December 10, 2008
This morning I’m thinking about the church and the wonderful family that God is building – the family that I am a part of. Our message on Sunday is going to be about adoption. In other words, God chooses us to be part of his family. He adopts us in. The scripture says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13, NIV) Notice that God gives us the right, but as people who have a choice, we have to receive this offer.
What I would like to consider this morning is the nature of this family that God is making, and more specifically, the most important activity that God is calling his family to do together. What is God’s family business? First of all, let’s think about the makeup of this family of adopted children. Adoption brings people into the family who are very different from one another – different backgrounds, nationalities, interests, looks, experiences, practices, talents, etc. You name it, we’re all very different, or at least we should be. To complicate things further, by it’s nature, adoption is for needy children – children who need a Father and who need a family. In this way, the family is going to be a gathering place for needy people who are very different from each other. Sounds like it might be challenging for this family to get along, right? If it were up to us, we would probably look for people who are like us in every way. But the good thing is that the family doesn’t get to choose who to adopt, the Father does.
So what should we, the brothers and sisters be about? The answer in the Scriptures is very clear, and is found right before the verses I’ve already referred to above. We are called to be witnesses, pointing to the Father and to his Son who gives us the right to adoption, full of his Spirit who enables us to experience the fullness of the reality of adoption. Our pastor, Gary Inrig, gave excellent teaching on this last Sunday, (check it out here), and gave us pastoral staff a sneak preview into next Sunday at our staff meeting yesterday. So the family business is to be witnesses who point people to Jesus Christ, the one who gave us the right to become adopted into the family in the first place.
It is interesting that being witnesses was not the central focus in the apostles’ teachings. Love for one another is by far the greatest topic for the new churches, families that God was forming. It makes sense that the business of being witnesses is packaged in the beauty of love for one another, for we are the family that God is bringing new children into. Jesus himself said it, and the disciples really understood it, and taught relentlessly on it in their letters to these baby churches. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV)
I’ve been studying 1 John for the past few months and can make a case in point by just looking at this letter from John, Jesus’disciple, to the church in Jerusalem, and to us today. My study method was recommended by my friend and colleague, Steve Springsted. We’ve been studying it together. We print it out from a Bible program. Then we read, reread and begin to underline key points all the while looking for the big ideas that God is trying to get us to understand through John’s inspired writing. I break out the highlighter and use different colors to highlight the main themes. I found 3 main themes.
1. Obedience – walking in the light, confessing our sins, keeping His commandments, keeping His word, walking in the same manner as He walked, doing God’s will, practicing righteousness
2. Abiding in Christ – over and over John talks about us abiding in Him and He in us
3. Love – the theme is stated early on and then at some point it becomes the central theme of the letter; in fact, if we are not loving each other, we are not fulfilling numbers 1 and 2 – we are not being obedient and we are not abiding in Christ.
a. God’s love identifies us as his children, as brothers and sisters “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1John 3:1, NIV)
b. God’s love is the example/inspiration for our love for one another “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.” (1John 3:16, NIV)
c. Our love for one another confirms that we are in God and that God is in us “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1John 4:7-8, NIV)
I would conclude from this study that the marks of being a Christian are obedience to God’s command and abiding in Christ. The primary evidence that we are practicing those two things is in carrying out Christ’s example of love in the way we love one another. I believe that this is the greatest point of failure of the church, and it was in the early church as well. The enemy of God and his church is Satan and I believe that he takes this family, the children of God, and attacks us at this point more than all else. Loving one another is the hardest thing we will ever be called to do. John says it plain and simple, we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
I want to return to my introduction and see if I can tie it all together. We are a diverse group of people with incredible gifts, passions, and desires. We’ve been adopted into God’s family through Jesus Christ and so we are brothers and sisters. We are commanded to love him foremost and in the same way, love our neighbor as ourselves. We are commanded to love one another as of first importance and as a testimony to the world that we belong to him. We are also commissioned to make disciples of all nations, being his witnesses to everyone. Yet John doesn’t mention this commission or command of God. I think that the early church knew that making disciples was their primary purpose – it was a given. They all knew that God’s business was adding children to the family, and knew their role in inviting and welcoming them into the family. John focuses instead on making sure that the family is healthy, attractive, and truly abiding in Christ. Who wants to be invited into a family that isn’t loving each other well? No one.
Here are some examples of what this love might look like in practice. You might want to read it through a few times, pausing at the end of every phrase. It is powerful and it is convicting. It is God’s Word!
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1Cor. 13:4-8, NIV)
O God, help me to love like that! Forgive me and forgive us for our failure to love like that. Help us, your children, to love each other like you did, laying down your life for us. It’s so hard to lay down my life sometimes, especially when I think that I’m right and when I’ve been wronged. You, who conquered death by rising from the dead, redeem love that has failed. May it spring back to life, stronger and more alive than before. May love within your family at Trinity Church be the most beautiful and compelling reality behind our actions and words of witness, that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the whole world. And may the result be the growth of this family – growth that You produce. Bring us more children, God, and may we be ready to love them like you do! Thank you for your Holy Spirit that produces that love in us. Fill us Lord – may we overflow with love!