Sunday, April 15, 2012

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 25 March 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 13:34-35

The glory of God is seen through the humiliation of Christ. But when Jesus left the highest honour of heaven to be born in a manger, that would be the manifestation of the greatest glory. In the most despicable place, we see the highest descend to us and God manifest his honour and glory through the most humble vessel. That's why when Jesus was born, the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest.”

The lifetime of Jesus manifested this glory. Not once did he lead an unholy life or say something despicable. All of God's honour, glory, power and abundance were manifested in Jesus.

The culmination of this glory is the crucifixion. On the cross, there is no miracle or wisdom. The Jews did not want this sort of Messiah and rejected Jesus as Messiah. For the Greeks, on the cross, Jesus did not display any wisdom greater than that of Greek philosophers. Paul said: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23a)

Other than the Word becoming flesh where the glory of God was manifested, the lifting of Jesus Christ upon the cross became the greatest manifestation of God's glory. We cannot see the things that man desires in the life of Jesus, for Jesus was not elevated by miracles or human wisdom and knowledge. But upon the cross, even at his weakest, he was stronger than the greatest of mankind; at his most foolish, he was still greater than the wisest among us. This is God's wisdom and God has hidden his wisdom upon the wisdom that we are familiar with. Based on human thinking, God's method is very foolish, but in the end, the wisdom is higher than even Greek wisdom.

Jesus said: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer.” He is saying he doesn't have too much time to be with them and asking if they are treasuring the time. There were only a few days' left for Jesus to spend with the disciples. He will return to the Father, back to the kingdom of the Father who sent him. The apostles could not partake in his death on the cross. The Israelites will not be able to find him or go where he went. And so he said that just as he told the Jews, they will lose this Christ with whom they have lived and suffered, for the place he goes to, they cannot go. In other portions of the Bible, he said in the future, they will go. But the Jews have no part in this.

After Jesus said this, he gave a new command: “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, if you love one another.” This is a most unique portion of the Bible because this is one of the two important commands of Christianity. What sort of command did our Lord give us? Love one another. What sort of command did He give to unbelievers? That they are to be baptised, join the church, preach the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations, and He will be with them till the end of the times. You have a command externally and a command internally. Jesus gave us these commands. Whoever is obedient to the command will then lead an abundant life and have abundant blessings.

Why is this command considered new? The content of the command tells us to love one another. It is quite similar to the old one, but with a difference. The Bible says because God is one, you are to love him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. And you are to love your neighbour as yourself. Isn't it true that the Old Testament has both commands with a very wide and clear scope? There are two objects of love. The first is to love God who has created you. The second is to love humanity that is made in the image and likeness of God. The command to love mankind has been given in the Old Testament. But the new command brings with itself a new example. In the Old Testament, when you love your neighbours, there was no example to be seen. Here lies the essence of the entire Christianity. Christianity talks about love between humanity, and love between mankind and God. The gospel of John combines the love and the command together. Because when love comes about, it means you truly and sincerely want to follow the rules of the truth and it becomes a mark of the truth. Jesus Christ says if someone really loves him, the person will obey his teachings. It was not just from the lips, but something done in one's life and everyday actions.

God says you are to love him and to love each other. What is the basis of loving God and loving one another? In the Old Testament, the love for each other does not talk about rewards. Even if the person does not respond, you just love them as if you are loving yourself. You take the initiative and have the responsiblity to do this. The Old Testament does not say what is the true example of this love. But in the New Testament, the gospel of John, Chapter 13, talks about a new command. These are precious words. Before Jesus commanded us, he first gave us a general principle: “As I have loved you”. Who knows this love of Jesus that is so wide, so high, so deep? Only people who have experienced this love. Our experience of our love of our Lord becomes the basis for the love of other people. Did Moses hear that? You don't see that in the Pentateuch, in the historical books, in the Psalms, in the wisdom literature. None of the prophets have said that. We need to love others with the same standard as Christ loves us. This is unimaginable. How is it possible that we would love someone to the same degree as Christ loves us? Christ loved us so much he gave his life for us, bled for us and sacrificed his life in the hands of God. How can we manifest that kind of love to the extent that Christ has done? It would seem most impossible. Let us ask ourselves how deep is the love of Christ for us. How many Bible verses describe his love? When a person understands the limitless love of Jesus Christ, he will surely realise he cannot measure the depth of his love. All you can do is to kneel before God and admit Christ's love is far beyond your comprehension, your imagination and what you can do. Many Christians experience the love of Jesus Christ but take it for granted and do not learn many things from it. This verse demands that as we have experienced Christ's love, we need to share this love with others. It is quite horrifying. Lord, do you want me to treat other people as you have treated me? The love that you have for me enabled you to leave the glory of heaven to come into a humiliated life. Just on this alone, I cannot be like you. The kind of love I express to others are based on my own standards. I cannot tell the rest of the world to follow my principles. I can only say, perhaps other people can learn the same principle and do the same thing. So this verse by Jesus Christ is most transformational, something that you will not find from people beyond his time or before his time.

Why is this a new command? This command comes from someone who has done things no one else has ever done. The Father has never said this. God the Son said this. He came into the world and sacrificed himself. God the Son is completely obedient to God the Father. As God, he came in the flesh. The Apostle Paul said it is a great mystery that God should come in the flesh, for Christ to come among us, take on flesh and bleed like us. And this is the blood of God. Before Jesus Christ went on the cross, he taught: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In the Old Testament, you are commanded to love your neighbour. It first assumed that you are a person without any problems, a source of love. So when you love God, you are being responsible. When you are responsible to others, again you are the source and you express your love to other people. But the Bible knows that our love towards God is not trustworthy and cannot possibly be the source of love to God. How can we ever become the source of love to love the people around us? So when Jesus Christ said “As I have loved you”, this is an example; “Love one another” is the command. The command is based on the example of Christ and the objective of the command is that we actually do what Christ has done. You are not the one who takes the initiative. You are not an important source of love because the love you have towards others is based on the love of Christ. You cannot be the source. In loving one another, we must be careful not to take the glory away from God. Do not deny he is the source of love. Follow his example and give our emotions to God. How the Lord has loved us, we are to love others.

Is it easier to love others or to love God? People may say: “It's easier to love God because God is very good and he is so good to me; people are all so evil, I'm not going to love them.” If you use this sort of thinking process to read the Bible, Jesus should have said: “You should love other people the way you love me.” Will Jesus Christ have been satisfied that we love others with the love we have God? If we love other people based on the way we love God, it is very dangerous, for our love towards God is not stable at all and always has a selfish motive. When we say we love God, there is an element of sin in us. Do you love God this year more than last year? Maybe six months later you will no longer love God. If we are to gauge our love towards others based on our love towards God, what will happen if we feel backslided or selfish, or when we forget the grace of God or when our love towards God changes? Then the love that other people receive from us will be influenced by our selfish motive. Are there people who love the Lord so much 10 years ago but has now left the Lord, or were fervent two years ago but now hate Christ? A person may say: "O Lord, I love you 80 per cent of the time, so I take this 80 per cent to distribute to others.” But later he says: “Now I no longer love you, so other people would not receive my love.” Jesus Christ said: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” There is no escape. You cannot make use of the word of God to fulfill your own desires. You have to be obedient. When you love someone with the wrong motive, people will remember.

People treat others badly because they have been treated badly. But Jesus says the way I treated you, you are to do the same for others; the way I love you, you are to love one another. Christ has never taken advantage of anyone. He commanded the church to learn the way he has loved them, and in turn to love others. In the Old Testament, to love one's neighbours and to love God comes from oneself. But in Jesus Christ, we see a great transformation in ethics. We do good because the kingdom of God is upon us. We call upon the name of the Lord for we first assumed the whole world should honour his name. In the Lord's Prayer, we find such profound lessons.

People thirst not because they have no water, and hunger not because they have no bread, but because they lack the word of God. No one has spoken like Jesus Christ. Instead of a command to go and do what you want, he says, as I have done it, you are to do it. The world needs a common motivating factor. The world needs a source of ethics and morality. When our Lord first loved his disciples, they enjoyed the heavenly blessings. But Jesus Christ commanded them to share with others, to go and spread the gospel to others. Jesus Christ himself was the source and example. He says you cannot escape the fruit of my love towards you. You cannot just think about it and not do it. I have set the example. When you follow my example, you will share the love to others.

Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Loving one another is a power exemplified by a Christian's life. If you ask the people of the world: “Do you know God? How do you know Christians? How do you yourself become a Christian?” They may answer: “Let me look at the lifestyle of Christians first and find out where they find their love from.” So let us not deceive ourselves. In the whole world, only Jesus can say this: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.”

What is the mark of a church, the one thing that will declare we are part of Jesus' church, that we are born of him and belong to him, that all men will know we belong to our Lord and follow our Jesus Christ?

The first mark is people who love one another. When a non-Christian sees that this society lacks mutual love, where the fittest survive, and the strong consume the weak, he says this is social ethics. The victims can never get their redress. Not so with Christians, who are to love one another.

The second mark is in Acts 4. After they flogged the apostles Peter and John, they were astonished by their courage to proclaim Jesus Christ and to see that they were but common folks. So you don't want to judge a Christian by the exterior. You want to see whether they have experienced God's love and grace, and when they share this grace to others, you will see the mark that they are different from other people who are self-centred. When you see that Christians are unselfish and share with each other the love of God, then you know the mark of God is there.

In John 15:1, Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” He tells us that he was passive before the Father, in the status, honour and glory that he has received. Before this, everything belonged to him, for all the fullness and abundance of God was found in Jesus Christ. After man sinned, God sent a sacrifice to get rid of our problems. Jesus Christ came to be the sacrifice and suffer without any enjoyment in his lifetime. But was that the only purpose of his life? No. Through his suffering he entered into glory. None of us can understand his suffering and even the potential of glory through his suffering. We have a mark as people who belong to the family of God. Jesus said you are to bear fruit. This is a mark. You've got to boldly bear testimony. This is a mark. In Acts, people see that these common folks were so bold and recognised them as Jesus' followers. When we love one another, through the bold testimony we give, through giving glory to God by bearing fruit, we become the disciples of Jesus Christ.

The question is are we willing to be the ones who manifest the glory of God, that others will recognise it and come to the Lord? The Lord wants us to become such people, that the world would recognise us as such a witness and return to God.


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