I want to begin our study and thinking this evening by asking you to use your imagination. I want to trigger your imagination by asking a simple question. The question: "What would you do?"

What would you do if just one of the following things happened this evening when you came to this assembly? If you walked into our auditorium this evening and you saw a piano up front in one corner and an organ up front in the other corner, what would you do? Nobody is playing either of them. Both are just sitting there. What would you do? If you came on in and took a seat, and someone began to play either of them, what would you do?

If today you took communion and in the tray containing the bread there was nothing but yeast bread, what would you do? If we concluded today's sermons without invitation songs, what would you do? If the style of worship today was radically different, what would you do?

Most of us would do something. Some would get up and leave. Some would never come back. Some would say, "I do not feel like I have been to church today!" Some would make a beeline for the elders. Some would begin confrontations and loud arguments. But almost everyone would do something.

To keep you thinking instead of reacting, it is essential not to lose you. No, I do not think we should have musical instruments sitting up front. No, I do not think we should abandon a capella music. No, I do not advocate using yeast bread in communion. No, I do not advocate abandoning the invitation song. No, I do not advocate making radical changes in worship styles.

Keep thinking with me. Consider about another question. The question: how do you react? How do you react when you see another Christian in a situation making it obvious that he or she has little if any love for God? How do you react when you see another Christian speaking or acting with an unquestionable lack of mercy? How do you react when you hear another Christian angrily refusing to forgive? How do you react when another Christian makes it plain that he or she has no interest in being a godly person or a righteous person?

Which would disturb you more: a musical instrument in the auditorium or a Christian with little or no love for God? Which would disturb you more: yeast bread in a communion plate or a unmerciful Christian? Which would disturb you more: people raising their hands in worship or an unforgiving Christian? Which would disturb you more: Christians saying, "Hallelujah!" and "Amen" in worship or an ungodly, unrighteous Christian?

If you saw or heard a musical instrument in this auditorium, if we used yeast bread in the communion, if we did not use invitation songs, if we radically changed our worship style, would you say, "The people responsible for those changes are going straight to hell!"

If you saw or heard a Christian do or say something that clearly indicated he or she did not love God, or act in unmerciful ways, or refuse to forgive, or behave in ungodly, unrighteous ways, would you say, "That is sad; but that is life; maybe God's grace will overlook it."

In each set of occurrences which would disturb God the most? About which set of occurrences does God give the most information? Why do we conclude that God gets the most upset about things He said little or nothing about, but God has almost no reaction to matters He said a lot about?

  1. Scripture has a lot to say about treating other people with love.
    1. We need to take a moment to focus on the word the New Testament most commonly uses when it declares the importance of love.
      1. The most common word the New Testament uses is the Greek word agape.
      2. Agape is not about "how I feel;" agape is about my will.
      3. The primary emphasis in agape love is on choice, on decision, on exercising a person's will.
      4. The primary emphasis in agape is not on feeling--the choice to love is not based on how you feel but on your determination to treat others with kind consideration as you are determined to do what is in their true best interest.
    2. Jesus' emphasis on the importance of loving other people is overwhelming.
      1. Twice he said, "Treat other people like you want to be treated" (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).
      2. He said loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself fulfills all the expectations of the law (Luke 22:37-40).
      3. He powerfully stressed the importance of loving other people in his parables.
        1. Loving your neighbor as yourself is the basic point of the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
          1. A Jew was robbed and injured on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
          2. Religious leaders walked by him and offered him no help.
          3. A Samaritan, a person the injured man would have ignored, stopped and took care of him.
          4. Jesus gave this parable specifically because a because an expert in Jewish religious law asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" in the desire to evade the responsibility to love his neighbor as himself.
        2. Loving your neighbor as yourself is the basic point of the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35.
          1. A wealthy man was owed an impossible amount of money by a slave, and he commanded the slave and his family to be sold.
          2. The slave pleaded with the owner and promised the impossible: he would repay the debt if he and his family were not sold.
          3. The owner was so moved he eliminated the debt--he said the slave owed him nothing.
          4. Very shortly the slave saw a fellow slave who owed him a payable debt, demanded immediate payment, then had the man jailed until he paid.
          5. When the owner heard what happened, he reimposed the impossible debt and had the slave he forgave jailed and tortured until the impossible debt was repaid in full.
          6. The parable ends with the statement, "That is what God will do to you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
          7. Love others like you love yourself.
        3. Loving your neighbor like you love yourself is the point of the judgment parable in Matthew 25:31-46.
          1. The criteria for determining whom God accepted and rejected was feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, caring for the sick, caring about people in need you don't know, giving clothes to those without clothing, and visiting those in prison.
          2. It is about the importance of loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
    3. Paul had a lot to say about the importance of loving people. Consider just a few examples.
      1. He told the Christians in Rome to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who wept (Romans 12:15).
      2. He told the same Christians that loving your neighbor as yourself would eliminate all abuse of other people (Romans 13:8-10).
      3. He told the Christians in Galatia to bear each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2).
    4. John told Christians:
      1 John 3:14,15 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
    5. Peter told Christians:
      1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart

  2. Have you ever done any of the things?
    1. Have you ever:
      1. Apologized to a man or woman to whom you were not married for sexually seducing them because you understand that is not loving your neighbor as yourself?
      2. Apologized to a man or woman you took advantage of because that is not loving your neighbor as yourself?
      3. Apologized to a man or woman that you misrepresented because that is not loving your neighbor as yourself?
      4. Apologized to a person that you knowingly caused pain because that is not loving your neighbor as yourself?
    2. If your response is, "That is ridiculous!" let me use just one of those situations as an example.
      1. "Sure, I have had sex with someone I am not married to--but that person wanted me to have sex with him or her; I owe him or her no apology!"
      2. You miss the point.
        1. You are a Christian made spiritually alive by God's mercy and the grace in Jesus' death.
        2. The issue is not what "he or she wanted."
        3. The issue is what you did, and what you did in no way qualifies as loving your neighbor as yourself.

  3. Let me tell you why we will get so angry and upset about acts of worship (which the New Testament says little about) and do unloving things without thought (which the New Testament says a lot about).
    1. It is easy and personally costs us nothing to have no musical instruments, to keep leaven yeast out of our communion bread, to convert worship into observation instead of participation, and to sing invitation songs.
    2. It is hard and personally costs a lot to be merciful to those who cause us pain, to forgive those who hurt us, and to be godly from the heart in the hard, every day choices of life.
    3. For generations we were taught a set of reactions that are way out of balance and often have little to do with God's priorities.
      1. We were taught God's number one priority has to do with details, with gnats, and God is terribly angry if we do not strain out the gnats before we swallow.
      2. We were taught the things God says a lot about--like loving your neighbor as yourself--do not matter much because they do not "shake God up" as failing to observe details does.
      3. We were taught God has no mercy for gnats, but He has nothing but mercy for camels.
      4. So we live life swallowing camels as we diligently strain out the gnats.
      5. And if anyone calls it to our attention we get angry, or we defend our priorities instead of God's priorities, or we say the person is crazy and liberal, or we say, "I need to give some serious consideration to my spiritual priorities."

Which are you doing right now? Spiritually, do you live by God's priorities or do you miss the point?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 18 November 2001

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