In the very first chapters of the Bible, we are introduced to the importance of relationships. God does not just create one person. He creates a family, men and women who reproduce children in their image, so that together they reflect the image of God. It was a good plan. In fact, God says His creation is “very good” ( Genesis 1:31).
As we learned in our Essential Truths series, however, sin tore this good plan apart, introducing brokenness into our human relationships. Fear, hurt, injustice, adultery, murder, lust, greed – all emerges from the life of sin into which we are all born.
Nevertheless, God has not given up on His good plan. He sent His Son to die on a cross so that our relationship with God could be restored, and because of that salvation, our relationships with others can also be restored. In Christ, through the power of His Spirit, we can overcome the brokenness that sin has introduced.
To discover these restored relationships, however, we must act. We must carry the mercy and grace of our loving God into a broken and discouraged world. We must engage with others. We must become part of the loving transformation that God desires for all His people. In this session, therefore, we examine our motivation to engage with others, and, in the following session, we discuss concrete ways to engage effectively with one another, as God intends.
1. Learning to Love
1.1. A Loving Commandment
First, then, let’s discuss our motivation to engage, and we begin with our Lord, Himself. Jesus does not leave us any wiggle room when it comes to loving others. It is the second of His two great commandments. He says:
“‘…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
The apostle John goes even further when he states categorically:
“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” 1 John 3:10
The line is clear. If we do not love others, then we are not His children. Quite a sobering statement, don’t you think?
1.2. Loving Actions
So, let’s assume that we take this command seriously, and we truly want to obey it. How then do we actually love others? What is a true, biblical understanding of love? Consider this well-known passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
“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.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
In this passage, we find that love is primarily an action word. While our culture tends to view love as an emotion or a feeling, Biblical love emphasizes actions and deeds. We show our love by what we do. The apostle John says this clearly:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18
The force of this command cannot be avoided. We cannot speak of loving others while we ignore them, lie to them, or hurt them. By God’s grace, as we become more devoted followers of Jesus, we learn to turn our loving intentions and words into loving decisions and deeds.
1.3. Loving Transformation
If we are willing, then, to take up this challenge and command to love, we can expect real change to occur. God’s love is a powerful love that flows through us. The apostle Peter says:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Love covers sins because it is strong enough to free us from our own fears and selfishness. It frees us to forgive. It frees us to worship God fully and serve others faithfully. This sort of strong, transforming love is a staple of God’s kingdom. Recall the words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus changed the world through His sacrifice of love, and He calls us to follow His lead. We are to learn the art and discipline of selfless living, so that we can introduce a self-centered world to the only God who can heal them.
2. Learning to Encourage
2.1. Our Need to Encourage
The world needs to hear this loving message. In a culture that constantly seeks to wear us out and beat us down, we must demonstrate our love concretely by encouraging one another. The writer to the Hebrews says:
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:12-13
Note that encouragement is an urgent need. We need it “daily”. We need it “Today!” Later, this same writer continues his instruction:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
Notice that the writer instructs us to meet together as a means of encouragement. This is what we do on Sundays and on other days when we gather to worship. Worshipping together encourages us by focusing our hearts and minds on the truths expressed in singing, prayer, preaching and fellowship. This regular gathering is essential for our spiritual health. We need this weekly, spiritual injection of hope and truth to inoculate us against the discouragement and lies that permeate our culture. On Sundays and other worship services, we pack the house with cheerleaders, as we all encourage one another to victory in Jesus.
2.2. Our Opportunities to Encourage
In addition to these large meetings of encouragement, we must also encourage one another on a more personal level. In more intimate settings, we can open up our stories to encourage others in their story. In these conversions, God’s Spirit uses our experiences to encourage others. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
God never wanted the suffering that we must face. Suffering is a result of sin, the brokenness and rebelliousness in our world. But God is stronger than our suffering. He can redeem our suffering, just as He used the suffering of Christ to heal us. By sharing our journey through our version of suffering, we encourage others who are walking through their own painful journeys. We are living evidence that God can heal our pain and can take us from despair into joy.
And often we will find that our willingness to open up about this journey will actually contribute to our own healing. As God uses us to help others, we develop a stronger trust in His ability to heal, strengthen and comfort us.
3. Learning to Serve
3.1. The Glory of Serving
To love and encourage effectively, then, we must learn to serve. Serving, however, is not easily learned in our culture. We tend to celebrate and honor leaders, while we are tempted to look down on servants. And yet, the Bible constantly praises the heart of a servant. Jesus Himself models this value. Consider these words from the apostle Paul:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:3-8
Jesus, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords demonstrates the fact that strong people can serve. In fact, Jesus turns this entire culture upside down. Those who lead must lead by serving, and only those who serve can truly lead. It is only by serving that we have a share in the glory of Christ.
On one occasion, Jesus must set His disciples straight on this point. The Gospel of Luke tells us that:
“A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’” Luke 22:24-27
From this passage we see a fundamental principle in God’s kingdom. Authority in this kingdom is given for one and only purpose, to serve one another.
3.2. The Honor of Serving
From the very beginning of my time as pastor, I have tried to sign every email with the same closing: “In His Service, Dirk”. I don’t copy and paste this phrase. I type it every time. I do this on purpose, to remind myself every time that it is a privilege and an honor to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There is no higher calling. And this same Lord and King has called me to serve His people, and that too is an honor.
In the final days of Jesus’s ministry here on earth, He deliberately took the low place of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples. When He had finished this service, He explained His actions:
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’” John 13:12-17
Here is the final motivation to serve. You will be blessed if you serve. God honors those who serve.
These, then, are the primary motivations that inspire our Commitment to Others. Based on Christ’s command and His example, we must learn to love, encourage, and serve. In our next session, then, we will discuss some practical suggestions for completing this part of our Essential Engagement. Until then, we pray that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Him.
- Write a paragraph describing how you can be a better “lover” according to God’s definition of love.
- Encourage at least three different people this week and record those acts in a journal.