Real Christians Really Love People

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Adventures in Conference Going
I’m going to tell you a story, but before I do, there are two things you need to know: 1) I know nothing about cars, and 2) I’m an idiot. Got that? I’m mechanically disinclined, and I’m not very bright.

So here’s the story. Last week Friday, my van started to make a funny noise. Whenever I turned, it sort of made this whining, grinding sound. When it didn’t go away after a day or two, I figured there was something wrong. So last Sunday, I asked Phil Blok to take a ride with me. Right away he said: “You’re low on power steering fluid.” So he tells me all I have to do is go pick up some fluid, and pour it in. He even showed me where to put it. He said I probably had a small leak, but it’d be a lot cheaper to just put fluid in from time to time rather than paying to find the leak and get it fixed.

So now I’m doing my own car repair. It was actually kind of exciting. I went to Arnold’s poured some fluid right there in the parking lot, and the noise went away. I thought: “Phil’s a genius!” It didn’t even take the whole quart. So was able to keep that in the van in case I needed to replenish.

So, the next day, it made a little more noise, and I figured I must not have got quite enough in the first time. So I topped it off, and no problems for the next couple of days.

On Wednesday my friend Scott (the new pastor in Alton) and I were going to the Twin Cities for a Twins a game and a church conference on Thursday. And I was planning on taking my van. Now, I should point out at that I never checked with Phil on this. This is entirely my responsibility. I figured I knew what the problem was, I had my quart of fluid, and we’d be fine. I even joked with Scott as we left that he better be ready to do some car repair.

The first sign of trouble came when we pulled off at Fairmont for something to drink. As we turned, there was that whiny, grinding noise again. So I got my trusty quart of fluid and topped it off again. Sound went away, and off we went.

But as we were passing through Mankato I noticed that the steering was getting a little stiff. I said to Scott that we better start looking for a garage. But by that time, we were through Mankato. We were o.k. as long as we were driving in a straight line, so we made it to St. Peter. We didn’t see any auto repair shops until we were almost through town, and then we saw a car dealership on the left. But I was in the right lane, so I turned off and as I did the whole steering locked up. I mean, I had to wrestle that thing just to get off the road. So we stopped, grabbed the fluid, poured some more in just to drive the two additional blocks to the dealership.

The mechanic comes out and listens to my story and checks things over. He says it is weird that he doesn’t see any fluid anywhere. But he’ll put it up on the lift and take a look. I mention that we have Twins tickets, and maybe, could he bump us to the front of the line. So he does, and right away he sees the problem.

Now, again, I don’t know anything about cars. But he shows me what’s going on. Apparently, there’s an internal leak. These seals have gone bad, and all the fluid I’ve been pouring in has been pumping into these two hoses that aren’t supposed have any fluid in them. He kind of touches one, and I can tell it’s all puffed up like a water balloon--I mean it’s practically pulsating. So, I’m like, “Great, can you replace those seals for me?” And he’s like, “No, you don’t just replace those seals. You have to put a whole new rack in.” And, of course, that’s not cheap.

So, it’s about 4:30 in the afternoon. We’re about 90 minutes from the cities. We’ve got tickets to a 7:00 baseball game. And I’m at a car dealership looking at a repair job that is going to cost more than my van is worth…

So, I bought a car.

Actually, that’s not exactly what happened. We rented a similar model car for the night, and I spent some time on the phone with Beth and she did a lot of research on the internet while we were at the game and then I called the dealer the next morning and worked out the deal. But I am now the proud owner of a Dodge Avenger. Happy birthday to me!

And, by the way, just a warning to the deacons: the expense sheet for this trip might be a little higher than usual.

Sign On the Dotted Line
Now, here’s the point. (I spent most of the ride home Thursday figuring out how this story was going to fit into this sermon. But it does. Good thing there was another preacher in the car). I spent a lot of time going back and forth on this decision. I wandered around the car lot, I talked to Beth, I talked it over with Scott. I considered fixing the van. I considered other cars. I talked a lot about buying a car. But for all my talking, I hadn’t actually bought anything yet.

Even the next day, when I called the dealer and worked out the deal, I still could have backed out before we got back to St. Peter. It wasn’t until I had signed on the dotted line that I had actually bought a new car. Until I actually did something, I had no car. Everything else was just talk.

And in our passage today, St. John says something similar when it comes to love. He says we can talk about love all we want. He says we can say the right words and give the proper smiles and sing the right songs; but until we actually take concrete action—that is, until we sign on the dotted line, until we have some skin in the game—we have not actually loved. Talk of love without actual demonstrations of love is meaningless.

Here’s how John puts it. 1 John 3:16-18:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

We’re in a series called Real Christians. We’re looking at the marks of Biblical Christianity. The kinds of things that the Bible says will be true of you if you are a true follower of Christ. Already we’ve seen that Real Christians believe the real gospel. Real Christians are on a real mission. Real Christians really love God. And Real Christians really trust God. Now, today, we are going to see that Real Christians really love people.

And you can see what I mean by really loving people right there in the passage, especially verse 18. Real Christians don’t just talk about love; they demonstrate love with actions and in truth. Real Christians know that love isn’t love if it is only something we say. Real Christians know that love is proven—love is made real—when it manifests itself in the things we do for one another.

In other words, when it comes to love Real Christians are willing to sign on the dotted line. They’re willing to put their money—and their time and their attention and their efforts—where their mouth is. They have some skin in the game. Real Christians really love people.

There are three things I want you to see in our text.

Love One Another
First, I want to talk about the command to love. Jesus expects us to love people. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command.

This isn’t immediately obvious from our text, but it is a part of the context. Back up a few verses to 1 John 3:11:

11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

And then go to the end of the section, 1 John 3:23:

23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

This entire section of scripture is begun and concluded with the same basic thought: as Christians we have a responsibility to love. In fact, John calls it a command: God expects His children to love.

In verse 11 John says it is the message "you heard from the beginning." In other words, there is nothing new here. We saw a couple of weeks ago that when Jesus was asked for the most important command, he gave a two part answer: The first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind. But the second is like the first: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In other words, you don’t have to love yourself less, but you should seek to love others as much. Your self-love should be the measure of your self-giving.

And then, again, on the night before Jesus died, He said it like this:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus makes love the distinguishing characteristic that sets us apart from other people. Real love should be the calling card, the bumper sticker, of every Christian. They’ll know we are Christians by our love.

This should be familiar. The responsibility we have to love--the idea that we love one another or that we love our neighbor as ourselves or that a Christian's greatest and most valuable virtue is love--should not sound strange or surprising to our ears. It is a familiar command, an old command--perhaps even a command with which we have grown quite comfortable.

But that's just the point--we should not become comfortable with it. Just because the command to love is well-known does not mean it loses its edge. In fact, in light of what John has to say about actions and truth, this is a command we need to take very seriously. It is a command which bears repeating and one which cannot be repeated too much.

This is not something that Christians can merely give token obedience to. We do not obey the command to love simply by paying lip service to it. It is not enough to harbor "warm feelings" in your heart for your fellow man. We are commanded to love and love requires action. Love means doing. Love must be shown.

This is How…
This becomes increasingly evident as we consider the example of Love. John defines love not with words but with a person. He is telling us that love is an action, and so he takes us to the ultimate act of love. Verse 16 in our key text:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.   

Do you want to know what love is? Then you must look at the cross. Because love means sacrifice, it requires giving up something of yourself on behalf of another, and there is no better example of that then Jesus Christ laying down His life on behalf of His sheep.

In fact, in the original language this verse literally reads "This is how we know love." It is almost as though John is saying that before Jesus, the world had no idea what love was. Sure, there were words for love and people talked about it, but before Jesus there were no truly perfect examples of love to be found on earth.

But with the cross we have the standard of what love really is. With the cross we really know what love means, what it looks like, what it does.

There is hardly a verse in the New Testament that speaks of God's love that does not also speak of the cross. The cross, James Boice said, is "the measure of God's love as well as the primary means by which we become aware of it." Take John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Or Romans 5:8:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Or from this very letter, 1 John 4:9-10:

This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus Christ stooping to take on human flesh and humbling Himself to take the burden of our sins upon His shoulder is the ultimate measure of love. This is what love is: doing for others even when they can offer nothing in return, loving the unlovely, taking compassion on those who cannot help themselves.

And notice, John is saying that Jesus did something. Jesus didn't just talk about love or issue commands to love, He lived love. He got His hands dirty, He got His back bloodied, He got His skin pierced and His body broken. Jesus didn't just sit on the sidelines and watch, He put some skin into the game. He signed on the dotted line.

And He is our example. Real Christians really love people. They love like Jesus did.

Actions and Truth
Thus we come to the practice of love.

This is the nuts and bolts part of this sermon. Given the command to love and having the example of Christ set before us, John tells us that we ought to go out and do it. Not just talk about love, not just sing about it, but actually go out and put love into action. The last part of verse 16 through verse 18:

And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

If Christ's sacrifice on the cross is the standard of love then we too ought to be prepared to lay our lives down for our brothers. John does not soft-pedal here. Christ died for those He loved, are you ready to do the same?

Obviously, the opportunities we are going to have to literally die in someone else's place are very limited. But Jesus' example goes to the heart of what love really is. It involves sacrifice, self-denial, a willingness to put the interests of others ahead of our own. Jesus laid down his life, are we willing to do the same for our brothers?

Now, some might ask: who does John mean by "brothers" here?

The short answer, I think, is other Christians.

As Christians, we are the children of God. And that means we are in a sibling relationship with all who belong to the Church. As Real Christians, then, we should love each other as members of the same family. There should be an obvious unity and fellowship among brothers and sisters in Christ that makes it clear we would be willing to go to the wall for each other. More than just the fact that we worship together or greet one another on Sunday mornings, there should be a visible bond of love which ties us together.

That means when one member of our church hurts, we should all hurt. That means when a member of our church is in need, we in the congregation should be the first to step up with aid. It should show up in little ways: like when we offer a listening ear to someone who is feeling down or bring a meal to someone who has been sick; and it should show up in big ways: like when we pitch in to help the family who has lost a home to fire or who can't afford major medical expenses.

It is clear to me that John views the church as an intimate community--a family--and that means we should love each other in practical, demonstrable, visible ways.

But I don't think we should let John's use of the word "brother" here limit this passage only to our relationships within the church. There is no excuse here for the attitude which sees the church as a sort of "mutual aid" society which requires membership in order to benefit from it. John is not telling us to look after our own while leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself. Indeed, he is saying precisely the opposite.

We need to expand our understanding of a "brother" to include anyone who might have a need. Remember that's what Jesus did for the word "neighbor" in the parable of the Good Samaritan. As Christians, we have a responsibility to love anyone and everyone--especially those who have less than us.

As I said, John is being very practical here. Verse 17 is very clear: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" In other words: "If you have stuff and see someone who does not have stuff, and yet you refuse to share your stuff--then you can hardly claim to have the same kind of love as God." You can talk about it, you can hold it up as an ideal, but unless you actually start to give yourself--and your stuff--away, you are not loving the way God loves.

Ronald Siders, in a book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger takes the implication of these verses to their logical conclusion. He writes:

The words are plain. What do they mean for rich Christians who demand increasing affluence while poor Christians in developing nations suffer from malnutrition, deformed bodies and brains, even starvation? The text says that if we fail to aid the needy, we do not have God's love--no matter what we may say. It is deeds that count, not pious phrases and saintly speeches. [And then this very somber indictment:] Regardless of what we do or say at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday morning, rich Christians who neglect the poor are not the people of God.

Real Christians really love people. Love signs on the dotted line. Love gets its hands dirty, its back bloodied. Love sacrifices, even when it means hardship or deprivation for the one doing the love.

You may be familiar with the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 13:1. It says:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling symbol.

The Greek word for charity in that verse is the same word as John uses for love here: agape. And it is not by accident that the KJV used the word "charity" for translating that word. Because a charitable love is the kind of love God demonstrated when He sent His Son--out of his abundance He gave to meet our poverty.

The real demonstration of our love, then, comes in our willingness to practice charity. Not in our mutterings that folks ought to fend for themselves, not in our selfish hoardings in case things take a bad turn for us, not in our insistence that people ought to do something to deserve our pity--but a simple willingness to give from ourselves to help those in need. If you are in a position to help someone, and you don't; then--the Bible says--you do not have the love of God. You might not be a Real Christian.

Which Is Better?
Finally, I’d like to tell you about my Dad.

My Dad could be a gruff guy. He could be very cynical. He did not abide fools lightly, and I heard him grumble on more than one occasion about the dumb choices people made. My Dad did not always talk about people in the nicest way.

But my Dad also had an incredibly soft heart. He was always helping people. The single mom who needed help getting her home established. The clerk at the convenience store. A friend who needed to be checked into rehab. An employee who was down on his or her luck. Dad had a way of finding people who needed help; and then quietly, and without any fan fare, he would help them.

I remember, as a kid, the phone would often ring and one of us kids would answer it and it would be somebody whose voice we didn’t recognize, and after we gave the phone to Dad we’d ask Mom: “Who was that?” And more often than not, the answer would be: “That’s someone your Dad is helping.” Years later, these same folks would call back, just to thank Dad for all he did. He even walked a couple of gals down the aisle on their wedding day.

Now, I’m not excusing some of the ways my Dad grumbled about people. Nor am I saying that he did it without sinning. Like I said, he could be cynical.

But let me ask: which is better? To always talk politely about people but never really help them? Or to occasionally grumble and complain, but always be willing to help when the need was there?

Which do you think demonstrate real love?

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.