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Lombard CRC

Love's Equation: Since (x), not (y), but (z)

Have the same love, we read.

Have the same love as Jesus.

Have the same love together as his church.

The children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit,

teaches kids of all ages about this real love

as we listen in on an imagined conversation

between two beloved toys:

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery

than any of the others.

He was so old that his brown coat

was bald in patches

and showed the seams underneath . . .

What is real? asked the velveteen rabbit . . .

It’s a thing that happens to you.

When a child loves you for a long, long time,

not just to play with,

but really loves you, then you become real.

Does it hurt? asked the rabbit.

Sometimes, said the skin horse,

for he was always truthful.

When you are real

you don’t mind being hurt.

Does it happen all at once,

like being wound up like a spring loaded toy,

he asked, or bit by bit?

You become, said the skin horse,

it takes a long time.

Generally, by the time you are real,

most of your hair has been loved off,

and your eyes drop out,

and you get loose in the joints

and very shabby.

But these things don’t matter at all,

because once you are real

you can’t be ugly,

except to people who don’t understand.

 

Getting real is what the Apostle Paul describes in

Philippians 2:1-11

encouraging us to live the love of Jesus.

Jesus is the gift of God’s love incarnate;

made real in flesh and blood.

This gracious serving that

shares in death in order to bring life

is what happened when

Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus.

 

You may not remember the Apostle Paul’s story.

He was a Pharisee, convinced that the right way

to live was to oppose Jesus.

So he spent his time and energy seeking to arrest,

punish and even kill Christians.

While on the way to Damascus

to capture Christians there,

he was met by the risen and living Jesus.

Now, here was a man wanting to live a righteous life.

Dedicated to God in all he did,

he was zealous to guard God’s name.

But when the living God meets him on the road

he cries out in fear:

who are you, Lord?

He didn’t know God even tho he thought

he lived to do what God wanted!

When your religious acts are just for your benefit

you don’t really know or love the Lord.

 

You can imagine this changed him forever.

And what changed him was meeting Jesus

in his death and resurrection.

He knew Jesus had died – had been crucified.

A criminal’s sentence.

A sinner’s death.

No way in Paul’s mind this could be the Messiah,

that this could be God.

But then, Jesus meets him on the road –

Paul’s road, Paul’s way;

how he thought he lived the righteous life.

But he wasn’t being righteous;

he was being religious,

and there’s a difference.

Now he knew he was dead wrong.

Jesus was alive.

Risen from the dead.

And Paul was dead.

The old way of Paul’s life was a dead-end.

The death and resurrection of Jesus

in which God graciously redeemed Israel’s story,

now became Paul’s story,

Paul’s way of life.

 

The Philippians 2 words describe this reality:

Therefore if you have any encouragement

from being united with Christ,

if any comfort from his love,

if any common sharing in the Spirit,

if any tenderness and compassion,

2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love,

being one in spirit and of one mind.

Having the same love

is now how we meet God,

how we live out faith in the Lord,

and how that is the purpose of our grateful living.

 

I’m going to give you the pattern of faith,

then I want to show how Paul got there,

and then I’m going to apply it,

giving you some suggestions

so that you can make it your own response

of thanksgiving for the glory of God.

 

Look at Philippians 2:6-8, Jesus . . .

6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

 

Andrew Root describes it this way:

although (x) not (y) but (z).

Though Jesus is God

he doesn’t use his power to his advantage

but instead becomes one of us

in order to die for our salvation.

You can even argue that the formula is:

because Jesus is God

he doesn’t distance himself from sin and brokenness

but sacrifices himself for us

to meet us in death and raise us to new life.

 

If you notice, this English version of our verses

allows for both understandings:

this prepares us for our own choices

knowing that to love the Lord and our neighbors

will mean choosing against our fears

preferring the risky love of God,

while also being assured that to give ourselves

in service and sacrifice to others

may sound like a loser’s life,

but it really is the way of Christ

that leads to resurrection and eternal life.

 

How did Paul understand this?

Well, that was his story.

After meeting the risen Lord Jesus,

he heard what Jesus said to him,

why do you persecute me?

But Jesus didn’t destroy him in his guilt;

he found him in his violent lostness,

and turned his life around in grace.

Paul should’ve been judged and condemned,

but instead he received mercy and salvation.

Although God is justified in his righteous anger

the Lord doesn’t come in wrath

but reconciles Paul to the Lord thru Jesus.

Though Paul was guilty before the Lord

Jesus didn’t condemn him

he saved him and redeemed his life in love.

 

Jesus did this through one of his believers,

one of his followers, Ananias.

If you remember the story in Acts 9

after Paul’s encounter with Jesus,

he winds up blind in a strange house

on Straight Street in Damascus.

While this has happened,

the Lord visits Ananias with a word

and says go to Paul.

Ananias objects,

Lord, this man is coming here to arrest and kill us.

No, says Jesus, I’ve chosen him,

he will serve the gospel,

I will show him how much he must suffer for me.

So Ananias goes, tho afraid,

and in one of the most understated verses

in the Bible,

Ananias comes to Paul,

and lays a trembling hand on him,

and says the healing word, Brother . . .

an enemy has become a brother.

 

By the power and grace of the risen Christ Jesus.

Ananias reflects this Philippians 2 reality:

Although Ananias is free to protect himself

and live to secure his life,

instead of acting for himself first,

he responds to the invitation of Jesus

to enter into Paul’s experience of death

and minister to Paul Christ’s grace and blessing.

Although he is afraid of Paul

and wants nothing to do with him,

he doesn’t refuse the call to help him in his loss,

and instead shares in Paul’s loss

with the restoring presence of Jesus.

 

Do you see this pattern?

 

We could say it this way:

Because Ananias is saved by Jesus

he doesn’t live for himself

but to serve others with the gospel

even by risking himself

to share in another’s death or suffering.

That’s having the same love

that Jesus has given you and me.

 

And notice this man Ananias is not an apostle,

he isn’t one of the pastors Paul mentors

like Timothy or Titus,

he’s just your garden-variety Christian.

He follows this pattern of redemption set by Christ.

We are each graced to live this love.

 

Getting the pattern in your mind?

Starting to understand the equation?

although and because Jesus died and rose again

not this

but that:

not self first,

not fear first,

but bless and serve first,

share in another’s pain, or loss

since this is the love of God in our lives.

This is living by faith alone in the Son of God.

 

OK, to understand this

we need to do a little Bible study

for a moment together.

If you know a little about the book of Romans,

you know that one thing Paul accents

has to do with Abraham,

and righteousness.

How is it that we are declared righteous

in God’s sight?

That we are forgiven and set right,

that our lives are rightly ordered,

that we live the right way?

 

Paul says in Romans 4 –

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?

2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.

3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul is saying,

we tend to believe that for me to be a good person

it’s up to me to decide on what’s good for me

and then live that way, my way.

But we know there are problems with this:

namely, how do you know if you ever do enough?

How do I ever know I’m good enough?

After all, who decides what is good?

Pauls’ life shows us we can be convinced

that we’re doing the right thing

and being good people

and all the while be dead wrong.

 

But thru Paul’s experience he’s come to know

that our goodness, our being made right,

happens not by what we do,

by what Jesus did,

and sharing in this by faith.

Faith that serves as Jesus did in life’s losses.

So Paul says look at Abraham:

“Abraham believed God,

and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

By faith alone in Jesus.

Long time Christians and Bible study veterans,

you know this.

But did you know

that there is another person in the Bible

to whom it is said

it was credited to him as righteousness?

In Psalm 106 we read:

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,

    and the plague was checked.

31 This was credited to him as righteousness

    for endless generations to come.

 

Who is Phinehas?

His story is in Numbers 25 –

Phinehas is a priest in the line of Aaron.

At a time of great disobedience in Israel

he acted with severe righteousness:

let me summarize that story -

Israel is sinning.

Moses calls a meeting to say stop it.

Right in the middle of the meeting

an Israelite man does the very thing

that has caused the Lord’s anger.

Phinehas sees this,

excuses himself,

grabs a spear,

and goes into this Israelite man’s tent,

and kills both the man and the woman he is with.

Psalm 106 says:

this was credited to Phinehas as righteousness.

The same phrase that’s applied to Abraham.

For endless generations . . .

so Paul decides that’s my way.

 

Paul was following the way of Phinehas

when Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus

to say, no Paul,

I have fulfilled all righteousness,

it is not the way of Phinehas but the way of Christ,

promised long ago to Abraham.

It is not for you to make yourself

into one like Phinehas,

you are to follow Jesus:

John 18 –

11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Love that serves and sacrifices.

 

Paul was on the road with spear in hand,

we could say,

in order to be proved righteous.

But meeting the risen Lord,

being ministered to by Ananias,

hearing from Jesus

the call to suffer for Christ’s name,

revealed to him that righteousness comes by faith.

Faith that follows this pattern of Christ-like love.

 

When I share in the death of another –

not just physical,

but any suffering or sacrifice or dead end

or failing or trouble,

when instead of hiding or securing myself

or judging another,

I share in your loss for Jesus’s sake,

then Christ is there to bring a newness

not of our own making.

Too often today

we still choose the way of Phinehas.

I’ll show you what’s right.

I’ll show you who is right.

I’ll judge what is right.

The Spirit gives us

this pattern of discipleship instead:

although and because you have new life

in the love of Jesus . . .

not that – not self first, or safety first, or security first,

but now this – serve first, sacrifice first,

even suffer for me and shoulder that burden.

That’s the daily journey from death,

from loss,

through grace,

an undeserved response of mercy or kindness,

to new life in Christ.

That’s faith in Jesus.

 

Jesus is the holy, righteous God,

but he didn’t destroy us in our rebellion

and unholy living,

instead he became one of us

to minister to us through his death

and bless us with his sacrifice.

Get it?

Love’s math equation isn’t hard to understand

but like most math, it’s hard to master.

Ready to try it this week?

Here are some suggestions:

The Holy Spirit counsels us through some

scriptural examples:

1 Thessalonians 2 –

even though as apostles of Christ

we could have asserted our authority,

instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children,

so we cared for you.

Instead of controlling, manipulating, demanding,

asserting our influence,

show care first, give yourself first.

 

And in the letter to Philemon Paul says:

although in Christ I could be bold

and order you to do what you ought to do,  

yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.

So tho you are in your rights by the law of the land

to punish your slave Onesimus

I ask you to give up that right in the name of Jesus

and welcome him as a brother in Christ

and a co-worker in his kingdom.

Instead of forcing you,

instead of you claiming your rights,

I ask in the name of Christ’s love,

that you love as Jesus loved,

and restore and reconcile

tho you will absorb some loss.

 

And right here in Philippians 2:

Therefore if you have any encouragement

from being united with Christ,

if any comfort from his love,

if any common sharing in the Spirit,

if any tenderness and compassion,

2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love,

being one in spirit and of one mind.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

4 not looking to your own interests

but each of you to the interests of the others.

Blessed by the grace and resurrection of Jesus,

don’t act selfishly,

instead value the other person above yourself

and look to the interests of others.

In each situation there is some loss,

but faith believes Jesus is present with us

in those losses,

so when we join another in her or his loss,

to serve or help in Jesus’ name,

Christ is there in his resurrecting power

bringing something new:

a new grace,

a new deliverance,

a new rescue,

a new hope,

a new healing,

a new situation . . .

not of our own making,

that’s the power of divine love:

God’s power to save.

 

See, getting some ideas?

When we decide out of gratitude to God

to take the posture of ministering, serving,

showing mercy or kindness,

because of what Jesus did for us,

in order to give thanks to him,

that is where we experience being united with Jesus

because we are found by him in this same love.

 

Why don’t we do this naturally?

Because we have been convinced

to have as little as possible to do with loss.

We are afraid that to give,

to join in another’s loss,

is to miss out on pleasure, and we think

that means to miss out on life.

But the cross assures us

that’s where we’ll experience the true God –

our one true desire.

For Jesus was vindicated by the Father

for his obedience to death on the cross.

And his name,

his life,

his presence

is above all others in love, mercy, truth and power.

One way or another

we will bow down to his Lordship.

 

I have spoken about this before.

But I do again because I know

this way of the love of Jesus

is so difficult to trust.

There are so many false messages

that surround us saying,

You have a right to be happy,

just do what you love and you’ll live longer,

stay safe, be well,

find your pleasure because this is the life . . .

 

One Christian leader whom I respect has pointed out

that in American Christianity

and for a popular American church

self-sacrifice is the wrong message.

He says, Self-affirmation is the right message.

People seeking self-worth give generously

to express and celebrate their inner value.

Here I disagree with him.

 

We are made for God.

We yearn for the Lord’s love.

And by this faith it is found and experienced:

Jesus meets us in our deaths,

losses spiritual, material and otherwise,

to bring resurrection,

and we give him glory,

by serving others in his great name.

This is the true life,

being real in Jesus,

having the same love.

 

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