Listen and Love – June 7, 2020
We are the body of Christ-and if you’ve put your trust in Jesus to save you than you are a part of that body. And I love that line-we are a body-not a building. It’s so easy to think of a church as a building-whether an old cathedral with stained glass windows or a more traditional building with a steeple and a choir loft or something modern and new with a coffee bar and cool lighting. It’s easy to identify the church as a place-that spot where you go on Sunday, the sanctuary where you worship and sing, the place where you got married or where your kids will one day get married. But the church isn’t a physical structure with 4 walls and a roof-the church is a collection of people-the church is a living organism made up of men and women saved by grace-the church is the body of Christ. And we’ve been wonderfully reminded of that over and over during these past few months. More than ever before as Coronavirus has arrived and church by necessity switched to online we’ve been reminded of this truth that the church isn’t where you go-the church is who you are. And as much as Coronavirus has not been what we’ve wanted or needed-I don’t think anybody was thinking that a global pandemic sounded like a good idea-but as we’ve all struggled during this time of quarantine and pandemic, wondered if it will ever end-one of the good things God has done through it, one of the great lessons He’s taught us is exactly that-the church isn’t where you go-the church is who you are. As I said a moment ago-if you’ve put your trust in Jesus to save you, if you abandoned the thinking that you can save yourself. If you’ve realized that you need His sacrifice on your behalf to order to be forgiven and saved-then you are a part of the church. And what does it say about the church in Eph 5:25. Jesus didn’t give up His life for a building with some religious architecture or gothic ceilings or a good pipe organ or trendy coffee bar, He gave up His life for people. Jesus didn’t love buildings where people could gather, He loved people who desperately needed His grace-which includes you and me. There is not a more profound love on planet earth than how Jesus loved the church-and obviously that’s why it’s the motivation for husbands to love their wives that same way. Look at how it continues-Eph 5:28-30. That’s who you are-that’s where you belong. You are a part of the body of Christ.
And I want that to be our starting point today as we dive into God’s Word. We have to remember first and foremost who we are. Because having that firmly fixed in our minds allows us to be who we’re supposed to be-especially in a time such as this! We’re going to pause again on our series on Joseph’s life-we barely got started back up with him a couple of weeks ago-but as we’re all experiencing these tumultuous, nearly unprecedented times-it seems like no sooner have we started to feel like we’re cresting the hill of Coronavirus and getting ready for a summer of much needed rest and normalcy, then our nation is plunged into racial strife and challenges. That the tragic death of George Floyd has set in a motion a series of event we didn’t anticipate-that what wrongly and wickedly happened in Minneapolis revealed the underlying pains and prejudices and struggles that have been in our society for a long time. And everyone is left wondering what to do, how to process it, what action should I take, how can I reach out, is there something I could have done, is there something I can now do? I’m sure all of these questions have gone through your mind over this past week. And these aren’t easy questions to answer. Lots of people have different responses. What you feel called to do might be very different from what the person next to you feels called to do. How do we live in a society, in a community, in families of divided opinions and thoughts-especially when some of the people you care about most have a different opinion from you? How do you encourage people to see things from your perspective as you desire to bring change? Likewise, how do you engage with the opinions of others in order to see things from their perspective-which might have a lot to teach you? Again-I say there are no easy answers to this. Feeling uncomfortable, uncertain and unsure might be exactly where you’re at this morning. So I want us to be reminded that while we live in a divided nation there are some things we can be united about because we are part of the body of Christ. That distinction, that identity-as I said earlier-that truth of remembering who we are and to whom we belong-makes all the difference. How can the body of Christ-how can the church-be part of the healing, not the problem? What is the long-term impact for the gospel and restoration in our nation and in our world? I believe God’s Word give us truths we can be united around. First and foremost, we know that racism is a grievous sin that doesn’t display the Lord’s heart. He made and created all of us-every nation, race and people group. Everyone is important to Him-so what does Jesus command? He says in Luke 6-treat others and you would like to be treated. So simple, so straightforward-and yet how often does our world fail in doing that? But as the body of Christ that’s exactly what we’re called to do with-and to do it vividly, powerfully and tangibly. So the truths that we can be united around allow that to happen.
And the first one comes from James 1:19. Now this is one of those verses where we wish it said the opposite-because if we’re honest we often live the opposite. How many of us are quick to listen and slow to speak? Like listening comes first, right away, and responding, speaking comes later? And I don’t think this is referring to school, where we’re listing to our math or science teacher drone on and one about some formula and we’re slow to speak because we have no idea what the answer is-and sure hope the teacher doesn’t call on us to speak out loud. I don’t think James had the classroom in mind when he wrote this. Rather I think James is referring to the realm of our thoughts, opinions and desires. I would love to say that I am quick to listen and slow to speak-but I know myself all too well. Quick to speak and slow to listen describes me much more frequently-especially when it does comes to stating my thoughts or opinions. I think we should do it this way, you should do it this way, my way-I know what I’m talking about. No doubt we’ve all said those things-and listening to someone else’s suggestion rarely happens because we’re instantly stating ours. We’re often quick to speak and slow to listen because we think our way is the right way. That’s why we’re speaking up so quickly-my way is right so do it my way. Or what about on social media? Now clearly James had no idea about Instagram, Twitter and Facebook back in his day-but are you quick to listen and slow to speak there-meaning slow to post? Slow to comment or respond? Or do you just put something out there for everyone to see and read without second thought?
Being quick to listen is a complete shift in our thinking because it’s giving room for the possibility that what someone else thinks might be the right way instead of ours. No! But it’s true! How ingrained is this in us? No, that could never be-how dare you suggest that-my way is always the right way! Let’s be honest-is it? Being quick to listen and slow to speak says there’s things we can learn. It says our opinion might not be the right opinion, that our thinking might be short-sighted, that we might not know all the facts and need to hear them from others in order to change or adapt our thinking. And a change in thinking doesn’t happen when you keep on talking all the time-it happens when you start listening. When you are quick to listen you are acknowledging a humility that you don’t know it all and that God has put other people in your path to teach you things. Look at Prov 12:15. What would happen if you were intentional about doing that? What would happen, how would things be different if you were quick to listen and slow to speak? How might our society be different if we were all quick to listen and slow to speak? The reality is that you can’t control what society does-but you can control what you do.
Back to James 1:19-did you catch that last part? Slow to becoming angry. There are times and seasons for justified and righteous anger-and this is certainly one of those times. This verse didn’t say you can’t be angry-but it did say to be slow to anger. Big difference! Is your anger impulsive? Are you a ticking time bomb easily ignited, the littlest things set you off? Or are you easily fueled by the people and the rhetoric around you-and there’s lots of hateful rhetoric on both sides of this right now that has made people’s anger anything but slow. Are you quick to anger-or quick to react? Or is your anger the result of time spent in prayer seeking God’s will and direction for our world? What would happen if you were slow to anger? What would happen if you took the things that infuriate you, upset you, and before shouting out, before blurting something out, or posting something online (which you might end up later regretting-haven’t we all spoken too quickly and later regretted it). But what would happen if before you exploded in anger you earnestly sought the Lord in prayer? What if you took those emotions that are boiling inside of you and said-Lord, I bring this to you and I want your wisdom. I want to respond with a righteous, godly anger-not my emotions just getting the best of me. I want you to direct my heart I want you to direct my anger and use it for your purposes to bring healing-not harm-in this situation. Again, the book of Proverbs has so much to say on this-look at Prov 15:1, 4.
And I don’t know about you-but the second part of that is much easier to do than the first part-it’s not hard to let our words crush people’s spirit-we’ve all done that. But will our words be like a tree of life. That when people hear our words they’re being fed and nourished and refreshed by what we’ve said-as if they’re taking a bite of a juicy pear or peach. Have your words been a tree of life lately? And that leads us to the other truth that we need to be united around during this divided time in our nation-and that truth is found in the book of 1 Corinthians-which ironically was written to a church that was divided. If you’ve ever read 1 Corinthians, right at the start Paul points out how there’s all sorts of different opinions taking place. People in the church are torn and divided about who to follow, what to insist on and how to think. In the church at Corinth there was a lot of the my way or the highway thinking-and yet Paul answers that division by asking the straightforward question-Is Christ divided? Of which the answer is no. Paul says he prays they agree with one another as a church and have unity. And the reason for that unity is clearly seen as the book develops-1 Cor 12:12-13. There’s our identity! There’s your identity if you’ve trusted in Christ-you are a part of His body, you belong to Him. And Paul clearly talks about the beauty of diversity within the body of Christ-using this language of a body by talking about the eyes and the ears and the hands and the feet-all are essential parts of the body. He famously says-If the whole body was an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? We wouldn’t have music! If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? We wouldn’t have a need for freshly baked bread or that bowl of pasta that smells amazing! We need every part of the body of Christ. Diversity is built within the body of Christ on purpose-and within that diversity there should be unity. Look at how the passage continues-1 Cor 12:25-27. We have to remember who we are and where we belong-because that leads us to the second truth we must be unified around. Paul ends chapter 12 saying-1 Cor 12:31. That when all is said and done, when our lives are evaluated, when our witness for Christ and our service to Him is displayed-it comes down to this-and I know you’ve heard this before-1 Cor 13:1-3. Not only do we need to be a people who listen, we need to be a people who love!
In fact, a passage like this is saying that we could be the most super-religious people out there-to have all knowledge of the Bible, to have an amazing faith that’s not afraid of anything, to give away all sorts of food and clothing and money and be the most missions-minded person ever-but if we don’t have love it gains us-nothing! What a convicting truth! In this time, in this season where God has placed you, as you’re wrestling through what to do, what to say, what to think-are you a person of love? In the book-The Cross Before Me-the author makes this awesome observation-The whole point of the life God has given us is to become human beings that love. That’s the goal-to love God and love others. Which means if we haven’t learned to love on God’s terms, then we have missed the point of our one life, no matter what else we’ve accomplished. If love is the greatest commandment, then that means the greatest failure in life is our failure to love. Is there a failure to love in your life? Is there a failure to love certain people? You see what we must understand is that the love God is talking about isn’t sentimental, it’s not primarily a feeling, it’s a transforming power that He unleashes in your heart that He then uses as a transforming agent in others’ hearts. While this passage is poetic, it’s anything but nice-sounding words-this is a call to action! Listen to it-1 Cor 13:4a-two simple statements-but when was the last time your love displayed patience and kindness? When did you put on the brakes and let someone else go ahead of you? When have you been patient with someone who wasn’t acting as they should, who wasn’t treating you right and you responded with a patient love that didn’t write them off or give up on the person-but endured and stuck with them through thick and thin? Our nation needs people of patient love. Look at how it continues-1 Cor 13:4-and isn’t pride at the very source of what keeps us from love? Maybe you’ve never thought about it this way before but pride and love are two polar opposite realities. Pride is all about you-love is all about others. Pride is all about getting your rights and what you deserve and no one better take it from you, love is all about sacrificing your rights to give others get what they need. Pride is all about your interests and your desires being met, love is all about looking to the interests of others and blessing them. You cannot have a heart of love if you have a heart that’s filled with pride. It doesn’t work that way. Pride and love can’t hang out together-they’re enemies-one has to be removed for the other to exist. Look at 1 Cor 13:5. To me that’s the most challenging application of love in this list. Because if there’s one thing we do it’s remembering the ways people have wronged us and hurt us-I’ll forgive you but I’m not going to forget it! But God’s Word says we’ve got to let it go, to forgive without keeping this long list of grievances that we’ll put out from time to time to remind that person what they did. We’re not called to remember or rejoice in the mistakes, but rebuild the relationship-v. 6-8a. So when you read that list it’s anything but feelings. These are all tangible actions and words that we need to communicate to one another. If the body of Christ is to be anything, it must be a people of love. And that’s a love for all people, all humanity. It’s not just an issue for today or the current times we’re in-but to love your neighbors who have driven you crazy for years, to love your co-workers who annoy you and make your job difficult, to love your families and those closest to you. And let me say-that’s where our love is truly tested and put on display. It’s easy to love in a general way, to love the people out there, to those who are just acquaintances or on the edge of our social circle-but to love those we’re closest to is hard? And why is it? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t love for those we’re closest to be the easiest and most natural thing? It should-but loving those we’re closest to is the most difficult because that’s when we have to display a love that isn’t easily angered or keeps a record of wrongs. Loving those you’re closest to are when all these qualities of love from 1 Cor 13 are necessary.
I’m sure as you look across that list, there’s lots of ways your love needs to grow. I’m deeply challenged by each one of these descriptions. None of us perfectly display love, God doesn’t expect us to-however God does expect that we’re growing in love. If you are a part of the body of Christ then this isn’t a passage you can write off. This isn’t a passage where you just glance down the list and say sure, of course I’m a loving person, my friends tell that all the time-it’s the other people out there that need to be more loving. This passage isn’t to be used a source of judgement on others, it needs to be a source of introspection and evaluation in your life. This passage needs to be where you go through it line by line asking the hard, honest questions-is this true of me? And then to have the courage to say-if it’s not-Lord help me to love like you command! This passage is a call to tangible actions and words. The church needs to be growing into this description more and more, not less and less. And here’s why-because one day that description will be the reality of the church. It won’t be right now-but it will be for all eternity. We’ve talked about the diversity of the body of Christ this morning-and no where is that seen more vividly than in that amazing glimpse of eternity-Rev 7:9-10. There is all the diversity and beauty and creativity of God’s people forever gathered together around His throne worshipping Him. And what will describe that people-what will describe us as we’re a part of that glorious multitude though faith in Christ? Perfect love. The description of love that is patient, kind, selfless, persevering and never-failing is what will describe God’s diverse people forever-so let it begin today in you. Let it begin today in us. We need to be a people who listen and a people who love.
And it all begins by that powerful phrase-1 Cor 13:5–it keeps no record of wrongs-because that is what Jesus has done for us when we trust in Him-and that brings us to communion.