Playing by New Rules

Introduction – How do you tell a Christian?

Before I went into full-time ministry, I was an electronics technician at a major corporation for several years. One of the guys I worked with was one of the kindest people I had ever met. In a place where people were usually concerned only for themselves, Mike’s gentle humor and willingness to do for others was appreciated by all of us. One day, Mike and I struck up a conversation, and I was not surprised to discover that he was a devout Christian who was active in his church. I was impressed that his love for others was so obvious that it was the first thing I had noticed about him.

There was another guy there who was a strong Christian. John was also a nice guy, although that may not have been the first thing you noticed about him. He wasn’t obnoxious, but everyone knew he was a Christian. He usually spent his lunch breaks reading his Bible. He never drank or smoked or swore. He was very careful not to do anything that might give an appearance of evil. One day I gave him a ride home from work and he wouldn’t let me drop him close to his house because he was afraid that a neighbor might see him getting out of a car driven by a woman who was not his wife.

One day I was talking to John and said something about learning that Mike was also a Christian. John seemed to be thinking for a moment and then said, “Well, he told me that too, but he does smoke, so I’m not so sure.”

I was shocked! I know that smoking is a dangerous habit, but it’s not the unpardonable sin! Somehow John had gotten the idea that if someone smoked, they probably couldn’t be saved. It doesn’t say anything like that in the Bible! But in his mind, that had become one of a number of “litmus tests” to determine who was a true Christian.

Over the years, there have been all kinds of “tests” that Christians have come up with to try to determine who is and is not a “true believer.” It varies from culture to culture and even from church to church. When I visited Romania, another woman in our group discovered – the hard way – that in Romanian churches, “earrings were a sign of the unrepentant.”

In our passage this morning, Jesus tells us that

The Mark of a true Christian is love

A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus teach that the Greatest Commandment, is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul & strength.

I said then, that if we truly love God, we can do as we please because if we truly love him we will desire to do his will

But Jesus didn’t stop at the greatest commandment,

He went on, saying, “the second [greatest commandment] is [a lot] like [the first]: ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Then he made the amazing statement, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That is, EVERYTHING else that God wants us to do flows out of these two commandments: To love God and to love our neighbor

I wonder if I’m the only one who wishes Jesus had just stopped with the first commandment.

God is a lot easier to love than some of my “neighbors”

That’s why when Jesus says this in Luke’s Gospel, a hand goes up and says, “Well, who exactly is my neighbor anyway?”

You know what he’s thinking, don’t you?

Please don’t tell me I have to love MY good-for-nothing neighbor Goldstein, do I??

C. S. Lewis once said: "it is easier to be enthusiastic about humanity with a capital "H" than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, … exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular."

Regardless of how lovable your neighbors are, Jesus insists that these two commandments – love God, love our neighbor – are inseparable.

In fact, the fulfilling the Second Great Commandment – to love our neighbor – is the only proof we are fulfilling the first – to love God.

In 1 John, ch 4, we read this:

If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?

If we say, “Oh I love the Lord!” And we love to sing the hymns and we love to go to church and we love to read the Bible, but we say, “Oh, I can’t stand her!”

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