The final test

Text: Jn 15:9-17 Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 6/2/05

Introduction

Ask any politician, and they’ll tell you that topping every opinion poll for 3 years is worth little if you lose the election at the end. It’s no comfort to a professional sportsman or team to start in poll position, or finish the season as minor premiers, or tee off with the lowest handicap .. if they go down at the finish and someone else takes the flag or the cup or the shield or the jacket.

Paul, I think, would have understood that. He urged the Philippians not to be satisfied with the quality of discipleship they currently had, but to press on towards the completion of Christ’s character, which was the purpose for which Christ had called them. He says of himself “I forget what lies behind, good or bad, and I keep straining forward, pressing on toward the goal, to win the heavenly prize for which Christ first called me.”

Some people describe chapters 13 – 16 of John’s gospel as “Jesus’ last will and testament” .. John presents these chapters to us as Jesus’ final exhortations to his friends before he took the path that would lead him to the Cross. What Jesus sets out in these few chapters are the essentials that, whatever else they do, his followers must not miss. These pages contain the distillation of what Jesus wants those who trust and follow him to prize above everything else in their lives. Whatever you know, whatever you study, however eloquent you are, whatever you achieve, whatever gifts you have, whatever you do with your life .. if these things are lacking, the rest is of no account. The parting plea of the Son of God to his church.

Much of what Jesus lays upon his followers in these pages comes down to fruitful discipleship, patterned on the Cross, and produced by the work of the Holy Spirit in human hearts.

The commandment

.. And it reaches it’s zenith in a single command; we read it a few moments ago in Jn 15:12 – Love one another:

• just three words in English .. two in the Greek in which the NT was originally written

• .. but as we’ll learn in another moment those few words mark out one of the final frontiers to be crossed in the Christian life, before it can be said that the Spirit of God truly rules the Christian heart. It’s the final test for a Christian, and it can be the making or breaking of a church.

• I’ve spoken before about loving lost people after the pattern of Christ. Can I suggest today that loving other believers – consistently and over the long-term – is much harder. We assume, I think, that loving eachother within the body is the easy part .. and maybe that’s why we stumble on it. .. These parting words of Jesus to his friends in the face of the Cross, imply that this is the kind of love that demands everything from us. .. Don’t be fooled, friends .. this is hard love, this is difficult love .. to take this command seriously (and note – Jesus spells out that it’s a commandment ..) this will stretch us and challenge our maturity in Christ to the limit – because it takes us to the limit ..

Look again at how Jesus describes the love he’s talking about:

• “12 …love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In verse 12 he’s speaking about our love for eachother within the church, and he says it’s to be the kind of love that he has acted out toward us. Note the wording carefully .. I have loved you. Does that mean Jesus has finished loving us – that he used to love his friends but now he’s jack of them? Well of course not, since Scripture is full of Christ’s love for his church, his bride and ends in Revelation with the marriage supper of the Lamb.

So then , what does I have loved you mean? .. It means he’s not simply telling his friends how he feels about them; he’s referring to something specific he has done .. Just in case that could possibly be ambiguous, in verse 13 straight after, he points to the Cross, where he was about to lay down his life for his friends.

See what Jesus is calling for? .. He wants us to love eachother with the kind of love that’s patterned on his love by which he sacrificed his life for us (he loved us) .. and it’s a love of such quality that there’s no other kind of love greater than it “13 No one has greater love than this,”.

Now please note something else as well: This is not the only place in this section of John’s gospel – the one that I said has been described as “Jesus’ last will and testament” – where Jesus issues the command “love one another as I have loved you.” At the beginning of this big section – and it’s really the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry – Jesus took a towel and humbly washed his disciples’ feet. .. Now listen to the way John introduces his account of what happened. John 13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world (so he’s talking about the Cross) and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. And John in his wonderfully skilled way is telling us about two events in the same breath: 1. the footwashing, in which Jesus will act in a way that demonstrates his love by choosing to act for his friends at the expense of his own dignity; and 2. John’s intro and the footwashing itself both pointing to the real act of humiliation in which Jesus will really love his own to the very end .. the degradation of the Cross – his life for ours.

Now, it’s at the end of that chapter – having just washed his disciples’ feet, sacrificing all his dignity for their benefit .. and having pointed the way to the ultimate sacrificial humiliation of the Cross – that he says John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you … [and then he adds] 35 By this all … will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” .. If you don’t love your brother or your sister with the quality of love Christ has dealt to you, Christ will not be known by the world ..

Now, let’s put it together: it’s a greater love than any .. it’s a love that would sacrifice every right or dignity for others in Christ’s family .. and it’s a love without which Jesus will remain invisible to those yet to find him.

12 …love one another as I have loved you .. You can’t paddle in the shallows of discipleship with a commandment like that .. it demands everything you’ve got to give for your brothers and your sisters in Christ – all of them. .. And if you will not, if you do not love like that .. then you can forget about loving the lost because they won’t be listening anyway ..

That kind of love is the highest and hardest stage in the climb to the pinnacle of discipleship, which means the likeness of Jesus displayed in us with full brightness.

• But like any tough climb, it’s also the most exhilarating achievement .. when it’s complete. And Jesus says (v11) that if you reach love of that standard .. that will result in the pinnacle of joy for Christ in us, and us in him.

The test

We started our journey together two years ago with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – an image par excellence of God’s vast vision for the Church. And once during those months we paused over Eph 3:10, in which Paul presents God’s purpose to display by means of the church his comprehensive wisdom in sacrificing his own son to restore people to God and to eachother. I’m glad that next week Ps Erin Shaw will be among you to open God’s word. Erin is from Capstone Church and is chairman of the Wyndham Christian Ministers’ Network. He will speak with you about how you might be part of what God is doing in bringing the one body of Christ together in this community. That’s the unity of the wider fellowship of Christ ..

My charge to you today is really the one I began with through Ephesians 2 years ago .. concerning the unity of Christ’s people within this congregation. To remind you again: How does God intend the church to display the perfect wisdom of the Cross? .. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

.. That’s simply Paul’s way of expounding at length what Jesus said in a few words: “love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12).

Love has grown here in this fellowship; unity has been observed in a way not observed or perhaps even tasted for years; those observations have been made to me both from within the congregation, and from interested observers of this church outside .. Let’s speak plainly here: Today this church farewells a minister in a united spirit for , I believe, the first time in over 15 years. Let it not be the last ..

But the real test is about to come, about to begin in a sense. How will this church respond to the test? At some point – I hope many years down the track – the time will come for Darren to be farewelled also. Will that parting also happen in a spirit in keeping with the Gospel which says all people can live and keep living in reconciled relationships with God and each another?

In other words, the worth of these two years which I’ve been honoured to share as your pastor may truly be proven only in the long-term .. in the manner of the next parting of people and pastor. If the oneness we see today has evaporated tomorrow, heaven’s verdict on these past two years will be that the word scattered on the ground has failed to take lasting root in the soil of these hearts. Or in Paul’s metaphor in 1 Cor 3:12 .. that we have sown in hay or straw, and not in gold or silver. .. I’m persuaded that there are good reasons for confidence .. But please .. do not lose focus on the unity of the Spirit .. and please do not underestimate the determination needed to love one another as you have been loved by Christ ..

In Jn 15, Jesus says that fruitful discipleship comes from remaining in living union with him (v4), keeping on drinking deeply from the well of his love through obedience (v9), and loving one another. That last has exercised my mind and spirit this past week in preparing for this day. .. Loving one another .. consistently, continually .. and sacrificially .. because that’s how we have been loved by him who “loves us, and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” (Rev 1:5) ..

My friends, you have grown in loving one another and in loving a pastor, through a time which has been really relatively predictable and with little change. Loving is generally easier then anyway ..

But what about now .. ? .. God has spoken to us today by his word, of the hardest task of the Christian, and the test that must be passed for the world to believe. It means loving one another out of love for the lost. .. When your pastor, out of obedience to Christ’s Gospel call to him, invites you to go in directions you’d rather not, to go to people you’d rather not, to change as you’d rather not … will you then love him?

That test of love will come – it must; it’s happened in the past .. why imagine that the future will be different? That’s the nature of change, the nature of relationships, and the nature of leadership. .. When tested thus .. will you love your pastor? .. Or will you be like the people of Israel under Moses, who – as we read from Exodus this morning – withheld their hearts from the servant the Lord had sent, hankered for the passing comforts of Egypt, missed the joy that awaited them, and realised too late that it was not Moses they had resisted – but God?

… Your commitment to the difficult and exhilarating journey of loving one another and loving your leaders after the pattern of the Cross, for the supreme joy of Christ in you, .. that commitment will be tested .. it’s just a matter of when. And when it is tested .. this time .. I ask you: Will you stand that test? .. Will you love Darren? .. Will you love the lost people of Wyndham? .. Will you love one another as your Lord has loved you?


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