Do They Know We Love God?
This sermon is the first sermon in our series: Chosen. It has been formatted for presentation and not for the prevention of errors. Enjoy!
<Click Here To Listen>
A few years ago, Psychology Today had an article in which the title asked the question, “Are you living a lie?” I immediately thought to myself, as a knee-jerk reaction, “Well, of course, I’m not.” But as I read on, I wondered because they weren’t talking about what I thought they were talking about. I thought the article was going to be about people who were living double lives, having two families, in two different cities or the kind of people who are pretending to have a job when they don’t, and they sit in their cars all day, in a suit and tie, and wait to return home at the proper time.
But they weren’t talking about that kind of living a lie at all. The question they were really asking was, “Are you lying to yourself?” And they began to give examples: The biker who puts on a helmet but lights up a cigarette. The environmentalist who flies in private jets. The person who parks as close as possible to the gym before a workout (that’s me sometimes). The real question is: are you lying to yourself? As I considered the question from that angle, I began to have to wonder more deeply about it.
I seem to be having a common conversation lately. It is a conversation that is like sci-fi, asking people, “What if?” I keep asking them to tell me something, asking them to imagine an alien race has landed in San Diego and they have to choose you as a ‘Christian.’ But imagine there is no method of communication. They can’t understand a word we’re saying and we can’t understand them. Now imagine that, at the same time, they are able to watch everyone in the city. How are they going to figure out who the Christians are? Will it be just because some people go to church on Sunday? Is it just that they spend one hour per week that makes them look like Christians? Or is there something deeper that should be evident to anyone who knows them? Should these aliens be able to drop in, in our lives, randomly, and think, “Now, that’s a Christian!”
I remember being in college and reading a book that changed the way I understood who Jesus was to me and to the way that I should live my life as a result. This book really was one of the sparks that led me more deeply into the Christian faith. I think it was the first time that I really took seriously that Christ is king of this world and my life. And that because Christ is king, my life should be totally different than it was before. That book was called The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite professor from the east coast.
I must have read it three times in the first couple of years after I found it. There are very few books that I have finished reading and thought to myself, “I’ve gotta make a change.” But this was one of them. In the best way possible, The Politics of Jesus truly transformed the way I experienced Christ as a read the Gospels and the way I experienced Christ in my life.
But, here’s something kind of crazy: I hadn’t thought about the fact that this book had an author, that John Howard Yoder was a real person. I had read this book as if it were given to me directly by God. But, one day I got curious, and I came across an article about the man, John Howard Yoder. In reading it, I learned that he had inappropriately touched more than 100 of his female students over the years. I have to admit, I was crushed by this news because the same man who wrote such a vivid picture of how Jesus lived on earth, the same man who had given me my picture of what it meant to live Christ in my life, that same man lived like it didn’t matter. It absolutely broke my heart.
I have no doubt that if those same hypothetical aliens I’ve asked us to consider landed near Yoder, they probably couldn’t be convinced that he was a religious man, much less a well-respected religious scholar and leader in the Church.
Sometimes we have to hold up a mirror to ourselves and we have to ask ourselves about the people who watch us live our lives – not hypothetical aliens, but our neighbors, our families, and our friends: Do they know we love God by the way we live our lives? Or would they be the first to say that we are lying to ourselves? The first to call us hypocrites?
Last week we heard Paul redefine worship for the Roman church so that they would not just worship God in some one hour per week kind of way, but worship with their whole lives. This week Paul is going to do the same thing for love. He reminds us that love isn’t just warm, fuzzy feelings; he tells us that love without action is no kind of love at all. Paul writes, “Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another in mutual affection.” I probably don’t need to give you a Greek lesson for you to realize that Paul used the word ‘love’ twice, but that in Greek, you’ve probably already heard, that there are two words for love used here in this verse. The first is agape and the second is philadelphia. I’m sure you’ve heard this part of the sermon before from other pastors. For me, I can’t begin to recount how many pastors over the years who have made a big deal out of the three kinds of Greek love. But, in case you haven’t heard it before, agape (ἀγάπη) means an ‘affection’ or ‘good will’ kind of love; philadephia (φιλαδελφίᾳ) means the love of a family. The third kind, not used by Paul in this passage is eros (ἔρως) and is more like the word we use to mean desire or wanting.
But Paul uses the first two, agape and philadelphia, to point to the way that love is best lived in the Church and for our neighbors. He says let ‘agape be genuine – hate what is evil’ – but, again, evil could probably be translated as vicious. Let our good will be genuine, growing out of love, and avoid viciousness of all kinds. This is the kind of love he references when he says later, “share what you have with the people of God and offer hospitality to those outside.” Our actions are the sign of our Christian good will, growing out of love.
Now he also says, “Be devoted to one another in [philadelphia]. Honor one another above yourselves.” This love is for us; it is the way we should treat each other as the family of God. It’s a reminder to trust that we will be cared for by each other. As a result, we must treat each other as being even more important than ourselves. It’s hard, but it is also a sign of the genuineness, the authenticity of our love for one another. Are we seeking power and our own benefit in our dealings with one another? If we are, then we are not living the sign of our philadelphia, our love for one another as a family. We are lying to ourselves. We are being hypocrites.
If our love doesn’t look like Paul has asked to live it, then how can anyone know that we love Jesus? If our love looks like a judgemental mess, if it looks like hate or if it looks vicious, how can anyone know that we love Jesus? How can our neighbors see what God is doing in our lives? How can they ever want what we have?
I’m going to ask it straight:
Do they know we love Jesus by the way we treat our church?
Do they know we love Jesus by the way we treat our neighbors? Our neighborhood? Our renters?
Do they know we love Jesus by the way we treat our wives? Our husbands?
Do they know we love Jesus by the way we treat our kids? Our grandkids? Our families?
Do they know we love Jesus by the way we treat our pastor?
Do they know we love Jesus by the way we treat people in need? By the way that we care for each other? By the way that we selflessly give?
Do they know we love Jesus?
If our answer is anything but a resounding, “yes,” may we begin to act like we love Jesus in all of our relationships – not just the easy ones, with the people who are easy to love, but especially the hard ones, the challenging people, the ones who make us want to tear our hair out. May our neighborhood always know that we love Jesus by the way we live our lives and the way that we love our neighbors.
Grace and peace to us as we live our lives in Christ.
John Howard Yoder
The Politics of Jesus