Yom Rvi'i, 26 Shevat 5777 — יוֹם רְבִיעִי כו שְׁבָט ה' תשעז Wednesday, 22 February 2017
This Is My Command: Love Each Other

Key passage: John 15:9-13,17

Introduction

Most of my life as a Believer in Yeshua, I have attended various churches, from non-denominational to Baptist to charismatic. In that time, most of the general teaching focused on how we can develop our love for God in a deeply personal way and how we are to love one another as a result of our love for God. In messianic circles, however, my experience is that there is often more of a focus on obeying God's specific commands than on generic topics such as godly love (I know that is not always the case, but that is my experience). So, in light of my messianic experience, I am much more sensitive to discussion of God's commands and godly obedience when I read the Scriptures. When you read the Scriptures, do you often ask yourself, "How am I to live my life and obey God as a Believer in Yeshua?" or "What are God's commands and how am I to follow them?"

I was reading through the Scriptures the other day, in John chapter 15, one of my favorite passages. Please turn there with me, and let's read it together, starting in verse 9.

9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

I stopped reading after verse 11. Yeshua said "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." Ahah! A verse on commands and obedience! But, as usual, I figured "Here Yeshua goes again, referring to his 'commands' but not spelling out exactly what they are." My frustration was starting to build. "Why won't he just say what his commands actually are?!" is what I was thinking to myself, but I continued to read on. As I began to read verse 12, my anticipation was rising. Let's continue together.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."!!! Wow, he actually explained what his command was. I kept reading, and Yeshua said it AGAIN in verse 17: "This is my command: Love each other." Now we know, as students of the Scriptures, that when God repeats a statement multiple times, He is trying to drive home an important point. In this way, Yeshua chose to nail down one command, and repeat it (he also stated it in John chapter 13:34-35). That command, our primary expression of obedience to God, is to LOVE.

Yeshua backs up this statement with an even stronger statement about the importance of "love" in Matthew 22:37-40, which we read every Shabbat, as part of our v'ahavta readings:

Yeshua replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

In this way, Yeshua is teaching us an underlying principle against which we are to measure all of our thoughts and actions. While some say the Torah tells us "how to live", and think of that in a rule-based manner, I believe that in this Matthew passage, Yeshua amplifies the Torah, "turns the jewel", as the rabbis would say, and in one statement makes our obedience to God both harder and easier by saying here that love needs to be the basis for our actions. Simple do's and don'ts don't cover it. We have a greater responsibility than just following clearly defined rules. We must follow the heart of God, and measure all of our thoughts and actions against the nature of His love.

This morning, we'll explore what this love actually looks like, why it is so important that we live our lives with love as its basis and how we develop, maintain and nurture this godly form of love amongst Believers in Messiah. If there is one thing I pray we come away with today, it is an understanding and reaffirmation that the love that Yeshua has commanded is key to our lives as Believers, and therefore absolutely key to our vision and very existence at Sar Shalom. Two weeks ago, Nici gave an incredible sermon on the importance of unity in the Body of Messiah. This concept of unity cannot exist without the love that Yeshua is referring to in John 15.

Again, we will explore (i) what does godly love look like, (ii) why that love is so important and (iii) how we develop that love in our lives.

I. WHAT DOES GODLY LOVE LOOK LIKE?

Godly love is very different than the love that is in the world. It is exemplified in the life of Yeshua and I will sum it up today in three main attributes: it is sacrificial, it is reliable and consistent, and it leads to unity.1

Godly Love Sacrifices

Please turn with me to 1 John 3:16-18. We will be looking at another passage in 1 John a bit later, so please keep your finger here.

16 This is how we know what love is: Yeshua the Messiah laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

As you can see in this passage, Godly love is a love that sacrifices. The clearest and most obvious example of this is Yeshua sacrificing his own life so that we might be cleansed from our sin and have eternal life. He lived a life of love that was exemplified by his actions, not just his words. His sacrifice was not painless or without trepidation, as we see in Yeshua's own prayer at Gethsemane in Mark 14:33-36:

33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

Yeshua knew what was before him, but game himself up both out of his true love for God the Father and his love for us. Because of this love and his faith in the joy that God would set before him, He willingly suffered the most painful death of his time (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Another example of sacrificial love that has always stood out to me is the love of the folks from Jews for Jesus for our Jewish people. Because of their sacrificial love, they are willing to work long hours, taking incredible abuse from people, just to be faithful to bring the good news of Yeshua to our people. It would be much easier to ignore their Jewish identity and minister to someone easier, but they just keep coming back. I believe that is why God has honored that ministry for so many years and why I am so pleased to have the JFJ folks here at Sar Shalom.

Godly Love is Reliable and Consistent

Another key aspect of godly love is that it is reliable and consistent. It can be counted upon as being real, not superficial. It is like a rock, upon which we can build the foundation of our lives. One of the more encouraging passages in Scripture, Romans 8:38-39, illustrates God's love for us in this way. I will read it to you:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. This is most clearly illustrated in the history of God's covenant with Israel. God has loved Israel and upheld His covenants, both in times of good, when His people obeyed Him with all of their heart, and times of evil, when His people openly disobeyed Him. We, as the remnant of Believing Israel, are living proof of that love. God's faithfulness is seen in both his protection of the Jewish people as whole, maintaining them to this day, as well as His keeping for Himself those of His people who believe in Him and the Messiah Yeshua. More than that, Paul says in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us." While we (both Jews and Gentiles) were still sinners, when we least deserved, God sent His son to die for our sake. There is no greater example of undeserved, reliable and consistent love.

In our daily lives, amongst our families, co-workers, friends, etc., we are faced with situations that make this kind of love very difficult. Love as the world knows it is very experiential, and is often based upon convenience. God's love is in stark contrast to that. When I was in college, I had the same roommate for all four years. For the first 1 1/2 years, he was not a Believer. But, during our sophomore year, he committed his life to following Jesus. According to my roommate, one of the primary witnesses to him of the truth of the Gospel that led him to finally commit his life to Yeshua was my faithfulness and consistent faith, love and devotion to God and others - that I actually lived out what I believed. This was such a stark contrast to the world that my roommate knew the Gospel must be true.

This consistent, reliable love leads right into the last aspect of godly love I will mention, which is love that leads to unity and forgiveness.

Godly Love Unites Us in Peace

For those of you who have faithfully kept your finger in Ephesians, please turn back there with me to Ephesians chapter 4 verses 2 and 3. In Ephesians 4:2-3, Paul states:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

We are a diverse group here in this Messianic congregation. We have folks from all of the major branches of Judaism in the U.S., we as well as from Jewish communities throughout the world. This wide variety of experience and background, in addition to the standard line that for every 2 Jews there are 5 opinions, could cause a great deal of friction or difference of opinion. In fact, that is why many people do not like going to traditional synagogues. Our people have a tendency to grumble and be stiff-necked. That being said, we as Believers are called to have godly love, which is gentle and humble and bears with one another. We must develop this kind of love. It is that kind of love that creates the unity that Nici spoke about a few weeks ago and Yeshua has said is the evidence that we are his disciples. The true mark of a Messianic Jewish community, a community filled with the Spirit of Yeshua, is a loving unity that exists in spite of differences.

Forgiveness and humility are key to this kind of unity and love. The love that bears with one another focuses on the unity of faith in Yeshua, not differences in foods, holiday traditions, or other worldly things. Many messianic believers are currently caught up in name calling or establishing themselves at the expense of others. People are arguing about terms such as Hebrew Christians vs. Messianic Jews, or arguing about whether to keep kosher or not, and how kosher is truly kosher, etc. Paul specifically speaks out against these types of attitudes in Romans 14:12-19:

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Yeshua, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Messiah died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Messiah in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Please note that I am not making any comment on whether it is correct or incorrect to keep kosher. What I am saying is that God's focus is on greater things than what we eat or drink, what we wear or what we call ourselves. We are called to live as a unified body of Messiah, which loves one another in spite of our differences and does not judge one another. One of the things that is so special here at Sar Shalom is the variety of our backgrounds. I love learning about the love of Messiah from people raised as far away as Namibia, London and Beersheva. Let us not focus on our differences, but let's focus on our faith in Messiah Yeshua, which binds us all together.

WHY MUST WE LIVE A LIFE OF GODLY LOVE

Now that we have defined godly love as being sacrificial, consistent and united in peace, let's briefly explore why this love is so important to us as Believers in Yeshua.

Please turn briefly with me back to the book of 1 John, ch. 4:19-21. Here, the Apostle John states:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

We love others because God loved us. He set the example. God made each person, has a plan for each person, and loves the world dearly. Yeshua loved us so much that he willingly died on a cross for us. Therefore, how can we hate or mistreat those God loves? We are no better than anyone else, and cannot write others off because God hasn't written us off.

We also love because it is the key to God's personal and corporate plan for us as Believers. Two weeks ago, at the congregational meeting, I outlined our vision at Sar Shalom, which is to encourage an ongoing relationship with God through Yeshua the Messiah, celebrate Jewish life, and reach out to the surrounding community with the good news of Messiah. The key to accomplishing this vision, which must be our foundation before anything else, is our commitment to truly love one another as Yeshua commanded. We will truly stand out as a visible remnant of Jewish believers in Messiah if we are able to not only bear with one another, but truly uphold one another, united in peace without all of the mishegoss of complaining, bickering, slandering, etc.2

We ultimately love because that is the true mark of a Believer in Yeshua.

HOW DO WE DEVELOP, MAINTAIN AND NURTURE THIS LOVE

Wow. This godly love is a tall order -- love that is sacrificial, reliable, and united in faith. How can we ever achieve it? The answer is: without God's help and our laying our life down before Him, it is impossible. But, we know that nothing is impossible with God.

Loving others requires us to make ourselves vulnerable and subject to rejection or hurt. That is why it is so difficult for those in the world to truly love unconditionally. The natural reaction when you get burned is to shy away and not allow that to happen again. But, as Believers in Messiah, our hope, faith and trust is in God to lift us up. We know that others may let us down and fall short of our expectations. But, we also know that our God is faithful, has an eternal plan for us, and will never leave us or forsake us. So, we develop this godly love as we develop our faith and hope in God Himself and reduce our vulnerability and fear. In addition, the more we know of God's example of selflessness, the more we can follow that example and give of ourselves to others.

So how do we maintain this love? It is developed from our love for God, but how do we feed that love? How do we focus on that love in the midst of screaming kids or traffic or inconsiderate bosses or co-workers?

We must continually seek God throughout the day. Many of you who know me well are aware that one of my favorite parts of our weekly Shabbat service is the V'ahavta, because it refers to God's command that we surround ourselves with his Word in all aspects of our lives. This includes Scripture reading, prayer and fellowship with other Believers. We need to hold one another accountable in our relationship with God and one another. As the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:24-25:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

As Believers, we need one another. We must devote ourselves to prayer and fellowship with other Believers. This fellowship is not just a social setting, but a real setting of accountability, encouragement, and most of all love. It needs to be a setting where we can rely on one another, as we together rely entirely on the Lord. It is in this environment that we will strengthen our relationship with God and with one another.

Conclusion

In conclusion, God's love is amazing. Love that sacrifices, is reliable and consistent, and brings unity and forgiveness is different from anything the world knows. As Believers in Messiah, we need that love, and we need to share that love with the world. The Scripture says they will know us by our fruit. In order to accomplish God's plan for our lives and his vision for Sar Shalom, we must dwell in his love. We must consistently uphold one another, pray for one another, challenge one another in love, but most of all encourage one other. As the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:8-10:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

I'd like to close this morning with a portion of a song I wrote as a new Believer, as I was reflecting on God's love and the love of my Dad's best friends, David and Ruth Haynes, who led both my dad and I to commit our lives to Yeshua and set an example for me of true, godly love. This song is called, "Thank you, God":

Thank you, God, for the love You've given to me
Thank you, God, for the Son You sent for me;
Thank you, God, for bringing me here,
I like this place, You've brought me near;
Thank you, God, for the LOVE, You've given to me!


footnotes

1 My father became a Believer in Yeshua several years ago primarily due to the fact that he saw a love for God and for others amongst Believers that he had never experienced before. As a Jew, he decided to spend more time with the rabbi and at Temple to get this love of God and true relationship with Him. What my dad kept finding, however, was that no matter how much he liked the rabbi and his friends at Temple, he could only find that true love and the related joy, through worship of God through Yeshua and fellowship with other Believers in Yeshua. It was like night and day to my dad. The same is true for me. You should understand that I came from a very loving and affectionate family (anyone that has met my parents can attest to that!). Even so, their love was nothing compared to the love I've experienced as a Believer. Let's explore some of the key aspects of the love that Yeshua commanded us to have. What we will find is that this love that Yeshua is referring to is very different from the love that is in the world apart from Yeshua.

2 As good Jews, we might say that godly love is important because Yeshua commanded us to love one another. It's a command - that's why it's so important. There is some truth in that. Paul admonishes us about the need for a faith based in love in Romans 12:9-16:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.