by: Denise Robinson
Be a Methodist: Love Others
1 Cor. 13:1-13; 1 John 3:11-18
What is it in Jesus that draws us away from our own natural desires, that makes us even entertain the notion of leaving all for his sake, to follow him in difficult times and even, for many throughout history, to death? It is his teaching? Those who heard him, according to John 7:46, said, “No man ever spoke like this man!” Is it the power of his miracles? Could it be perhaps the fact that unlike any of us, he was able to live a sinless life? While these are all admirable qualities, they are so far above us that I don’t think they are what attracts us to Jesus or makes us take up the challenge to change our lives. I think what people in his time saw, and what we see today, in Jesus was his love. His love shattered barriers of hate and prejudice. His love picked up the pieces of broken hearts and minds and put them back together. His love offered forgiveness and understanding, where before there had only been condemnation. His love brought triumph out of failure. Jesus came into the world to reveal the love of God – a love that extends to each and every person here this morning and to each and every person who is not here. For people who encountered Jesus, they physically and spiritually felt that love – they saw it in his face, heard it in his voice, felt it in his touch. It was divine, but at the same time it was real on a very human level. And today, when we encounter Jesus, we have the same experience. That same love has been given to us. And it’s that same love that we’ve been called to have for not just each other, but for the world. As Methodists, we are called to love others.
Last Sunday we talked about the difficulty, if we’re being honest, in loving God. It’s something we know that we’re commanded to do, but it isn’t easy. God is so far above us that we can’t even imagine what we will experience when we are finally in God’s presence. But we begin to work through our love of God when we understand how much God loves us. Amazingly, God loves us just as much as he loves Jesus. Once we understand, and accept, God’s love for us, then we can truly love God. But what about loving others? We all, you all, know the commandment. You don’t need me to tell it to you: love your neighbor as yourself. And, who is your neighbor? It’s the person who gets on your last nerve, the person with views opposite of your own on any topic you could name, the person who doesn’t even pretend to like you. As Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” It isn’t fair; in fact, it seems downright unreasonable. It goes against human nature. Personally, I don’t like it. More importantly, is it even possible and, if so, how?
Wesley, in his article, The Character of a Methodist, not only thought it possible, he considered it to be the mark of anyone who would call themselves Methodist. Wesley, even for himself, didn’t pretend it would be easy. He knew that we might all agree with the command to love in principle. Being Methodists, he even supposed that we would sing about it, read about it, talk about it, teach and preach about it. But he questioned whether we would do it. Knowing how our differences of opinion tend to divide us, he commented: “If we cannot think alike, at least may we love alike; and can anything but love beget love?” Let’s face it, we have a hard time loving one another in practice. We love in the abstract, but we struggle with it in the concrete. How do we learn to love?
First, we learn to love one another in the church. We can’t love outwardly until we love inwardly. Jesus said to his disciples in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus, in the Greek, had two options in deciding which word to use for “new.” The first was neos. Neos meant new in time. Neos was the latest, the most recent. A new car would be a neos car. The other word Jesus could have used was kainos. Kainos meant new in form or quality, different in nature, something unique. When you buy your favorite product and it says “new and improved,” that’s kainos. It is this word that Jesus uses here. His commandment was new as to the quality and nature of love. He was talking about a new kind of love. The love he was commanding was to be like his love for them. The love he was commanding sprang from a new power - the power of the Holy Spirit. The love he was commanding was compelled by a new motivation - the self-sacrificing death of Christ on the cross. It was love, new and improved. And it began first with the disciples learning to have this kind of love for one another.
There are fifty-nine verses in the New Testament on how we are to treat one another as Christians. If you don’t believe me, read it and do your own count! Here are just a few examples. “Be devoted to one another in love (Rom 12:10).” “Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16).” “Accept one another (Rom 15:7).” “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love (Eph 4:2).” “Encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11).” Wesley called division and disunity in the church not just a breach of Christian love, he called it evil. From unloving hearts, he preached, come evil words, and from evil words, evil works will naturally flow. Even worse, he said, disunity in the church doesn’t remain in the church; it spills outward and becomes a stumbling block to those who are strangers to religion. When it does this, Wesley continued, it becomes an offense to God. The bottom line is, we cannot be Christians or call ourselves Christ’s church without love.
Francis Schaffer, a Christian theologian of the 20th century, said the world has a right to judge Christianity by the way we treat each other as Christians. He wrote, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful.” Love is the proof of our faith. It is the evidence of what we believe. This is why Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples.” When the outside looks at us, do they know we follow Christ?
So, now, after looking inward, we look outward. What does Christian love look like for all people, for those “others”? As Cassidy read for us from 1 Cor. 13: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love is listed as greater in scope than faith or hope, and love never ends. We know that we are supposed to love others, but how can we meet these standards? After all, loving some people seems more than just plain difficult, it seems impossible; some people are just miserably and determinably unlovable. We can try and try to be patient and kind and polite, but does Jesus really expect us to bear all things and endure all things? And not just pretend, but truly “love”?
Jesus clearly says the answer is “yes.” In our sermon text for today, 1 John 3:11-18, John writes: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Jesus' answer: Christian love is not based on a feeling; we all know you can't command someone to feel a certain way. Jesus' view of love comes down to a choice. It's a decision to treat others as commanded in 1 Cor. 13, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s a selfless love that is based on God’s selfless, generous, and unconditional love for us. It’s a forgiving love that doesn't keep a record of wrongs. Like God’s love for each of us, it doesn’t keep a record of our wrongs or measure how deserving you or I are of being loved. It’s based just on need. It's a sacrificial love. God’s love for us sent Jesus into the world to die on a cross. It’s a love that does more than just think of the other; it lays self aside for the benefit of the other. Our choice to love others is based on our understanding of God’s love, and Christ’s sacrifice, for us. We can’t, you and I, accept God’s love for ourselves if we don’t truly understand that God loves others just as much as God loves us and that Jesus commands us to love others just as he loves us.
We are caught up in a love that grabs hold of us whether we feel like it or not. It’s a love that can leave us vulnerable. C. S. Lewis, theologian and author, wrote: "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. wrap it around carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable .... The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is .... Hell."
When Jesus gave us the command to love one another, he had in mind the love we should have for one another and the love we should have for our enemies. Jesus had both in mind when he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Think about that person who gets on your last nerve when you are down to your last nerve. Jesus is telling you to love that person. It doesn't matter how that person makes you feel, you are to love that person. It doesn't matter how much, or how little, you like that person, you are to love that person. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with that person politically or socially or in any other way possible. Jesus wants you to love them just like he loves them, and just like he loves you. This is the new kind of love that draws people to Christ, the kind of love that enables others to see the power of God working in the church, the kind of love that has the ability to make a huge impact in the world.
In the end, we, you and I, don’t have a choice if we call ourselves Christ followers. Our Scripture for today makes this clear. Paul said, in 1 Cor. 13: If we don’t have love, we are nothing and we have nothing. John worded it even more strongly in 1 John 3: If we don’t love others, we are murderers and do not have eternal life abiding in us. We are commanded to love, not as a feeling and not just with words, but in truth and in action. Wesley called it radical love, and love of others is the mark of a Methodist.