Why the Church Loves
Hey Crystal Park Baptist Church. I miss you!
Whether you are in pyjamas, underneath the duvet or making breakfast right now, or sitting on the couch with your family, I'm glad that we have this mechanism to talk. And if you one of our friends from Benoni or further afield, just peering in on the ministry, I do trust that this morning you are edified!
We are in the fourth week of lockdown, and I'm sure we are all feeling it. The reality is, who knew it would get this far? In the first three weeks of lockdown, we looked at ‘What is the church?’ We looked at ‘What is a Healthy Church?’ And we looked at ‘Why does the Church Matter?’
Starting off with What is the Church? Let’s do a short recap.
We looked at the opening inaugural verses in the book of Acts of the church the early church; the church in Jerusalem. Acts 2:41, “41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.” We used a definition which Jonathan Leeman supplied to us, “A local church is a group of Christians, who regularly gather in Christ's name, to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom, through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.” Why did we start off with the definition of what is the church? It's so that you can differentiate in lockdown between what the church is and what the church isn't. We also used it in order to create a hunger, a desire in that's to return to the church as soon as Lockdown was lifted.
In the second week, we looked at what does a healthy church look like, and we just used the verses after Acts 2:41, verses 42-47, and we drew principles out of the verses those principles are the core values of Crystal Park Baptist Church. A healthy church is at first a Biblical Teaching church. That's what we lead with. But we're not just the Biblical Teaching Church. We're not just the talking Pulpit right? We're also Fervent Worshipping church. We worship God and enjoy him together. We are also a Loving Fellowshipping church. We love one another, even as we love the Lord. And we are a Passionate Evangelizing church, reaching out to our city with the gospel Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour.
Why did we focus on what is a healthy church? We did it so that we knew what we would aim for when we leave lockdown and so that we can celebrate what we've got. God has given us the most amazing Church in the third week. We looked at, why does the church matter? And we paid special attention to Acts 20:28. There we read, Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” The church matters because God owns her, because Jesus bought her with his blood, because the Spirit strengthens her, because you and I need her in order to spiritually mature and because the world would be dead without her; lost in darkness until the Glorious light pierces with the proclamation of the Gospel which the church brings.
Why don't we spend time looking at why the church matters? Because we need to understand the importance of the church. Why this lockdown period, when we can't gather, when we can't assemble, will be can't congregate, is making an impact, why it's a problem. But why when we return together, we will change the world through gospel proclamation as the world looks in on us and sees the beauty of God's organized organism, his bride, which is preparing for Jesus Christ at the end of days.
This morning, I want us to look at love. I want us to spend some time looking at what fuels the church, why the church loves. Even before we talk about the church and love, let's talk about why am I talking about the church and love today? Well, the first reason is lockdown has been extended. I think most of us expected lockdown to come to an end a few days ago. And yet it hasn't. So, I'm convinced that God desires us to learn more about the church. And in this case: love in the church.
Secondly, we looked at Acts 2:42-47. And as we looked at those verses, we took out Biblical Teaching, Fervent Worship, Loving Fellowship and Passionate Evangelism. But it really seemed to me that the catalyst for God reaching out to the world and calling men into himself was the beauty of the church on display and very specifically the beauty of the unity and the love that the Saints had for one another. And as we come out of lockdown, as we enter into a Corona infested world, I think that love that the church had for one another that early Jerusalem Church, is going to teach us something about how we need to live to God's glory, in this new world that we will enter into.
Thirdly, we've been looking at Devotions in the mornings through the Gospel of John. And while John's purpose in writing wasn't love, it was that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God and that by believing you might have life in his name. Love is a repeated word in his gospel account. In fact, it pops out of the text. The word love appears 39 times. By comparison to Matthew, Mark and Luke, the word love and the different words that are translated love, only appear 29 times collectively, across all of those gospels. John is the Apostle of Love. He has so much to teach us about love. And so, as I meditated on his gospel, and as I considered all these uses of love, a picture started to develop for me that I wanted to share with you. So, I'd like us this morning to consider how the church is fuelled by love.
So where do we start? 1 John 4:7 says that love is from God. And 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. Those aren’t definitions of God and it is not definitions of love. But what it does tell us is something about the essence of God. It tells us something about his attributes, something about God's characteristics, something that God's perfections; that God is permeated by love. It is part of who he is and it is a part of what he does. God is the source of love and whilst we might experience love, we might be recipients of love. We might be the conduit through which love flows. But ultimately, it is God who is the source of love. And so, if we want to understand love, we need to understand God. We would call this Theology; the study of God. That's the two Greek words put together to form theology. It is the study of God.
If we want to know love, we must study God, we must study who he is and we must study what he does. The only place that we can do that is in God's word. And so the Gospel of John becomes a helpful mechanism a helpful tool in order to investigate the subject matter of love. And so I want us to start off with theology.
1. God’s Love for God
I want us to start off by investigating God's love for God, theology proper. God's love towards God is always going to be a feature in John's gospel. He wants you to know that Jesus is the Messiah; the Son of God. And so, he spends time talking about this relationship between Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit and how the Trinity is three persons in one Godhead. The book starts off by saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn. 1:1). John cares about who Jesus is and his relationship to the Father. In John 3:35, we read that “the Father loves the Son. The word translated as loves there, is agape. It means self-sacrificial love, divine love, the kind of love that will lay down its life for another. This is the kind of love that the Father has for the Son. It is the ultimate love, the perfect love. Again in John 5:20, we read “The Father loves the Son. You might think, oh well, the father loves the Son, it's the same thing just in different places in the book. But here, the word is different. The word here is philleo. It really means a brotherly love, an affection, deeper affection, desire for someone else's good. God desires to see and delights in the excellences of Jesus Christ. That gives us something of a multi-layered view of the Father's Love for the Son. It is at once that perfect, sacrificial, massive, divine love and it is the kind of love which desires to see the excellences in another exalted. It's the kind of love which is immense affection. God's love is described in John 10:17 as “…the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” In the farewell discourses, we see the Son constantly referring to the Father's love for Him.
The farewell discourse is the last dialogue with the disciples before Jesus Christ is arrested and goes through trial and is crucified. In chapter 15 in that situation where he's talking about abiding and remaining, he says in verse 9, “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. In verse 10, “If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love.” The love for the Father is described in terms of the Son's relationship to him in John 17. Jesus Christ is praying his final prayer before he moves off into that Garden of Gethsemane scene and he his arrest and crucifixion. His prayer starts off for himself, for he’s about a face an immense trial. He then prays for his disciples that God would spare then and he talks about just the joy that he has in him. But in the end, he prays for us. He prays for you and me, those who will believe the message that the disciples will bring. In verse 23, he says “I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be completely one, that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.” And then he says, Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they will see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Finally in verse 26, “I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them. The point which I'm trying to make by citing all of these verses is that John’s gospel makes it clear that God loves God, The Father loves the Son.
But John also rightly talks about the Son’s love for the Father. We read about that in John 14:31, where we read “On the country, so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do as the Father commanded me. God loves God. The Father loves the Son. And the Son loves the Father.” if we’re going to understand love: that love is from God, and that God is love, it's his Essence.
We must start off with the Theology of love; the Study of God, and we find it in the Gospel of John. But now we're going to move on to a different field of theology. It's the field of anthropology. That's the Study of Man.
2. God’s Love for Man
Because in actual fact, in John's gospel, we see also portrayed God's love for man. God's love towards God could be described as perfect, then God's love towards man should be described as benevolent. Anthropology -the study of man, and as we look at God's relationship towards man, we see that personified in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus loves his friends. He loves them in beautiful ways. We see that in John 11 - the death of Lazarus. The scene is set. Jesus in verse 3, gets a message sent to him by the sisters. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” The word for love there is phileo – it is that brotherly, affectionate love. Jesus loved Lazarus in a brotherly, affectionate way and it was known to his sisters. Jesus’ response therefore is surprising. He doesn't immediately go to the bedside of Lazarus. He hangs back and he waits because his intention is that he will be glorified in the greatest Miracle recorded in John.
But we have another key in terms of Jesus left his friend. In verse 5 we read that “Jesus loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus.” and the word used year for love is agape - it is that divine, self-sacrificial, perfect, immense love. Jesus loved his friends in a holistic, totalitarian kind of way. When Jesus goes to Mary and Martha, they both say, “Lord if you were here, our brother would have been healed.” And Jesus presents himself as the resurrection and the life. But Jesus goes to the tomb and as he comes to the tomb, as he sees the people weeping around him, weeping because of death, as this pantomime of death which has been played out ever since Adam, is on display before the Son of God - Jesus himself weeps! And then we read in John 11:36, “So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”” Again that word phileo, see how he had brotherly affection for him and desired his best.
Jesus’ love is further put on display the whole way through the Book of John in terms of his relationship with the apostle John himself, the Apostle of love. In John 13:23 we read, “One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. In John 19:26, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman here is your son.” Maybe just a note there, this is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As he looks down from the cross, he sees his own mother and he sees John, the disciple that he loved, and his response as he is dying is to basically confer his mother into this apostles’ care.
When Jesus is raised from the grave, in chapter 20 verse 2, we read that that Mary Magdalene “went running to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. In chapter 21 verse 7, we have the narration of the disciples heading toward Galilee in order to see Jesus Christ. And at the Sea of Tiberias, they are spending some time fishing and they have fished all night and haven't caught anything. Jesus is walking along the shore and as he walks on the shore, he calls out to them, “have you caught anything?” and they say no. He says, throw your net on the other side, which they do and they catch this massive hall of fish. We read in verse 7, “The disciple, the one Jesus loved said to Peter, “it is the Lord.”” At the end of chapter 21, Simon Peter turns back and sees John walking behind him and says, about the disciple whom Jesus loved, what about him? And the answers that Jesus gives is, don’t really worried about him. It’s not your concern what I do with him. You should worry about following me!
The point is that God's love is relational. Just like the Trinity is relational, the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. So too, God loves man relationally and we see that manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.
3. God loves the World
But there's another way that God loves The World God loves man, and I'm sure you've thought of the verse, John 3:16. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes Him will not perish but have eternal life. The word world can mean different things in different contexts in scripture. Let me give you an example by using the English word bat. If I said to you, ‘the bat flew out of the cave’, and then I said ‘I hit the ball with a bat.’ You would have a pretty good idea of the different uses in the different meanings of the word bat. Well in Scripture, the word world gets used in different ways as well. So for example, when we talk of world, we could be talking about the universe and everything in it: the sun, the moon and the stars. That God generally cares for, that God has benevolence toward, tenderly sustains in its courses above.
When we talk about the world, we could also be talking about that system that is set against God - that system of man, which is antagonistic towards God and the things of God. Toward that world, God stands in judgment. The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of the judgment to come. Ultimately, that world will be caused to bend its knee and bow its head before God, who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
The third use of the word world, is man - humankind. And it's that world which John 3:16 is talking about. It's talking about the world of man which God is loving towards in that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to redeem it.
So now in the Systematic Theology of love, we have discussed theology proper - God's love for God. We have also discussed anthropology - God's love for Man. Now we discuss the word I always get it wrong, harmartiology; the study of sin, the study of error, the study of falling short, the study of missing the mark. In John chapter 3:16, we read that God loved the world. But listen to John 3:19, “This is the Judgment: The light is come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” In their natural state, man, instead of responding in love, in worship, and glorifying God for who he is, and for what he does, man instead of loving God, loves darkness and the deeds of darkness. We read again, because in John a constant theme is the opposition that he gets from the Jews, from the ruling elite, from the Pharisees, from the people who ultimately will see to it that he is killed, we read in John 5:42, “but I know you - that you have no love for God within you.” Jesus said to them in chapter 8 verse 42, “If God, we're your Father, you would love me because I came from God and I'm here. In chapter 12 verse 25, Jesus says, “The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. In chapter 12 verse 43, they loved human praise more than praise from God. And finally, in chapter 14 verse 24, “The one who doesn't love me will not keep my words. The words that you hear are not mine but is from the Father who sent me. In their natural state, instead of loving God for all of who God is, instead of loving Jesus, the Son of God, the very fullness of deity in human form, beholding his glory and turning it into praise, man in his natural state, denies God, rebelled against God, shakes his fists against God, hates God.
We've looked and we've begun to look at the Systematic Theology of Love, recognising that love is from God and that God himself is love. It is part of his essence, his being, his characteristics, his attributes, his perfections. We've looked at Theology Proper, that God loves God we've looked at Anthropology, that God loves man, and we've looked at this response, that in response, instead of loving God man, doesn't love God naturally.
Next week, we are going to look at how God loves the Elect, how the Elect love God how the Elect love the Elect, and how the Elect love the world. But as I sign off today, this is what I want you to take away.
If you are a believer, I want you to be built up by growing knowledge of who God is and what love is. I want you to marvel at all these wonderful truths that we can learn about in John's gospel. Can I encourage you to go and read John's gospel, maybe with a pen in hand and look for the 39 instances of the word love in the book?
If you are an unbeliever, I want you to hear of God's love for God and of God's love for man - that he loved the world in this way: that he offered, he gave his Son who ultimately would die on a cross that you might live and be reconciled back to him. I want you to hear the words of Paul where Paul says that “God demonstrates his love…” His agape, his self-sacrificing love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Friends, God has expressed his love for you and has called upon you to repent of your sins, to turn away from them to turn away from your love for darkness and for this world and for the things of Satan and to put your faith and your trust in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus died on a cross, but he rose from the grave on the third day in victory over sin and over death. The price which he paid has been approved of by God. It has been paid in full, ransom has been made, and restoration is available. You may be reconciled to God. You are to repent and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ and you will live. That is live in this life abundantly and then live perpetually in the life to come, as you glorify God for who he is and for He has done. Amen.
Let's closed in a word of Prayer.
Father God we thank you for your love, for the way that it has been demonstrated to us. And we ask Father, would you help us to understand who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in ever increasing measure that we might glorify him in this life, even as we will glorify him forever in the life to come. This I pray in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
May God richly bless you this day.