Please read part 1 of this 3-part message before reading this section.
So, you are convinced now to invest fully in the people around you, and you desire to bring them to a saving faith and relationship with Christ. … now what? How do you do this?
Point number two of this three part series on 1 Thessalonians 2: 19-20 is this:
Investing in people and bringing them the gospel requires us to love them.
It is my opinion that the word “love” is used by many Christians in a church context without the user really understanding what the meanings of love in the Bible actually are. There is a great article by John Piper talks about the meanings of love in the Bible. If you have time to check it out, you should. Whenever it says in the New Testament that the law was fulfilled by Christ, not abolished, I was always a little confused, but this article clarified that mystery. Some of my favorite points from the article are:
God’s highest love, the thing he values most, is His own name
(Isaiah 43:7 and 49:3) – Israel was created to glorify His name
All of God’s actions were done to preserve the glory of his name – “for my name’s sake” (Ezekiel 20:9, Exodus 14:4, 2 Samuel 7:23, Isaiah 48:9,11)
God’s righteousness depends on Him remaining committed to the infinite value of His glory (Psalm 143:11).
Because God delights in his glory, he delights in the reflections of his glory in the world
Righteousness and justice (Psalm 11:7, 33:5, 37:28, 45:7, 99:4)
Truth (Psalm 51:6)
Most of all, His love for his glory is the cornerstone for his eternal commitment to the people of Israel; this is because an essential aspect of God’s glory lies in his sovereign freedom to bless the undeserving.
In his election of Israel, this is seen, and it is also seen in his election of those he has called to be saved. The election of Israel in a covenant is a type, a reference to a greater ultimate covenant he has with his Bride, the church. And I think this is where it maybe gets a little messy, because even Christians are not comfortable with the idea of a sovereign God who might create people who are destined for destruction from the beginning. But what does Paul say in Romans? He references Exodus 33:18,19 – “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Piper says, “in other words, God’s sovereign freedom in dispensing mercy on whomever he pleases is integral to his very being as God.”
Read the whole article – it is worth it! The traits of God’s love might be a little bit of tangent in terms of the above conversation, but it is important, I think to have that correct theology if we are going to spread true love to our neighbor.
But, God commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love others, too. Those are the two greatest commandments. Scores of texts and sermons have been written on those calls, but I want to provide a takeaway you maybe haven’t heard that applies to what we are talking about right now, namely, the call to love those in your midst and to invest in them.
What does that love look like?
I came across this in my study, and it is a good reminder:
Think first about how you love yourself, after all, the command was to love others as we love ourselves.
First of all, we love ourselves intensely, meaning, we have an earnestness about our well being, about the advancement of our own self good. Ever heard of “fight or flight?” Of course you have! The human body can go to amazing lengths when it senses that the preservation of its existence is at risk. I hope I never experience a true fight or flight situation, but I have heard of great feats – pushing cars off of bodies, wrestling large animals, etc. – and so when I think of loving intensely, I can imagine what that is like when I picture those scenarios. You will do anything to save yourself. In those moments, the preservation of self is so intense, the body literally has a physical reaction. When a car is on top of your chest, preventing you from breathing and sucking the life, literally, out of your body, the focus on well being and self is so overexaggerated. That is what we need to bring to our feelings for others.
We don’t just care about them.
We CARE about them. We live as if their well being is a life or death situation.
Man, that is hard to imagine. For many people, they probably don’t really even value their own lives with that deep of a commitment.
Secondly, our love for ourselves is rational. We want what is actually best for us, logically. I think this is obvious, but is often easier said than done. I know I’m guilty of thinking of others, but making sure that my top priorities are preserved, even if it means compromising theirs….that is thinking rationally with myself as the number one priority. In order to think rationally for others, we have to ultimately, put their needs before our own.
If you apply those three things
- Love others intensely.
- Love others rationally – seek there true interest as a whole
- Love others above yourself
You will find yourself with opportunities to share the gospel with others.
Oh, actually, it might help to add a 4th thing to that:
4. Pray for others.
Pray for their well-being, which will help you love them. But also, pray boldly for Christ to open a door for conversation, a chance to share the gospel with them. Pray that when He does, that He will give you the words to share with that individual. And first and foremost, pray that the Holy Spirit goes out in front of you and does the real work in that person’s heart, that they might be receptive to the wisdom of God’s truth; otherwise, as the scriptures say, it will be foolishness to him. For the wisdom of God is foolishness to the natural man.
On that point, a pastor for my old church gave a great analogy. When the U.S. goes into battle, they send the Air Force in before they put troops on the ground. The Air Force can drop bombs and gather intelligence – they really do the work that makes the troops on the ground able to seal the deal and get things done. The battle is being waged in the hearts of the lost. Prayer is the Air Force. The work of the Holy Spirit has to be done in the hearts of the lost before we can be effective as carriers of the gospel truth. No amount of evidence, persuasion, and fancy talking will turn the lost to Christ. Only that is possible by the grace of God. So really, point number 4 should be step number 1.
Make a habit of it and see how your life changes.
A final note on love of others, and this is again, maybe a bit controversial, but it really shouldn’t be amongst Bible believing Christians.
Love does not equal acceptance.
We have this misconception today that if you call sin what it is – sin – you are not being loving to a neighbor. I do not understand this. If I was about to take a bite of a poisonous mushroom in the forest, and a wilderness guide had the knowledge of what I was doing, and said, “Don’t, you’ll die!” I don’t think I would turn to him and say, “You bigoted fool. How dare you judge my actions.” Now, it might not be his ‘place’ to judge them, but I sure would consider the warning a sign of love. That guide, by warning me of the consequences of my actions is really showing me true love.
Likewise, telling the lost, the sinful, those walking in darkness, to repent of their sins is literally the most loving thing a Christian can do. Now, the means and manner by which we do that – it should be done gently, I suppose, so as to not turn the person away from Christ and Christians altogether. But how sad it is to see professing Christians let scores of loved ones walk down the highway of disaster, along with millions of others, while we stay on the narrow road, to afraid to ruffle any feathers.
As Paul Allen said in an infamous play by play call when Brett Favre threw a lazy, across the body pass to essentially prevent the Vikings from going to the Super Bowl in 2009 – “THIS IS NOT DETROIT MAN, THIS IS THE SUPER BOWL!”
Week 7 against Detroit – no one cares about a Brett Favre across the body interception.
NFC Championship game, already in field goal position, able to send a championship deprived team to the Super Bowl….you don’t mess around there.
Eternity – in heaven or hell? Don’t mess around. Just preach the Bible and let the sword of the spirit do its work. Worst case scenario they reject it … they were rejecting it already anyway, right?