March 10, 2019
The Church That Blesses
Pastor Bryan Watson
A 4-year-old boy was asked to give the meal blessing before dinner. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one.
Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food. He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes, even the Cool Whip.
Then he paused, and everyone waited-- and waited. After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, "If I thank God for the mincemeat, won't he know that I'm lying?"
That mincemeat… it’ll get you every time!
Over the last couple of months, we’ve been going through an adult Sunday School class called, “The Blessing”. Many of you have journeyed through that class with us. With that class wrapping up last week, I wanted to give a message on this topic today. But I don’t want to just recap that class. Instead, I want to look at what the true source of The Blessing really is, and how we can be a Church that blesses.
Turn in your Bibles, if you will, to John 13, verses 34 and 35. 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There is a lot in this statement, so let’s unpack it a bit at a time.
A New Commandment I Give To You
There are two aspects to this statement that I want to explore. First, Christ’s claim that this was a new commandment. Is it a new commandment? Well, the call to love is not a new commandment. The Bible gives us the command to love God in Deuteronomy 6:5. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Furthermore, the command to love each other was given in Leviticus 19:18, where we are told, “… you shall love your neighbor as yourself…”
So, what makes this command “new?” Ultimately, it is a new standard of sacrificial love that Christ is calling us to. In the context of Leviticus 19, God is providing Israel with a complete list of things that they shouldn’t do if they are to love each other.
You shall not steal.
You shall not lie.
You shall not swear by My name falsely.
You shall not cheat nor rob.
You shall not curse the deaf.
You shall not put a stumbling block before the blind.
You shall do no injustice.
You shall not be partial.
You shall not go about as a talebearer.
You shall not take a stand against your neighbor’s life.
You shall not hate your brother.
You shall not take vengeance.
You shall not bear a grudge.
This is a pretty exhaustive list telling the people what not to do. The fact that God deemed it necessary to say this to them goes a long way to showing what kind of people they were. It’s like their version of the Golden Rule was “Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you.” Kind of like our society, isn’t it?
God finishes all this by saying simply, “but you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” implying that if they would just stop doing all this despicable stuff, they would essentially be doing a U-turn and be on the path to love. You want to love your neighbor? Stop treating them with such contempt.
But Christ’s command in the book of John took it to a new level. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” We’ll dig a little deeper on that in a moment, as to what that really looks like in real life. But my point right now is that Christ’s commandment was a “new commandment” because it was a call not just to show love through a list of things not to do, but rather to show honest, sacrificial love, as Christ had loved the world… a sacrificial love that the disciples couldn’t have understood until Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
The second part of this statement that I want to explore is Christ’s authority to give such a command that supersedes the commandment recorded in the Law.
To build this case for Christ’s authority, let’s go back in time to Genesis 12:1-3. In this passage, God is making some specific promises to Abraham, even before his name was changed to Abraham. That’s Genesis 12:1-3. Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.
2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Peter confirms Christ as the fulfillment of this prophecy and promise in the Book of Acts, Chapter 3, verses 25 and 26. There, we read, “25 You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”
So Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to bless the world through Abraham’s seed. And Jesus, being the very embodiment of the greatest blessing that God had promised to the world, instructs His followers on how to bless the world. He can provide instruction about the Blessing because He IS the Blessing.
Just As I Have Loved You, You Also Are To Love One Another
Having established that Jesus has the authority to issue this updated command, let’s look at the command itself. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Throughout the Gospels, there are too many examples of Christ’s love for me to pack into the 10 or so minutes that I have left in this sermon. So let me just give a few examples:
Christ Loved Sacrificially
The first and most obvious way that Christ loved was sacrificially. Christ’s sacrifice on The Cross was the greatest demonstration of sacrificial love that the world has ever seen. The Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
So, how do we emulate this in the Church? It could be that some of us may be called to lay down our lives for someone else, but that’s pretty rare. More likely, we are called to give up some part of our lives for one another. We see that in a parent who sacrifices materially to stay at home and raise their children. We also see that in a parent who sacrifices their own leisure and pleasure in order to work and provide for their loved ones.
But these types of examples should be the minimum expectation, because even those outside of the church do these things. So what makes us different?
I think what differentiates us how we’ve got each others’ backs as a church community. For example, as a city-boy computer guy, there are a lot of things that I don’t know how to do for myself out on the farm. I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I’ve been by friends coming alongside and teaching me and helping me. If I can’t rely on my church family, then where am I going to go?
Think of volunteer ministry leaders who put themselves out every week, preparing lessons and sacrificing time. On this side of Heaven, they will never be repaid for this. But they are laying treasure up for themselves where it truly matters.
How much food is prepared and shared with those who need some encouragement? Fellow-shipping over the breaking of bread is how the early church was built, and I don’t think we are much different today. We want to be a congregation who gets involved in each others’ lives, and in the lives and happenings of our community. That’s how they will know that we are real... when this love costs us something, whether it be time, or money, or even takes a toll emotionally.
Christ Loved Gracefully
Christ also loved gracefully. There is no doubt that He was holy and without sin. But if anybody was the epitome of The Good Shepherd going after the lost sheep, it was Jesus! How many times did Jesus rebuke His disciples by referring to them as “Ye of little faith.” And yet He never said, “that’s it… you’re out!” He was patient, and graceful.
Consider the woman caught in adultery. When everybody else was ready to stone her, and by the standard of the law, they could have, Jesus refused to condemn her. The Holy One of God, perfect in all His ways, chose not to condemn her. As we read in John 8:10-11, “10When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
11 She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Yes, Jesus loved gracefully. And we need to do the same. We are all sinners saved by grace, and we need to be able to extend that grace to others. Like the guy who said to the pastor of the church, “Pastor, the reason I don’t go to church is because it is full of hypocrites.”
“Nonsense!” said the pastor. “There’s still room for one more. Come on in!”
But you will notice, however, as Jesus ended his conversation with the adulterous woman, He didn’t ignore her sin. He didn’t cover it up or pretend it didn’t exist. He met it head on, and He said to her, “Go and sin no more.” Yes, Christ loved confrontingly.
Christ Loved Confrontingly
Jesus loved people enough to not just let them continue to perish in their sin. As the Bible says in 2 Peter 3:9, “(He is) not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Sometimes that meant having the hard conversations. Calling out the Pharisees on their hypocrisy. Calling out the disciples for their faithlessness. Calling out the rich for their greed and selfishness. That doesn’t mean that we need to run around pointing fingers, and we need to check our motives. But I think that any strong family can hold each other accountable out of love and for the betterment of the other person.
And conversely, we need to be open to correction when it is required. As the Bible says in Proverbs 13:18, Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, But he who regards a rebuke will be honored. I know a couple of times over the course of my career I was given some constructive coaching by bosses I respected. I didn’t like it at the time, but those moments helped to guide my career in a better direction. And I was open to what they had to say because I respected them. If you want to be able to coach in this manner, you need to make sure that you are living a life worthy of respect.
And yes, I realize that “confrontingly” wasn’t a word until yesterday. But I’ve invented it, so now it is!
Christ Loved Patiently
Christ loved patiently. We see this evidenced by His late night visit from Nicodemus, the Pharisee in John chapter 3. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he didn’t want his fellow Pharisees to know that he was talking to Jesus. Jesus didn’t condemn him for this. Instead, Jesus Himself was willing to lose some sleep while speaking with Nicodemus. Jesus patiently answered his questions, and this had an eternal impact on Nicodemus, as Nicodemus came with Joseph of Arimathea to anoint Jesus’ body after His crucifixion.
If we want to be a church that blesses, we need to learn to be patient with one another, especially those who maybe still have some questions. Believers who are more mature in their faith need to be willing to take under their wing those who are still growing and learning.
Christ Loved Compassionately
Finally, Christ loved compassionately. The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus being filled with compassion on the multitudes who follow Him, and they were hungry, and so He fed them. They are filled with examples of people who are coming to Jesus desperate for healing of one kind or another, and he has compassion on them, and heals them.
Last week, we got started on this with a small exercise in our Sunday School class where we wrote notes of encouragement and blessing to others. That exercise should just be the beginning of us giving out blessings to others.
In the book of Acts, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Antioch. Acts 15:31 says, When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.
Paul also instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” So I want to encourage you to take an encouragement card, or one of the blessing handouts, and make sure that somebody knows today that you care about them. You may not ever know on this side of Heaven just how much your encouragement means to someone.
If we want to be a church that blesses, we need to have compassion on those who need compassion. When someone is down, we need to help them up. When someone is sick, we need to care for them. Whether it’s a meal, or a ride, or some help shoveling snow, if there’s one thing this congregation knows how to do, it’s to show compassion for each other.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus concludes His new command by getting down to the heart of the matter. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It really isn’t about us at all. While it is great to show love to each other by blessing each other in the ways I’ve just mentioned, the real reason we need to bless each other is because THAT is how other people will know that we are Christians.
If we REALLY want to be the church that blesses, we will point others to the ultimate blessing: Christ. And we do that by loving each other in such a way that the world around us wants to know what is going on! The Bible says in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
It’s way too easy to lose sight of the big picture of why we are here and what our role is in the grand scheme of things. But our lives, our love for one another, our blessing for those around us is truly summed up by the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;”
And Christ’s promise to us as we do His will: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Maybe you’re sitting here today and you’ve never accepted that great Blessing that is Jesus Christ. If that’s you, and you’re tired of fighting against God and resisting Christ’s offer, then may I encourage you today to lay down your shield, and open the door, and let Him in? Jesus Christ wants to fulfill God’s promise of blessing in Your life today. And I’m not talking about material blessing or physical blessing, although God can certainly bless in those ways if He wants to. I’m talking about the blessing that comes when your burden of guilt is removed by Christ, and His righteousness is credited to you, and you accept the gift of eternal life with Christ. If you’re ready to do that today, why don’t you stick around after the service is over. I’ll hang around over here by the piano, and we can chat. Or see Pastor Dennis. Or you can pray right now in your heart to repent of your sins, and ask Christ to be your Lord and Savior.
But don’t wait… Let today be your day.