Summary: This sermon looks at the command of loving those of the household of faith, conflict in the church and restoration of those who stumble.
Love is the single most important command in the scriptures. Jesus taught that the single greatest commandment in the Bible is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. He followed up by saying that the second greatest commandment draws from the first – love your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus made an interesting comment, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” If you base your life and your actions on the love of God and the love of people, you will fulfill God’s law regardless of circumstances. On the contrary, if someone tries to live a religious and holy life that is not founded upon love, it is a completely wasted effort. Why do people fall into harsh legalism? They are keeping the rules, but their faith is in the rules and not founded upon the love of God.
When we live our life in submission to God, rules don’t constrain us, the love of God within us is our constraint. The Bible says that the law of God is written in our heart. Instead of needing rules and laws to force us into submission, the Christian’s walk is consistently right with God because we are following the love of God within us. I want to know scripture because my heart is drawn toward God and His word. I want to fulfill my calling because God draws me from within and it is a joy to do the work I have been equipped to do. I don’t obey because I have to, but because I want to.
Keep in mind that the word for love that is always associated with the commandments of God is the word ‘agape’. Agape is the love of God and it comes from God not from man. Agape is self-giving, self-sacrificing and outward focused love. The Bible also translates the word ‘philia’ into the word love. Philia is brotherly love, affectionate love or friendship love. By nature, we always love our friends, therefore, God did not need to command us to love with philia love.
Agape is one of the fruits of the Spirit – in fact it is the first fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”. The reason is because God places His Spirit within us when we are born into His kingdom. The evidence that this has occurred is that we have His love for His people. Even when we have disagreements, we still love God’s people. The evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a Christian is love.
Root of Bitterness
Even though we are born in the Spirit, we have the choice to live contrary to the Spirit. Some believe in error that when a person becomes a Christian that our sinful nature disappears and we no longer struggle with the flesh. All we have to do is look around and see this isn’t true. The scriptures also acknowledge this issue repeatedly, but it is stated clearly in Romans 6:
11 Likewise you also, reckon (or account) yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
Following the Spirit of following the flesh is an act of the will. We are to consider ourselves dead to sin; we are to choose not to let sin reign in our bodies; we are not to present ourselves to sin; we are to present ourselves to God. Verse 16 concludes by saying:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
With each decision, you make the choice to submit to God through obedience, or to submit yourself to sin. This is important to understand when it comes to loving God and loving others. Our human nature is a daily struggle, but we as Christians have the God-given power to live by the Spirit. Bitterness is of the flesh, but love is of the Spirit – I must choose which nature to follow. Look at Hebrews 12:
14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:
15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
As individual Christians we must all take care and be on guard against bitterness. Nothing can destroy a church quicker than bitterness. The Bible has given us a very clear warning that one root of bitterness can defile many. If we observe the churches we have been a part of, most of us have seen bitterness destroy people and often entire congregations.