28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’
32 ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
1 John 7:21
What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on December 16th 2012 at London Road Methodist Church in Horsham, West Sussex.
Martin Luther King Junior. Considered by many to have been a revolutionary, he fought against injustice in the United States using nonviolent methods. Martin Luther King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination. His life was tragically cut short in 1968 when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39.
Nelson Mandela. A revolutionary in the battle against apartheid in South Africa. Arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison before being released in February 1990. After his release he served as leader of the ANC and took part in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and to this day is regarded as one of the world’s elder statesmen.
London Road Methodist Church. Known throughout the south of England as a band of revolutionaries, demonstrating love to all they encounter. Fighting injustice wherever they see it. Supporting the most needy in their community and further afield. Reaching out to the vulnerable. Working with the youth. Supporting the work of local schools. Striving wherever they can do to make a difference in their society. Living out their faith 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Aiming to be disciples of Christ 24/7.
Do you recognise this picture of your Church? Do you see yourself as a part of revolutionary group, striding out to radically impact the world we live in?
Because that’s what you are!
All of us who profess to be Christians are revolutionaries, called to make a difference in our world.
Maybe you think that as a Church and personally you’re very good at this. We can never afford to be complacent though. So today, we’re going to go back to basics and look at what Jesus considered to be the central message of the Christian faith, the most important part of following him.
Today, we’re going to be looking at Mark 12:28-34 and 1 John 4:7-21, and you may find it helpful if you have these open in front of you.
What we’re going to be considering today is nothing short of a revolution. A love revolution. We’ll be looking at three key points: loving God, loving our neighbour, and loving ourselves.
Let’s turn, then, to our first point: loving God. That’s the first part of our love revolution. Before we can do anything else, we just need to love God.
At the beginning of this passage, Jesus is asked by a scribe, an expert on the Jewish law, “which commandment is the greatest of all?” Jesus replies with great simplicity that the most important commandment is, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus neatly summarises all of the teaching of the Old Testament into this simple commandment: just love God. That’s it. Just love him.
God doesn’t just demand love from us without offering anything in return. In fact, in our reading from John’s first letter, John reminds us that we love because God first loved us. John also says that God demonstrated his love by sending his son Jesus into the world that we might live through him. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus loves us so much that he willingly went to the cross and died for us all. That, surely, deserves recognition from us.
At this time of year, with Christmas rapidly approaching, we find ourselves thinking of just that. We sang earlier that “Love came down at Christmas,” and this is exactly what happened on that first Christmas day. Love did come down at Christmas. In 1 John 4:8, we read that “God is love.” If Jesus is God, then the baby that we remember at this time of year was the embodiment of love. He is love because he represents the love God has for us in sending him to dwell amongst us. He is love because of the example he sets us, in the way that he taught, the way he healed, the way he preached, and the way he lived his earthly life. He is love because he paid the price for our wrongdoing and opened the way to heaven for us. And he is love because it is through him that we can understand what real love is.
Sometimes at Christmas it can be hard to see beyond the baby in the stable. But when we remember that that baby was God, that that baby is love, it can be a real challenge to us. But if we stop to think, really think, about the implications of that birth, then the only way in which we can respond to all it represents is to love God. To love God because he first loved us.
Of course, loving is not always that easy. If we say we love another person, we place their needs above our own, we do everything within our power to make them happy. We certainly don’t betray them, lie to them, cheat on them or neglect them. We make a conscious effort to put them first in all that we do.
Claire and I got married a couple of years ago. On August 13th 2010 to be precise. Since then, I’ve tried to put Claire first in everything, not because I feel some obligation or requirement to do so, but because I love her with my whole heart. I want to make her happy. That’s just what you do when you love someone. If I’d selfishly neglected Claire, not spent time with her, not done my best to look after her, you’d wonder whether I really loved her.
Often it’s possible to see the bond of love between people, whether it’s the bond between a husband and wife, a bond between two brothers, or the bond between a group of friends. Just by watching, an outsider can tell that there is a real intensity of feeling there. You can tell when people are close by the way they act towards one another, the things they say to each other, even the way they look at each other.
This is how our relationship should be with God. Do we put him first in everything? Is every fibre of our being, our soul, our mind and our strength, dedicated to loving God? Or is loving God something that we only do on a Sunday morning? Is our love for God evident to those around us? Or is our love for God something that we keep hidden?
If we really love God, if we really do make loving him our first priority, then our relationship with him will underpin our entire lives; what we do, what we think, what we say. Every waking minute should be dedicated to displaying our love for God; listening to him, talking to him, and striving to live out his commands in our lives.
How do we do this into practice though?
Well, this brings us on to our second point. Jesus said that the second most important commandment is, “love your neighbour as yourself.”
This week some of the statistics of the 2011 census have been released. To some in the Church, these have been viewed with gloom, since they suggest that the number of people defining themselves as Christians has declined, from 72 per cent of the population in 2001 to 59 per cent in 2011. This has in the minds of some people confirmed what they’ve long suspected; that Christianity is on the decline, that it is becoming increasingly irrelevant in our developed society, and that it is only a matter of time before it dies out.
I happen to take a rather different viewpoint. I believe that there is much to rejoice about in these figures. What the census would suggest to me is that the number of those who have declared themselves nominally to be “Christian,” or “Church of England,” cultural Christians who merely pay lip service to Christianity, is declining rapidly. Once we remove these people from the equation, what we end up with is a faith group who truly talk the talk and walk the walk of the Christian message, people whose lives have truly been changed by the gospel of the risen Christ. This is significant, because it will result in a dramatic transformation in the perception of Christianity. This is an opportunity for those of us who are left, the faithful remnant, to show what true faith in Jesus Christ is – a truly revolutionary force for good in the world.
Today’s world is changing rapidly, and I firmly believe that this message to love our neighbours is going to become more and more significant in the years to come. In the past few decades we have judged success based on economic wealth and prosperity. If you have a large house, a posh car and send your children to good schools, then you have been judged a success. But as we move through this period of economic downturn, I really believe that this is going to have to change. We will need to find other ways of defining success, and that, I believe, will be in how we treat others.
What we need to do, then, is get back to basics, and ensure that we are not just following the first of the commandments that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel reading, to love God, but also the second.
The second commandment that Jesus gives, to love our neighbours, is very closely connected to the first. In John’s letter, John says, “dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” A little later, he continues, “dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Loving our neighbour, then, loving one another, is a direct response to loving God. If we obey that greatest commandment, to love God, it follows that we should love others. We should do so because our fellow humans are loved by God, and if we love God, we should love what he loves. By loving others, we are also demonstrating that we love God. This is an indication that we have been transformed by God. John tells us that “God is love.” He doesn’t say that God loves, or that God is like love, but that God is love. When we love God, strive to follow him, and live our lives focused on him, that love floods into us. It transforms us. It transforms our lives. And it can transform our world.
If the best way to serve God is to follow his commandments, we can demonstrate our love for God by loving those around us: not just our literal neighbours, those who live near us, but also our friends, our family, our work colleagues, people we see in the gym, people we see as we pay for our parking. In short, we show our love for God by loving all those we encounter.
It is by doing this that actually we will make the Christian faith more relevant, not less relevant, to the rest of the world.
It can’t have escaped your attention that the global economy is in the midst of a significant downturn. At the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent Autumn Statement, it was stated that the policies of austerity would continue for another five years. The impact of this on our country is going to be enormous. Our society will change markedly. We’re all going to have to work for longer, pay more into our pensions, and consider our outgoings more carefully.
How we define success is also going to change dramatically. Previously our society has seen as successful those with high paying jobs, with big houses, and with fancy cars. As we reconsider how we live our lives, we’ll also reconsider this view of success.
Success in life will come to be seen more in terms of how we treat others, through our relationships rather than our possessions.
The Christian message of love, in these circumstances, will become even more relevant, not less relevant. Those of us who seek to love God and to love our neighbours will be at the vanguard of our new society.
The commandments that Jesus gave us, to love God, to love our neighbours, and to make disciples of all nations.
If the world only followed this commandment, it would be a very different place. There’d be no more bickering or arguing. There’d be no more violence or theft. Everyone would recognise the value and worth of every other person, and wouldn’t try to belittle other people. On a global scale, there’d be no more war. Nations would seek to live peacefully together. There would be no poverty or hunger, because we’d share what we had with those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
This is the revolution. The love revolution.
And all we need to do is love.
Of course, it would be unrealistic to expect people to live this way if they do not know God, our God who is love. But there are two responses to this.
Firstly, we need to ensure that we spread the Gospel far and wide, to make disciples of all nations, as Jesus commanded us to do at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Simply by living out this commandment and seeking to love everyone we come into contact with is a very effective way of making disciples. If we just show love to all those we encounter, if we put the needs of our neighbours before our own, if we show real sacrificial love, people will see something different about us. They’ll want to know why we’re different. They’ll want to know why we love them. And we can point them to Jesus as the answer.
We love them because he loves us.
The second response is to acknowledge that whilst the world cannot be expected to follow this commandment if they do not know Christ, there are enough of us to make a difference in the world. We can act together as the Church of Christ.
There are two billion Christians in the world. Imagine how the world would be transformed if all two billion of us lived according to this commandment?
If we just loved.
The two greatest commandments seem so simple. It seems like there’s nothing to them. But in this short statement Jesus is being truly revolutionary. He is calling us all to be revolutionaries in his love revolution.
Being a revolutionary, though, can be difficult. It’s all well and good to talk of a love revolution here in Church, but what about the other 167 hours of the week? Out there, in our every day lives, it can be very hard to love our neighbours.
How do we love that irritating person in our office? How do we love the person who cuts us up whilst we’re driving? How do we show love to the person in the supermarket who grabs the last bag of Braeburns?
At the most basic level we love them by liking them, by not getting irritated or angry, by seeking to serve them.
Go for a coffee with that irritating guy at work.
Let that driver who is trying to cut us up pull in in front of us.
Offer that last bag of apples to our fellow customer with good grace.
These are all small things, but if we all based our actions on loving our neighbours, if we all sought to demonstrate love in everything we did, the world would be a remarkably different place.
What about bigger issues?
What about the hurt caused by a parent who rejected us?
Or a sibling who has tormented us?
What about the partner who tore our lives apart by not loving us as they should have done?
What about that employer who has made our lives a living hell?
How can we possibly love in these circumstances?
John again has words for us here. We need to “know and rely on the love that God has for us.” We can draw comfort from the fact that God loves us. John goes on that, “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear is to do with punishment.”
We need not fear because ultimately we are going to a better place, a place where Jesus is, where his Father is. And if we strive to love now, all fear will leave us.
If we love unconditionally, as Jesus loves us, there is no fear. Often we hold back our love because we fear rejection and humiliation. But if we just love, without expecting anything in return, then all fear will disappear.
Loving unconditionally can be very hard. That’s how we’re called to love, though. Sometimes we need to make the first move. Even if we’ve been terribly wronged, we need to love. We need to forgive.
Until we forgive, we cannot be free from the anger and the hatred and they will consume us. Anger and hatred will becoming the guiding forces in our lives, not love.
We might need to pick up the phone, or to write a letter, or to arrange to meet up, even if we feel the other person it at fault. But if we don’t make the first move, the situation might never resolve itself. We’re called to love and in order to love we need to face up to relationships that are marred by hatred, by upset and by disappointment.
We need to love, and we need to forgive.
If we’re going to love our neighbours, we need to take action to rectify ill-feeling.
That’s what we’re called to do.
That’s the love revolution. To just love. To just love God. To just love our neighbours.
The third point I think we need to consider is one that is often overlooked. In the command to love others, Jesus says, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There’s a big assumption here; that we love ourselves.
We need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbour, before we can display the unconditional love that Jesus shows to us.
We’ve just seen that John, in his letter, says that, “perfect love casts out fear.” Often our fear prevents us from loving, our fear of rejection or humiliation. We can’t bring ourselves to love because we’re worried about the reaction our love will get. We can’t bring ourselves to love because we can’t see how anyone could possibly love us.
Over the last few years, I have met so many people who not only don’t love themselves, but hate themselves.
They feel inadequate, useless, or worthless.
They hide themselves away.
They tell themselves that they are a burden on those around them, and that no-one could possibly love them.
Sometimes they cut themselves.
Sometimes they even consider taking their own lives.
This is one of the saddest situations in our society today.
Perhaps you feel this way about yourself. I did, until fairly recently. I felt like a burden to others. I couldn’t see how other people could love me.
If you do feel this way, I want to tell you that you’re wrong.
People do love you.
You have impacted on the lives of people far more than you could possibly have imagined.
There are people who love you passionately. You might not know it, but it’s true.
We have value and worth in their eyes, even if we struggle to see that for ourselves.
Look around you. We’re Christian brothers and sisters. We love you. We love each other.
We love because God loves us. And we love you.
Perhaps you’re one of the fortunate ones. Perhaps you don’t struggle with loving yourself.
If you don’t struggle with this, then I will guarantee that at least one of your close friends does. You’d be surprised at how many people do.
The truth is, though, that God loves every single person on this planet. When he created the human race, he saw that his creation was “very good;” everything else he made he thought was simply “good.”
God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us, so that we could once again be brought into his arms. God doesn’t see us as worthless, or useless, or hateful; he loves us, and that is a remarkable thing.
In conclusion, there is a vital message for us all in this passage.
We just need to love.
We just need to love God.
We just need to love our neighbours.
We just need to love ourselves.
This is the love revolution.
That’s what we’re called to do.