Over the past few months, as we’ve been preparing to become a house church, the question that has been rattling around in my mind is . . . how can you be a church without a building?
Sure, we’ve never had our own building, but we had space that for the better part of 10 years we were able to call home; a place where we made memories and where lives were changed because of the mission, vision, and ministries of Logos Dei Church.
And so, the question is . . . what now? How can we be church when we don’t have space of our own?
I think this was one of the pressing questions of the early church.
What started out as a small group of disciples, exploded to over 3,000 people after Peter preached what must have been the best revival sermon ever and the Spirit of God was poured out over them.
In the aftermath of the Spirit’s arrival, and as the message of the gospel spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea, and the entire world, just as Jesus said it would . . . those new believers must have been asking themselves the same question . . . what now?
They didn’t have buildings, and they didn’t have sacred places . . . but what they had was one another.
With the coming of God’s Spirit, no longer was God contained in a building, or a single location. God’s Spirit took his dwelling within his people. This was the church. You are the church.
This is why the words, “one another” are used 59 times in the New Testament; “Love one another.” “Forgive one another.” “Regard one another as more important than yourselves.” And the list goes on.
You see, those early church leaders understood that the church is not defined by a building, it’s defined by how you live as “one another’s” for the sake of Christ.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore what it means to be the church and how to live and do life with “One another”. And this morning, we are looking at the granddaddy of them all.
It is the one repeated more than any other; nine times, echoed by three different authors in four different books we are called to love one another. It is the one principle on which all the other “one another” principles depend.
It’s also the only “one another” statement that comes directly from the lips of Jesus.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”
You see, Love is the proof of our faith. It is the evidence of what we believe.
Now most likely, we all agree with the command to love in principle. We sing about it. We read about it. We talk about it. We teach and preach about it. But let’s be honest, sometimes we have a challenging time loving one another in practice.
I think we struggle with it because we don’t understand exactly what Jesus is saying, so this morning we’re going to dive into this short passage and put it into context to help us understand this “one another” statement and what it means for a small faith community like ours.
Before we jump in, let’s pray.
So, Jesus calls loving one another a new command. You might be thinking to yourself, how can love be new? The command to love wasn’t new. Way back in Leviticus 19:18, God commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” . . . so why would Jesus say that it’s a new command?
There are two Greek words Jesus could have used for “new.”
The first was neos. Neos meant the latest, the most recent. A new car would be a neos car.
The other word Jesus was kainos which means new in quality, something fresh and unique. When you buy your favorite product, and, on the box, it says “new and improved” it means kainos.
It is this word that Jesus uses here. His commandment was new as to the quality and nature of love.
- The love he was commanding had a new measure- It was to be like his love for them.
- The love he was commanding sprang from a new power - The power of the Holy Spirit.
- The love he was commanding was compelled by a new motivation - the self-sacrificing death of Christ on the cross.
- It was love new and improved.
Now the ancient Greeks had four different words for love. They didn't have to ruin one good word by making it mean 20 different things like we do. We love our grandma and we love Okra. For us, love can mean almost anything. The Greeks were a little more defined.
The first word was Storge which means affection. It is almost always used in the context of family.
A second word was Eros. This was intimate love, and it is from this word that we get our word erotic.
A third word is Philia which is the general word for love. It is the love of friendship and mutual enjoyment. This is what we usually mean when we say we like someone.
In this text, Jesus uses a word that was rarely used, if at all, by the ancient Greeks, but it is by far the most frequently used word for love in scripture. The word is Agape. It describes the type of love God has for us, and the type of love he calls us to have for others. It is unconditional love. It is a love based not on how you make me feel but on how I choose to treat you.
This is how Jesus commands us to love . . . did you notice that? Love is a command. This is a matter of obedience, a matter of spiritual faithfulness . . . and here is where we struggle because most of us have a problem with the idea that love can be commanded.
“You will fall in love with that person over there, you will be attracted to them. You will marry that person and spend the rest of your life with that person . . . and you will love it” and you’re thinking to yourself . . . “I don’t even like that person.”
I mean, loving people is about the most challenging thing that some of us do. We can be patient with people and even just and charitable, but how are we supposed to conjure up in our hearts that warm, effervescent sentiment of good will which the New Testament calls “love”
Some people are so miserably unlovable . . . am I right? So, how are we supposed to stir up warm, fuzzy feelings toward such people?
Jesus' answer: we don't have to. In most cases, we probably will never be able to. The fact is, feelings are not the issue. The love Jesus commands is not a feeling, it is a choice.
It is a decision to treat one another in a gracious and generous manner.
This is the command Jesus gives to us when he says, love one another, but then he attaches it to the highest standard, the greatest measure imaginable . . . “as I have loved you”.
Not, as you feel like loving them or as they have loved you back but as He has loved you.
There is an old Jewish folk-tale. Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There, he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink.
The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So, Abraham asked him, “Don't you worship God?' the old traveler replied, “I worship the fire god.”
When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent. When the old man had left, God called to Abraham and asked where the stranger was.
Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have for 80 years suffered to love him although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
God's love is the highest standard. It is what we are called, no commanded, to express to one another and it is by this Love that the world will know that we are his disciples. This love defines us.
Listen to the words of Paul found in 1 Corinthians 13 as he describes this kind of love in the context of a community that was struggling with how to live as “one another’s”,
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
C.S. Lewis said this:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. wrap it around carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.”
Until our love in the church rises above our constantly changing feelings, until it rises above our differences, our superficial likes and dislikes, we will never see the full power of God working in the church, and we will never make a huge impact in the world.
It is this new kind of love that shows the power of God.
It is this new kind of love that draws people to Him.
Now I thought about giving you all a homework assignment. I was going to say, whoever you are struggling to love. You know, that person that isn't easy to love. I want you to go out and do a loving thing for them this week.
But then I thought about it a little bit. Wait, if they do that, then everyone will thing that whoever does something nice for them doesn't really like them.
But the thing is this, we're all to treat each other in the same loving way, no matter what.
As I read earlier this week, “You shouldn't be able to tell who I like and don't like, because I love them just the same.” If anything, we should go out of our way to be more loving to those for whom we just don't have those loving feelings, because it is so easy for our sinful nature to keep us from loving them.
So, let me just leave you with the very words that Jesus said, “Love one another.”