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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Christian Love: a fruit of the Spirit (Matthew 22.35-40; Matthew 5.43-47)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
June 3, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (Emma Lou Diemer)
Hymn of Praise: "The Love of God" (LOVE OF GOD)
Song of Praise: "Love the Lord Your God" (Lincoln Brewster)
 The Word in Music: "The Gift of Love" (Bluegrass Players) (English folk melody)

Offering of Music: "By the Mark" (Bluegrass Players) (Gillian Welch)

Hymn of Sending: "As You Go" (Altrogge)
Postlude: "O Love that Will Not Let Me Go" (Peace/arr. Courtney)

Christian Love: a fruit of the Spirit
Text: Matthew 22:35-40; 5:43-47

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This week the spoken sermon is fairly different from the draft manuscript below.

Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit that we might be witnesses to what God has said and done through Jesus Christ out of love for the world.  (Did you catch all that? No wonder this is celebrated as Trinity Sunday!)

I ended up that sermon by saying that we would spend the summer looking at the fruit of the Spirit.  Those are specific traits that are manifested when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  They include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and others.  Each week we will look at one spiritual fruit and a passage where Jesus teaches about or demonstrates that fruit.  I will keep reminding you of the scope and purpose of those gifts – that they are given by God that we might be witnesses of His great love in Christ toward the whole world.

The most well-known list of spiritual fruit is in Galatians 5, which you heard as the call to worship today.  And the first fruit we will consider is love.  What I hope to do each week is look at a teaching or action of Jesus that illustrates or explains each of the spiritual fruit, so today we will look at two passages out of the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus teaches on love.

What Jesus does is draw upon the Jewish scriptures, the Law, to show that his teaching on love is nothing new, but is God’s Word from ancient times.  But he also demonstrates in the second passage we’ll look at that the traditional teaching on love has not gone deep enough and he presses the application further than his hearers or we might imagine.

Let’s look first at Matthew 22, where he responds to a question. 

Love God (Mt 22:37-38)

The question came about as a test.  One religious group (the Sadducees) challenged Jesus regarding his teaching on resurrection.  After he silenced them with his response, one of another religious group (the Pharisees), who was an expert on the Jewish Law asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment.  Now there were over 600 commandments and the Pharisees specialized in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law, adding interpretation upon interpretation to it.  In response Jesus quoted back to them the famous Shema which called upon Israel to love God with heart, soul, and might.

The ancient Jews understood the heart to be the seat of the will, where one makes decisions.  They understood ‘soul’ to be the essence of one’s self.  And they understood ‘might’ to be a kind of double-exclamation point, emphasizing or strengthening everything to which it applied.  Translated into the Greek-dominated world of Jesus’ day, this commandment turned into “heart, soul, and mind.”  Despite the wording changes, the idea was the same, just translated into more of the Greek understanding of how we feel and act.  For the Greeks, the heart was the seat of emotion, the soul the essence, and the mind the decision-making part.  In either case, the idea is best conveyed to us as something like “choose (heart) to love God with all that you are (soul) and all you’ve got (might).”

When we think about the spiritual fruit of love, particularly as relates to our love for God, this is what is in view – choosing to love God with all that we are and all we’ve got.  It includes our decisions, our emotions, our deepest selves, and our deepest commitment.

So when God sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in us to bear fruit that we might be witnesses in the world He loves, this is one way the Spirit is manifest, in our all-out love for God.  People will indeed take note of that, not because it makes us weird or off-putting, but because we are driven by and committed to something far greater than ourselves and it affects our choices, feelings, and priorities.  That spiritual fruit is the love of God. 

Love Your Neighbor (Mt 22:39)

As you may know, Jesus didn’t stop there in describing the greatest commandment.  He continued on, quoting from the Law in Leviticus (19:18), saying that there is a second great commandment like the first, to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  In the context in Leviticus, this comes in contrast to taking vengeance or bearing a grudge.  Rather, this love of neighbor is an embodiment of grace and forgiveness, rooted in love of God. Jesus indicates that these two commandments – love of God and love of neighbor – are interwoven and inextricably linked.

To that, Jesus adds, “…on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  The Law was the five books of Moses: Genesis through Deuteronomy of our Old Testament.  “The Prophets” included another third of our Old Testament, all those through whom God spoke His word to his people.  In other words, Jesus pretty well summed up all of the Old Testament teaching in these two commandments.  Only missing in his summary were the “writings” or the wisdom literature like Psalms, Proverbs, and so forth, but those only testify in poetry to the same kinds of truths found throughout the Hebrew scriptures. 

In other words, this is a big deal: loving God and loving neighbor and the love of which Jesus speaks are the same trait described as a fruit of the Holy Spirit that God plants inside of each believer for the sake of bearing witness to the world.  I want to keep coming back to that purpose of the spiritual fruit because it helps remind us that what God is doing isn’t just about us and our personal faith and salvation.  Yes, God sent His son to save us from our sin, but the greater purpose of that tilling the soil of our lives is to bear fruit that will bless the world God loves.  As I said last week, you and I are blessed to be a blessing, we are saved to be sent, and we are we are gifted to be witnesses of God’s great love for the world. 

Love Your Enemy (Mt 5:43-47)

You’d think that would be enough, to love God with all we are and have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, in what is called the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus taught something even more challenging and radical.  He was walking through a number of the Laws of the Hebrew scriptures in his sermon and taking each one deeper, more to the heart and internal level.  He would begin by saying, “You have heard it said,” and then he’d press in, much further than the contemporary interpretations of that Law.  For example, he said, “You have heard it said not to commit adultery, but I say to you not to even lust in your heart.” (Mt. 5:27ff.)  Or, “You have heard it said not to commit murder, but I say to you not to carry anger against your brother.” (Mt. 5:21ff.)

And towards the end of that portion of his sermon, he said, “You have heard it said that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  There he was also quoting the same Leviticus passage we’ve already mentioned (19:18).  But the teaching he draws from that is not to love neighbors (Jews) and hate enemies (non-Jews), but to love one’s enemies, even praying for those who persecute you.  Can you believe that?  Pray for those who bully or oppress you?

He has taken love to a new level, and pressed it toward its covenant and Holy Spirit purpose – the blessing of the watching world.  It’s one kind of witness if someone sees or knows that you love God or your own friends and neighbors.  But to love and pray for one’s enemies… that is bearing witness to God’s Holy Spirit at work in you and in the world.

Three Challenges to Grow the Fruit of Love

So, let’s think about this in terms of your own Christian faith.  God says that if you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that not only are your sins forgiven and you given a new start, but God has placed His Holy Spirit in you to bear spiritual fruit as a witness.

One of these fruit is love, and Jesus taught us at least three ways this love is manifest in a Christian’s life.  It is shown through our all-out love of God, seen in our choices, commitments, priorities, and affections.  It is shown in our love of family, friends and neighbors, as we extend our love for God into their lives.  And, perhaps hardest of all, it is shown in the way we treat our enemies – those who are not our friends, who are strangers or worse, people we don’t like or who have stood against us. 

Can you think of three tangible ways you can exhibit Christian love this week – toward God, toward a ‘neighbor,’ even toward an enemy?  I’d encourage you to write them down in your Bible or on your to do app on your phone, or wherever you will be reminded throughout the week.  Like any plant or growing thing, spiritual fruit can be cultivated with attention.  The seed, soil, and growth come from God, but we can surely encourage or inhibit that growth.  It starts with love of God – a love that holds nothing back, that says “what you will is what I want.”  And from there, I think, you will see the fruit of love grow.  Amen.

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