Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blessed = Love Radically

If Jesus' "Sermon on the Plain" would have had a title, I think he would have called it, "How to be Blessed."

He started off (as we have observed) by deconstructing what most people think "blessed" means. 
Jesus said that the poor, hungry, weeping, and those hated for his sake are blessed, and that the rich, full, laughing, and popular are to be pitied. This is pretty much opposite of what the world says. But if you live long enough and aren’t too blind to see it, you’ll find Jesus is right and the world is wrong. If you climb the world's ladder you'll one day realize it's leaning against the wrong wall. What you will have as a result is misery: nothing meaningful in this life, and hell for eternity. 

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

"But we live in this world. How can we keep ourselves from being influenced?" There are two choices: 

We can live defensively OR we can go on offense

Living defensively is an attempt at isolationism and protectionism from the world. An extreme example of this is the Amish. We all try to preserve our kids' innocence (for good reason), but let's not take it so far as to create a separate, Christian counter-culture that hides in fear of evil's onslaught. Is this how we should relate to the world and its temptation? I don't think so. There's nothing wrong with Christian music, movies, books, schools, t-shirts, or supporting Christian businesses. But if we attempt to surround ourselves in a Christian bubble to not have to deal with the world, we are missing our calling. Christ left heaven and became flesh to live among us in the world, in order to save the world...and then commissioned us to do the same. 

We are to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). God wants us not to retreat in isolation and fear, but to be on offense (not "offensive"), be proactive, positive. Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Hell is on defense, as the church moves irresistibly forward. This is Christ’s strategy, and it is summed up in one single idea. That same idea is the underlying, foundational principle of Christianity—a principle that makes Jesus’ “blessed” living not just possible, but a natural lifestyle. Truth is, there’s no other philosophy or religion like Christianity because of this foundational principle—and it is the simple secret to absolute happiness. What’s more? It is also the highest attribute of God and the key component of God’s strategy to save the world including why he created the world (and us) in the first place. Everything in the Bible & Christianity (including how to live it) stems from this principle.

What is this principle? 

Radical Love.

In Luke 6, Jesus said,  27But I say to you who hear, (Greek=akouousin- not just passive physical hearing, but listening closely for comprehension, to hear with your heart) Love (Greek=agapaō, the verb form of agapē, the highest form of love.) 

This is the first time (of many) that Luke uses this very important word. It appears Luke introduces it here strategically, like he’s been waiting in order to first build the backstory about Jesus. Now Jesus is wildly popular, and speaking to this huge crowd, he gets their attention with the blessings & woes, which turned on its ear everything we think about being happy, and everyone’s kind of puzzled… then he gives them the key to everything. 

My paraphrase of verse 27a:
Now…if you will really LISTEN, I say to you: LOVE... 

It’s extreme love. Radical love. Agapē. That's the key to blessedness, the foundational principle of Christianity, and the chief attribute of God. And it is the motive behind God's mission.

Often I explain at weddings the four Greek words translated "love": phileō (brotherly/friendship love), storgē (familiarity/loyalty/preferential love), eros (sexual love), and agapē. Agapē is already the highest word for love, it is used to describe God's love for us that he would give his Son, and Jesus' love for us that he would lay down his life. It is selfless and sacrificial love. And it's for the unlovable. Listen to how extreme: your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

Wow. That’s extreme. There is no other religion that teaches this. He continues... 

Turn the other cheek. One of the hardest things Jesus said—for
me, anyway.
29To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 

Who does this?! Does this sound like the way people around you act? Is this how even Christians around you act? Unfortunately, no. 

Here’s the summary:

31And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 

The golden rule. It's the hardest thing to teach your kids, but so true. Whoever returns good for bad wins! SelfISHness is our natural response. SelfLESSness is God’s way. It’s love. It wins. Jesus continues:

32“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

With this one word, agape, Jesus reveals the central unifying principle for the Christian faith, philosophy, and ethic; and he also reveals the dominant character of God. 

RADICAL LOVE is the principle that will change the world and is what will give you great lasting joy, contentment, and happiness. It is the driving factor of blessedness. 

No other philosophy or religion has this as its basic tenet. Do you know of one? Islam? No. it’s central tenant is Obedience. Buddhism and Hinduism? They're complicated, but suffice it to say they're totally based on selfishness. They're about seeking nirvana (called other things depending on the tradition) through self-discipline, pleasure, and enlightenment (among other things). Judaism? While there are veiled references and glimpses, the principle of love is not made clear until Jesus, who completed and fulfilled it. What IS prominent in the Old Testament is the worship of God and obedience to his law (a focus on God's righteousness and justice). But it’s obedience that we CANNOT achieve on our own. Then Jesus came. Through him we see that everything—even our sin—was a part of God’s plan: to reveal agapē love and to share it with us. Only those who surrender to him experience it—and we get to experience it forever. But before “forever” we can experience a life of blessedness, contentment, happiness, fulfillment, joy. 

God sent Jesus to tell us about it. That alone was an act of love. But he did more. He applied it to himself: John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And then God the Son backed up his words with action. Rom. 5:8 “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

When he died, he did just as he told us to do in the sermon on the plain: Jesus loved his enemies—us—and he loved radically, selflessly, and sacrificially.

Yes, when Jesus died he paid for the sins of those who would believe and receive him. But he also changed us. We are reborn. His Spirit lives inside. We now love him with eternal gratitude which only grows as we understand his grace more. This changes us—LOVE changes our lives. 

This love is not some culturally-popular, watered-down, touchy-feely, sentimental understanding of love. It is not tolerance, indulgence or permissiveness. That's not love at all. A permissive parent doesn’t demonstrate love, but laziness and weakness. Permissive parents are selfish and raise miserable kids. That’s not love. Love often takes thoughtfulness and courage (more later!). 

God’s love for us evokes in us a love for him. That’s the greatest commandment: LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Then then next: Love your neighbor. That, according to Jesus, is the summary of the law. And it’s the framework for Christian ethics.

So what?
1. Realize that God is love. 
1 John 4:8 and 16 both say, "God is love" (agapē). Of all his attributes this is prominent. Yes, he is just, righteous, all-powerful, and omniscient. Without love God is to be feared. But his love is more. It is radical. 

2. Recognize his plan to show love to you. God's story since creation, including our sin, culminating with Jesus (and even YOUR own personal story)—all of it is a part of his sovereign plan to show you his love!
Galatians 4:4-7 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Ephesians 2:4-7 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

3. Receive his love by believing and surrendering.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." That's all he asks—that you believe, receiving his gift of forgiveness and grace. You see, you are not saved because of anything YOU DO, but by what HE HAS DONE. We must only believe and surrender.

And for those of us who have...

4. Respond to God's radical love by demonstrating radical love as a result
   •Love him radically1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. This means loving obedience: 1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensomeLove is an amazingly more powerful motivation than is fear or guilt or duty. 

   •Love others radically. That’s what Jesus says in the sermon on the plain. Now you can love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, give not expecting anything in return, and turn the other cheek1 John 4:19-21 “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Radical love is the key. When you've been the recipient of it in great measure, you can give it to others.  Living out LOVE is how we stay on offense without being offensive! Love is positive, inviting, active, and almost irresistible! According to Romans 12:9-21, that's how we overcome evil with good, and how the burning conviction of the Holy Spirit will change the hearts of others—even those who hate us! 

Hear this message as it was given here.

No comments: