We are in a relationship series. The big point of this series: the core of Christianity is to love others well. It requires that we have a meaningful connection with God and it requires that we grow up into emotionally healthy people to love others well. All through scripture, loving others is the mark of spiritual maturity.
Let’s just put it out there; it’s easier to sit in church and experience a great worship set than to love others every day. That’s my experience, isn’t that yours?
Paul put it like this.
1 If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do? Even if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love. 3 If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever. TLB 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
I love that. Paul just puts it out there. It’s simple. It’s clear. And it’s shockingly practical. Love others or you have no value… boom. You don’t need a discipleship book or a 12 part teaching series to explain that more.
Let’s take a moment and think through this. What do people think Christian maturity looks like today? Some people believe that having supernatural spiritual gifting is a sign of Christian maturity. Maybe preaching, healing, etc. According to scripture there is something much more important; loving others. Some people believe it’s having more knowledge about God or more accomplishments for God. According to scripture there is something much more important; loving others. Some people believe it’s success. Success in life, success in ministry, success with money. According to scripture there is something much more important; loving others.
Paul says the simple and ordinary act of loving others is greater than everything else. What matters is love. Think about that for a second. Maybe what happened last Saturday was the highest level of spiritual maturity. The Connect Team lead us to serve a family in Carlisle. They lead us to serve the Barton’s. According to scripture, those simple and ordinary acts of love will always be the greatest achievements of our lives.
In the Day to Day discipleship book, this week you will read what Mother Teresa wrote about loving others. I want to read it for you now.
It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a coup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.
The greatest disease in the West today is not tuberculosis or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.
At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.” – Mother Teresa
Recently, I had to go to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles]. It was very exciting. You walk in, take a number and sit. And in that moment, you are only a number. Life as you know it ends until they tell you they are done with you. In the DMV, the world revolves around the state worker and you just hope they are in a good mood. You have no value. You are an object that will be processed based on your number. Your suggestions or opinions are not helpful. You simply hold onto your ticket, do as you are told. That is the DMV experience.
Contrast that experience with how you are treated on your birthday. You are celebrated. People give you cards. You might even have a cake or a balloon. It’s personal to you. People try to be extra nice. You actually get away with stuff. You can do something bad and people say, “Well, it’s their birthday, we will let it go.” I like my birthday and I came up with the idea that my family should celebrate it all week long. Think about it, if one day is fun, imagine celebrating all week long – right? So, I created ‘Bless me week.’ It hasn’t quite caught on in my family, there was a little push back.
Two different experiences. The DMV vs. your birthday.
Quick question: How do you treat people? Like they are in the DMV or it’s their birthday?
The struggle we have in loving people, that means treating them as if it’s their birthday, is our agenda. We all have an agenda. We have stuff to get done. We have wants and desires and we need people to validate us. Have you noticed that life goes a whole lot better when people serve our agenda and validate us?
There is nothing wrong with having an agenda, but our agenda can turn selfish. When it turns selfish we demand that everyone, including our spouse, get on our agenda or else they will pay. We tend to view people as objects, like a number at the DMV. We behave like we are the center of the universe upon which everyone needs to orbit. The people around us are objects to help us accomplish our agenda.
Let’s talk about three kinds of people around us.
If someone can help us with our agenda, they are an object we like. We can use them to accomplish our agenda. We might even be okay with manipulating them to accomplish our agenda. We treat them very nicely. We pretend to like them. We want to get close to them. We serve them, as long as they help us with our agenda. We talk favorably about them. We think, I can leverage this relationship to get what I want.
If someone stands in our way of our agenda, they are an object to run over. We don’t like them. They frustrate us. We fight with them. We want to let them know how they can be better at serving us. We talk badly about them. We think, they are standing in our way of having happiness and joy.
If someone has no value to us, we treat them like an object to be ignored. They have no use to us. They aren’t going to serve our agenda or stand in our way so we don’t care about them. We don’t slow down to listen to them, we are okay rushing by them. We don’t notice them, so we are indifferent about them.
Imagine if we treated everyone like it was their birthday. Imagine treating everyone like they had value. Imagine treating everyone the same regardless of what we can get from them. If you treat people differently based on how they can serve you, chances are, you treat people like an object. And that’s not love.
Jesus taught us:
43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG Matthew 5:43-48
How do you treat people? Like they are in the DMV or it’s their birthday? Do you treat people differently based on what you can get out of them?
I want to read for you how Jesus treated you.
5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. MSG Philippians 2:5-8
Jesus was God. He had unlimited glory, power and authority. Jesus gave up ‘God status’ to be human. Jesus gave up every privilege he had as God to serve you. He didn’t whine or complain or act like a victim, he was selfless. Jesus leaves his world to fully engage your world. Why? It was the only way Jesus could love you and rescue you. And I need to point out to you, he took the risk. Jesus didn’t know how you would respond him. He didn’t treat us like objects.
Let’s make this practical for our lives. We all have an agenda. We all have bills to pay, kids to raise, jobs to go to. We all have stress. We all have to live life. As disciples of Christ, you need to live out your agenda. Go to work and work hard and be very good at it. Raise your family, spend time with them and fully engage them. In living out your agenda, your life, make sure that you love. That means a couple of things.
That means, you are at your greatest when you love. The simple and ordinary act of love that will probably go unnoticed.
In general, that means you treat everyone like it’s their birthday not like they are at the DMV. The moment you treat people based on what you can get from them, it should be a red flag.
Be ready to leave your agenda like Jesus left his ‘God status’ to slow down and engage people.
I want to close with this section from the Day to Day booklet.
No one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process… Real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh, and to make one’s own painful an joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.
Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: ‘Who can take away suffering without entering it?’
The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be lead out of the desert by someone who has never been there. – Henri Nouwen
So yes, you have a life to live and an agenda, but in that life; love.
I want to close with what I said at the beginning. The core of Christianity is to love others well. It requires that we have a meaningful connection with God. You can’t do this, you can’t love well, outside of a relationship with Christ. In a relationship with Christ, you are reminded of your need of God’s grace. You experience His grace for you. In that moment, all you want to do is share that grace with others.