Summary: The Bible, particularly Jesus, puts together two ideas which the world would always keep seperate: love and dogma. This sermon argues they must always go together.
The Bible puts two things together that modern man would never in a million years put together. We see them both in the gospel and the epistle appointed for today.
On one hand there is something in both the gospel and the epistle which the World would claim is an Excellency beyond measure: love, in particular love for one another.
In the gospel passage, Jesus says things like this:
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another …
In John’s first general epistle, many of the same ideas are set forth, ideas which no doubt grace the insides of countless religious greeting cards:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love…18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear … 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
So there we have it, love for one another. Surely of all the things one finds in the New Testament, this idea – that we should love one another – has common, comprehensive, unconditional approval by all humanity, everywhere, at all times, in all places. No person of good will, no one possessed of ordinary common sense, can possibly gainsay this. If this idea were ever pursued seriously by some critical mass of people, the results would very likely be world peace.
But in both the gospel and in the epistle appointed for today, we find something else, a creed, an insistence on a very narrow, very specific, very inflexible dogma concerning Jesus Christ. In the gospel, for example, Jesus says things like this:
10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. … 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
And in the epistle, we find Jesus’ disciple John saying these things:
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Now this is what makes the Bible difficult for people, including a lot of Christians. The Bible not only contains ideas that almost no one could dispute, it ALSO contains ideas which almost everyone, except a tiny minority of faithful Christians, will INVARIABLY dispute. And what will get disputed by almost everyone are those parts of the Bible which insist that love of God and confession of a dogma – a specific confession of faith – that these two things are linked together inseparably. Earlier in his epistle, the Apostle John had written this:
And this is [God’s] commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
In the view of modern men, none of this dogmatism is attractive. The dogmatic claims of the gospels or the epistles concerning Jesus are far from being self-evident. They pose great difficulties to the Christian when he attempts to argue and defend them. And, these claims are notoriously difficult to validate and verify by the standards that a modern man will accept. If you cannot put Jesus’ claims or the New Testament’s teaching under a microscope and produce them at will from a megatronic digitalized laser-guided nanomolecular magnetic truth-o-meter, then the modern man will scoff. The disciple of Christ proclaims the gospel through what Paul says is “the foolishness of preaching,” and here the modern man will readily and heartily agree with the Apostle Paul – it is sheer madness to accept something as true because some evangelist proclaims it to you! What’s worse, those who believe the dogmatic claims of Jesus and his disciples are so obviously prone to sectarian disputes, conflict and strife of all sorts, even religious wars.
What do Christians – serious and faithful Christians – think about all this? What do they do when Jesus himself links these two things together – love for one another and faith in Him, and not just in Him as some amorphous person, but faith in the Jesus who lives in the pages of the Bible itself, not in the fairyland of our sentimental ideas about him.
The temptation that presses itself most fiercely on serious Christians is to abandon one or the other of the two things which the Scriptures repeatedly link together. And, so, Christians can be found in all eras of the Church who have abandoned their love for the brethren in order to guard, protect, defend, and proclaim the dogma concerning Jesus. And, when this has happened, when Christians have let go the commandment to love the brethren, there has usually been a river of blood, or mounds of incinerated bodies, to be found in the wake of this abandonment.