Speak Now - Week 3: "Let Us Not Love With Words"
Today is the Fourth Sunday of the Season of Easter, and it's also is the third installment of our sermon series on the New Testament book of 1 John entitled "Speak Now."
Throughout this study, we'll be focusing on what it means to not only follow Jesus but also how to speak about our faith in life-giving ways.
As we identified last week, the problem that we have in our culture right now is that when someone says "I am a Christian," it's hard to tell exactly what that means. So many people in our culture have negative feelings about Christians and what they believe Christians stand for.
And the reasons they have these negative feelings is because the people who are speaking the loudest in our culture about what it means to be a Christian have completely lost the plot. My hope is that this series will help give us the tools and the empowerment we need to speak up in love about what Jesus has done for us.
Last week we learned that the definition of a Christian is someone whose ultimate goal is to become more like Jesus. Today, as we step further into our study of 1 John, we are going to be learning a simple powerful and life-changing truth:
What you do reveals more about who you really are than anything you say.
Let me explain:
A few years ago, I used to regularly attend a spin class with my wife Merideth at our gym. We would go to the early morning spin class, which was almost always attended by the same people every day.
There was a woman who participated in the class who would always show up seemingly pumped and ready to spin. She had the proper shoes, a padded seat for her bike, a fancy water bottle... all the things. She would chatter away as we prepared about how fired up she was about that day's ride.
But when we started to really work, to crank the knobs on our stationary bikes that turned them into instruments of torture that were almost impossible to pedal, this woman wouldn't really turn her knobs all that much.
So when we pedaled hard, she would bounce all over her bike--a telltale sign that the pedals weren't tightened and she wasn't working all that hard. She grunted and groaned and acted like she was in the Tour de France---but we all knew she was acting.
Here's the truth... there probably wasn't a single person in that room who hadn't taken a few rides off now and then. There wasn't a single one of us who gave 100% all of the time.
And the reason why it made us so mad to see her blatantly violating the social compact was due to this sad fact: What we see so clearly in others, we first see in ourselves.
What I see in you... I see in me, first.
We all experience this. We are so quick to sniff out a lack of authenticity in other people because we spend most of our lives acting. There are very few of us who can honestly say that our outside completely matches our inside.
Many of you have probably been putting on a front today here in church. You could be having the worst season of your life, but if someone came up to you today before church and asked how you were doing, I bet you didn't tell them how you really feel.
You did what most of us do... "I'm good... I'm fine... Everything's good... Yup."
And most of us walk around with a secret fear that if people saw what we're really like they would be horrified by what they saw.
Listen... the reason why so many of us can easily spot hypocrites is that we know deep down inside that we're a hypocrite, too.
So what do we do with this? How do we move beyond these secret fears and shame over our inauthenticity? How do we learn to live a congruent life--the kind of life where our inside matches our outside, where the faith that we feel is evident by how we live?
Our conversation partner throughout this sermon series is the New Testament letter of 1 John. As we talked about last week, 1 John is a letter that was written by a man scholars refer to as the Elder, a leader in the Church in the late first century.
The Elder is writing this letter to a group of Christians who are struggling to know exactly what it means to follow Jesus.
And the passage we're going to be looking at today speaks directly to our main idea today:
16 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. 17 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? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
What seems clear from the way the Elder is wording this part of his letter is that the people he's writing to were asking for confidence in the love of God in the face of their wavering faith. They were struggling to know for sure what it meant to follow Jesus, and the Elder breaks it down for them simply.
I love this, to be honest with you. Because all of us need assurances at critical points in our life. When we are struggling to believe, when we are under duress... when we have doubts.
We all have doubts. We all struggle. And many of us wonder sometimes if we're really getting this whole Christian thing, or if it's just an exercise in futility. So, the Elder lays out a guideline, a consistent test.
His consistent test is simply to determine whether our actions will match our professions of faith, whether our feet will follow our tongues. The evidence, according to the Elder, that you are living authentically in a relationship with Jesus is when what you say, matches what you do.
On the other hand, if you claim to follow Jesus, but then act like a horse's ass, the Elder puts it to us like this: How can you claim to receive the love of God in your life if you don't show the love of God with your actions?
Or to put it another way, You cannot believe in Jesus without believing and acting in love. Love and faith go hand in hand. I read recently that "When God creates saving faith in your heart, God also creates active love." And when we act in love it is nothing less than the love of Jesus flowing through us.
And listen, even when you are wavering on the inside---when your outside reflects the love of God in Christ, you can find hope that what's on the inside is going to be okay.
Or when you know that you aren't living out your faith, you aren't showing the love of Christ even though you claim to believe in it--you need to know that God is greater than all of those feelings. And the fact that you are in touch with it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is still at work in your heart.
When the Elder says, "Let us not love with words or speech, but with actions..." He is essentially stating our main idea: What you do reveals more about who you really are than anything you say.
Several months ago, I was listening to a song by Christian artist Lauren Daigle, and the lyrics absolutely wrecked me:
God I give You all I can today
These scattered ashes that I hid away
I lay them all at Your feet
From the corners of my deepest shame
The empty places where I've worn Your name
Show me the love I say I believe
Oh Help me to lay it down
Oh Lord I lay it down
Oh let this be where I die
My lord with thee crucified
Be lifted high as my Kingdom's fall
Once and for all, once and for all
LAUREN DAIGLE, PAUL DUNCAN, PAUL MABURY
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
"From the corners of my deepest shame/The empty places where I've worn Your name/Show me the love I say I believe."
Those words are so difficult to hear for those of us who claim to follow Jesus. Because if we are being honest, there are lots of empty places in our lives where we've proclaimed to "wear" Jesus name as a covering, but deep inside have nothing but shame.
We might say that we believe in the amazing grace of God and the never-ending love of Jesus, but far too many of us dare to believe that same love and grace has really been extended to us.
Which is why so many Christians are angry and afraid. It's why so many of us spend our time pointing out all of the things that are wrong with the world around us. It's why churches are notorious for being filled with judgmental, critical people.
Jesus had a warning for some religious people who held on to inward shame that resulted in outward hypocrisy:
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.These people were unrepentant, so Jesus gave them a prophetic word. "This is what you look like, but in reality, you are something else. You are like a painted tomb--you look great on the outside, but you're dying on the inside."
"You are like hidden ashes from the corners of your heart."
Which is why the song I quoted above reaches me so deeply. I know those ashes, I know those empty spaces and the struggles I sometimes have to truly believe in the love I say I believe. And it is why I also pray, "Oh help me to lay it down... [Jesus] be lifted high as my [pathetic] kingdoms fall... Once for all, once for all..."
Maybe you've been living a lie and you know it... and you're ashamed.
Maybe you've gotten weary of trying to live out the words that you claim to believe.
Maybe you are wondering, "What do I need to do to turn this around?"
If we are serious about this, the way forward is simple but demanding. It requires some active habits, and active habits are strengthened by repetition.
This is not quite a "fake it until you make it," kind of plan, but it does require some movement on our part even when we may not fully get why we are moving. I heard it put this way: "You can act your way into a new way of feeling easier than you can feel your way into a new way of acting."
Here are four things that you can do right now, every single day to live an intentionally congruent life. To live with your inside and outside aligned properly.
First, Begin Well. How does your day begin? What are your routines? Do you have time to begin your day connecting with God, thinking with purpose about where your day will lead you, praying, and getting your mind right? If not, then maybe it's time to change your routines.
Second, Be Open. Spend each day praying for Providence. What I mean by this, is spend time each day asking God to give you opportunities to be your best and truest self. Pray that you will encounter people to love, moments to give of yourself for the sake of others. Be open to what God might have in store for you.
Third, Live Intentionally. This is where you get a chance to have a hand in this as well. Sometimes you have to get out of your rut in order to jump-start your inside/outside living. Maybe you need to stretch yourself a bit---place yourself in moments where you need to show love, where you need to put your money where your mouth is. Volunteer in a ministry where you encounter people who are difficult. Spend time listening to people who you don't agree with.
Finally, Reflect Daily. Spend some time each day reflecting on your day to reset it. Have conversations with people you love and trust about the moments during your day where you were stretched to live the faith you claim to live. For some people, this is a great time to journal and write down your thoughts and reflections, and prayers for that matter.
Some of you might be sitting here thinking--"I don't need to do any of that."
You might be the kind of person who's been a Christian for as long as you can remember. You come to church on a semi-regular basis and maybe you feel like this kind of thing is for newbies.
If you've ever been to a desert climate like Las Vegas, Palm Springs, or even where I used to live in Colorado you will often encounter signs or warnings about drinking enough fluids. I've seen signs that actually read, "You don't even know that you are thirsty, but you are! Drink something! Stay hydrated!" The dry climate fools you, you don't feel thirsty, but you are.
So here's the deal---you may think you don't need to try to intentionally live congruently. But you may not even know that deep inside you are dying of thirst. You are longing inside for a new way to be because the old way isn't really working for you.
It's time to take action. To not just speak of love with words.
Because what you do reveals more about who you really are than anything you say.