Sunday, April 26, 2015

What I’ve Been Trying to Say: Practice Love!

(A sermon based on Philippians 2:1-18 for Sunday, April 26th, 2015--my last sermon as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, GA)

When all is said and done, it all comes down to love. So “love” is the word and the reality with which I want to leave you.

Well, actually it all comes down to worshipping God. But God is love—that is, God is most defined by God’s love and so to worship God is to worship the One who is perfect love. And actually it all comes down to following Jesus. But Jesus showed us what kind of love God’s love is so to follow Jesus is to practice God’s kind of love.

To worship God is to worship the One who is love.

To follow Jesus is to follow the One who showed us what love is.

So it all comes down to love.

I decided long ago that I would in living my life always try to come down on the side of love. I decided long ago that I would in carrying out my ministry always try to come down on the side of love. I decided long ago that I would in leading the churches I had the privilege of pastoring always try to come down on the side of love. I have made many mistakes along the way but I hope that I made the vast majority of them trying to come down on the side of love.

It is not possible for a church to love too much.

We of the Church should be the most loving people in town; indeed, we should be the most loving people in the world. Now don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to be a Christian to practice love; indeed, lots of people who are not Christians nonetheless love greatly and sacrificially. Still, we Christians should be more fully aware of the presence of God in our lives and thus of the presence of God’s love in our lives than anyone else is. We should love with God’s love because God’s love is in us and is filling us up more and more.

What does such Christian love look like?

Christian love is humble love. It is love that causes us to think of others more than we do of ourselves; it causes us to think of others before we think of ourselves. When God’s love as seen in Jesus is in us, we cannot think that others are not worthy of our loving action on their behalf; after all, Jesus was with the Father in heaven with all of the prerogatives that accompanied his status and he laid it all down to empty himself and to become a servant. Indeed, he emptied himself all the way to the point of death on a cross.

Christians can’t love too much; Christian love can’t be too humble.

Christian love is compassionate love. It is love that causes us to care about others so much that we take action on their behalf. “For God so loved the world that he gave …” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God’s love leads to action on behalf of people in need. People’s greatest need is the Lord and we bear witness to God’s love for people in every way that we can; we care for them in all the aspects of their being: spirit, mind, body, and relationships.

Christians can’t love too much; Christian love can’t be too compassionate.

Christian love is generous love. Christ gave himself away because he was compelled by love to do so. As we become more and more filled with the love of Christ we will be more and more compelled to give ourselves away, too. I have said many times that “greedy Christian” is an oxymoron; it just might be an impossibility. To be filled with Christian love is to be filled to overflowing with generosity.

Christians can’t love too much; Christian love can’t be too generous.

Christian love is accepting love. Christian love leads us to accept ourselves; it leads us to see ourselves as we really are, to know that God loves us as we really are, and to love others as they are. Christian love does not expect people to conform to some preconceived notion of what someone is supposed to be; it leads us to celebrate diversity and to embrace uniqueness. Christian love inspires us not to pass judgment on people but to welcome them with our hearts and arms wide open.

Christians can’t love too much; Christian love can’t be too accepting.

Christian love is committed love. When the Bible talks about love, the closest synonym to what it means is “commitment.” God loved Israel; that means God was committed to Israel. God expected Israel to love God; that means that God expected Israel to be committed to God. God loved the world; that means that God was so committed to the people in the world that he sent Jesus to die for us. God expects us to love God and to love each other; that means that God expects us to be committed to God and to be committed to each other.

Christians can’t love too much; Christian love can’t be too committed.

Christian love is constant love. “Love never ends,” Paul says. That means that love is eternal so love is a constant reality for us here and now. So no matter what, we are there for each other. No matter how far one of us falls, we are there for each other. The more wounded one of us is, the more we are there for the wounded one.

Christians can’t love too much; Christian love can’t be too faithful.

These are the last words that I will share with you from this pulpit as your pastor. With these last three sermons I have tried to summarize what I have been trying to say for the last six years. I have said that I have been saying that we should worship God. I have said that I have been saying that we should follow Jesus.

Now at the end of this final sermon I leave you with one more statement of the other thing I have been trying to say and in voicing it I am glad for what the last word that you will hear me say as your pastor is as I implore you: “Practice love!”

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