Called to a Common Commandment

It’s been said that there are some sights only visible in the valley. Likewise, some glories only shine on earth, not in heaven. The love of God in Christ is perfect, but not pristine. Jesus washed dirty feet because He loved His disciples. He was betrayed, then beaten bloody because He loved His own. His love changes sinners, it doesn’t avoid them.

To measure the quantity, the volume of God’s love would break our calculators. To measure the power, the energy of His love would fry our testers. But we can see His love in action. We see Jesus loving His disciples to the end, and we see the community created as a result of their love for one another. That community has brought the gospel to us.

We are a Christian community. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We hold a Savior in common, a Book in common, an inheritance in common. We also a called to submit to a common commandment: to love one another as Jesus loved us. We will only be as distinct as we love each other into growth, not when we love each other because we’ve arrived at perfect maturity.

The glory we share around the Lord’s Table knits us together in love. The Table reminds us that our acceptance with God cleanses us, not that we must clean ourselves up in order to get accepted. We accept each other because He accepts us. So also we do not have unity because none of us does anything annoying anymore. We seek unity with other sinners because it is right.

The world won’t know what to do with an entire community obeying Christ’s commandment. Christ is the key who causes all the tumblers in the lock to be clicked into place. Christ opens the way for us to know God’s love for us and for His disciples to love one another. Here is God’s love on the ground, and it is glorious.

Struck Out Looking

The greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Not one of us loves God with all of our faculties let alone doing it every moment, so we fail on the foremost demand. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, another thorough requirement that we don’t ever entirely obey. The count is 0-2 when Jesus pitches His mandate that we love one another just as He loved us.

God commands love. We rebel when we offer worship to Him apart from love, when we serve others without love, and when we do love but only half-heartedly. God accepts no substitutes for love or lukewarm loves. Throw in the “just as Jesus” clause and we have struck out looking on three straight sins of omission.

Let us consider the “just as Jesus” clause further. He loves us when? He loves us all the time, including when we don’t obey His commands to love. He loves us in immaturity, in weakness, in sinfulness. He loves when we don’t qualify for love. That is Jesus love.

It is one thing for us to love God fully; He deserves love. It is one thing to love our neighbors, or enemies; we might get away with loving them only one afternoon. But to keep on loving one another, the anothers we’re stuck with, the little need machine anothers, the anothers who question or misrepresent or needle us, this makes Jesus’ love unbelievable, and glorious.

We confess our sin and we also trust that He forgives us because He loves us. We believe this because He tells us it is true. He also tells us to love one another just as He loved us. The greater we see our sin the greater we must love other sinners. Christlike love abounds, sacrifices, and targets the undeserving. If our love doesn’t, then our love hasn’t put the ball in play.

They Didn’t Know

When Satan provoked Judas to betray Jesus he played into Jesus’ plan. Satan fulfilled his part in God’s eternal story and Judas obeyed Jesus even as he despised Him. The enemies of Christ did not know that they were working toward their own destruction.

Paul told the Corinthians that he and his fellow representatives of Christ imparted a “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” It is a wisdom that the world doesn’t get. In fact, “none of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). The jealous Jewish authorities, the ignorant Roman officials, the spiritual forces of evil could not see their own defeat in the death of Jesus.

It all happened according to God’s wisdom, under His direction, for our glory. Those who are spiritual, those who are mature, see by faith great ends to traumatic trouble.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

Without God’s Spirit in us we too would see Judas as a rogue character, Satan as having the upper hand, the cross as the enemies of Jesus defeating Him not the means of Jesus defeating His enemies. The world doesn’t know–and wouldn’t appreciate it if they did–how they are fulfilling God’s purposes even when it looks to them like they are winning. We believers are a people who see a glorious future out of impossibly ugly loss. That’s how God works.

He Knows

Jesus knows everything. Nothing escapes Him. His knowledge penetrates the hearts of men, all their attitudes, intentions, and imaginations. He also foresees the future, every decision and event yet to come. Because He knows, He cannot be snowed. The Gospels repeatedly report His divine knowledge. He knows more and more truly than all the Internet pages stitched together.

The apostles also preached Jesus’ divine judgment. Speaking to Cornelius in Acts 10, Peter explained that Christ (who is Lord of all, verse 36), “commanded [the apostles] to preach to the people and to testify that [Jesus] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (verse 42). Jesus writes the final sentence for every person.

His divine knowledge and judgment should provide us with at least a couple encouragements. First, we who believe in Christ depend on His omniscient judgment to right every wrong in someway (by fixing or punishing) someday. He knows all the sins we see and stacks of those we don’t. His judgment isn’t an obstacle that prevents our faith, it is an object of our faith. We trust that He will take care of all sin.

Second, Peter refers to the preaching of good news of peace through Jesus (verse 36). The omniscient judge is also the obedient sacrifice. Peter, as the prophets before him, bore witness “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (verse 43). Christian, if you’re forgiven, it’s not because He didn’t know all the sin in your heart or in your future. Don’t fear that He might find something you think He didn’t know about. We confess our sins not because He’s ignorant, but because it helps us to remember that He knows them all and forgives them all.

Pair-a-Bowla

One of my earliest sermons while in seminary was on Philippians 2:1-11. Paul urges the believers: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (verse 3). The basis for humility is Jesus’ humility. The Philippians were to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (verses 5-7). Jesus didn’t grab at position, He grabbed a towel (think John 13:1-17). Christ humbled Himself through the lowest levels of servant-hood and obedience and even to death on a cross. Paul concludes: “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (verse 9).

In my study for that sermon I read a great commentary with a killer illustration. The author described a u-shaped curve and how Jesus, being God, was at the top, then descended to the lowest part through death, and then was exalted by God to the top again on the other side. I spoke through the whole sermon talking about the great “pair-a-bowla” of Christ. A friend mentioned to me afterward that it sounded a lot like the word parabola.

Mispronunciation or not, remember that Christ’s descent was for you and I. He came down to get us. That’s not because we were great. Then He would have needed to come up. He came down, but He takes us back with Him. There is happiness in humility, and also honor. God sees to it that those who follow the example of Christ get encouragement in Christ.

Obedience Is Rock

Jesus cuts the will with an incisive question near the end of His sermon. As Luke recorded it, Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” (6:46) He follows the question with the famous illustration, and favorite kids’ song, about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the wise man who built on the rock. The foundation matters.

What is the foundation in the story? It is not Jesus Himself, though that is true when we sing “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” It is not Jesus’ word, though that also is true when we sing “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent word.” The foundation in Jesus’ illustration is obedience. One comes to Jesus, hears His words and does them. Another hears and does not do them. Disobedience is sand. Obedience is rock.

We usually emphasize the foolish man and his destruction. When the stream breaks the ruin and fall of his house is great. We observe the fool to avoid becoming foolish. That’s why Jesus Himself wonders why a man would call Him Lord and not obey. But let us also remember the blessing. When the flood comes and the stream breaks the house of the obedient cannot be shaken.

God promises great things to those who hear and do His word. Are you hungry for that blessing? Are you building so your house will stand, that is, so your life will remain upright? If not, confess it. That’s laying solid footings for a firm foundation of obedience.

A Good Washing

Paul provides well-known instruction in 1 Corinthians 6 that Christians shouldn’t take other Christians to court. It ruins our witness before those who have no standing in the church (verse 4) and it doesn’t make sense since we’re to judge angels (verse 3). In other words, we should be wise enough in Christ to handle our disagreements. Even more, we should be mature enough in Christ to “suffer wrong” and “be defrauded” by a brother (verse 7). Unrighteous men give place to their grievances against others. Righteous men don’t.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)

We’ve been bathed in Christ. We are saints. We will inherit a common kingdom. We will judge angels. We can enjoy communion together and the basis is the washing of our sin in Christ, a washing that all of us needed and that none of us deserved.

Being washed changes our eternity destiny, yes, and it severs our ties to temporal things in the world. It also changes our relationships with one another now. Being washed shapes what we expect from each other. Being washed influences how we resolve our disputes. We’ve been washed and our grievances against one another should go down the drain with the rest of the dirt.

We Don’t Go Back to Dead

Who taught you that when you come in for dinner, you don’t need to take a shower, you need to wash your hands? Your parents probably passed that lesson on to you, but where did they learn it? It’s not necessarily common sense but it does belong to how God made things to work. Imagine what laws today’s germaphobes might make if we didn’t have a couple thousand years’ worth of hand-washing success? How different would your day look if before handling any food you believed that a full body wash was necessary?

We know that’s not required and let’s not take that knowledge for granted. Similarly, what a great revelation from God to men that saved sinners don’t need to be saved again. We do not lose our salvation, we do not need to be regenerated again and again and again. Instead, we confess daily sins and Christ forgives and cleanses us. How different would your day look if after every sin you believed that a new conversion was necessary?

Every believer has been fundamentally washed in Christ. We were completely filthy, soiled by sin. Christ bathes us and clothes us in His righteousness. When–and it is when, not if–we sin again, we do not go back to dead. We do not need another bath. We need Him to wash up the dirty parts. If we drive the car into the curb we need to take it in for an alignment, we don’t need to trade it in for a new car.

This both comforts us and reminds us. We get comfort knowing that Christ’s work isn’t undone by our sin. We are also reminded that Christ continues to undo our sin and that we ought to keep coming to Him. In this process our consciences remain tender without being terrorized. Imagine what dread the legalists could lay upon us if after every sin we needed new salvation. God’s judgment against our sin is complete in Christ, and the Father calls us to confess any sin based on it.

Make It Look Good

In Titus 2:9-10, Paul instructs slaves about being submissive to their masters in everything. He ends his counsel to them as follows: slaves should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Adorn is clearly the key word. To adorn means to put something in order, to decorate it, make it look good. In this case, slaves don’t make the doctrine good; the doctrine is good. But they can and should live in such a way as to make it look good. If slaves live by faith, they show the beauty of the truth about God our Savior.

What does adorning the doctrine do? It makes it look good. But why does that matter? Because we want other people to want it. Showing that something is attractive should attract. An appealing life draws others in.

By way of application, our worship of God the Savior should be attractive as well. The way we sing should make others pay attention. The way we feast from a good meal of God’s Word should make them hungry. The way we fellowship around the Lord’s Table should make them want in. This is a built-in feature when we worship well.

Pinning Jealousy

The jealous and the zealous are related. Our English word jealous comes down to us from a Greek word, ζῆλος (zealos, meaning strong desire or zeal. Middle English and French chewed this Greek word and gave us a pair. We usually clothe jealousy with dark colors, referring to someone with a strong desire for what someone else has. It describes a man who is envious of his brother’s good fortune or suspicious of his resources. The jealous want another’s possessions or position or popularity.

James wrote, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14). There are visible consequences to this sort of zeal: “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice” (verse 16). He describes jealousy as “earthy, unspiritual, demonic” (verse 15). It quickly leads to quarrels and fights and wars (4:1-2).

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous (Acts 7:9). The High Priest and other Jewish leaders arrested the apostles because they were jealous (Acts 5:17-18). Solomon asked rhetorically, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” (Proverbs 27:4). In other words, who can surf Pinterest and not be drowned by the wave of envy?

That said, God also revealed that He is jealous for His name (Ezekiel 39:25); His very name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He is jealous for His people (Joel 2:18; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2). It’s appropriate for husbands to be jealous for their wives.

What makes jealousy either demonic or divine? Our hearts. What are we afraid to lose? Are we zealous for what is right or are we zealous to define what is right? Do we want what we want because we want to conform to reality or because we want to conform reality to our perceived rights? One is heavenly, the other hellish, and we need to confess any wrong we find before battle breaks out.