their lives, is a radical, self-giving, self-sacrificing, Jesus-infused love for one another.
Now when we look at the text in John 13:34-35 we see Jesus saying, “A new command…” Was he really giving a new command, to love each other? The specific ancient Greek word used here for the world new implies freshness, or the opposite of outworn rather than recent or different. The Old Testament demanded that men should love neighbors as yourself. The new law is that we should love each other better than yourself and die for your friends.
But where was this new command rooted in? Was it rooted in the abstract idea of love? Or that you ought to love one another? Or is there a deeper root for the new command to love one another? Well let’s look at the next part of the verse where it tells us where this new command is rooted. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” So the new command to love one another is rooted in Jesus. Love in human form. And what a beautiful place to talk about love and rooting it in himself. That just before this he was taking on the form of a servant, stooping down and washing the feet of his disciples, culturally the act of the lowest of lowest servants. So what does it look like to root the new command to love each other? It looks like Jesus.
And what does love like Jesus look like? We already mentioned what took place right before this part of the chapter, but we also need to scan ahead toward what would happen only 12 hours or so after he said these words. That of Jesus going to the cross, to defeat the powers of sin, death, evil, violence, and hell. Love looks like Jesus on the cross, with his arms outstretched, forgiving those who put him there, taking care of the needs of his mother, and welcoming a thief into the Kingdom. That is what loving like Jesus looks like. That is what it means for a Kingdom community of those who seek to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus to do life together. It means forgiving others within our community. It means taking care of the needs of each other. It means being a body that welcomes people, wherever they are on the journey, and loving them no matter what. And most of all it means dying to your self (your desires for the community to be exact what you want, your ideas, your way, etc…) and submitting to each other in community.
And so when this happens. When those of us who seek to live in the Kingdom of God, under the rule and reign of King Jesus, begin loving how Jesus loved, that is when people begin to say, “They must be disciples of Jesus, because they love each other.” To understand that more deeply, you have to understand where the term Christian originated in. In Acts 11:26 we read, “And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” You see in the early church Christians were family, they called each other brother and sister, which led to the charge of incest. But you see that the early church was the only place in society where you would have Jews and Greeks, Slave and Free, Women and Men, Poor and Rich, children running around. All the social strata that people were so accustom to having in all the other areas of society, in the church they were broken down. And the love that flowed in between these people, whom wouldn’t be together in “normal situations”, could only be attributed to one thing, the love of Jesus that transcended all those social standings.
And the term “Christian” was something foisted on the early followers of Jesus, because they way they loved each other, could only be described as they looked like “little Christ’s.” So the watching word saw the way that the early church loved in other, despite all the differences that would normally separate and divide, and could only conclude that “those people are disciples because they truly love one another.” And so even in the midst of what seems like an internal community (IN) concept like loving each other as brothers and sisters, there is an OUT part of it as well. That when the world sees our community, will they automatically conclude that these people must be followers of Jesus because they love each other? Not a normal love for each other, but a Jesus-infused, self-sacrificing, radical, Kingdom of God, Calvary-type of love. Will the watching world see our community that way? That is my prayer and that is what should drive the politics of this body.
So we come to the how does this play out part of the time together. The part where we take time to unpack what it might look like for us, as a community, to truly live this out in our every day life. So we are going to dialogue together and we are going to be exceedingly practical and grounded in our discussion of what it might look like to have a body politic that is defined by this type of love that I have been talking about.
And here are the discussion questions that we discussed after the message:
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have about the message and the Scripture? 2. If the watching world saw our community would they conclude that we must be disciples because we love each other? If so, why? If not, why not? What are some things and ways we can make this Scripture more of a reality in our life as a Kingdom Community? 3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?